Rob has never owned a manual car before, and while he can drive stick in a pinch he wants to buy something inexpensive to truly master rowing the gears. The tricky part is that he is 6’4” and a lot of the sporty compacts are too tight. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario -
I’ve never owned a manual car, for various reasons it was never a real consideration. A friend taught me the basics when I was young, but beyond an emergency situation, my manual skills are pretty lacking. But I’m finally at a place in my life where I have low responsibilities and enough money to have some mid-life crisis fun.
But I don’t want to jump straight into a new sports car having so little time with a stick. Beyond the high chance I’d break something on my new shiny, I want my first expensive manual to be a time of joy, not frustration.
So I’m looking for a cheap and fun manual to drive around for awhile and learn how to not suck at rowing my own. The obvious choices are a GTI or Civic Si, but I’m curious what else is out there and what other choices I should consider. My only real preferences are that I fit into it (I’m 6’4), and that it’s doesn’t fall apart immediately.
I am looking for cheap, but not a pile of rust so I can spend up to $15,000
Budget: up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: West Virginia
Wants: Manual, spacious, somewhat reliable
Doesn’t want: Something too small
Rob, good on you for realizing it’s never too late to enjoy a manual car and since manual options are dwindling now is a good time to check this off your bucket list. The challenge here is that you are a bigger dude, and most cars that offer a third pedal tend to be a smaller size. Of course, we are going to get all kinds of comments on how someone’s friend was a linebacker and drove a Miata just fine…but I don’t think the Mazda is the answer here.
Fortunately, GM made a Miata competitor that might not have been as nimble but did offer some drop-top fun in a slightly more comfortable package. You need to find yourself a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky. The former will be easier to source, and there are a number of options with reasonable miles in the sub $15,000 range. Here is a nice dark blue one with only 60,000 miles. The shifter has seen some wear, but overall it seems to be a good quality car.
It’s exciting to hear that you’re getting into the world of manual transmissions, Rob! Let’s get you something both pretty cool and easy to drive as you learn to master rowing your own.
I present to you the first-generation Audi TT. These cars looked stunning when they were new and they still look fantastic now. Here’s one near you with 90,000 miles. It’s painted in a gorgeous red with a soft top and nearly all of the best options. Under the hood is a 1.8-liter turbo four making 225 horsepower, driving the front and sometimes all wheels through a Haldex AWD system.
I find the TT’s manual transmission to be incredibly forgiving, yet engaging when you’re really on it. These do have some issues here and there, like the coolant temperature gauge may one day get a mind of its own. But a lot of the major stuff comes from the Volkswagen parts bin, so they aren’t that expensive to run.
Rob, welcome to the manual transmission club! We meet Thursday nights out back of the Arby’s, between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. It’s a black tie optional affair.
But, what to roll up to that club in? It seems like you want to eventually move into something sporty, so my first thought was a BRZ or FR-S. They’re reliable and have great beginner clutches, and the roofline leaves a ton of room for tall drivers — even with helmets. Unfortunately, while both can be picked up for that fifteen-thousand-dollar price point (though a clean Toyota 86 can’t be), pickings around you are incredibly slim. There’s a modified example in Columbus that fits your price point, a clean one in Elkins that doesn’t, and one with Lambo doors and underglow on Facebook Marketplace. That’s about it.
So, backup plan: A practical daily driver that still lets you have a bit of fun while you’re rowing your own. I give you the Ford Fiesta ST, specifically this bright-green example for sale in Saint Albans (though this even cheaper green one in Columbus is good too). It may have a few odd mods, like those too-big wheels, but it’ll function as well as a GTI or Civic Si as a first manual-transmission car — without looking like everything else on the road. You’re already considering those two, so why not throw an angry little jellybean into the mix?
My colleagues have made some great suggestions, and I get the feeling you’ve already considered other obvious coupes such as the Chevrolet Camaro or maybe even a Nissan 350Z. So I’m going to suggest you think a little outside the box and consider something like this 2006 Dodge Ram.
I know it’s not sporty, but it’s under your budget, has a manual, and there’s a V8 under the hood. It also looks like it’s been taken care of incredibly well, especially considering how many miles are on the odometer. But the real advantage it has is that manual pickup trucks are a dying breed.
You didn’t say how long you plan to keep your temporary ride, but I suspect you’d prefer not to lose a ton of money when you end up selling it to buy the car you actually want. If you can find a good manual pickup, there’s a solid chance you’ll be able to dodge the beast that is depreciation even if used car prices drop significantly over the next year. In comparison, a six-cylinder Challenger seems like a riskier buy.
Alternatively, if I can’t sell you on the fun of going mudding, maybe quirky is the way to go? Here’s a 2003 Subaru Baja that fits your budget and would probably be more fun to drive than a full-size pickup. You might have a harder time finding a buyer, but the people who want one tend to really want one. That’s usually great for resale value.
Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.