Home » What Car Is Best For Someone Learning To Drive Stick? Autopian Asks

What Car Is Best For Someone Learning To Drive Stick? Autopian Asks

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I have a secret. It’s a terrible, dark secret that an automotive diehard would normally never reveal. I … cannot drive a car with a manual transmission. [Ed Note: You’re fired! /s -DT]. No one in my family has had a car with a manual transmission during my time as a viable driver. And the family friends who once upon a time did have cars with a stick shift have either since lost them to accidents or traded them in for a better family hauler.

This has also been a problem while shopping for performance. In 2021, I found a 1994 Mazda Miata in mint condition with 60,000 miles for less than $4,000. But I couldn’t test drive it because I didn’t know stick and the seller, understandably, didn’t want a random stranger to burn out their clutch. Hell, the only experience I’ve ever had with a stick was a college roommate’s Ford Focus. They’d park behind me, blocking me in. And to make things even better, they’d be passed out on the couch and needed to get to class. He wouldn’t wake up for anything less than fireworks. Only once was I successfully able to get the Focus in reverse gear and move it into a different parking space.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

So, this has been a shame for a long time and I think it’s about time I rectify this. My hope is to find a shitbox, or something slightly nicer. Cheap is key. I don’t want to feel bad about burning out a gearbox in my quest to learn stick.  It would also be nice if it is fun to drive.

2008 Honda Fit – $5,000

Honda Fit 1
Image: eBay

I’m always a sucker for a hatch and have been a bit whistful about parting from my beautiful blue Hyundai Elantra GT to get my Ford Maverick. This 2008 Honda Fit has 120,000 miles on the odometer and looks to be in good working condition. There’s no noticeable rust on the exterior and barely a touch underneath. Not bad for a car in Pennsylvania!

Honda Fit Rust
Image: eBay

It sold for a reasonable $5,000. However, my significant other already owns a red 2012 Fit so getting another one might be redundant. But with its Tardis-like storage capacity and a lift kit, it could be a lot of fun for the Gambler 500.

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2000 Toyota Celica – $1,000?

Celica
Image: eBay

This Celica might be more in the price range I’m looking for. I knew a kid who had one of these back in high school. In good condition, and in black, it felt like an affordable Toyota version of the Lamborghini Murciélago from The Dark Knight.

I’m now waiting for Adian to strike me down for even mentioning these two vehicles in the same breath but the general lines both feel like they’re knives that can cut through the air. Speaking of whistful, now I’m sad neither the GT-Four nor TRD M Sport were sold stateside. At least we only have to wait one more year to import this beauty.

Celica Trd M
Image: Goonet Exchange

2008 Pontiac G5 – $650

Pontiac G5
Image: Facebook Marketplace

Shifting back to stateside, can I offer you a not-so-nice egg 2008 Pontiac G5 in this trying time? The current owner has already proclaimed it a shit box and their description is endearing.

Shitbox for sale. This car has been super reliable, has never left me stranded anywhere. It’s been over the bridge into the UP and driven down to Detroit multiple times recently. I’m not afraid to jump in this thing and go anywhere. Had new front rotors and pads last fall along with new tires. New alternator, belt, tensioner, and battery last year. On eBay coilovers, so it’s low, but rides like shit. Rockers are pretty well gone. Car has 275k and is a 2.2l with a 5 speed manual. Clutch acts a little soft sometimes, but I usually just baby it, it’s not a race car. It will slip if you beat on it. Have driven it this way for a few years now. Someone come bring me $750 and drive this thing home.

Pontiac G5 Interior
Image: Facebook Marketplace

2000 Ford Contour SVT – $1,075

Yours and my favorite Pontiac Vibe enthusiast suggested a 2000 Ford Contour SVT over on The Autopian’s Discord.

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Countour Good Angle
Image: Facebook Marketplace

At this angle, the damage doesn’t look too bad But upon closer inspection, woof.

Contour Bad Angle

Well, a windshield is easy enough to replace. If it runs and drives, who cares how a shitbox looks from the outside? At least the interior looks good.

Contour Interior

As an owner of a 90’s Mustang, there is a soft spot in my heart for the SVT vehicles. It would be neat if it came back as a package option. Do you want a Maverick SVT? Of course, you do.

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[Ed NoteI learned to drive stick on a 2005 Saturn Vue with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder sending 143-horsepower through a Getrag long-throw five-speed. Learning to manage the clutch on a vehicle that underpowered helped me become a proficient stickshift driver. -DT]. 

