A Manual . . . If You Can Find One!

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Subaru sent me another 2021 Crosstrek to drive this week because the car I was supposed to get became indisposed for some reason.  I’ve already reviewed this little Soobie (here) so this article will focus on one aspect of the Crosstrek which isn’t really about the Crosstrek, per se.

It’s about what it’s available with.

And, not.

That being a six-speed manual transmission. They are rare, generally and an unavailable thing, specifically – in the Crosstrek’s small crossover class. In which every one of its rivals – models like the Mazda CX30, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona and Jeep Renegade are automatic-only

Which renders them less appealing to drivers who like to – you know – drive. Without a third pedal, you’ve lost at least a third of what there is to do, as a driver. It’s less fun – and you have less control.

With a manual, the up and down shifts occur when you decide, period.

While it is true that most modern automatics have a “manual” function that lets you hold the automatic in first – or downshift to second from third (and so on) contrary to the programming in Drive – the computer still has overall control. It will not let you downshift into first (and so on) if the car is above a certain speed – nor down to second (and so on) if it judges that doing so would result in over-speeding the engine.

This is by no means a bad thing. It keeps you from grenading your engine. But it also keeps you under control.

Not just as regards when to shift up or down, either.

There is no automatic-analog to slipping the clutch, as when launching the car from a stop. You can hold the brake – and load the converter, by flooring the gas – but that is not the same thing.

Another thing is that – contrary to what you may have read – a manual-equipped car can outperform an automatic-equipped version of the same thing when it comes to gas mileage. You may have read the contrary – because that is what’s generally published.

On the window sticker.

There, an automatic-equipped version of a given car will usually tout a 3-4 MPG overall advantage vs. the same car with a manual. This helps to sell the automatic-equipped version, which usually costs more – because automatics, especially modern, electronically controlled automatics – cost more to design and build than manuals, which remain fundamentally mechanical devices not much changed from those put in cars 30 or 40 or even 50 years ago.

It’s a two-fer for the car companies. They can tout the automatic-equipped car’s putative gas mileage advantage and they get to take advantage of the higher gas mileage averages, as regards the government’s mandatory-minimum MPG standards (CAFE). Anything that boosts the average is a boon, though not necessarily in the real world.

The automatic-equipped car can be programmed to the test – that is, programmed to shift in such a way as to deliver the best-possible MPG numbers on the tests used by the government to establish those city/highway numbers you see on then new car window sticker.

And so, they do.

But when you are driving the car – and not trying to score the best on a test – the mileage can vary, significantly. Because your right foot over-rides the programming, causing the transmission to shift down from overdrive – or from sixth to fourth – in order to keep the car that’s coming up fast behind you from pile-driving into you. In order to merge with traffic without becoming a traffic hazard – and so on.

That chews away at the on-paper numbers – and then you have the efficiency losses that come with most automatics, which have to allow some slippage through he torque converter as when the car is in gear but not moving – to keep the engine from stalling. As it would with a manual, in gear.

A manual-equipped car can equal or better the MPG numbers posted by the automatic-equipped version of the same thing, if it is driven by someone who knows how to drive a manual-equipped car.

It will also usually save you money – in the case of the Crosstrek, $1,100. That’s the difference in price between the manual-equipped Crosstrek ($22,495) and the same thing with an automatic ($23,595).

If you can find a dealer who has one available – or who is willing to order you one.

After I published my review, a number of readers wrote me to express their frustration about not being able to find a manual-equipped Crosstrek at their local Subaru store. And about the unwillingness of these dealers to order one.

All they had on the lot were the automatic-equipped versions. Naturally, the dealership wants to sell those. Because it bought them. Well, it took out a loan to get them and each month longer they sit on the lot increases the dealer’s carrying costs. And each month that goes by means another month closer to the new model year, which is not always next calendar year. When the new whatever-it-is comes out, say in mid-summer, the remaining inventory of still-new-but-now-the-old-model of whatever-it-is usually goes down in value.

Plus, the automatic-equipped versions are usually more loaded and so there’s more money to be made on them, regardless.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up- or give up the third pedal. Rather, be relentless. Tell the dealer you want to buy the car with the manual and won’t buy it with an automatic. Email every dealer in your area and tell them you want to buy – but only if they can get you the manual.

