New Car Buying -- Manual Transmission non sports car Filter
August 11, 2019 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Our 2011 Mazda 2 is falling apart. So its time to purchase a car. We want a manual transmission. The New 2020 Mazda offerings only offer a Manual Transmission in their premium package so help us narrow down what to look at?

Requirements For our car:

1) We want a manual transmission. It's just our thing.
2) We're not fans of slapstick or other technology, we'd just rather an actual manual
3) We have a young child (14 months) which means she will be in a car seat for a quite a while longer. This means 4 door vehicle.
4) We'd rather buy new than used
5) Reliable is always better

It doesn't have to be super fast or powerful, our Madza 2 has a tiny little engine. It's cute and fun to drive, just a little small. Safety features have changed a lot in the last ten years, and so anything standard will feel fancy and new and safer than what we have.

The premium Mazda 3 is an option we're considering, but if we're going to be buying at or near sticker price for a fully-loaded vehicle, I want to look around and compare.

There aren't many manuals on car lots anymore- otherwise, we'd just go to a CarMax or something and drive and compare.
posted by AlexiaSky to Shopping (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Was surprised to see you can get still get a new base model VW Jetta with manual transmissions and several trims of the VW Golf, including base trim. Cant speak to reliability on these newer VWs as I havent had one in a few years but if you're ok with VW given their recent scandals, they might be something worth looking into. The Golf is a hatchback like your Mazda 2, the Jetta more sedan-like.
posted by cgg at 5:54 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

Subaru Impreza. Not sure if you can get the Eyesight safety package with a manual transmission, but get it if you can.
posted by postel's law at 6:06 AM on August 11

Honda makes several cars with a manual transmission, including the Accord, Civic, and Fit. I drive a 2017 Honda Fit EX with a manual transmission. This is the mid-level Fit - the model above mine only comes in CVT. It's been a great car so far, and a big upgrade in features from my previous car, a 2000 Saturn SL that I bought new and drove for 17 years.

There aren't many manuals on car lots anymore- otherwise, we'd just go to a CarMax or something and drive and compare.

Are you near a college town? I looked all over metro Atlanta for a Fit with a manual, but found several in Athens (home of the University of Georgia). According to the sales guy they are used to dealing with professors and students from countries where a manual transmission is common, so they've learned to have them on hand. So if you're near a college town with a large international student population you might have better luck.
posted by ralan at 6:26 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]

Check out a VW Golf. The base model has a 6-speed option. I have a 2016 Golf GTI (the sportier version) and have a 16 month old. There's room for his rear-facing car seat and still have leg room and we can fit his stroller and other crap in the hatch.
posted by disaster77 at 6:30 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]

I second the Honda Fit. I'm on number 5 (not because of any problems with the previous ones, (except one - see below*) I just like trading up every 3-4 years because I love it so much. It's like having a perpetual lease.) They can get you a manual - and I will say that on my previous ones, the shifting was super smooth, 5 speed on the floor, very nice tight clutch.

They get excellent gas mileage (34.5 on my current and that's stop and go), and have a remarkably high number of safety features. They also have some pretty fun/slick road handling for something with a 4 cylinder engine. (i.e. they are super fun to drive if you get the opportunity. *cough*, *cough*.) I've never had to do a major repair, but again, I trade them in pretty frequently.

*There was one about six years back that did need the entire clutch assembly replaced after about 65,000 miles, and from the dealership it would have run between $4-5,000. I didn't shop around though - it was out of warranty so I just, you know, traded up for a newer model.

They are also very reasonably priced new. My now six-year old grandaughter came home from the hospital in my old Fit, and had her car seat in it ever since. The new ones have extra car seat attachment points - good for her because she's now in one of those booster type seats and it rigs in nice and tight. They also have, even if you don't need it, the most amazing ability for cargo for a small car.

The potential downs on it are that you get a lot of road noise. I'm on the highway evry day two and from work and it's noticeable. (On the other hand, I never have trouble hearing sirens on the road.) But to balance it out, a pretty impressive sound system is basic, so if you don't like the hum of asphalt under your tires, you can drown it out.) It's also not the most comfortable car for super long trips, although that may be me. I'm a big woman, and have to admit that no long trips by car are that comfortable regardless of the model.

That said, I trust it to make long drives. We routinely head to Florida a couple of times a year (6-7 hours), or Virginia (7-8 hours) and I didn't hesitate to say yes to an 11 hour drive to Detroit this week in it.

The car is comfortable (seats and head and leg space,) but after about 4 hours I kind of get reminded I'm in a smaller car and not a sedan. But I still keep going back for the new ones. I'm nearly 60 and I've never a car I liked more. It's just a super fun, sweet safe ride. Absolutely worth a test drive.
posted by allandsome at 7:02 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]

The Toyota Yaris is the same as a Mazda 2 and has a manual available in the cheapest trim.
posted by leaper at 7:12 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

It is widely agreed in the car community that Honda makes the best manual transmissions in the non sports car universe. If having a manual is really important to you, buy a Honda!
posted by Kwine at 7:18 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]

Just another vote for the Fit. We bought a 2015 Fit with the CVT but test drove the manual and it was terrific. If my wife was more confident on stick we would have gotten the five speed version for sure.

