Home » Teach ‘Em Stick: 2009 Ford Focus vs 1999 Ford F250 Super Duty

Teach ‘Em Stick: 2009 Ford Focus vs 1999 Ford F250 Super Duty

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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Since you all were game to play along with yesterday’s scenario, I have another one for you today. This one’s easier, and less illicit. But first we need to make our getaway:

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Looks like stealth beats brute force. A couple of you pointed out that the minivan’s sliding doors provide a huge advantage in that you can already be on the move before the door is completely closed. I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right. And slipping quietly into traffic and disappearing is the way to go, I feel. Just leave it in the Costco parking lot by the airport, and Tiny will take care of it.

Today, we’re shifting gears, literally. For today’s assignment, you need to find a vehicle in which to teach your car-crazy sixteen-year-old nephew Francis to drive. The poor kid’s parents drive an Outback and a RAV4, both beige [Editor’s Note: I think this should be silver, since silver is the new beige. Beige would be cool now. – JT] , and he’s been begging you since he was twelve to teach him how to drive a stick. It can’t be easy going through high school with a name like Francis, so you feel for the kid. Driving a manual these days is like having a superpower, and you want to grant him that power, but the only manuals in your current fleet are a Fiat 124 Sport Coupe with a disassembled engine, and your beloved Callaway Twin Turbo Vette, and there’s no way you’re letting him learn on that. So it’s time to go shopping.

There are two schools of thought on learning to drive a stick: You can start him out with something cheap and easy to drive to increase his chance of success and ramp him up to the good stuff once he gets the basics down, or you can throw the kid into the deep end with something difficult, and when he masters that, know he’ll be ready drive anything. (My wife and I both learned by this method when we were young: me in a Jeep Scrambler and she in a Trans Am.) What’ll it be?


2009 Ford Focus – $2,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Walnut Creek, CA

Odometer reading: 136,000 miles

Runs/drives? Currently being used as a commuter


Full disclosure: This car is already sold. Annoyingly, the ad disappeared in the half-hour between me downloading the photos and sitting down to write this. Since I’m only using it as an example of a type of car that could be used to teach someone to drive a manual, I’m not concerned enough to go looking for a replacement. Lots of small cars are around with manuals, lots of them cost around two thousand dollars, all are dead-easy to drive, but apparently you have to be quick on the draw to get one.

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You could do a lot worse than a Focus as a driver’s ed car, though. It has a good stout Mazda-derived Duratec four-cylinder, an easy-shifting five-speed, and a nice tall driving position that affords a good view of things. It’s not overly powerful, so young Francis can’t get into too much trouble, and this one comes pre-dented, so no worries about altercations with lamp posts or shopping cart corrals in whatever empty parking lot you take him to.

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And for $2,000, you could just give this thing to young Francis, and instantly become the coolest uncle or aunt ever. And it will set him up nicely for the Mustang or BRZ or what-have-you that he’ll spend too much money on in college.


1999 Ford F250 Super Duty – $3,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 5.4 liter single overhead cam V8, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Prior Lake, MN

Odometer reading: 244,000 miles

Runs/drives? Just fine


But maybe, just maybe, you need a truck anyway, and it occurs to you that if you bought a truck with a stick, you could kill two birds with one stone: use it to teach young Francis, then keep it for doing truck things. You know he’d be into it – telling people you learned to drive a manual in a Focus or whatever is one thing, but learning in a Super Duty? That’s a story to tell.

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There is something wonderfully charming about a full-size standard-cab truck with a stick. That two-foot-long gearshift rising up over a bench seat, with its long ka-chunky throws, and that stiff but super-responsive clutch feel just seems right. It’s what all pickup trucks were always meant to be. This truck features what I think is still the “good” version of Ford’s 5.4 liter Triton V8, backed by a ZF five-speed manual, in this case powering only the rear wheels. Sitting up in that bench seat, rowing that big lever back and forth, will make young Francis feel like a god.

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But maneuvering this big beast in tight spots isn’t easy, especially when you’re still getting the feel of a clutch. The kid has big dreams when it comes to cars, but a monster like this might be too frustrating for him to start on.


Everyone who learns to drive an automobile who is physically able to do so should learn to drive a stick. I don’t think any of my colleagues around here would disagree with that, and I doubt many of you would either. Even if you never own a car with a manual, knowing how to do it, even poorly, teaches you more about vehicle control than just about anything else. As stickshift drivers ourselves, it is up to us to pass on this knowledge whenever we can. But we must choose our tools carefully. Would you rather start ’em off easy, or just go for it?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
10 months ago

My focus is on the Focus. Francis is way too likely to kill someone with that F250.

Brau Beaton
Brau Beaton
10 months ago

The truck! Any peer conscious young driver in a zippy “pocket rocket” is in mortal danger until they’ve experienced their first close call that wakes them to realities. A big sauntering truck fairs better in crashes and ain’t no racer. Every kid knows this and drives sane. The big truck also forces them to learn spatial relations better (parking, turning, etc).

10 months ago

F250 all the way.

Much easier to learn starting on hills with the low low first gear.

As an added bonus, he gets to reach between his girlfriend’s legs every time he shifts when she slides over to him on the split bench seat. The Focus has buckets which precludes this move.

10 months ago

The Focus would be the way to go for teaching. I taught my son on a 2002 Subaru Impreza, which was a very forgiving clutch. I taught my nephew on a Toyota MR2, which was so much fun to drive I informed him it was going to spoil him for every other car he drives for the rest of his life. That said, I selfishly voted for the F250, because I would want to keep it for truck stuff.

Mike F.
Mike F.
10 months ago

Much tougher call than usual for the Shitbox Showdown. The truck is pretty cool and would be very useful for me. But this is about the kid and I have to go with training him on the Focus and letting him keep the thing when we’re done. (God knows, I don’t want it.) Once he puts a few miles on it, he can sell it and get a decaying 944 that will teach him to stay away from stuff like that, even if he’s the only kid he knows who can drive it.

Ryan Kemp
Ryan Kemp
10 months ago

For learning to drive, easier and cheaper means the Focus. I personally want that F-250 though, 5.4 and all.

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