And if that doesn’t work, call the company – in this case, Subaru. See here. Let them know their dealer won’t sell you the car you want to buy. It’s worth the hassle – even though there shouldn’t be one.

. . . 

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  1. One of the interesting benefits of our current “supply chain” shortages is that the dealers don’t have any cars in stock. And everything they do have onsite seems to get sold very quickly. Plus, when I started looking for my late-midlife crisis car, I decided that a new Miata would not be compatible with our aged knees. So I went looking for a 6-speed Mustang convertible instead. Absolutely nothing manual available from stock, so I filled out the order form (online), sent it to the dealer, and Ford emailed me back to say that my car will be built in December. I had lusted after the 5.0 but I could not justify the price, all at MSRP, so I settled for the turbo 2.0. Red of course. My last manual was a 1994 Volvo 4-speed; this 6-speed should be interesting.

  2. I have a manual crosstrek. Looked in Phoenix for a new one – one hundred crosstreks and not -one- manual. Bought a used one off cars.com and had it shipped. You can search for manuals only in the transmission search box. If you want one 2022 is the last model year I believe. Love the little truck. Keep it in its power band over 4K rpm and its plenty peppy if not a rocketship . Easy with a stick! As Eric has said more fun to drive a slow car fast. I agree with a previous post that the one that Eric has has a cool color – greyish blue. BMW has that too.

  3. Ordered myself a manual vehicle that should arrive in Sept, if there’s no more delays (if that’s a hint to what I got)

    Fortunately my dealers cool and they won’t hassle me, they’d let me order something without issue. Imo, other than this, everything else I get is gonna be used and stick.

    I’ve driven to NH and back twice with stick, driven through all 5 boroughs of NY Shitty, and whatnot. Can’t wait to drive a convertible with a stick, gonna be fun! Now if only I could get my sister and gf interested in 3 pedals, got better luck at winning a scratch off over $100

    • “Can’t wait to drive a convertible with a stick, gonna be fun! ”

      Just blasted home, eight miles through 10 round-a-bouts. Top down, radio blaring, whooppee!

      • Hell yeah brother!

        Come fall, planning a trip with the new rig, hope to experience being topless in Fl myself.

        Used to have an Ecoboost Convertible, auto sadly (long story, wasnt my choice), and miss cruising topless, always had a hell of a farmers tan… this time, while removing the tops gonna be fun, at least I can row regardless

        Wbu, whatcha got?

  4. People say MT’s don’t sell. I say dealers won’t stock them and that’s why they don’t sell. Now apparently dealers won’t even order them for buyers that demand them.

    • Bingo! I see a manual ___ one week online and the next its gone

      Plenty of young guys (18-30ish) who’d love to row their on something new but wind up used because someone needs cash and they want something fun

  5. In a much better society, we could have manual transmission versions of every model. Manuals deliver control and just as much quiet and ease of operation as an automatic, unless you qualify as an imbecile. Only fags and women want to drive automatics, all things being equal (meaning gearing)

    • Those Do look like very fun cars to drive, clay. Someday, I may be fortunate enough to drive one. The Subaroo might be fun, too. The two cars seem similar to me.
      Like a GTi?

      I have a beater 4×4 ’94 Toyota pickup with a five speed manual, quite often when I’m out and about shifting into top gear while I’m a bit preoccupied thinking of other things I find myself sometimes pushing the clutch and searching for a sixth gear. Ha! Oops.
      I think of EPA at about that time for some reason as I let up the clutch and stay in fifth gear.

      Do you ever find yourself searching for a sixth gear? It’s likely, I imagine, that the gearing is different on a Miata and you don’t have that experience.

      • A mazda stick is the best one Ive ever driven. I dont look for a sixth gear – I rarely get out of 4th in my subaru because I need it in the powerband on a phoenix interstate.

        • The Mazda pickups seem like they might be a good option, if I ever get some extra money saved I’ll have to compare them with the Ford Rangers as there’s getting to be more rust than solid metal on my Toyota pickup.

          Perhaps, after the Great Reset attempt and the Greatest Crash???

