The MT-82 Manual Transmission in Modern Mustangs Doesn’t Deserve All the Hate It Gets
I've driven two MT-82-equipped, S550 'Stangs with them, and I rather enjoyed it!
For those who aren’t familiar, the Ford MT-82 six-speed manual gearbox is a big point of contention among S197 and S550-gen Mustang owners. It’s received a lot of hate, both from journalists and owners. In fact, some people hate it so much that it’s been the subject of a class-action lawsuit. But I think it has some important merits.
Owners allege that it’s really clunky, noisy, grindy, and weak. They’ve also experienced lockout of gears (meaning, they can’t be shifted into) while shifting at high RPMs. Journalists echo this sentiment, even myself (well, I haven’t experienced the lockout bit).
I think it’s still a good gearbox, though. Especially considering the fact that the manual gearbox is living its sunset years in these wretched 2020s. If anything, I find the clunky aspect endearing.
Roughness Is Part of the Fun
The S550s that are blessed with the MT-82 are all EcoBoost, GT (including Bullitt), and V6 models. V6 ones are rarer as they were only made for a few years. I’ve driven ‘Stangs with this box bolted up under a 2020 Bullitt and 2020 EcoBoost High Performance Package with EcoBoost Handling Package, and I really enjoyed the experience! Sure, it did grind a lot, at times it was tough to make smooth shifts, and it was generally noisy. But man, this is one of the last chances we’ll have at experiencing so much mechanical feel and, well, drama, in any passenger car. This should be savored!
The stick reverberates every tiny bit of vibration coming through the driveline, it takes more effort to move through the gates than other boxes, the throws are long, and up high in the revs, it feels like it wants to rip the stick out of your hand. If you were to hook a seismograph up to the stick on an MT-82, it’d look like California as it’s about to fall off the edge of the Lower 48 when the prophecy of The Big One hits.
Some are better than others; I’ll note the Bullitt’s gearbox was especially grindy when I drove it. But that was probably due to living a hard life as a press car. The EcoBoost’s was much better, albeit the ‘Boost makes far less power so it’s probably way less stressed. Ford did do a technical service bulletin for the MT-82, and made some revisions for the 2018+ model year boxes. So it’s worth mentioning that the MT-82s I tested had upgraded internals, despite still sounding like a box of random bolts and sockets at times.
Appreciate the Theatrics
Still, to me there’s deep joy in such immense mechanical feel, especially during the manual gearbox’s End of Days. The MT-82 isn’t some ’90s gaming joystick like in the 10th-gen Honda Civic Si’s (though still a really good car, by the way), it’s a very direct-feeling box that’s full of theatrics. It takes a bit of time to improve shifting it and avoiding a lot of noise, but whatever, every car has some kind of learning curve within its componentry.
Embrace the increased mechanical feel and noise; any degree of these isn’t long for this world with widespread EV usage on the horizon.
There Ain’t Many Manuals Left
There aren’t many late-model cars with an honest-to-goodness manual gearbox in the new and slightly used market these days. Even up at the latest, S550 Mustang’s price levels. All Camaro trims feature a stick, but what other GM vehicle does? It’s not looking good in lower pricing tiers, either.
Even more depressing is how many are in low-price economy cars. Well, new economy cars are hella-expensive these days… you know what I mean. The new, 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback will be available with a manual transmission, but no sedan variant will. Thankfully, the Si and Type R will, but those are almost-certainly a bit more expensive than a base sedan.
The ND2 MX-5 Miata is available with a stick, as is the Mazda 3 non-turbo. Hyundai’s Veloster variants are all stick-available. In fact, Hyundai is inadvertently doing the Lord’s work by charging a lot extra for a base Veloster with an automatic. Those who want as-cheap-as-possible Hyundai transportation are forced to have more fun behind the wheel.
I hate to wag my finger at people and say “be grateful the Mustang is readily available with any manual transmission at all,” but, it’s kind of what I’m doing here. At any rate, I’m here to tell you that detractions of the current Mustang manual might not need to be heeded as gospel. I’ve driven it and loved it — if you want a manual Mustang, you should probably try to get one while you can!