I drive a beloved 2014 BMW 435xi with manual transmission. I’m struggling to find something that would be as exciting to drive as my current car for the next 10 years. I would love more room for transporting bikes on road trips, but am concerned about the loss of the driving experience in an SUV.
I feel I should transition away from a gas engine, but for all of the reasons you listed recently (infrastructure, range anxiety, and price), I don’t think I’m ready for a full electric. I also don’t know if I can drive a car without a manual transmission in the winter.
I would love you to suggest something that is less than $75,000, fun to drive, bike friendly, comfortable and low maintenance. – Michele, Edmonton
Petrina Gentile: Michele drives a great car – a 435xi with a stick! But it’s harder nowadays to find those fun-to-drive vehicles with a manual transmission, and the few BMWs and Porsches that still offer a stick are in a whole different price bracket.
Mark Richardson: So let’s concentrate on cars with manual transmissions, while we still can. New ones will be extinct within a decade as we move toward an electric future. And don’t worry about the bicycles – they can be carried safely on a roof rack, or even a trailer hitch. I have a CCM roof mount on my Toyota RAV4 and it’s secure for two bikes and easy to use.
Gentile: What about an Acura Integra? It’s fun-to-drive with the manual transmission and has a roomy cargo area. Prices start around $47,000 including taxes, freight and pre-delivery inspection so it fits well within Michele’s budget.
Richardson: I think the Integra is a lovely car. It’s less costly with an automatic transmission, but that manual gearbox turns it into a true driver’s car. Michele’s budget is higher though, and can afford the Type S that starts around $58,000. It also has a six-speed manual and its 320 horsepower is more of a match for the BMW. I drove one on a track in Japan and it was fabulous.
Gentile: That’s the most powerful Integra ever built. Michele would definitely love it. And it won’t break the bank, either.
Richardson: It’s nicely within the budget, and it even offers a roof bike attachment for $400, approved by Acura. It doesn’t come with all-wheel drive, though, like Michele’s BMW. If all-wheel drive is important, I think it’s only offered with a manual transmission in the Toyota GR Corolla and the Volkswagen Golf Type R.
Gentile: I drove the GR Corolla on the racetrack in British Columbia and it was a blast – I honestly didn’t expect that from a Corolla. But it’s not an ordinary Corolla. It’s a hot little turbocharged hatchback with 300 horsepower, and it’s so agile, smooth and fun to drive. Plus, it returns decent fuel consumption at 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres for combined city and highway driving.
Richardson: I drove it up on the twisting Angeles Crest Highway in California, where I also drove the Golf R and Nissan Z, all of them with stick shifts. The GR Corolla felt the most engaged of all of them, though that’s a tough characteristic to define.
Gentile: The Golf R has great performance and handling. But I don’t like the technology inside the vehicle – those touch-sensitive controls are really finicky and often distracting to use. Wouldn’t you agree?
Richardson: It took me a while to get used to it, even coming out of the more affordable Volkswagen GTI, and frankly, the R’s 315 horsepower felt like a real handful on the road. The Golf R is a remarkable track car, but I prefer a more user-friendly vehicle for driving on public streets. I’d recommend the GTI if Michele can find a car soon, because it won’t come with a manual option after 2024.
Gentile: Frankly the interior of the GR Corolla isn’t that great either – it’s pretty bare bones and plasticky, but I still prefer it over the Golf R.
Richardson: Well, it is a Corolla, which means it’s more Toyota than Lexus. It starts around $50,000. If Michele is okay with rear-wheel drive, I think the Toyota Supra is a better choice: it’s a swift coupe instead of a hot hatch, and it’s gorgeous inside.
Gentile: I disagree – the Supra is not the better choice in this case. A hatchback is way more practical than a coupe. And being from Edmonton, Michele will appreciate an all-wheel-drive vehicle over rear-wheel drive.
Richardson: Maybe, but there are some excellent rear-wheel-drive cars to consider with a stick shift. I know you like the Hyundai Elantra N. Great performance and great value.
Gentile: That’s a good option. I do like the Elantra N and its quick shifting six-speed manual transmission, as well as its bold, race-inspired styling. It doesn’t look like a conventional Elantra. But it’s not luxurious like Michele’s BMW. So what about a V-rated Cadillac? Maybe a CT4-V Blackwing edition? That’s a blast to drive.
Richardson: Ooo – there’s a thought. It’s pushing the budget with a starting price around $72,000, but there’s no provincial sales tax in Alberta to send the cost much beyond that. I’ve only driven the 10-speed automatic though. How’s the manual six-speed?
Gentile: It’s great – smooth with nice short throws. I love the 472-horsepower turbo V6. It won’t disappoint Michele. Plus, it is filled with luxurious appointments inside.
Richardson: That’s way more horsepower than anything else we’ve mentioned. The only other car that comes close to it for the money is the Nissan Z.
Gentile: I like the new-generation Z, but I wasn’t a fan of the manual transmission – it isn’t as smooth as some of its competitors. And again, for Michele, I prefer a sedan rather than a two-door coupe. I think it’ll be more practical for the bikes and carrying other gear.
Richardson: In California, I thought the Z’s stick shift was inferior to both the GR Corolla and the Golf R, and in fact, I remember wishing I could drive the fast-flicking paddles of the automatic Z. So maybe that rules the Nissan out for Michele.
Gentile: Yes, I agree. Skip the Nissan Z. My top pick for Michele is the Acura Integra for its smooth-shifting manual transmission and fun-to-drive ride and handling. And you?
Richardson: I’ve got to agree, provided it’s the more capable Integra Type S. But take a look at the Cadillac if you can, Michele. It’s well worth consideration, especially with that stick-shift, and it’ll look great with one of Cadillac’s recommended SeaSucker bike carriers on the roof.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at email@example.com and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.