Home » Student Driver, Please Be Patient: Mistubishi Galant vs Dodge Caravan vs Honda Civic vs Dodge Power Wagon

Student Driver, Please Be Patient: Mistubishi Galant vs Dodge Caravan vs Honda Civic vs Dodge Power Wagon

Sbsd 12 15 2023
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Good morning, Autopians! It’s Friday, the holidays are coming up, and nobody feels like being productive anyway. So let me help you slack off at work with a four-way battle between this week’s winners! There is a scenario to help you choose: Driver’s Ed. I’ll explain in a minute, but I wanted to mention it right up front, to avoid a debacle like we had a couple weeks ago.

So let’s officially crown yesterday’s winner, and we’ll get started. To the surprise of no one, only a few daredevils among you chose that Chevy van. I mean, I absolutely love it, and I desperately want to build a model of it with some monstrous driver holding an enormous gearshift lever behind the wheel. But would I actually get in the real thing and try to drive it? Not on your life.

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The Power Wagon, on the other hand, is really appealing. I spotted that truck for sale a few weeks ago, and have been waiting for the right opportunity to feature it. It’s one of the few vehicles I’ve featured here that I would buy for myself, actually. Remember that scene in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey when they’re in the hardware store, and the Grim Reaper picks up a new scythe off the rack, swings it around a couple times, then looks at his old trusty scythe and goes “Hmm…Nah”? I went through the same thought process when I saw this truck… and decided I like my Chevy better.

Screenshot From 2023 12 14 17 18 42

OK, so now it’s time to choose. Your sister has tasked you with the job of teaching your young nephew to drive. The kid loves cars, but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to learn about them. He has an ever-growing list of cars he wants to drive someday, so a good well-rounded driver’s education will be important. Your sister has given you one of those yellow “Student Driver” stickers, and pointed you to a corner of a parking lot where these four vehicles stand ready and waiting. You have to choose one in which to teach the youngster the fundamentals.

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Now, for reference, my own first driving lesson was behind the wheel of a Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler, at age 14, on my grandfather’s farm in Kansas. My uncle Bill drove me out into the middle of a field, gave me about two minutes of instruction in how to work the clutch, said “Come on back when you get the hang of it,” and walked away. So I don’t necessarily believe in “taking it easy” on young drivers. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

So let’s recap the choices, and I’ll point out some pros and cons of each one.

1999 Mitsubishi Galant ES

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This one looks the most like a typical driver’s ed car. And it would make a good one, with simple controls, a forgiving manner, and a nice easy automatic transmission. In fact, it might be too easy. Also, it’s no longer necessarily representative of cars on the road. I know the prevailing wisdom is to teach young drivers on a “normal” car, but normal cars are quite a bit taller and heavier than this now. These days, a Mitsubishi Galant is the size and weight equivalent of a Geo Metro when I learned to drive.

2010 Dodge Grand Caravan

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This is more like it, size-wise. In a Caravan, you’re at least eye-level with most other drivers, and the length and heft of it are more representative of the current crop of crossovers and SUVs. But it’s also an easy vehicle to drive, generally speaking, so it’s not going to be imposing. But on the other hand, what young budding gearhead wants to have their first driving lesson in a minivan?

1991 Honda Civic Wagovan 4WD

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Now this is more of a challenge. Again, it’s tiny compared to a lot of modern vehicles, but it also sits a little higher than some other small cars, so it isn’t as scary in traffic as, say, a Miata. And it’s a manual, which if the kid wants to learn, he should learn from the start. It’s even a nice, easy, forgiving manual, with a “granny” low gear that will quickly teach the kid all about clutch engagement points with a minimum of stalling.

1973 Dodge W100 Power Wagon

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When my uncle selected his Jeep for my first driving lesson instead of my dad’s VW Golf which was parked next to it, he explained his choice, in his thick Kansas drawl, by saying, “If you get good on this, you can drive anything.” Thirty-seven years later, and he still hasn’t been proven wrong. I imagine this Power Wagon would provide a similar experience. But on the other hand, vehicles are a lot more advanced now than they were then, and something this primitive is not representative of typical vehicles at all. It might be good to start, but you should move on to something more modern after a while.

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I’ve taught someone how to drive a manual, but never how to drive from scratch. I’m not sure I’d be any good at it, honestly; I don’t have a teaching disposition. But maybe you’d do better. These are the vehicles at your disposal for the task. Which set of keys are you grabbing for the first lesson?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
3 months ago

The van because if it survives high school and college, they have a place to live in since everything is so damn expensive.

The Pineapple Knight
The Pineapple Knight
3 months ago

That galant gen is probably my favorite of all the galants. I’d buy one for myself in a heartbeat.

WR250R
WR250R
3 months ago

When I was 15 my dad and I went 50/50 on a 5-speed S10 for me. It stayed in the barn most of that year but I would take it out a practice first gear starts in the yard. When I got my temps we went to the abandoned dog track in Delavan to practice. It was a massive flat and open parking lot. That’s the best way!

