Home » Stickshifts Can Turn Boring Cars Into Cool Cars: Prove Me Wrong

Stickshifts Can Turn Boring Cars Into Cool Cars: Prove Me Wrong

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Here’s a question: If you take a boring car — like, say, a 2005 Saturn Vue or a 2010 Ford Escape — and you add a five-speed manual transmission, is that still a boring car, or is it now legitimately cool? In my opinion: It’s now legitimately cool. Hear me out.

Back in April of last year, I wrote “I Can’t Stop Obsessing Over These Two Manual Ford SUVs: Which Is The Better Buy?” One of the vehicles I was obsessing over was, somehow, a Mazda Tribute:

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But this wasn’t just any Tribute, because behold:

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That’s right. It’s a Mazda G5M-R five-speed stickshift bolted to the unkillable MZR engine! The tan interior, the stout powertrain, and that stick — it turned an otherwise boring machine into something cool!

I feel similarly about my diesel, manual Chrysler Voyager. Am I remotely interested in second-gen Chrysler minivans? Not really (I’m a first-gen fan). But you throw a stickshift in there (along with a diesel), and now it’s a seriously a cool machine:

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What about this second-gen Ford Explorer. Kinda boring, right?

But oh wait, we’ve got a Mazda M5OD!

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What about this Ford Aerostar that was the inspiration for this article? Folks on Facebook are going crazy over it right now.

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Surely they wouldn’t care if it were just an automatic Aerostar:

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But behold; the M5OD makes yet another appearance!

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How cool!

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What do we think about this Mazda5 minivan?

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I think it’s fine. Not really all that interesting to me, except!:

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A five-speed minivan! That’s legit!

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I think PT Cruisers look cool in their own way, but would I ever buy an automatic model? Never, ever. In fact, with an auto, I don’t find it remotely intriguing. But slap a stick in it:

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I’d totally roll in a five-speed PT Cruiser!

To me, a stickshift can make the difference between cool and wack. It’s partly because on many cars, the stick removes what can be a major/expensive failure mode, and in part because it makes the vehicle more engaging to drive. What do you think?

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Photos: Craigslist

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Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
8 months ago

I’ve owned a succession of manual transmission DDs. Since marriage (a long, long time ago), we’ve had autotragics for Herself. She learned to drive on her dad’s Fiat 500 (the OG, not the cutesy semi current model), and hated it.

We had 3 5spd Hondas hatchbacks with a twin stick Chump thrown in there (8spds, all of them wrong), (and a few motorcycles). The Civic SI hatches were fun, but the 3,000 revs/mile were hard to live with for anything more than a couple of hours.

When I wanted a hardtop convertible, NC Mazdas had halogen headlights, unless they were autotragics!! (Really, in a Miata?). So I settled for a 335is w/ DCT (by that time we had a Taco Double cab for towing our little travel trailer). We upgraded the Taco to a F-150 w/ TT V6, and Herself sez this summer “I hate driving that truck around town” so we just bought a ‘20 GTI w/ DSG. Now I’ve run out of manual trans cars and kinda miss them.

Last edited 8 months ago by Hondaimpbmw 12
Scott
Scott
8 months ago

Agreed on all points of course. A boring car is objectively less boring if you have to shift it yourself. To be sure, the linkage could be sloppy, the clutch bite point inconvenient, etc… but at least it gives you something to do. Plus: a manual transmission automatically (pun intended!) makes the car less stealable. 🙂

David Iuliano
David Iuliano
8 months ago

2008 Ford Focus S sedan. The base version. Crank windows, no frills, boring boring boring. Except, it has a 5-speed. I actually like driving the danged thing!

Prizm GSi
Prizm GSi
8 months ago

My daily is an ’05 Escape with the stick shift. It’s the perfect vehicle. I’ve towed, hauled, road-tripped, camped, etc., etc. with it and usually get 25ish MPG. Does everything I want it to and has about 180,000 miles on it with just the power steering pump pooping out on me. It’s typical early 2000s Ford quality – rattly and generally cheap looking, but it just works.

Myk El
Myk El
8 months ago

If I may quote the Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs at midnight, “I can’t baby, ’cause you’re not!”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkzptjhCkbs&t=123s

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
8 months ago

A coworker asked me if the 2000 S10 I drive when the weather is bad/I need to utilize the bed/etc was a manual to which I replied yes. Another coworker overheard this and absolutely would not accept that I was telling the truth since he didn’t think any trucks were made with manuals. I had to show him my truck in the parking lot for him to accept it. Surprisingly fun to drive considering it makes ~70whp with the a/c on. When I drive it versus one of my cars my entire driving dynamic changes. It is like I switch into “we WILL get there” mode instead of “I HAVE to get there” mode.