We use our Fit to haul around our kids and it's great. And with the seats folded down it's almost bizarre how much stuff you can fit in that car.
posted by saladin at 7:34 AM on August 11

Seconding Subaru Impreza, mine is a 2010 hatch and I love it in town and on road trips.
posted by headnsouth at 8:12 AM on August 11

have a 10 year old civic with manual and it's given zero problems
posted by lescour at 8:16 AM on August 11

It’s just my opinion but I find the Fit rather dull to drive at best, but it doesn’t get better for the space/value/economy trifecta.

I own a 2014 Mazda3 in top spec trim and mostly I have loved it. It has been completely reliable to 65k so far and drives fabulously. Mazdas have some quirks, but they’re better than they were in 2011. The new 2019 3 has a bunch of new tech that is a bit too new for my taste (they’ve already had a recall on one new thing) but I bet you can find a brand new 2018 3 still around for a good deal and that would actually be my preference at this point.

I also just drove a brand new rental Toyota Corolla XSE (top spec trim). It had a CVT, but it does come in manual I believe (I know it does in hatchback form, this was a sedan). Man that car was put together. It was a blast to drive in sport mode even with the stupid CVT in the way. It handles as well as my Mazda (and that’s saying something) if not a wee bit sharper even (could have been the brand new suspension). It was super comfortable and more roomy than my Mazda by a lot in the the back seats — I remember thinking wow this would work great for car seats. The trunk was huge. The car felt substantial but still smal and lithe. Planted and surefooted in heavy rain at speed. It had a gigantic tablet touchscreen display stuck Tesla style in the middle of the console that was a bit much for me, even coming from a Mazda with a smaller display on top of the dash (a lot of people complained but Mazda was right back in 2014 when they went to this and it is clearly the safest place to put a screen — new Mazdas lead the way bin disabling touch input completely, because it is simply dangerous).

The top spec XSE Corolla is less than the top spec Mazda3 by a fair bit, I believe, even though it’s the opposite for base trims. Toyotas will also hold resale value better than Mazdas or Hondas in most cases.

I really liked that Corolla. I’ve owned Corollas and Civics in the past and they’ve all been solid. I bought a Mazda because I like to fling my car around mountain roads but need to get 40mpg on the highway as a musician. I routinely rent cars on this segment and most of them are really good, including the offerings from Kia/Hyundai, by the way. Mazda drives the best. But man did that Corolla get close or better in the two days I had it. Didn’t get to take it on the twisties, alas. But it felt like it would have been a sweet time.
posted by spitbull at 8:24 AM on August 11 [3 favorites]

Also not sure if they’re available locally for you but 2018 Mazda3s were definitely available in MT at lower spec trims than Grand Touring. Mazda has a pattern of releasing the MT only on top spec trim in the first year of a new model then gradually letting it be available lower down the line. That may yet happen with the new 4th gen 3, but it did happen for the third gen 3 and there are MY 2018s in Touring trim with MT, in theory. But they’re probably hard to find. I’d consider a late model used one innyour shoes too, TBH.
posted by spitbull at 8:27 AM on August 11

And sorry to pepper the thread but it must be said that one quirk of the Mazda3 (3d or 4th generation both) is that the back seat is *substantially* less roomy than Civic or Corolla, not sure about where it lies between Fit, Elantra, etc. but it’s noticeable. I never carry passengers back there and almost always have the seat down in my 3 hatch to load in music equipment. But I’ve had a kid in a car seat in my past and I would be hesitant to recommend the Mazda3 for that situation. It’s going to be a lot easier in that new Corolla.
posted by spitbull at 8:38 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]

You sound a lot like me and my wife. We've had a few of these and we *just* went through the buying process. Here's what we've found:

Honda HR-V is awesome. The cargo space is great and I suspect would be perfect for toting around a little one. Manual only available on the base model.

Subaru Crosstrek is pretty ok, with manual available at all trim levels. It felt very spartan in the interior for us, but the cargo space was also great.

We previously had a VW golf diesel that we loved, and they had manual available at all trim levels too.
posted by dbx at 8:42 AM on August 11

Minis have 6-speed manuals across the entire line; they're not the cheapest cars — they're probably not going to save you much if anything over the premium Mazda 3's sticker price — but there's a number of options there and they can be a mess of fun to drive.
posted by multics at 10:36 AM on August 11

Car & Driver just published a comparison of five manual-transmission hatchbacks (Corolla, Golf, Civic, 3, Elantra). Their emphasis is definitely on the fun-to-drive part--they like the Honda Civic best, but, based on their reviews, I'd pick the Mazda 3.
posted by box at 11:25 AM on August 11 [2 favorites]

as a lifelong stick shift fan who transitioned from a six speed Mini Cooper S, i'd like to make a case for a Tesla Model 3.

