Is the Car I Seek a Unicorn?

Hello. I have been trying to research a new vehicle, but I think the car I’m seeking is a unicorn. Meaning, it doesn’t exist. I am hoping to find a compact SUV or crossover with 4 wheel or all wheel drive option and a manual transmission. I need a car larger than a sedan to accommodate for the camping, errands and activities I do. I need 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive option because I live in Maine on an incredibly steep hill and need to be able to climb it in a winter storm. I want a manual transmission because I LOVE manual transmissions. I feel I am more aware of my driving and honestly, it’s SO much fun to drive! Does this car exist in new inventory or only old? If I can only find older models, which should I consider? I want the car I buy to last about 10 years, so not only does it need to be reliable I need to be completely happy with my vehicle choice since it will be a long-term commitment. I appreciate the help!

I remember moving a friends Subaru wagon on a slope a few years back and maybe it was in a poor state of tune,but when I started to engage the clutch,it didnt seem to have any start power,I believe with an Auto tranny it would of buzzed right away,whats this infatuation with a manual(I outgrew that about the time I started driving gutless trucks and vehicles)? Give yourself a break and do yourself a favor try an automatic,but I’m sure somewhere out there you will at least find a Narwhale,some of these good folks will steer you in the right direction and me and some of these folks disagree on the snow question,was always able to go better in snow with an automatic then a manual,for various reasons(was never a wheel speed Guy always fought for the slightest bit of traction on ice or snow,actually seen too many 4wds destroyed by the “wheel sawing” firewall set

  • Kevin (Merry Christmas" and dance with the one that brung ya"

Some Subarus are available with manuals in base trim. And all are awd.

Scroll up and click “CAR INFO”, then “Car Talk Auto Advisor”. Sounds like you need real winter tires as well–4wd does not help you turn or stop.

Alyson, a Consumer Reports New Car Preview issue will show you all the choices available in the current marketplace, as well as give you good information on each. It’s available at your local bookstore. IMHO it’s well worth the few bucks investment.

Happy holidays. allows you to search for cars by feature, including manual transmission and 4WD (or AWD) at the same time. There are not a lot but they do exist. Edit by price as well. Good luck!

@Mustangman - I checked out edmunds. Turns out they’ll list a vehicle that has awd AND/OR a manual, like a lot of Audis, which you can get with one or the other, but not both. So it’s a start, but more checking on the manufacturer web sites is still needed.

The Toyota Matrix existed with 4 wheel drive and manual transmission but your chances of finding one are minimal (Discontinued in 2014 and rare in manual anyway.)

I would agree A Subaru is the best bet, The Honda Element is another (do they still make the element?) The crv and rav-4 are no longer made in sticks, and theres not many more…

The Suzuki sx-4 is available with AWD and a Stick, but they are tiny.

@WheresRick, alas the Honda Element is no more. The last year was 2011. It was designed to attract adventurous 20-somethings but any I saw were driven by 40-something Mom’s with big dogs. I guess they ran out of 20-something 40 year olds!

Since you didn’t mention good fuel economy as being important. I’d look for a 92-96 full sized Bronco, the 300 I6 and 302 powered models could be had with a manual. There’s also the WRX wagon, or the Pre-2002 Ford Explorer, The FJ Cruiser could be had with manual, as could the pre-2002 4 Runner.

Edit: Oops, you’re looking for *new cars. In that case there’s the Jeep Wrangler, and that’s about it

The problem in part is that when automakers like Honda have offered a manual transmission in the CRV for example they stopped after 2003 or so because the demand was so small compared to the automatic. The two lowest trim levels on the Forester come with a 6spd manual but no idea how many are on dealer lots. Two wheel drive versions of the Nissan Juke and the Mazda CX5 are available with a manual on the base trim level. If you want Awd you have no choice but the automatic. According to Auto trader there are a few Manual foresters listed in the Northwest and others within about 1,000 miles. What’s available in the northeast will depend on the demand.

Pity about the Element,cheap done right,reminds me of the Saturn cars,the people the market was intended for didnt necessarily go for the cars,My wife finally got one,then I started polling people who owned them along the road during the course of a day,these folks thought they were the best thing since sliced bread,hope Honda knew what they were doing when they dropped them(my Wifes is an auto tranny)-Kevin

I’d get a new SUV with auto transmission and then buy a second, inexpensive car with manual transmission for fun. Insurance will only be expensive on the new SUV. The second car won’t be used for commuting and will likely have less than 5000 miles per year. You can get attractive rates on insurance. Since it is a second car, you need not spen much on it either. You can find something for a couple-a-three grand for fun times.

Subaru has a small crossover that should fill your needs. The automatic is optional on it but you may have to look for one at a dealer that doesn’t have that option.

Quoting @Mustangman “I guess they ran out of 20-something 40 year olds!”

It’s unfortunate that that particular demographic is in such short supply. Love it, and you’re absolutely right.

Seems to me, a mechanical drive clutch system and abs/trac control would fight each other. Motor is linked to drive wheel and abs computer says “uh-uh”!

@Cavell, Subaru has been doing manual transmissions and traction control since the '80s. The XT featured it with AWD. Audi Quattro also has had this feature for a long time with their manual transmissions.

I have money. I choose to not buy a Subaru. I don’t even like to think about them, let alone discuss them.

To each his own.