As any petrolhead will tell you, rear-wheel drive (RWD) is pretty awesome, as long as you're not driving in the snow with the wrong tires. There's lots of technical reasons, such as the fact that the weight of the car is better distributed, there's no torque steer and it just feels more pleasant to drive overall. There's also the fact that you can kick the tail out in the corners, but that's a story for another day.
Rear-wheel drive cars have always been more expensive than front-wheel drive (FWD) cars thanks to higher manufacturing costs. FWD cars are also much more compact in their packaging, leaving the rear axle completely barren. It's the reason why nearly all new, inexpensive cars, such as the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, are front-wheel drive. There are a few exceptions – one being the Smart Car and new Renault Twingo, both of which are rear-engine, rear-drive.
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Most petrolheads will also tell you that manual transmissions are the way to go, citing better control and being "one with the machine." Unfortunately, America's never been wild about manual transmission, and they seem to disappear from options lists every year.
If you were to combine rear-drive and manual transmissions, your choices are relatively limited compared to front-wheel drive automatics; however, in recent times, we've seen a large flurry of cheap rear-wheel drive cars that are available with a manual. The current Mazda Miata starts at just $24,915 and the Ford Mustang with the V6 and manual transmission is a slightly lower $24,645.
While this is all nice, not everybody wants a coupe or a roadster. While coupes may look sleeker, they're less practical. For someone who wants a bit more practicality, they make look toward a sedan instead. So, what is the least expensive new car which is a rear drive sedan available with a manual in the states? The answer is the BMW 320i, which is a far cry from being inexpensive.
Thanks to the internet, every time I think of rear drive sedans with manual transmissions, I think of the BMW 3 series. BMW has a long track record of making great handling cars, as BMW strives to uphold its status of making the "Ultimate Driving Machine."
In my search, I naturally started by looking at the BMW 3 series. The least inexpensive 3 series, the 320i with zero options (aside from the no-cost manual transmission ticked) will cost you about $34,145 with destination and handling. Using that price as a test bench, I continued with my search.
The Dodge Charger has gained a great deal of notoriety in recent years. Not only has it terrified frequent lawbreakers when police departments began purchasing them for patrol use, the 707 horsepower Hellcat Charger has proved itself to be insane. It also just so happens to be the cheapest new RWD sedan in America, undercutting the 320i by thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, all the transmission choices for the Charger are automatic only.
Not only is the C300 more money than the BMW 320i, it doesn't come with a manual either. The W204 C300, which spanned from model years 2009-2011, was available with a 6-speed manual. However, when the C-class got a facelift, the manual was dropped from the lineup due to poor sales.
The new 2017 Audi A4 isn't available with a manual transmission in the United States currently and only comes in front- or all-wheel drive, skipping the RWD part entirely. It's also more expensive than the 320i.
The Lexus IS200t/IS350 doesn't have a manual, only an 8-speed automatic.
For the Cadillac ATS, you can have with a manual and even a limited slip diff. You must opt for the 2.0T engine to tick the option for the manual, which brings the MSRP to $36,240 including destination. In the configurator, the final price ends up being $33,740 with cash back incentives, making the car cheaper than the 320i. However, there is always fine print involved, which reads the following:
"* MSRP less cash offers. Tax, title, license and dealer fees extra. Take new retail delivery by 06/30/2016. Residency restrictions apply. Not available with finance and lease offers. See dealer for details."
By the time you read this article, this price will no longer be available, whereas the 320i's price is available year-round.
Chevrolet does in fact make one rear drive sedan, the mighty SS which nobody seems to know about or buy. It is much more powerful than the 320i, in a different size class altogether and, as a result, carries a price tag of $48,570 before any incentives are applied ($500 cashback until 6/30/16).
While the G37s sedan could be had with a manual, the new Q50 doesn't have a manual; it's automatic only. It's worth noting that the Q50 has new engines, a 2.0T, and two turbocharged V6 engines making 300 and 400 horsepower.
So, let's look at the 320i. It has a 2.0L, turbocharged 4 cylinder putting out around 180 horsepower. At a manufacturer rated 0-60 time of 7.1 seconds, it's not all that fast, and with a price of $34,145 it competes with the AWD Subaru Impreza WRX STI which puts out over 300 horsepower.
I'm both surprised and not surprised at all by this outcome. Rear drive has been long reserved toward cars which either sit in the luxury, enthusiast or work/utility category; In the past, even Corollas have had rear drive.