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
3 months ago

Depends what we’re working with. For instance my first road going vehicle was also an old jeep in a field (although my dad stayed in it with me) but I had been driving the lawnmower and quads for years already.
My friend on the other hand barely understood the steering wheel when he got in the driver’s seat of a car

Last edited 3 months ago by Chartreuse Bison
Here4thecars
Here4thecars
4 months ago

I’m a believer in training new drivers on a manual. It’s how I learned, and how I taught my kids. That little Civic Wagovan is a hoot, but in the end the Galant is just the perfect Driver Ed vehicle. My vote goes to the Mitsu.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Here4thecars

That’s a bit like teaching people typing on a typewriter. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in 2023.

WR250R
WR250R
3 months ago

Sure it does. A typewritter doesn’t afford you mistakes. You need to tear that sheet off and start all over when you mistype. You learn quickly to pay attention to what you’re doing, to focus on the task at hand.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  WR250R

Sorry but that’s just dumb. Like learning the classical guitar to play reggae on an electric.

WR250R
WR250R
3 months ago

Oh okay sorry

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  WR250R

That’s better

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
4 months ago

For me or my kids, the Power Wagon all the way. I started driving when I was 12 in my dad’s old squarebody K10, hauling grain out to yearling calves. Ratty old farm trucks are great tools to learn driving dynamics…doesn’t matter if they get dented, fields tend to be lower traffic than your average highway, and visibility is excellent.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
4 months ago

I learned how to work a clutch on a tractor. The Dodge is the closest thing here to a tractor, so that’s my pick. I also was driving a three on the tree truck on the backroads at 14. Kids do not have it that good today.

And that would be a good idea for a showdown, a couple of old tractors!

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
4 months ago

Count me in the Power Wagon camp. Because yes, indeed, if you can learn to drive a dirt-simple and tough pickup, you’ll be able to drive anything. With the added bonus of knowing how to drive a 3-on-the-tree, which is like knowing a gearhead inner-circle secret handshake in the modern world. It’s simple, it’s functional, it’s capable of being basic transportation, a hard worker, and a rough-and-tumble fun vehicle to learn the inner workings of both driving and wrenching. The sort of things likely get any budding young gearhead off to a good start.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
4 months ago

Pinning it down to one is hard.

For learning to start, steer, shift, and stop in a parking lot, the Civic’s an easy choice for a gearhead kid.

Once he has the basics down and can somewhat-reliably park it, it’s fine for local roads, with excellent visibility.

That’s my answer to the prompt, as written.

I’d want to make it Van Time (or, in a pinch, Galant Time) not long after, so he gets the feel of maneuvering and parking a larger vehicle. Either would also, of course, be a better call once it’s time for him to drive on a proper highway. (Edit: Or, for that matter, if he struggles with the clutch and wants to try the Civic again another day once he’s confident driving an automatic.)

If this was a farm situation, then I’d start him in the pickup.

Last edited 4 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
4 months ago

As for teaching on a manual, I’m really hoping my nephew takes my old TSX manual when he is driving age in a couple of years. It’s such a great car. I know it’s been well-cared-for and is safe. I’d love to keep her in the family..We’ll see if he is remotely interested.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
4 months ago

Taught two how to drive, one in a manual Saab 900T, the other in a LeBaron convertible with an automatic. Personally the auto was easier for the new driver since not as much to focus on, then you can move them to a stick once they have the basics down. Also would save the clutch and gearing from being ground to dust, ask me how I know.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
4 months ago

I took my test in my mom’s ‘98 Caravan, so have a soft spot for those, but learning to drive a stick in my sister’s NA Miata really ignited my love for cars. All that said, I went with the Civic. I’m thinking in terms of what is going to keep them engaged in the task (manual) and foster enthusiasm for cars (Honda should be somewhat fun to drive).

JDE
JDE
4 months ago

I do kind of agree that all should be taught on Manual before being allowed to drive anything auto, but I am old in this regard and that is not realistic for some of the youth today as this is a near impossible task for them.

The Gallant with low miles is the correct answer.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
4 months ago
Reply to  JDE

“Near impossible task”? It’s not rocket science. I’d say “nearly zero interest”.

Last edited 4 months ago by Boxing Pistons
JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

you would be surprised how many completely shut down in the face of stress and the parents have coddled them into thinking that response is adequate.

Idiotking
Idiotking
4 months ago

I will vote Power Wagon. I learned how to drive stick between a mid ’70’s Dodge wrecker with a 440/4-speed non-synchro of unknown origin and a ’78 Honda Civic with a 5-speed. From the most agricultural, sloppy, and mechanical transmission to a clutch that was touchier than a game of Operation!
Those two vehicles cemented my love of big, loud American trucks and Hondas.

Lhn91
Lhn91
4 months ago

I picked the (currently unloved) Caravan for a few reasons. 1, I know a few people who daily pickup trucks who somehow can’t park a minivan, despite them being technically easier to drive. 2. They can take a beating, get driven hard and put away wet and come back for more. I couldn’t even count the number of these vans being abused daily as work vans and racking up incredible mileage. 3. VANS ARE COOL, DAMN IT.

