In 1948, General Motors introduced the world’s first automatic transmission in its Oldsmobile brand. The hassle of figuring out the choreography between a clutch pedal and gear selector and gas and brake pedals to make your vehicle go and stop disappeared almost overnight. Since then, cars with an automatic gearbox and just two pedals—a brake and an accelerator—have become the norm.
Beyond the convenience of not having to master clutch and gear engagement, many of today’s automatic transmissions can shift faster than human drivers and get better fuel economy in the process. But for drivers who enjoy the skill of a well-executed shift or don’t want to pay the extra funds for an automatic gearbox, there are still a few new vehicles available with manual transmissions, many from the entry-level classes.
For buyers who like to shift for themselves and save money, here are the 10 most affordable new vehicles in Canada with a manual transmission for 2021*.
10th-place: 2021 Volkswagen Jetta - $21,595* CAD
The 5-passenger front-wheel-drive (FWD) Volkswagen compact sedan can still be had with a manual transmission at an affordable price. A 6-speed manual is the standard gearbox in the base 2021 Jetta Comfortline trim. Stick-shift aficionados will be pleased with its easy and precise action. While the ingredients may not appear to add up to much—a 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine that makes 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque going to the front wheels only—the Jetta’s driving dynamics continue to be refined and athletic.
9th-place: 2021 Toyota Corolla Sedan - $19,350 CAD
Like the Jetta, the FWD Corolla compact sedan can be had with a 6-speed manual with its most affordable trim, the L 6M. The gearbox is hooked up to a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine that makes 139 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. The competence of the latest 5-passenger Corolla’s platform shines in its driving experience: it’s solid, quiet, and offers a comfortable ride without backing down when pushed. The steering is crisp yet tends a touch toward the light side, making it easy to wheel about.
8th-place: 2021 Nissan Sentra - $19,198 CAD
Not only does the base Sentra S 6MT trim get you the most affordable version of Nissan’s compact sedan, there’s also a slick-shifting 6-speed manual gearbox. Driver’s will also be impressed by the FWD 5-passenger Sentra’s independent multi-link rear suspension, which is a more sophisticated setup than the torsion beams in some rivals. Admittedly, the Sentra’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre $cylinder gas engine, rated at 149 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, is not a massive amount of muscle, but the delivery of that power is at least pleasantly responsive to throttle inputs.
7th-place: 2022 Hyundai Elantra - $17,999 CAD
Don’t let the low price fool you. The 5-passenger FWD Elantra compact sedan in base Essential trim comes well equipped, including a 6-speed manual transmission. Power comes from a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder unit making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. That’s a modest amount, but similar to some rivals. The Essential trim also gets a relatively simple rear suspension (torsion beam), while higher-up Elantra’s have a multi-link rear setup. To Hyundai’s credit, they both deliver calm, controlled, and comfortable rides.
6th-place: 2021 Kia Forte Sedan- $17,895 CAD
As the Hyundai Elantra’s corporate cousin, the Forte Sedan plays a similar song. In base LX MT trim, the FWD 5-passenger Forte comes with a manual transmission with 6 gears. And the Kia shares the same 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. In general, the Forte drives in a pleasant, refined, and somewhat nimble manner. The steering gives some idea of what the front wheels are up to, the throttle response is prompt but not overly sharp, and the brakes feel confident. While the parking brake lever might seem quaintly 20th-century, many drivers prefer it over modern electric versions with a switch.
5th-place: 2021 Hyundai Venue - $17,599 CAD
Even though the Venue’s base Essential trim’s 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine puts out only 121 horsepower and 113 pound-feet of torque, Hyundai’s smallest SUV feels reasonably peppy, more so if you stick with the 6-speed manual gearbox. The ride quality of the 5-passenger FWD Venue is comfortable but slightly firm. Unlike the somewhat larger Hyundai Kona with its independent rear suspension, the Venue comes with a torsion-beam rear axle. This more straightforward and less costly arrangement works with long, upright shock absorbers that do not intrude too much on its generous cargo area.
4th-place: 2021 Kia Rio 5-door - $17,295 CAD
Small hatchbacks with manual transmissions may be on the way to extinction, but cars like the sub-compact Rio 5-door are still here. In base LX+ MT trim, the 5-passenger Kia hatchback gets a 6-speed manual hooked up to a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine that produces 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. Additionally, the FWD Kia’s ride is comfortable. The steering is precise. Corners are tackled with ease—safe and predictable understeer phases at more enthusiastic speeds. On top of all that, the Rio’s cabin is pretty quiet for the class, even on the freeway.
3rd-place: 2021 Nissan Versa - $16,498 CAD
If you are looking for a sub-compact with a trunk that lets you shift its gears, Nissan’s Versa sedan in base S 1.6 5MT trim should be considered. The FWD 5-passenger Versa’sx 5-speed manual transmission is mated to a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine that makes 122 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This amount of power is relatively modest yet still adequate for commuting and weekend errands. The Versa’s ride quality is also perfectly acceptable for everyday duties. The body doesn’t lean that much through the corners. And, thankfully, the small Nissan sedan’s steering does not feel over-assisted.
2nd-place: 2022 Mitsubishi Mirage Hatchback- $14,098 CAD
The Mirage has technically been in the same generation since the 2014 model year, but it’s gotten some updates since then to keep it fresh. The FWD Mitsubishi sub-compact hatchback also has the distinction of being one of the most affordable new cars you can buy today. The only car in Mitsubishi’s SUV-laden lineup, all Mirages hatchbacks come with a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine that generates a modest 78 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque. But at least its standard 5-speed manual transmission is there to make the most of that humble powerplant.
1st-place: 2021 Chevrolet Spark - $10,398 CAD
Do you like shifting gears AND saving money? The solution could be the Spark in base LS Manual trim. With its 5-speed manual gearbox, the FWD sub-compact Chevy hatchback allows drivers to extract what little performance the Spark has from its 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine that spits out 98 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque. On twisting uphill stretches, it's best to think about how to keep the momentum going. Because despite the standard hill start assist, getting things moving from a full stop is asking a lot from such a little engine.
*Based Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices in Canada as of October 1, 2021.