One of the best parts of driving is the experience of engaging positively with the things you touch and feel. A gear shifter is something you instantly notice in a car, because you’re not going to get out of park or neutral without dealing with it. When they’re great, you really look forward to getting into your car, switching on the engine, and puttin’ ‘er in gear. Here are our 10 favorites (in no particular order) you can get straight from the factory today.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Volkswagen’s trademark golfball shifter is one of the reasons we like to row our own in the Golf GTI. The optional dual-clutch automatic is one of the best on the market, but only those who shift their own gears and make use of their left leg can treat themselves to the dimpled knob and pleasantly light throws of this classic shifter..
Honda Civic Si
Honda just nails the ergonomics on this one. The metal top to the shift knob feels cool in your palm. Leather trim lets you grip the shifter easily, and the red stitching gives it the right touch of style. It helps, of course, that Honda makes one of the slickest and most entertaining manual gearboxes in the business, helping make the Civic Si a joy to drive.
Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang
Like the flat-plane V-8 up front, the shifter in the GT350 means business. Although the shift action isn’t overly heavy for such a serious sports car, the knob itself is meaty and authoritative. The red ring, matching numbering, and matching start/stop switch nearby make you feel like a boss each time you change gears.
Chevrolet Camaro SS
We’re happy to see that the interior of the new Chevrolet Camaro SS has been simplified compared to the last model (so long, useless plasticky gauges!). But we’re even more pleased to see that Chevy didn’t forget to bless the Camaro’s new shift knob with a dash of style. In an otherwise somewhat low-key interior, the Camaro’s perforated leather, shiny metal trim, and SS badging are welcome splashes of personality.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Everything is so right about the Miata. Similar to the shifter in the Civic Si, Mazda just nails the basics with the gear selector in its trademark roadster. It sits at the perfect height no matter how tall or short you are, and the sporty stitching makes shifting feel like you’re gearing up to throw a blinding two-seam fastball. Who could settle for the automatic when this exists?
The inside of the Jaguar XJL feels like a high-end speedboat. Our Four Seasons XJL was a true British luxo-barge, and the fancy retractable metal rotary gear knob reminded you of that every time you started the engine. Each rotation is nicely weighted, and the knob has the right amount of heft. It neatly drops into place when the car shuts off, and rises up to greet you when it’s time to hit the road.
If you opt for the high-end Inscription trim in the new Volvo XC90, you won’t be disappointed. The cherry on top of the gorgeously designed Scandinavian interior is the XC90’s crystal. Trimmed in handsome metal, the diamond-cut crystal knob is handmade by Swedish glassmaker Orrefors. Who ever said Volvos had to be staid?
Fact: You buy a G-Wagen because it looks cool. And while the overall design of the boxy G hasn’t changed relatively much since it served as a military truck, the interiors details sure have. Quilted leather seats are a lovely addition, but the shifter has a lot of class on its own. The hollow, rectangular-shaped lever is topped with supple leather and an extra-snazzy embossed AMG logo.
What good is a supercar’s sequential seven-speed single-clutch automatic transmission if it doesn’t have a badass exposed shifter to seal the deal? You know, like in the Huayra. The bizarre, steampunk-y skeleton look speaks to the exacting mechanical obsessiveness of the car’s namesake Horacio Pagani.
There’s an undeniable feeling, like you’re master of the road, that comes from merely putting the Bentley Mulsanne into drive. Yes, the super high-end hand-stitched leather and textured metal are nice. But it’s the fact that you get to push down on that all-important ‘B’ logo before the big Mulsanne thunks heavily into gear that says you won’t be yielding to anyone. From the helm of Bentley’s behemoth, traffic might as well kneel before you.
Honorable Mention: Lamborghini Huracán
Stupid, superfluous, and fantastically awesome, the starter button is part of one contiguous design unit along with the gear-select buttons. It’s more fighter-jet or Doomsday device than car, but the center stack on Lamborghinis is the essence of cool (this one is from a Huracán). These are the details that make us love supercars.