It wasn't so long ago an automatic transmission was considered upmarket.
While an automatic is taken for granted by most people buying a new car today, the option to buy a new car with a manual transmission is becoming more difficult as manufacturers quietly phase-out the gearbox.
In figures provided to CarAdvice, the past five years of sales data shows the Toyota Corolla – Australia's best-selling small car – has seen a marked decline in the demand for manual transmissions by consumers.
With a manual now only available in the entry-level Ascent within the current Corolla range (introduced in 2018), just 1.5 per cent of Corolla hatch buyers optioned a manual transmission in the first half of 2020, compared with 7.4 per cent for 2015. However, in 2015, a manual was also available in three of the four Corolla variants.
The transmission is even less popular among those buying Corolla sedans, with just 1.1 per cent optioning a manual, versus 3.6 per cent only five years ago.
Interestingly, the numbers reflect a slight uptake this year. In 2019, only 1.5 per cent of Corolla hatches sold were manual, and half a per cent of Corolla sedans sold over twelve months had a clutch.
In the four year period from 2015 to 2019, the demand for manual Corolla hatches dropped by 80 per cent, and 86 per cent for the sedan variant.
One reason is our current generation of new drivers. An increasing proportion of younger people are choosing not even get their driver's license – and those who do are sitting their test in an automatic.
A spokesperson for the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) told CarAdvice the downtrend has been noticeable over the past decade.
"In the last 10 years we’ve seen a steady decline in people requesting manual RACV Drive School lessons. Requests for manual Drive School cars have been trending down from 38 per cent of requests in 2010 to just 12 per cent of requests in 2019," the spokesperson said.
"We’re also seeing more regional Learner drivers making the shift to automatic vehicles. This is partly due to more farm and heavy vehicles having an automatic gearbox, which has meant there is less need for a manual licence in those areas."
Aidan Russell, a teenager from regional Victoria, is one learner driver going against the trend: "I wanted to learn manual because it allows me to drive a wider range of cars in the future".
Mr Russell told CarAdvice he's one of few learner drivers he knows who has access to a manual car, with the majority opting to learn on an auto.
When asked about whether he plans to switch to an automatic after he gets his driver's licence, Mr Russell said, "I own my own manual so i will probably continue [to drive] that".
But for the most part, manuals seem to still hold appeal for two main groups: those wanting to buy new vehicles at rock-bottom prices, and driving enthusiasts.
Despite the number of new cars with an H-pattern gear knob shrinking every year, manual options are still out there for bargain hunters and enthusiasts alike.
Of those available, there are some standouts. The cheapest manual new car for sale in Australia today is the Kia Picanto at $14,390 plus on-road costs, while the Aston Martin Vantage coupe is the most expensive manual at $299,950 plus on-road costs.
Enthusiasts who can't quite stretch to a Vantage might consider a Toyota 86 GT, the cheapest rear-wheel-drive manual car (that isn't a ute) on sale locally at $31,440 plus on-road costs.
For those needing off-road capabilities, the cheapest four-wheel-drive is the Great Wall Steed at $21,990 plus on-road costs, or $17,990 plus on-road costs for a rear-wheel-drive version. Interestingly, the Steed is also the most powerful manual under $20,000 plus on-road costs, with 110kW/310Nm from its 2.0-litre diesel.
While there's no denying that manuals are on the endangered list, as of today there are still more than 300 different makes, models, and variants for sale in Australia today with a clutch pedal.
Here's a list of new-cars you can get with a manual transmission:
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