The Search Begins

This is where you fine folks come in. What car would you suggest for someone to beat on while they learn stick? Or better yet, is there one nearby that you want to bless or damn me with? If it’s $3,000 or under and within 250 miles of Flint, MI, it just might be the one!

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The48thRonin
The48thRonin
18 days ago

I would recommend a first generation Scion xB, and not just because I’ve been daily driving one for ages. They’re slow, but the gearing is short enough that getting up to 50 can easily take you through all five gears, giving you lots of practice. You’ll also get a lot of good practice with first gear, because it takes a bit of finesse to get it going, more so than the car I learned on (1976 Mercedes 240D, which is entirely too slow and too easy to start from a stop to be a good practice vehicle).

Dan Jones
Dan Jones
28 days ago

1991-01 4.0 Explorer or Ranger. M5OD on the floor, hydraulic clutch .Not a lot of HP in the OHV 6 banger, but good low end grunt to get you off the line if you miss a shift.
Shifts are smooth if the throw is a little long, but the clutch is light with a good feel for the break point.

Sean Ward
Sean Ward
29 days ago

Anything Mitsubishi. I have found them to have very forgiving transmissions and good clutch feeling. I taught 6 of my troops to drive manual in a 2010 1.1L, 5 speed Mitsubishi colt. I learned in a 2002 Chrysler Sebring Coupe (Mitsubishi engine and transmission).

Joshua B O'Donnell
Joshua B O'Donnell
29 days ago
Reply to  Sean Ward

Troops? Also where are you with a 2010 colt? Canada or EU? Either way I approve! USA here, learned on an 89 Ford festival and an 86 carb 4banger Toyota pickup, both circa 2009. These were $600 cars back then, both reliable, ugly but amazing on gas and cheap to insure.

Sean Ward
Sean Ward
24 days ago

Troops refers to lower ranking enlisted folks I supervised (me being slightly higher ranking enlisted). EU was a good guess. I was stationed in Italy at the time.

Last edited 24 days ago by Sean Ward
Porschebago
Porschebago
30 days ago

The correct answer is “a rented car.”

Joshua B O'Donnell
Joshua B O'Donnell
29 days ago
Reply to  Porschebago

Or a dealership car. Provided the salesman is patient. Or aware that you’re wasting their time

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
30 days ago

It’s a motorcycle! Can’t burn out a wet clutch. ????

Jake Harsha
Jake Harsha
30 days ago

So apparently NOT the Jeep YJ…? (That’s what’s shown in the misleading first picture!)

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago

Diesels are more difficult to stall, so they’re good for learners. On the other hand, I guess they’re not that easy to come by in the US.
(My instructor had a Peugeot 306 diesel for exactly this reason, but this was a long time ago)

D Y
D Y
1 month ago

Not a ton of help, but any full size fuel injected american rig with granny low and four wheel low will allow anyone to practice (somewhere you aren’t impeding traffic lol) without damaging the clutch. They will idle slower than you can walk, so getting a feel for the clutch is a much less exciting experience, as you don’t need to worry so much about throttle when first learning. Which translates to a lot less clutch wear and tear, and embarrassment.

Benjamin S Lindstrom
Benjamin S Lindstrom
1 month ago

You can learn on my car, John! I live in very nearby Davison. BMW 535xi. Wagon. Manual. Would be happy to meet.

You can even autocross it with me if you’re interested.

But, it’s not for sale, and it’d be above your budget anyway if I was forced to sell!

Benjamin S Lindstrom
Benjamin S Lindstrom
1 month ago

A few more things:

Two cars and a number of years ago I had a Pontiac Vibe GT (with Koni shocks and other suspension upgrades), and lived basically next door to our esteemed Vibe loving acquaintance (we met up once). Those are fun, but the clutch and gear ratios are not the most forgiving thing in those. They would force you to be a better stick shift driver though – double clutch rev matching downshifts, quick upshifts to stay in lift, etc.

The regular Vibe, though those 5 speeds in the first gen are known to have bearing failure, are very easy to drive.

Prior to the Vibe I had a Mark III Golf Harlequin manual (yes, the multicolored one). That was very easy to learn as the first stick shift I owned.

Oh, and I had initially learned on a 1989-ish Isuzu Trooper with the 4 cylinder. That was so underpowered, it couldn’t even maintain 70 mph on a slight incline!

Sekim
Sekim
1 month ago

My last car was an 06 Legacy Outback wagon with a 5 speed. It was a very easy clutch to work, relatively light but it had a nice clean friction point… I was able to teach my fiance to work it, and she swore she could never drive a stick

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