10 Best Manual Transmission Cars Under $30,000, Part 1

Are you the kind of person who believes the only job worth doing is the one you do for yourself? If so, then no doubt you are the type of driver who prefers to shift your own gears and work your own clutch pedal when hitting the open highway or local city streets. There are some drivers as well who claim that a manual transmission is essential to actually getting in touch with a true love of driving. But what if you don’t have enough cash in your bank account to afford that BMW sport sedan you had always promised you would buy yourself so you would learn to love your commute again? Well, there is no need to relegate yourself to the mind numbing monotony of an automatically self-shifting gearbox that won’t let you make your own driving decisions (sorry, automatic drivers). We found ten currently-available vehicles with manual transmission options that are priced below $30,000 and should be attainable by those who must work for a living. The first half of this list is for those who may still be living the single life, who are just getting into driving stick, who want a car that reminds them that driving is fun, or who just need a good value - these first 5 are all under $25,000.

(Do note that some models here are listed as 2014 model year vehicles and that these models were listed as such because they were released early due to somewhat substantial changes made to the vehicle. On the flip side, all models listed as 2013 model year vehicles are expected to have few dramatic changes for the 2014 model year.)

Mazda 2

Photo by Rich Soublet

$14,000 - 2013 Mazda2—Yes, the Mazda2 may just have a 100 horsepower 4-cylinder engine and get by with just the bare essentials like air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a decent stereo and four doors with optional alloy wheels should you spring for the $16,000 Touring model. But that isn’t to say you should underestimate how furiously agile and spritely that this economy hatch is when equipped with the five-speed manual transmission. This gearbox is pure heaven for lovers of a clutch pedal and forgiving enough to be a first purchase for a novice. Just skip the four-speed automatic option.

Volkswagen Jetta 2014

$18,000 - 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8 Turbo—Prior to the introduction of an all new turbocharged and direct injected 1.8 liter 170 horsepower 4-cylinder engine in the Jetta line-up to replace the aging 2.5 liter 5-cylinder, this vehicle was not the affordable German sports sedan driving enthusiasts wanted from VW. But we recently had a preview drive of the 2014 Jetta SE with the 1.8 liter engine and a silky smooth six-speed manual gearbox and found it to be the most fun-to-drive inexpensive economy car on the market right now. Prices start just over $18,000 for a well-equipped SE model.

 Ford Fiesta ST 2014

Photo by Ford

$21,000 - 2014 Ford Fiesta ST—The Fiesta got a substantial overhaul of its exterior style for the new year as well as a rethink of the quality of its interior, which now can be outfitted with in-dash navigation, higher grade leather and plastics, as well as Recaro sport seats on the all-new for 2014 ST hot hatch variant. But what we love most about the ST is its 1.6 liter turbocharged 197 horsepower 4-cylinder mated to a slickly smooth 6-speed manual gearbox that is mandatory, thereby cementing this little Fiesta’s reputation in the baby hot hatch hall of fame. Have fun with this one. Prices start just over $21,000.

Fiat 500 Abarth 2013

$22,000 - 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth—If you are looking at the Fiat 500 Abarth as an automotive purchase based on value versus size you will walk away feeling cheated. But if you look at how many giggles are crammed into this car’s 1.4 liter 160 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder, notchy-yet-slick five-speed manual gearbox as well as its hyperactive steering reflexes, then we have no doubt you will ignore the fact that the rear seats are nearly useless. Who cares when you are having this much fun driving? Prices start from $22,000.

Mazda Miata 2013

Photo by Jon Gala Photography

$23,000 - 2013 Mazda Miata—Yet another entry from the zoom-zoom automaker but perhaps the most obvious inclusion on this list. Ever since its introduction in 1991 the Miata has been world renowned for having one of the sweetest and easiest to use manual transmissions in the whole auto universe. The 2013 model maintains the tradition offering a six-speed gearbox with a light and delightfully forgiving clutch pedal and a short throw shift lever that makes even novices feel like manual transmission experts.

Stay tuned for the second half of this list!

 Photos by James Hamel, unless otherwise noted.

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