There was a time when most people who truly love to drive would never consider purchasing a sports car without a manual transmission. Of course, time marches on and with it technology. For this reason, many of the best sports cars with manual transmissions today use automated manual transmissions. Contemporary twin-clutch automated manual transmissions shift faster and more efficiently than any human being ever could. Further, their gear changes are so seamless, forward momentum is absolutely uninterrupted during the transitions. Still, for some drivers, the feeling of having absolute control over their machines trumps any advantages these new transmissions could ever provide. For this reason, many of the most advanced manufacturers still offer drivers a choice in this regard.
Alfa Romeo 4C
Does the idea of owning a hand-built mid-engined Italian exotic sports car intrigue you? Consider it; the sound of a snarling turbocharged engine whirling away right behind your shoulder blades mounted in a lightweight carbon fiber tub, guided by prescient steering to deliver sublime handling and benefitting from brick wall braking. Alfa Romeo’s new 4C sports car is essentially a thinly disguised racing machine for the street—from one of the most successful names in motorsports history. Power comes from a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission routes power to the rear wheels. Pricing starts at $53,900.
Audi’s mid-engine supercar became an instant favorite when it was introduced back in 2006. Blessed with great looks, superior comfort, and a wonderfully down to earth driving experience, piloting an R8 is like meeting a supermodel and finding out you have practically everything in common. Offered with a choice of either a 430-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8 capable of generating 317 ft-lbs of torque, or a 5.2-liter V10 generating 525 horsepower and 391 ft-lbs of torque; or a 550-horsepower version of the V10, Audi’s R8 has more than adequate performance to complement its looks. The all-wheel drive powertrains can be fitted with your choice of a six-speed manual transmission, or a seven-speed double clutch automated manual gearbox. Pricing starts at $115,900.
The only two-seat Convertible in BMW’s current lineup, you’d expect the Z4 to be an exceptionally good driving machine, and it doesn’t disappoint. BMW offers the Z4 with a choice of two engines. The Z4 sDrive28i is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 240 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque. The Z4 sDrive35i gets a 300-horsepower turbocharged inline six, capable of producing 300 ft-lbs of torque. If neither of those does it for you, consider the Z4 sDrive35is. For this one, BMW coaxes another 35 horsepower and 32 ft-lbs of torque out of the turbo six for a total of 335 horses and 332 ft/lbs. The sDrive28i and the sDrive35i offer a choice of either a six-speed manual, or a seven-speed automated manual. If you go with the 35is, you’ll get the seven-speed. Pricing starts at $48,950.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Gorgeously sculpted, beautifully outfitted, and wickedly fast, the current Corvette Stingray is the best Corvette model ever made. More refined than any ever before it, yet giving up absolutely none of the outstanding roadholding, brutal acceleration, or head turning style we’ve come to expect from America’s only sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is world-class. Power flows to the rear wheels courtesy of a 6.2-liter V8 capable of churning out 455 horsepower and 460 ft-lbs of torque. The optional dual-mode exhaust system bumps output to 460 horsepower and 465 ft-lbs of torque. The seven-speed manual transmission automatically matches revs on both upshifts and downshifts. Pricing starts at $54,000.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The upcoming 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata will be the most aggressive looking Miata ever upon its debut in early 2015. Mazda’s Kodo styling language gave the car a serious countenance, particularly in the glower of the headlights. The look of this new Miata has left all of the playfulness of its predecessors behind and embraced a more serious attitude. The broad hips enveloping the rear wheels emphasize the rear drive nature of the car, while simultaneously making a power statement. Though still readily identifiable as a Mazda MX-5 Miata, the design has certainly grown up. Pricing has yet to be announced.
The Nissan 370Z offers good looks, strong performance, and arguably lower operating costs than practically every other sports car on the market. The Z also offers a great deal of agility, thanks to its unique front mid-engine/rear drive powertrain layout. The Nissan’s interior treatment is one of the nicest you’ll find in a sports car in this price category. Fold in a selection of the latest tech features and the Z starts to look pretty good in any company. Power comes from a 332 horsepower V6 delivering 270 ft-lbs of torque. Manual transmission duties are handled by a six-speed with a rev-matching feature capable of making every driver sound like an expert. Pricing starts at $29,990.
Porsche 911 Carrera
Easily one of the most coveted sports cars ever known, the Porsche 911 is one of those cars about which it is said every driving enthusiast should own at least one in their lifetime. Here’s the truly amazing part, anyone who has ever studied physics would tell you the rear-engined 911 should never handle as well as it does. While Porsche’s engineering team moved the engine slightly forward for this iteration of the venerable model, it’s still positioned where no other manufacturer dares place a powerplant in a sports car. Porsche offers the 911 with a number of different engines ranging in power from 350 horsepower to 560 horsepower. Pricing starts at $84,300.
If Porsche’s engineering team were to ever endow Boxster and Cayman with the same amount of power routinely lavished upon the flagship 911 models, the mid-engined Porsche cars would run off and leave their storied siblings without so much as a glance over their metaphorical shoulders. For this reason, racing along a twisting mountain road in either one is an experience more akin to riding a magic carpet than driving a car. They track like slot cars and they’re so smooth you’re tempted to get out and look to see if they’re really touching the ground. Boxster and Cayman are offered with engines ranging in power from 265 horsepower to 330. Pricing starts at $51,400 for Boxster, $52,600 for Cayman.
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
A rear drive two-seater from both Scion and Subaru with a boxer engine, racing seats, mounting points for a roll cage, and a ceiling designed to accommodate a helmeted crania—well that was totally unexpected a few years ago. But it’s reality today. Totally affordable, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are also wonderfully enjoyable to drive, if a bit on the underpowered side. That’s OK though, put them on a twisty stretch of asphalt and very few cars are capable of running off and leaving the diminutive coupes. Powering the rear-wheel-drive duo is a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine generating 200 horsepower and 151 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment. Scion FR-S pricing starts at $25,470, Subaru BRZ pricing starts at $25,695.