Manual transmissions have evolved from the must-have list, to the endangered list. Here are the manual hot hatchbacks you can still buy.
Once a must-have for a performance car, the manual transmission has experienced a steady decline in popularity, as automatic gearboxes of all types get faster, sharper, easier and lighter.
Exotic supercars wearing six-digit price tags have dropped manual transmissions en masse – with Ferrari’s last straw arriving after famously selling just two manual California convertibles globally between 2009 and 2012 – leaving just a handful of sports car brands with three-pedal transmissions, led by Porsche, Lotus and, prior to October 2021, Aston Martin.
While a range of affordable sports coupes and convertibles are still available – albeit an ever-dwindling list, with the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota/Subaru coupe twins among the survivors – much of the hope for the manual’s performance-car future lies with the ‘everyday sports car’: the hot hatchback.
The segment-defining Volkswagen Golf GTI might’ve ditched its clutch pedal in 2018, but there’s still a wide array of manual hot hatches available, with all non-German makes still offering three pedals as the only choice, or an option alongside an automatic.
Here’s every manual hot hatchback you can buy today – and a breakdown of how many people buy them versus their automatic counterparts.
Sales mix: Manual vs automatic
Excluding manual-only models such as the Ford Fiesta ST, Hyundai i20 N, just-discontinued Honda Civic Type R (albeit in anticipation of a new model), and off-sale Toyota GR Yaris, the ‘hot hatch’ with the greatest proportion of manual gearbox sales is the Abarth 595, with 58 per cent of hatch and convertible buyers opting for three pedals.
It’s followed by the Subaru WRX (which, albeit, is a sedan), with 30 per cent of shoppers between 1 January and 31 August 2021 opting for a manual transmission.
It’s worth noting, however that 2021’s manual-to-auto split is a decrease on the 40:60 ratio seen in 2020, suggesting there’s greater supply of the two-pedal CVT as the current WRX enters its final months on sale.
Include the six-speed manual-only WRX STI in the figures and the percentage of manual sales increases to approximately 58 per cent in the first eight months of 2021, or 60 per cent throughout 2020.
Following close behind is the Ford Focus ST – with the manual accounting for roughly 30 per cent of sales since its local launch in April/May 2020 – trailed by the Hyundai i30 N, which recently added an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic to complement the existing six-speed manual.
Between the facelifted model’s launch in July 2021, and the end of September, approximately 26.5 per cent of i30 N hatch buyers opting for three pedals, compared to 73.5 per cent for the DCT – with the range-topping, DCT-equipped Premium with Sunroof nearly outselling all other models combined.
Meanwhile, as of mid-October 2021, just 27 per cent of the then-150 buyers of the limited-run Fastback N Limited Edition opted for the six-speed manual.
Across 2020 approximately 19 per cent of Renault Megane RS order sheets listed a manual transmission – with a spokesperson for the brand’s importer confirming a similar figure for the first eight months of 2021.
Mini is one of the few brands to offer manual transmission options across nearly its entire Australian line-up, with every vehicle bar the Countryman SUV, three-door Electric hatch and John Cooper Works Clubman offering a ‘stick’.
Manual transmissions have accounted for 4.4 per cent and 10.3 per cent of three-door Cooper S and John Cooper Works hatch sales across the first nine months of 2021, while just 5.3 per cent of five-door Cooper S cars have three pedals, and 6.5 per cent of Clubman Cooper S wagons.
Interestingly, 12.3 per cent of Mini John Cooper Works Convertible sales feature manual transmissions – the highest proportion of any performance-oriented Mini model.
In memoriam: The ones we’ve lost
While there’s still a fair array of manual hot hatches available for purchase, the list of choices is shorter than it once was. Here’s a selection of the three-pedal hot hatchbacks we’ve lost in recent years – either as a result of the manual option being dropped, or the model itself meeting its match.
- 2019: Mini John Cooper Works Clubman (technically a wagon)
- 2018: Volkswagen Golf GTI and R, Audi S3, BMW M140i, Peugeot 208 GTi, Peugeot 308 GTi
- 2017: Volkswagen Polo GTI
- 2016: Citroen DS3
- 2015: Alfa Romeo Mito and Giulietta QV
- 2013: Renault Clio RS
Alex Misoyannis has been writing about cars since 2017, when he started his own website, Redline. He contributed for Drive in 2018, before joining CarAdvice in 2019, becoming a regular contributing journalist within the news team in 2020. Cars have played a central role throughout Alex’s life, from flicking through car magazines as a young age, to growing up around performance vehicles in a car-loving family.