We’re used to lauding the benefits of a manual gearbox over an automatic transmission. They’re more fun to drive, keep you more engaged with the car and offer more control when you’re behind the wheel. But not every manual transmission is created equal. Some are in fact, awful.
So, to uncover some of the worst manual gearboxes out there, we turned to you and asked “what’s the worst manual transmission you’ve ever driven?” Here are some of the top responses we received.
2 / 12
“In 2015 I inherited a manual 1997 Chevy S10 with a V6, 4WD, no air conditioning, and manual roll-down windows. It was rusty and worn out and tired.
“AND IT WAS STILL A WAY BETTER TRANSMISSION THAN MY 2009 370Z.
“The 370Z transmission is a clunky, stubborn, sloppy, agricultural piece of junk. It was made worse by the poor throttle mapping on the drive-by-wire throttle pedal, which would fluctuate the throttle position depending on the load and RPM, meaning every time you engaged the clutch it was a totally different vehicle. It was the most inconsistent clutch engagement because of that. AND because the stupid transmission and engine mounts were so soft, the transmission would never let you quickly downshift because it would torque the transmission over. Never had an issue downshifting into a corner with any other manual vehicle I owned before that and after that.”
The Nissan 370Z has been on the road for more than a decade now, and with every mile covered it has cursed more and more drivers with its janky manual gearbox. The six-speed ‘box in this car clearly brought a lot of pain for this poster.
Suggested by: duovamp
3 / 12
“Have driven Subaru, VW, MB, Ford, and Jeep MTs in 25+ years of driving stick. And the worst: The 6MT in the current generation Wrangler, which we currently own.
“I’ve yet to really get used to the clutch point – kind of high – in the 1.5 years we’ve owned it. Stall out in R more than I can remember since learning to drive. The gearing has something to do with it too – we don’t even have ridiculous tires and wheels – just the stock Firestone MT2s that come with the Willys trim, and it’s a dog in the hills. 6 down to 4 on NH/VT mountain highway inclines seems to be the norm. Feels like Jeep picked this MT to attempt to make everyone hate it so much they never need to make one again.”
There are a lot of reasons to hate on the manual ‘box found in the current Jeep Wrangler here. But, excessive stalling and feeling under-powered in the hills is not something anyone wants from their all-American off-roader.
Suggested by: drshaws
4 / 12
“Being from the UK I’ve driven far more manual cars than I have automatics over the years but a rented Mercedes C class in France stuck out as having a particularly poor manual box (Mercedes were never known for decent manual transmissions). It was very vague and did not have a nice shift action. Also worth mentioning, combining a manual box with a hand brake that released by pressing a button with your foot and no hill hold made hill starts very tricky.
“The manual Porsche 928 deserves a mention not because the gearbox, actually the shift is very nice, but the position of the clutch pedal is really oddly spaced with enough room to put your left foot between the clutch and brake pedal. I’m sure it is something you would get used to if you owned the car but very strange at first acquaintance.”
We love a manual gearbox back in the UK, just not the one fitted to the C-Class that this poster had a go in. And, that hill-start procedure would be enough to drive me up the wall!
Suggested by: 365daytonafan01
5 / 12
“In 2003, U-Haul messed up my reservation for a 20ft truck. They knew how to take the reservation, but not hold the reservation. Instead of the 20ft truck I reserved, I got a free “upgrade” to a 26 ft truck. From the 80s. With a manual. It was the only truck over 10ft available within 30 miles so I took it. The manual did not make the driving (or moving) experience better.”
A lot of mentions of rental cars and truck in this Question of the Day. Here, it’s an over-sized moving truck with an underwhelming manual transmission that earned a shout from this poster.
Suggested by: grannyshifter
6 / 12
“It won’t be a popular opinion, but... air cooled Porsche 911. I think it was an ‘86 or ‘87 Targa.
“Holy balls, it’s like a gear bag. The car sounds and feels like nothing else, but man, there’s so much slop in the shifter, it was like a tractor, and the shitty cable clutch was like, impossible to reengage smoothly. I’m sure I’d have gotten used to it if I drove it more than 10 or 15 miles, but it didn’t really leave me feeling like I wanted to.
“My 1999 Boxster has a similarly floppy shifter that still somehow finds the gear I want anyway, so maybe it’s just supposed to be that way? I think the Boxster one is floppy because it has a bunch of worn plastic parts.”
