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Five manual transmission 2000s SUVs you’ve forgotten all about


With the revival of the Ford Bronco, the number of manually-shifted SUVs available for the 2021 model year has doubled from one to two. Yes, the Jeep Wrangler finally has clutched competition.

That wasn’t always the case. As recently as 15 years ago, there were plenty of SUVs out there with manual gearboxes. Here’s a look at five you may have forgotten about — if you even knew that there were manual versions.

Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer

Ford had an on-again, off-again relationship with the manual transmission when it came to its wildly popular SUV (which was, incidentally, one of the first SUVs with a five-speed automatic transmission). Ford dropped the manual option from four-door Explorers about halfway through the second-generation model’s run only to bring it back with the redesigned 2002 third-generation, where it was standard on the base XLS trim level.

It’s amazing that Ford even bothered with the development and certification of the manual transmission for the redesigned Explorer, which was the only one of its mainstream peers aside from the smaller Nissan Pathfinder to offer shift-it-yourself ability in 2002. The manual gearbox was dropped for 2003, making finding a now nearly two-decades-old Explorer manual exceedingly rare. Find a Ford Explorer for sale

BMW X5

BMW X5

Today’s BMW lineup is nearly devoid of stick shifts, but that was hardly the case in 2001 when the automaker’s first SUV arrived on the scene. Back then, BMW offered manual versions of all but its 7-Series (which could be had with a manual back home in Europe). So it was no shock that the X5 SUV came standard with a manual with the base 3.0-liter inline-six engine. The manual saved buyers $1,275 compared to the optional five-speed automatic, though both returned the same 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway ratings.

BMW even swapped the base five-speed manual for a six-speed for the 2004 model year, but the second-generation X5 that arrived for 2007 went automatic-only. Manual X5s are not impossible to find, though prices can vary wildly. The best bet here is to buy the nicest, most well-maintained X5 you can afford since the early-2000s BMWs are not known for responding well to deferred maintenance. Here’s a very German silver over black first-year example with only 128,000 miles in Alabama. Find a BMW X5 for sale

BMW X3

BMW X3

BMW’s smaller SUV arrived for the 2004 model year, and it offered a six-speed stick in both base 2.5i and sportier 3.0i forms all the way up to 2010. By then, BMW realized that most buyers wanted the automatic, so the automaker considered the manual a “no charge” option on the 3.0-liter version. This trend of making the manual transmission no less costly than the automatic certainly had a hand in its mainstream demise, though, of course, most buyers preferred the ease of an automatic.

The X3 was never as stylish, as sporty, or as nice inside as the bigger X3, but its lower price point made the manual more common. Showing around 108,000 miles, this blue 2005 includes the 225-horsepower straight-six plus plenty of factory options for just under $8,000 at a used car dealer in Chicago. Find a BMW X3 for sale

Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute

Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute

Ford didn’t seem to want to sell you an Escape with the manual transmission back in 2001. The Escape was the first true crossover to come out of Detroit (well, aside from the AMC Eagle decades prior), and it made waves at its introduction. A five-speed manual was standard with the base four-cylinder engine, but Ford offered up an automatic as a no-cost option. On the nearly identical Mazda Tribute, however, the manual was mandatory with the base engine at first. Accordingly, Mazda charged around $600 less for a base Tribute, which was fitting for the “zoom-zoom” brand even if the SUV was decidedly light on driving flair.

Amazingly, Ford and Mazda kept the manual Escape and Tribute through the 2012 model year, after which the redesigned Escape went automatic-only in the US market, and Mazda unveiled its CX-5 (with a manual!). By then, however, the manual gearbox was restricted to front-drive versions only, making it a rare sight. Still, Ford and even Mazda sold a lot of these SUVs, so manuals aren’t that hard to find. Here’s a clean, facelifted Tribute for $6,400 at a used car dealer in Kansas. Find a Ford Escape for sale

Porsche Cayenne

2006 Porsche Cayenne

Porsche’s first SUV was controversial at its launch for the 2003 model year, though the manual gearbox that Porsche promised may have assuaged some concerns. The world had to wait until the 2005 model year when Porsche introduced the 247-horsepower V6 that powered the base Cayenne. The manual saved a whopping $3,000 compared to the automatic, bringing a base Cayenne to about $42,000 with destination for the 2005 model year.

That V6 was hardly a thriller, though the V8-powered Cayenne GTS added considerable excitement. Porsche even offered a manual on its second-generation Cayenne, but the current model is only available with an automatic. Manual Cayennes are cult cars, so expect to pay accordingly for a clean one. When they do pop up on Autotrader, they go quickly. Find a Porsche Cayenne for sale

Andrew Ganz
Andrew Ganz is an author specializing in helping in-market consumers get the most bang for their buck -- and the best car, while they're at it. When not virtually shopping for new and used cars, Andrew can probably be found under the hood of a vintage classic that's rapidly losing fluids.

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