JDE
JDE
4 months ago
Reply to  Lhn91

but with 400+k miles, you know there has to be a scads of little thing you have to “know” about the thing to be able to actually drive it properly. you probably have to touch the Hazard button why rubbing you thigh and pump the brakes three times just to get it to start.

Dirk from metro Atlanta
Dirk from metro Atlanta
4 months ago

I went with what’s currently the least popular choice, the ‘van. A bit boring, but where does the scenario say the kid student is a gearhead? He “loves cars,” well, so did I, but I was perfectly content with the family’s late 60s Delta 88 to learn on, which was about as unfashionable as it got back then.

For all the reasons given, mainly that if one can pilot and park a full sized Caravan one can manage just about anything likely to fall into one’s hands.

(That said, my brother had that series Civic wagon, it was sorely tempting. But maybe a bit too easy to pilot, although stickshift knowledge is probably still useful. Eh. Probably not, these days, folks.)

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
4 months ago

The Honda. I learned in a 74 Datsun 710 Wagon with a manual 4sp on the biggest hill in town and then shortly after on my dad’s F250 with the 300 I-6 a four speed and no power steering. I had confidence for days after that. I taught my brother to drive a manual when he was 14 and numerous friends and cousins after that. I drove my first automatic in my early 20’s. The power wagon might be too brutal to start a kid on and the van has some blind spots. Nothing wrong with the Gallant either but at some point my kids will learn to drive stick.

Dirk from metro Atlanta
Dirk from metro Atlanta
4 months ago
Reply to  EastbayLoc

Luxury! Woodgrain interior inserts!

https://barnfinds.com/too-nice-to-donate-1974-datsun-710/datsun-710-interior/

My second set of wheels was a year-younger 610, but with an auto. It got me where I needed to go, without too much angst, usually.

EastbayLoc
EastbayLoc
4 months ago

Wow, that brings me back. Ours was dark green with metal flake paint. And the clock was always off and I was usually always running late. Also, it came with an 8 track player!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

Oof! I can smell that old plastic from here!

John Beef
John Beef
4 months ago

I voted Dodge, because if you can drive that, you can drive anything.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago

I’ve taught multiple people to drive an manual, including a 34yo who never bothered with a license as she was from NY City. I like using a lightweight low-powered car as the gearing will be low and it’s less mass to get going. VW Beetles work well. But I taught my nephew the basics on a BMW 5 series wagon just as easily in one afternoon. Another afternoon’s work on stopping & turning in a parking lot, then I turned him back over to my BIL

I voted Civic partly because the bench seat of the Power Wagon won’t hold the new driver in place as well as a bucket would: I remember my butt sliding around the vinyl bench of an old Dart as I attempted to shift that column up into first. I’d been driving VWs for years at that point

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
4 months ago

I learned in an automatic. It was the only choice. I suppose that was a good thing because I got to learn dealing with traffic and such with fewer things on my mind. I had to learn how to drive a manual when I bought my first car — a VW. I taught myself on the way home from the dealership. I got it down in a few minutes, just adding it to my existing driving skills.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alan Christensen
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
4 months ago

I surprised myself here a bit. Being a diehard manual fan I think everyone should at least know how to operate a clutch and shift.

My first instinct was to choose the Honda because it’s the least intimidating vehicle of the bunch and it is a manual. However, I have taught several young drivers and found that the less they have to think about (especially in traffic) the better.

An automatic simplifies the process and helps neophytes quickly build confidence. Once they’re comfortable in the car and on the road, transitioning to a manual is simpler because you’re only adding one new task.

That rules the Honda and Power Wagon out. The Caravan is doable, but it’s a hippo in tight spaces (maybe a baby hippo), so that leaves the Gallant by default. Now, if my nephew happens to live on a farm, it’s the Power Wagon, baby driver!

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
4 months ago

My wife took our kids to the local Jr. college in out stick shift Maxima and stopped w/ the front wheels against a speed bump and told the child, now, you go.

When she was moving & had to make a return trip to her old house, she wound up driving her work friend’s husband’s Dodge Diesel truck because her friend couldn’t drive a stick.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
4 months ago

I was taught to drive a car in my uncle’s vw rabbit with a manual transmission. My parents’ driveway is a very long and steep road, and he parked it halfway up the steepest part, pulled the parking brake, and had me put it into 2nd gear and start on the hill that way. It was a good way to learn how to feather a clutch!

So yeah, I’d go power wagon, personally. Or the civic.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andreas8088
TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

For clutch point, I’ll take the student first to a gravel lot and show them how I can feather to take off with out gas. I keep repeating, “If things go wrong, push the clutch” until that’s drilled in while they alternate spinning and bucking. Within an hour, most people have the basic idea. I only do this with cars that I don’t mind replacing clutches in/it isn’t a huge deal.

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
4 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

That sounds like an excellent method as well. A bit less to lose than my uncle’s method where I could’ve rolled off the side of the hill and down into the woods. 🙂

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
4 months ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

Well….
I settled on the lot thing after my 11yo daughter darn near put us into the backyard creek in a little Mazda pickup. 😉

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