Are manual transmissions on the outs?

Yes and no. If you’re committed to shifting the old-fashioned way, here’s how to opt in.

November 27, 2014
Are manual transmissions on the outs? 1

Is the manual transmission disappearing from the BMW model lineup? That’s what we feared after learning that the 5 and 6 Series would cease to be offered with a manual transmission option in model year 2015. The 7 Series hasn’t been available with a manual since 1992, but the 5s and 6s were cars for those who loved to drive, enthusiasts for whom a manual has long been the transmission of choice even as automatics have improved dramatically.

What happened? Blame the “take rate,” which became too low to justify the manual transmission’s continued availability on the 5s and 6s. The “take rate” refers to the number of customers who choose a particular option; if it’s insufficient, manufacturers are forced to discontinue that option—especially if it’s a transmission or engine variant that requires separate (and costly) DoT certification before it can be sold in the U.S.

“While sales of manual-equipped cars have declined, we remain committed to offering manual transmissions in as many products as we can where it makes sense to do so,” said Paul Ferraiolo, BMW of North America’s head of product planning. “We continue to offer more manual transmission models than any of our competitors, and we offer manual transmissions across a wider price range than any of our competitors, from the 228i Coupe ($33,025 with destination charge) to the M6 Gran Coupe ($115,925 with destination).”

He’s right: By our count, BMW currently offers 17 cars with manual transmissions: the 228i, M235i, 320i, 328i, 328i xDrive, 335i, 335i xDrive, 428i Coupe, 435i Coupe, 435i xDrive Coupe, M3, M4, M5, M6, M6 Gran Coupe, M6 Convertible and Z4 2.8i. According to rearwheeldrive.org, Audi offers seven, Cadillac two and Mercedes only the SLK250.

The manual transmission is available from BMW, but is that availability more theoretical than practical? Are those manual transmission cars unicorns? How easily can a customer walk into his or her local dealership and actually buy a BMW with a manual?

What’s in stock?

It depends, as not all dealerships order manuals for stock. The dealership nearest Bimmer HQ, Sonnen BMW in San Rafael, California, had 200 new BMWs in stock at this writing, 13 with a manual transmission. Ten of those were 2014 535i models, which suggests that Sonnen had grabbed the last of the manual 5s for its enthusiast customers. The other three? A 228i, M3 and M4, sound choices that will be quick to leave the lot.

Also from Issue 128

  • 2015 F22 M235i Coupe road test
  • 2015 F36 428i Gran Coupe first drive
  • Buyer's Guide: E30 3 Series
  • 1989 Z1 & 2001 Z8 road test
  • 1958 507 road test, Schorsch Meier
  • Andy Blankenburg's 1973 3.0 CSi
  • Thomas Nyznyk’s perfect E46 M3 Dinan, CSL
  • Kelleners 330d sedan
  • 2015 X6 50i first drive
  • Not for U.S. 2014 X6 M50d
  • Paddock Pass
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