As an enthusiast, there’s nothing like the connection between man and machine with a smooth-shifting manual transmission. I’ll gladly give up a few tenths in the performance column for that gratifying experience of rowing through the gears. Porsche cars tend to do it best, but in the economy segment, I think our long-term 2010 Mazda 3 is tops.
Although I’m not a fan of the 3’s completely numb clutch pedal, the shifter is very precise in its action. Two fingers or three, full palm, or the back of your hand while texting—just kidding, we listened to Oprah—the Mazda’s shifter always finds its gate with ease while retaining a really solid feel. Our 3’s lever should be the affordable-car benchmark.