Sekim
Sekim
8 months ago

My last car was a 06 Subaru Outback. It was grey on grey. It was exceptionally dull looking. But it had a 5 speed manual, and I loved driving it. I miss it now.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 months ago

Just had to comment there’s a Mercedes ad for crashing electric cars for testing and i read it as, “our” Mercedes crashing electric cars. I was like, “what has she gotten herself into now?!”

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

Don’t go giving her ideas like that!

Parsko
Parsko
8 months ago

OMG that Aerostar shifter looks like a tree trunk.

Beatle
Beatle
8 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

I grew up with a 1987 Aerostar. The automatic lever also came out of the floor and was exceptionally long.

Parsko
Parsko
8 months ago
Reply to  Beatle

That’s so awesome!!

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
8 months ago
Reply to  Beatle

Grew up with one as well, can confirm, the auto was hilariously long as well.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
8 months ago
Reply to  Parsko

Same with a Ranger, f150, bronco, or explorer from similar years. And a number of Chevys and dodges.

Or really most cars that don’t have a center console.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
8 months ago

When I first arrived in Japan I daily drove a Ford Festiva company car up twisty mountain roads, a hoot to drive anyway but would have been so much better with a stick instead of a 3-speed automatic.
One weekend, my future parents-in-law needed some stuff shifted, so we rented a Mazda Bongo one-box van, four-speed manual column shifter. It was a terrible vehicle with a balky shift, and so rear-light that the rear wheels would lock up and bounce down the road with anything besides very moderate braking.
But that one day of driving convinced me I needed to get back in a manual car ASAP.

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
8 months ago
Reply to  SonOfLP500

My first car was a 1991 Ford Festiva with a stick. It was indeed a blast.

Pappa P
Pappa P
8 months ago

I used to race auto slalom in a ’91 Festiva with a stick!
A $400 engine swap gave it exactly 100% more horsepower. It was enough to beat up on some Miatas and even an m3

Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
Bjorn A. Payne Diaz
8 months ago
Reply to  Pappa P

It’s amazing what happens when a vehicle is under 2000 lbs.

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago

I can’t convince you. You’re not wrong.

ChrisGT
ChrisGT
8 months ago

These days, it’s only interesting because it is rare and it seems to me that the only people that are even remotely interested in them are “enthusiasts”.
I otherwise completely agree that a boring car with a stick suddenly becomes a curiosity and probably much more interesting and (therefore) better for it.

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
8 months ago

Simple answer. No. A stick shift won’t make a car cool.

Complex answer. A stick shift will make a car fun & interesting, but that doesn’t mean it is cool. Not everything needs to be cool–sometimes in fact, cool sucks.

I’ll demonstrate with celebrity examples.

David Cross. Fun and interesting. Not cool.

Kim Kardashian. Cool. Not interesting. I guess she’s fun if you prefer your women injection molded.

David Saunders
David Saunders
8 months ago

Almost all the cars I have owned have been manual. More fun that way. The current teenage car/auto-x racer/potential ice racer if winter cooperates/dump run truck is a 2006 Hyundai Elantra in silver. That is so mainstream boring that it is close to not existing … except it has a 5spd manual transmission so it is actually pretty fun to toss around all the traffic circles here. Plus better theft resistance. Not Aerostar oddball cool but more so than the average beater.

Koloyz
Koloyz
8 months ago

100% agree, David–manual transmissions are just better. I lived in SoCal when I turned 16, only had a manual transmission to learn on and take the test (’88 Mercury Topaz, for that holy grail factor) so even in traffic having a stick is easier for me. Also owned a 5-speed Mazda5 (really similar to the one in the photo), a Volvo 245 with the 4sp+overdrive transmission. No matter what, it’s just cooler to have a manual transmission.

Pappa P
Pappa P
8 months ago
Reply to  Koloyz

An ’88 Topaz is literally the exact opposite of a holy grail.

Maymar
Maymar
8 months ago

A manual in something where it’s weird is cool, but it doesn’t work for everything. Like, a base Kia Forte with a manual still isn’t cool, it’s just marginally better than a base Kia Forte with an automatic.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
8 months ago
Reply to  Maymar

Harder for it to be stolen by those Kia Boyeeeez.

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