Thanks to Volkswagen, I Learned to Drive a Manual Transmission

A Girls Guide To Cars | Thanks To Volkswagen, I Learned To Drive A Manual Transmission - Kymri Vw Manual
Learning to drive a manual transmission with Volkswagen. Photo by Volkswagen.

Did you learn to drive in a stick shift? Nope? Me neither!

The youngest of 4 kids in my family, I was the last to learn to drive. All of my siblings learned to drive a manual transmission, because learning to drive a manual stick shift meant you could just as easily drive an automatic, but manuals were plentiful and a less expensive investment for a first time driver. If, like me, you learned to drive a car with an automatic transmission, then it was already easier to park, drive up hill, cross an intersection, and pass the driver’s test. As long as I had a license to drive, that’s all that mattered when I was high-school age. The less stress the better.

Fast forward 40 years and hundreds of thousands of automatic transmission miles later, I’m driving and reviewing cars so evolved that they are almost driving themselves. I love driving to the extent that my passion has turned profession, now here I am an automotive journalist. But, in all these years, I’ve never driven a manual. So when Volkswagen invited me to Phoenix Raceway to learn to drive a manual, I was beyond thrilled. I am always up for a challenge, and for learning new things, even if they are old things.

Related: Learning to Drive a Stick Shift? Here’s What You Need to Know First

Learn To Drive A Manual Transmission

Classic golf-ball style shifter and Clark Plaid tartan seats of the GTI. Photo by Volkswagen.

Protecting an Endangered Species with Volkswagen

You see, back in 1980, 35% of cars in the U.S. had manual transmission. That’s about a third of the American market. As of 2021, only 1% of cars in the U.S. have manual transmission, and only 18% of drivers in the U.S. know how to drive a manual transmission car. That means we are looking at manual transmission vehicles as an endangered species, and Volkswagen is determined to protect them.

While high-performance automakers like Maserati and Ferrari have stopped producing manual shifters, Volkswagen can’t imagine a future without them. In fact, Volkswagen continues to manufacture and offer not one but four manual transmission options: the Jetta, Jetta GLI, Golf GTI, and Golf R. And lucky for me, I got to drive them all.

Related: 5 Reasons You’ll Want To Drive A Manual Transmission

Learn To Drive A Manual Transmission In A Volkswagen Golf

Once you get rolling up to speed, it’s nothing but fun in the Golf R. Photo by Volkswagen.

If you can Dance, you can Drive a Manual

Driving a manual is easy. But learning to drive a manual is not. The number one skill you need to have is humility. Then patience. You’re going to stall out, you’ll lurch, you’ll make mistakes, you’ll forget where first gear is, you’ll grind the gears. There’s a lot to think about, and plenty of embarrassing moments. For me, it was like learning a new dance number.

You have an instructor who tirelessly demonstrates and calls out steps that you learn one by one. The next step builds on the last, and eventually you have a fully choreographed routine. With repetition, the muscle memory kicks in and you can ease up on thinking about every step. Everything connects and begins to flow. Soon enough, driving a manual becomes as graceful and effortless as dancing. Just as you feel at one with the music, you feel at one with the machine.

Related: Ten Affordable and Fun Manual Transmission Cars That Will Fire Up Your Stick Shift Dreams

Learn To Drive A Manual Transmission Kymri Wilt

Parallel parking in a manual transmission, a valuable skill acquired as part of Volkswagen’s #SavetheManuals event. Photo by Volkswagen.

Rule Number One: Stop Thinking, and Start Feeling

“Clutch in”
“Find first”
“Up on the left, down on the right”
“Slowly….slowly…ease up slowly”
“Now more gas, give it more gas”

My professional manual driving instructor had so much patience, more than I was allowing myself. I can’t count the amount of  times he repeated those phrases. I would overthink every little thing. But before I could burst into tears and give up, I succeeded. Yep, I did it. I finally learned to drive a manual shift. And it felt incredible! My feet were dancing, my shifting was smooth as silk, and I was reversing and even parallel parking without lurching or stalling. I was crushing it and felt so empowered!

Upshifting To 5Th Gear On The Phoenix Raceway In The Volkswagen Golf R While Learning To Drive A Manual Transmission

Upshifting to 5th gear on the Phoenix Raceway in the Volkswagen Golf R. Photo by Volkswagen.

Getting up to speed in the Volkswagen Golf R

Things really got fun when I hit the racetrack and seamlessly upshifted my way into high gear and took to circling those laps like I was Tanner Foust. Okay, maybe he was at the wheel first (and what a thrill that was!), but I earned my way and took my instructor for a few laps….and I didn’t want to slow down, never mind stop. Because once you get past the challenge of starting in that first gear, the shifting just gets smoother and smoother. You feel at one with the vehicle, intuitively knowing when to upshift, release, and perform that dance full out. It’s a beautiful feeling. And driving a stick shift is all about feeling.

Related: I Drove a Right Hand Drive Manual Transmission VW Taigun Around LA for Two Days and This Is What it Was Like

Volkswagen Jetta Gli Performance Sedan Test Run Learn To Drive Manual Transmission

Manual drive Volkswagen Jetta GLI performance sedan test run. Photo by Volkswagen.

It’s Never too Late to Learn – Driving a Manual Shift is a Timeless Skill

Confession: I was invited as one of a group of “intrepid influencers,” who happened to be, for the most part, millennials. While I am intrepid, I am NOT a millennial influencer – I am a Gen X photographer/writer/mom who also shares on social media. And, I love Volkswagen and have been around for more of their history than any other participant. So I was very lucky to be invited as part of this amazing experience.

Everyone else learning to drive a manual that day could easily have been my child. Seriously. While it was impressive that they each had millions of followers on Instagram, YouTube and Tik-Tok, there was not a journalist amongst them. They looked up to me, admired me, asked how I got to do what I do, and thought it was pretty cool that I was there learning something entirely new at my age.

I may not have placed high in the overall scores that day, but I earned “coolest participant” status when they glanced beyond my modest Instagram numbers and actually looked at my content. “You write car reviews?” They thought that was super cool, along with discovering that I surf. So all in all, I came away from the event feeling not just empowered as a new manual shift driver, but empowered as a mature woman who inspires others, especially younger women just starting on their path.

Empowered Women Who All Learned To Drive Manual Transmission Cars. Photo By Volkswagen.

Empowered women who all learned to drive manual transmission cars. Photo by Volkswagen.

Volkswagen for all generations

You see, Volkswagen knows their people, their fans, their market. It’s not just one age demographic they cater to. There is truly a Volkswagen for every generation and every type of driver, INCLUDING the endangered 1% of manual transmission drivers in the U.S. And what better cause than protecting endangered species? Volkswagen’s #SavetheManuals campaign is more than a hashtag. VW embraces every reach of the U.S. market with affordable, efficient and fun manual transmission vehicles.

Disclosure: I was Volkswagen’s guest for this #SavetheManuals event; travel, accommodations and instruction were provided, but I did my own shifting, parking, autocross circuits, and track laps.

Based in Cardiff by the Sea, California, Kymri is a freelance travel photographer, writer, and videographer. Between travels, she... More about Kymri WIlt