Last year, just 3.1 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States came with a manual transmission, the lowest share in decades according to U.S. government data. Despite the benefits of driving feel, social acceptance among enthusiasts and even anecdotal evidence of how three-pedal cars can confuse carjackers, many automakers and their customers have chosen to shun the stick shift.
But not Volkswagen. The first Volkswagen Beetle sold in America came with a manual transmission. That was in 1949, and while the world now prefers automatics, Volkswagen has always had at least one manual-shifting model in its U.S. lineup ever since. And if you want a compact wagon with all-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual in 2017, there’s only one choice for sale in the United States today – the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.
Volkswagen owners have long shown an appetite for manuals, from the Beetle to the GTI to thousands of wagons over the years. Many were uncommon choices; there are few automotive unicorns on these shores as rare as the older Volkswagen Passat W8 manual wagon. Offering a manual in the Golf Alltrack isn’t just for marketing bragging rights, says Megan Garbis, Volkswagen Product Manager for the Golf line in the United States. She notes older Passat wagons had a manual option with 4Motion all-wheel-drive, and the six speed unit in the Golf Alltrack provides a 32 mpg highway EPA fuel economy rating.1
Manuals “give you a strong connection with the road and the vehicle,” Garbis said. “A lot of our owners care about driving, and coming out of a Jetta or other Golf, we want to give them as much as possible without compromises.”
Every gas-powered model of the Golf family has a manual transmission option in at least one trim, and on the GTI and Golf R, roughly half of buyers choose the stick shift option. While manuals were often seen as a bargain-basement touch in years past, that’s not the case with VW owners.
“It’s not just a base-model or cheap option on the Alltrack,” Garbis said. “They come in the mid-level SE trim, so you can get a lot of creature comforts as well as the fun of a manual transmission.”
While manual transmissions have grown rare, it’s hard to imagine them disappearing altogether – at least as long as Golf Alltrack owners have a say.
“As a product expert, my job is to listen to customers and dealers,” Garbis said. “For someone who wants something unique, something practical but sporty – well, what more could you want?”