Manual pickup trucks are a dying breed. According to MTA Queensland, 9 in 10 Australians prefer automatic drives to manual drives. The implication of that data to car manufacturers is simple: declining demand for manual transmission vehicles. Consequently, these manufacturers are moving fast away from stick shift vehicles.
Although a few vehicle models still have the manual transmission feature, there are very few options left, especially if you’re shopping in the pickup trucks section.
If you’re a Vin Diesel—of the Fast and Furious movie franchise, you know—and one who argues that you aren't really driving unless it’s a stick shift, then it must be sad to hear that your “favs” are nearing extinction. For you, I come bearing love gifts: I’ve picked two of the best manual pickup trucks you can buy in 2021.
What New Trucks Still Offer Manual Transmission?
Based on Nissan’s specs release, the 2022 model of the Nissan Frontier isn’t coming with the stick. This leaves us with a few choices; fortunately, we still have the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, and the Jeep Gladiator.
1. Toyota HiLux
The Toyota HiLux has always been manual-equipped, and the Japanese manufacturers remain committed to this tradition. But the manual transmission in 2020 and 2021 isn’t made for every trim. The SR 4x4, SR Hi-Rider, SR+ 4x4, SR5, SR5+ 4x4, and the Workmate trims feature the 6-speed stick shift and all run on the 2.8L 4-cyl diesel engine. Both the range-topping Rogue and Rugged X are exclusively available in automatic.
If you want the manual-equipped HiLux, you'll have to be prepared to sacrifice a few features that the automatic transmission variant offers.
Check out more detailed description of the Toyota HiLux in this article.
2. Ford Ranger
The Hilux’s all-time rival Ford Ranger remains one of our top picks when it comes to the best utes that come with a manual gearbox option. Like its Japanese competitor, not all trims are available in stick shift, but you get the Sport 3.2, Wildtrak 3.2, Wildtrak X, and most of the XL and XLT trims in manual. That’s a lot of choice, if you ask me, all packed with Ford’s stamp of Oz-tuned reliability. For more info on the Ford Ranger and its early version as another popular pickup, the Mazda BT-50, please check out our Carpedia article about it here.
3. Jeep Gladiator
The Jeep Gladiator carries the DNA of the Jeep Wrangler runs on the 3.6L V6 engine and offers a six-speed manual transmission. Unfortunately, if you’re in Australia, only the auto option is available, very much the same case with the Wrangler. In most parts of the world, the Gladiator continues to come standard in stick shift for all trims (Sport, Sport S, Overland, Mojave and Rubicon). You also get to save around $2,500 for choosing the manual transmission over the eight-speed automatic. The stick Gladiator Sport tops the payload rating with 770 kg, just 18 kg short of its automatic cousin.
In all this good news, there's a drawback. Gladiators with manual transmission offer 907.2 kg less towing power. It can be more. I don’t know if this sours the deal for you. Should it?
Will the Stick Shift Make a Comeback?
Automatic transmissions were seen once as a luxury feature because of their rarity at the time. Fast forward to today, the tables have turned.
Manual-transmission clutch vehicles have managed to last this long primarily because of the initial concerns drivers had about automatics. Some of these issues include overheating, fuel inefficiency, inferior acceleration, high service costs and a few other worries. But with extensive R & D, automatic transmission cars became better and more efficient and the most in-demand.
According to Research and Markets, the automotive automatic transmission market is expected to register a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 9.5% between 2019 and 2024. We are still only in 2021, and it feels like stick shift vehicles only have a place in an exhibit—let’s hope we don’t have a T-Rex on our hands.
Reasons Why a Comeback Is Possible for Manual Gearboxes
A comeback is a possibility, and the reasons are:
1. Maintenance is simpler and cheaper.
Stick shift vehicles are still less expensive to buy and maintain, despite the advancements in automatic transmission tech. Manual transmission vehicles have more machinery and motor parts. As a result, they are less costly to maintain. They generally cost $1,000 less, too, whether new or used.
2. Manual vehicles are less likely to be stolen.
Funny, but true, and what's more amusing is the reason behind it: Not many people can drive them!
3. You have better overall control with stick shift vehicles.
Driving is very subjective, and a driver’s gear preference for a terrain may differ from what an automatic transmission chooses. Because driving demands a certain level of control, several drivers may choose manual over automatic.
Reasons Why a Comeback Will Be Unsuccessful
And here’s why I think why it will be unsuccessful:
1. The demand has already declined.
Every decision taken in manufacturing is based on market demand. That's the fundamental nature of business. And the overwhelming majority of consumers have proven for years that this is their favourite option. If manufacturers don’t have a strong incentive to expend time and resources researching and developing manual drives, they’re less likely to continue it.
2. Automatic transmissions mean stress-free driving.
Now, automatic drives require less driver input. They are easier and far more convenient to drive than the alternate manual transmission vehicles. You have to be "attentive" and alert when driving the manuals in heavy traffic; you'll have to change gear every time you come to a stop and when you want to continue. This is where the automatic version excels; it does the work for you, and all you need do is vary throttle input.
There’s not enough justification for vehicles with manual gearboxes to return to their glory days. Now autonomy is speed. However, gear change still means a lot to many drivers, so I doubt that stick shifts will go into complete extinction. However, their glory days are most likely gone.
Manual transmission in the utility truck category is slowly dying due to the decline in demand. Toyota, Ford, and Jeep are some of the last manufacturers keeping stick-shift pickups alive even as it looks to be unsuccessful. Like their counterpart, Nissan, they may bow to the overwhelming pressure of sales if demand continues to nosedive.
With a few surviving torchbearers, variety is now a luxury.
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By Damilare Olasinde