Anyone who disagrees here can contact Aaverett directly. I claim no responsibility for these questionable opinions.
Suggested by: aaverett
7 / 12
“Back in the mid 80's I visited Corfu in Greece. Other global travelers that we linked up with with rented a Citroen Mehari, kind of like a VW thing, but built on the 2CV chassis.
“Neither one could drive stick, so I volunteered to drive the beast. The thing’s shift lever was located in the dash. It’s was called a ‘push me, pull you’ shifter. It was the wildest thing to learn to drive, and the worst shifter I’ve ever encountered.”
Well this is a fun car to discover on a Monday! Produced between 1968 and 1988, the Mehari used the 2CV platform and came with removable doors and an optional fabric top, the essential ingredients of any good off-roader!
Suggested by: braking-dad
8 / 12
“The worst manuals I’ve driven is a tie between two cars... a 1991 Ford Escort with over 250,000km on it and a 2005 Focus with over 250,000km on it.
“For the Escort, the shifter was somewhat sloppy, made odd noises at certain speeds and would sometimes get stuck in 5th gear if you came to a stop with it still in 5th. To get it out, you’d have to rock the car in some fashion while having someone pull on the shifter and it would pop out.
“For the Focus, it was the opposite issue. If you were standing still, it would often be almost impossible to get it into first gear or reverse... especially when cold. So I got into the habit of parking it and shutting it off with it either in 1st or reverse.
“But note that the shifters for both the Escort and Focus are fine when new. They just don’t age as well as the manual transmission you’d find in a Honda.
“And an honorable mention goes to the 2003 Suzuki Aerio I had for a short period that would pop out of 5th gear at certain highway speeds at certain engine loads. And the issue was somthing bad about the design of the transmission where the springs that hold the gear in place were too weak. They had a recall on that which I did... but it didn’t fix the issue completely. Not a big deal. But it would be jarring when it would pop out of gear every so often... and then I’d just put it back in gear and carry on. Someone smashed into my Suzuki and it got written off before I found a resolution to the issue or got used to living with it. Prior to it getting written off, I was thinking of making a custom spring to hold it in gear even more firmly than the replacement OEM spring and see if that would fix the issue. Also tried replacing the transmission fluid, but that didn’t fix it.”
Neither of these sound like fun driving experiences. Do better, Ford.
Suggested by: manwich
9 / 12
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen Golf GTI
“Controversial take: VW Golf GTI Mk6. The design of the seat and the feel of the pedals make it awkward pushing the clutch. The transmission is lifeless and un-engaging, and the gear throw is way too long and not very precise. Only GTI I’ve ever driven and the worst manual I’ve experienced, short of the old Porsche 915 transmissions that have the feel of moving a spoon in a bowl of oatmeal.
“For reference, the manuals I was used to driving were an RSX-S, an S2000, and a 944 (i.e. the only good Porsche transmission until the 996 era, including the G50 with its awkwardly tight gearbox and overly long throw that is only overcome by putting a CAE shifter in the car instead). There was no way anything VW could compare to that.”
A lot of people with a lot of controversial takes today, exactly what we like to see. Built between 2008 and 2013, the MK6 Golf came with a six-speed manual connected to a four-cylinder engine that produced 207 HP.
Suggested by: bigred91
10 / 12
“Oh, this is easy. The 1981 Dodge Omni I test drove, without a doubt.
“The car was barely a year old and was a recent trade in at the Toyota dealer in Cherry Hill NJ.
“The shifter felt like it was connected to the transmission by strawberry Twizzlers. Absolutely no way to shift gears swiftly by feel.
“After shifting though the gears 3-4 times, I turned around and went back to the dealer.”
And now, another hatchback from these fair lands we call America. Over the years, the Omni came with both a four- or five-speed manual but we can’t confirm which of these was powered by Twizzlers.
Suggested by: earthbound-misfit-i
11 / 12
“It’s got to be my old Unimog 404. It was a 6 speed with 2 reverse gears and required two shifters to accomplish it all. Instructions were in German. And aside from that it was a guessing game which gear you were in.”
The Unimog 404 is a beast, there’s no denying that. And trying to navigate any terrain in a 6,000 pound truck with a perplexing gearbox and a manual in a different language does not sound line an ideal scenario to wrap your head around this monster.