  6. Hey Eric,

    When I was looking for my beloved Dodge Dakota in 2002, I tried to buy it from a local dealer. I told them exactly what I wanted (V8, 5sp MT, 4WD, extended cab, manual doors and windows), they said they’d call me when they had the truck, but kept offering me AT only. After a couple weeks I gave up on them and did an internet search. I found exactly what I wanted in Steamboat Springs, CO and negotiated a great price online. I drove up with a buddy of mine, bought the truck and had a great weekend in CO. Two weeks later, the local dealer called me and said “we have your truck”. I told the sales guy that I’d already bought one. He was pissed, asked me “why did I do that?” I said because you kept trying to sell me an AT instead of getting me the truck I wanted.


  7. ‘Each month that goes by means another month closer to the new model year, which is not always next calendar year.’ — EP

    Car & Driver:

    Blame Franklin D. Roosevelt. Originally, automobile model years tracked calendar years. However, that practice changed in the mid-1930s, after FDR signed an executive order that dictated automakers release their new vehicles in the fall of the preceding calendar year “as a means of facilitating regularization of employment in the [automotive] industry.”

    Auto assembly-line workers are typically idled during a new-model changeover, and the president reasoned that if their idle period were to happen earlier in the fall, autoworkers would be able to maintain employment through the holiday season and would thus be able to spend more.


    Surprise … auto makers have been humiliatingly gov-whipped since before we was born. What gave Potus the right to dictate model years?

    Even ol’ Frank though, with his jaunty cigarette holder and dashing cape, didn’t dream of designing the damned vehicles and dictating their specs. That madness started only after the post WWII metastasization of the plenipotent, megalomaniacal national security state, freed of the last shackles of the hokey old ‘constitution.’

    Freedom … it’s something we read about in dusty old history books, at least till Uncle gets around to banning such subversive literature.

      • way before that. he used the great depression to inflict full blown communism on the country. He endlessly provoked japan until he got the war he wanted. evil man.

  8. Yep, I’m old school too. When I got my CDL and took my first (and only) driving position, I took a manual when everyone else wanted an automatic. I’d be glad to take one now. Maybe when I replace my current car.

  9. What is the paint that subuaru & toyota use that give it that “ghost” tinge?
    I wish every maker had that option.

  10. Hold your ground- I did this in 04 when I ordered an 05 Outback XT. I refused to get the automatic, the dealer almost insisted on not ordering a 5 speed. So I walked and then they called and said they’d order the car.

    Not long after, it was mostly the WRX and STi that were available widespread with manuals.

    Regarding mileage, my A4 Trans Am has never touched the mileage of my M6 Formula (same engine, a couple years apart).

    Plus, there’s the fun factor and control that come with being one with the machine.

    And it’s sad that kids today will likely see manuals as anachronisms- like we see using a washboard down at the creek instead of the washing machine.

    Skills the public will no longer have in a generation or less.

  11. I briefly had a 2008 Impreza with an 4 speed AT. Manual shift was available, and I used it all the time on the twisty hilly two lane blacktop I do most of my driving on. After becoming sufficiently familiar with the car, I experimented with the MPG when I was shifting compared to when the computer was shifting. I did better. The same happened when I traded the Impreza for a 2008 MX5 with a six speed auto, and paddle shifters. I did better. I didn’t keep the MX5 long either, because of the AT. There will not be an AT that is more durable, reliable, and less expensive to repair than a MT, at least not in my lifetime. Of course that presumes there is such a thing as an MT, either available for sale or legal to drive by the end of my life.

    • Same, John –

      One of the benefits of test driving so many new cars – and for so long – is that I have been able to test a manual version of a given car vs. an automatic-equipped version of the same car. I always beat the stated MPG numbers given for the automatic. And the automatic versions always fail to achieve the stated numbers – because it is near-impossible to drive in such a way as to achieve them, without being a Clover!

      • An AT cannot anticipate a hill that I can see from half a mile away. Nor does it shift to a gear that will handle that hill, which I know from experience with that hill. It shifts per throttle position and current speed. Which makes them shuttle shift from a higher to a lower gear, and then from that lower gear to a higher gear, rinse and repeat, until you crest it.


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