like a manual, and unlike an automatic, you get the equivalent of instant engine braking

like a manual, and unlike an automatic, you get a simpler and less prone to failure power train

like a manual, and unlike an automatic, you have torque and instant throttle response where and when you want it

seats four comfortably, drives like a champ in snow, first service interval is at year *two*, etc.
posted by zippy at 12:21 PM on August 11

When I had a car, I had a manual 2014 Jetta S (which is, strictly speaking, not the base model--it has a radio). It was fine, I would recommend it. I got it cheap as the 2015s were out and no one wants an essentially base model manual Jetta. I think I would have preferred a hatchback, but I couldn't afford a Golf. I test drove what was either a Chevy Spark or Sonic, which felt a bit cheap and plasticky. I had both a time and a money crunch, and, while the Civic was at the top end of my price range, there weren't any manual Civics to be had--they were in some unknown location between Japan and Texas. I can't remember if the Fit wasn't available for similar reasons or if I'd ruled it out (I don't much like the Fit, which I know puts me in the minority). I don't think there was a Toyota dealer that claimed to have manuals on their website, so I didn't contemplate the Corolla.
posted by hoyland at 12:23 PM on August 11

I drive a 5-speed Subaru Crosstrek and Mr Ant drives a 6-speed Mazda 3 hatchback. That Mazda has the nicest gearbox I've ever driven, including some cars that cost a lot more money. I can wholeheartedly recommend both cars, though. They're both superb though the Mazda get noticeably better fuel economy.)
posted by workerant at 12:26 PM on August 11

My last two cars have been stick shift Mazda 3's (2004 and 2011), and they were great. Prior to this current one I test drove a Mini, a couple of Subarus, and a Jeep Renegade (which I don't think they make in manual any more). The Mazda was the most fun by far - just like the Mazda 2 it's still super cute and fun to drive. If you like the Mazda 2 I feel like you probably shouldn't overthink it - you're going to like the Mazda 3, it'll feel basically the same but a bit bigger.

I drove two kids around in carseats in the back, no problems at all. The most recent one (2011) just got insurance-totaled in a front corner to front corner collision with a giant dodge pickup truck. One of us got towed away, and it wasn't the Mazda.

I think we're going to go with an EV for the replacement, so if that works with your lifestyle you might consider it. At least for me I'm pretty confident that the regenerative breaking will scratch the same itch as the stick shift does. Test driving the Chevy bolt and Hyundai Kona was fun in much the same way as the mazda was, if you're not a Tesla person.
posted by true at 3:56 PM on August 11

I drove a civic manual for 26 years on the same clutch. It would still be going strong if a chimp hadn’t installed the last timing belt.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:31 PM on August 11

EV is out because chicago street parking( no garage) and place of employment also does not have charging stations.

We tried for a 2018 madza 3 grand touring it was super nice, but there was ONE in the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs and we hated the salesman and there were some questionable things about the car (like it was being advertized as new but sold as used with a used car loan interest rates for one, we asked for a reduction in price and he changed the loan term out and added money to the total cost so...) Honestly if another dealer had one, we would have bought it. The 2019 hatchback didn't like the body as much as I thought I would.

This list is great and the information really helpful. If we come to a decision we will update here. Our Mazda2 is running, so we don't need to buy a car RIGHT NOW though I do have a preapproved loan through our bank at the moment for next few weeks.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:15 AM on August 12

Yeah Mazda dealerships, ugh. They have not gotten the “affordable premium” thing at all right in the dealer experience, it’s a common subject on Mazda fan forums. Terrible dealer network. You have to go in with a battle mindset, and not use them for service. Or financing. Or any other BS like extended warranties. There are apparently exceptions, but my dealership wasn’t one of them.

I just ran a search on autotrader and Carvana has an MT 2018 Mazda3 hatchback in GT trim with only 4600 miles, which really might as well be new, listed at $22,800 in your area, here. In Soul Red no less.

I have never used Carvana but the cars are out there. That car hasn’t needed its first oil change yet. Hard to imagine it’s been even broken in.
posted by spitbull at 8:29 AM on August 12

Also there’s a *brand new* 2018 Mazda3 GT with a stick but a sedan, not a hatchback, in Moline, IL, for $21,800, here.
posted by spitbull at 8:38 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]

I think we're going to end up with a civic si sport sadan because oh my god was it fun to drive. Though features wize the Madza 3 wins out (Honda seems to be a bit stingy with what packages they put on their manuals while Mazda puts everything on them ) but driving wise I really liked the civic more.

The car and driver article was the best help. We're test driving a fit and if there is one available a civic hatchback before finalizing or purchase choice .

Thank you all for the input!
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:55 AM on August 14

Final update, we ended up buying a 2020 Honda civic hatchback.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:10 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

You did good. Nice choice.
posted by spitbull at 8:57 AM on September 8

« Older Where should I live in Brooklyn?   |   How do we find the best outhouse situation? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments