Learning to Drive a Manual? These Cars Are the Best to Practice On
While manual transmissions are a dying breed, learning to drive a manual is a worthwhile skill. And upon mastering the art of rowing through the gears, you’re allowed to drive a plethora of cool automobiles. You’ll perform better at track days if you choose to partake in them, and if you’ve ever dreamed of owning a classic car, you’d better know stick. But everyone starts somewhere, grinding lots of gears, so what are the easiest stickshift cars to learn on?
The Ford Fiesta was at the top of most lists
Upon searching for the answer myself, it became abundantly clear that Ford Fiestas were the best pick (especially the 2019 model). And it makes sense too. In terms of value for money, the Fiesta is priced relatively fair, around $14,000 to $17,000 depending on trim and mileage. In fact, one of the only complaints with Fords in the 2010s was their automatic transmission, so ripping that out solves the problem entirely!
Personally, I’d choose to get a Ford Fiesta ST, which has a friendly stickshift ready for you to learn on. But once you’ve figured out the basics, the ST is packed with enough power where you can have some fun. With 200 horsepower, and just 2,700 lbs of weight, the ST makes easy work of a track.
It’s not often that I can personally attest to something, but I do know how well-built Ford shifters are. One of the first manual cars I ever drove was a 2014 Ford Focus. It took minutes to figure the car out, and the transmission didn’t nag you for making a mistake or two. The Focus and Fiesta share that same, smooth manual transmission, which is certainly better than any automatic transmission they’ve offered on compact cars in recent years.
While this is a bit of personal speculation, part of the reasoning For makes really good manual transmission cars is that their compacts sell a lot better in the UK than they do in the states. And only last year did automatic transmissions manage to outsell manuals, at 56%, according to US News.
However, the Fiesta and Focus nameplates are defunct in the states. So if you’re looking for a new car with a stick, you’re options are slightly more limited.
The 2021 Chevy Spark and 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage are the cheapest new manuals you can buy
Let’s make one thing clear: these are not the best manual transmission cars on the market. But they are new, they are simple, and they are cheap. In fact, they’re the two cheapest cars on sale in America as of right now, despite the fact that so few people buy them.
The Chevy Spark packs more of a “punch,” if you can call it that, with 98 horsepower. Compare that to the Mitsubishi Mirage’s 78 horsepower and the Chevy looks like a race car. But they each have a five-speed manual transmission on the floor, and throwing it around will come easily, even if it’s not exciting.
Chances are, you’d outgrow the Mitsubishi Mirage and Chevy Spark very quickly. Though, if mpg ratings in the high 30s and compact size is appealing to you, then enough to like about each of them (even if they’re both very slow). And even if you’re just looking for a new manual car to learn on, then these are your two cheapest new options. But really, if you’ve got a stickshift lying around, you can just use that.
At the end of the day, any old piece of junk will do the trick
I’m no stickshift expert, but something clicks in your brain when you start using a foreign transmission. And if you’re on public roads, you better figure out how to row through the gears fast. Sure, learning how to do something in a stressful situation isn’t exactly ideal, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie, it gets the blood going fast.
If you have some old jalopy, or a friend with a car they don’t mind getting a bit abused, then use that. There are plenty of sub $2,000 options on Craigslist, not that buying a car off Craigslist is responsible. But neither is eating fast food, or speeding, or procrastinating, and we all still do those things.
And once you learn to drive a stickshift, no matter what it is, the principles translate to every other manual transmission car on the road. I’ve driven an early 2000s BMW M5, a 1969 Chevy Chevelle, and the aforementioned 2014 Ford Focus and they all felt the same. And I can attest to buying a clunker, I’m talking to a guy about at a $750 Suzuki Forenza right now. So if you have the means, go buy a clunker.
You won’t feel so bad if you break it either, because everyone makes mistakes while learning to drive a manual transmission. And it’s best to make sure those mistakes aren’t expensive. Or, at the very least, are made on someone else’s car.