It’s just like riding a bike. Really!
Do you remember learning how to ride a bike? It starts with balance. You start, wobbly, with your feet firmly planted on flat ground (unless your parents were daredevils, of course, and started you on a downhill). As you navigate the pedals and the handlebars, you feel clunky, perhaps. Unsure. Maybe a little uncomfortable.
And then it clicks! And then you’re rolling on two wheels with a big smile on your face.
Learning how to drive a manual transmission is similar in that way. Slide behind the wheel of a car with manual transmission for the first time, and you might feel both exhilaration and anxiety about learning the language of stick shift driving.
Manuals may be on the wane in the US market, but that doesn’t mean certain death for a car with a stick shift. Didn’t you see Ford vs. Ferrari? Fast and the Furious? Gone in 60 Seconds? The Italian Job? All of those thrilling movies featured cars with stick shift transmissions.
But why? Seriously, if you’ve never driven a stick shift, you might not understand the appeal.
If you’ve ever driven a motorcycle, you can use that knowledge to learn stick shift driving as well. You already understand how to use a clutch, shift gears smoothly, and off you go.
Where should you begin?
It’s never too late to learn, and there are schools like Stick Shift Driving Academy all over the country set up to teach you how to drive a manual transmission. Google “stick shift driving lessons near me” and you’ll probably find several, depending on where you live.
Then, you can drive any car on the road. There is no “I can’t drive that because it’s a stick.” If you’re at a party and you have to get someone home but the car is a manual, you’re golden. If you’re going to rent a car, you have zero limitations.
And, it’s empowering! Mastering the art of driving a stick is not just for gearheads. It’s a way to understand how your car works and feel like you have more control over various driving conditions. Fast… slow… slippery… smooth… you’ll learn how to manage car’s power to your best advantage.
The only problem with learning to drive a manual transmission is that to really learn, you need a car that gives you the chance to use it every day. This may not be practical for every driver, especially if you have kids in car seats or don’t want to drive a stick in heavy traffic.
Still, there are ways to make this a reality. Here are 9 great stick shift cars that are a fun daily driver or a great used car for weekends or when you need to share the SUV with other drivers. Because if you learn once and then never use the skill, then what’s the point?
1) Mazda Miata
Mazda offers my favorite paint color – Soul Red Crystal Metallic – and this zippy little convertible is perfect for those gorgeous sunny days wherever you live. At just over $28K for a 2020 model, it’s incredibly affordable. Who needs electronic controls when you can flip down your canvas top with a few flicks of your wrist?
Related: 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Edition Review: Go Ahead, Put the Top Down and Get Your Hair Messy
2) Ford Mustang
A Ford Mustang in the driveway will make everyone in your family jockey for time with it; adding a stick shift means you’ll get more one on one time with your Mustang. At least, until your sister learns manual too. At almost $27,000 for a base Mustang, the six-speed manual transmission is standard. You’ll be delighted to discover the number of fun paint options on this classic car, including a head-turning neon called Grabber Lime, two stunning blues, two racy reds, and classic hues of black, white, and gray.
3) Jeep Wrangler
The iconic Jeep Wrangler is ideal for getting off the grid or finding a treasure beach that no one else can access. Picture yourself in a brightly-colored Jeep with a Hellayella paint job with all of the doors and the roof stripped off and you can almost feel the joy. Need even more incentive to buy it with a stick shift? It’s $2,750 less than the automatic for a 2020 model. Starts at just over $28K.
4) Honda Civic Si
Not only does Honda offer the sporty Civic Si in a six-speed manual, the brand ONLY offers it in a manual. Rated for 36 mpg on the highway and starting at $25,200, the Civic Si includes Honda’s Sensing Suite, which is its up-to-date safety and driver-assist package. If you want the thrill of driving a racetrack-ready manual, this is a great one. (Pssst – come a little closer and I’ll tell you a secret: Honda’s Civic Type R is one of the smoothest, easiest manuals I’ve ever driven. It’s worth investing the extra $10K, if you can.)
5) Fiat 124 Spider
A six-speed manual with RWD is available on all four Fiat 124 Spider trims (Classica, Urbana, Lusso, and Abarth). Starting at just over $26K for the 2020 model, this looks and feels a lot like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and for good reason: they’re built at the same factory in Japan on the same line. A little longer than the MX-5, the Fiat 124 Spider, especially in the Abarth trim, is an absolute joy to drive. If you get a chance to drive this car on a track, you’ll find that the back end kicks out delightfully, which may cause giddiness while driving. With a manual, you’ll like it even more.
6) Hyundai Veloster
Built for performance enthusiasts, if you have a need for six-speed thrills, the Veloster is the hot hatch of your dreams. Available in several engine sizes including standard, turbo and the N performance line, pricing starts at $18,800 ($27,600 for the Veloster N) and the entire lineup is available in a six-speed manual. Surprisingly agile and quick for a small car, the Veloster proves that good things come in small packages.
7) Dodge Challenger
A few years back, my friend Jack bought a brand-new Dodge Challenger Hellcat as soon as it was available, and he let me drive it in the parking lot. The manual transmission was muscular and powerful, and the sound of the engine alone made me swoon. Truly an enthusiast’s vehicle, the Challenge is loud, proud, and a blast to drive. If you want this baby in a manual on a new car, you can get one on a 2020 and 2021 Challenger on the R/T, R/T Scat Pack and Hellcat models.
8) Toyota Corolla
While often car brands delegate manual transmission models to the bottom rung of the lineup, Toyota reserved the manual for the upper-end SE model. Priced at $22,275, it’s pretty nicely loaded with feature like Apple CarPlay, premium JBL sound system, sport seats and exterior details like a spoiler and LED accent lighting. But best of all, this model, as with all Toyotas, has Toyota Safety Sense driver assist and safety features standard including adaptive cruise control, lane trace assist and more. These are great for a new stick-shift driver or simply, a new driver.
Related: It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, So We Toured Iconic Latin Culture Destinations in a Toyota Corolla
9) Nissan Versa
If you have a teen driver, this entry-lever car is a shoe-in. It’s cute and practical, and a five-speed transmission is standard for – get this – less than $15K to start. Don’t let the price fool you, though, because the Versa comes standard with a number of safety and convenience features. Nissan vehicles are likely to last you a long time, and pre-owned cars from this brand are a good bet, too. In fact, I spotted a 2018 Nissan 370Z – the brand’s high end of the performance spectrum – for less than $25,000 on TrueCar with fewer than 17,000 miles on the odometer. Totally worth learning to drive a manual for this kind of gorgeous.
10) Subaru Impreza
The Impreza Sport hatch is available with a five-speed transmission and it’s sure to put a smile on your face. Every Subaru comes with all-wheel drive; combined with the manual transmission on the Impreza, this is a one-two punch that can’t be beat. Choose the sedan or five-door hatch to join the club of Subaru fanatics that are fiercely loyal to this brand. Starts at around $19K.
Did we get your attention yet? Manuals are fun; give it a chance and you might find yourself humming along with the sound of shifting gears as you get ready to pilot your own.