These Are The Best Manual Transmission Cars for Learning to Drive Stick

These Are The Best Manual Transmission Cars for Learning to Drive Stick

From classic cars to old Civics, these are the cars you think are the best for learning to drive a manual.

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A photo of a blue BMW E36 car in profile.
BMW actually stands for Best Manual, Whatever.
Photo: BMW

Despite the world pivoting to electric vehicles that don’t have any need for gearboxes, there’s a lot to be said for being able to drive a car that does come with a stick in the center. But if you’re looking to master the art of the manual, where should you start?

To try to come up with a list of good manuals for learning to drive stick, we turned to you to see what your experiences had taught you. And from Civics to classic sports cars, we had some great responses.

So, here are your picks for the best cars to learn to drive stick in.

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Honda Civic

Honda Civic

A photo of a dark grey Honda Civic sedan driving on a road.
Photo: Honda

“2005 Honda Civic hybrid. It had ‘Auto Stop’. Come to a stop, put it in Neutral, the engine turned off. When you wanted to get going again, put it in gear to restart the engine. Same procedure to restart the engine after stalling, which was perfect as a new driver.”

Any little gadget or gizmo like this is a welcome respite for any new driver.

Suggested by: @TommyD31 (Twitter)

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Mazda Miata

Mazda Miata

A photo of a red Mazda Miata sports car in the woods.
Photo: Mazda

“I’ll be that guy. The answer is Miata. Always Miata. I learned on a 1990 Miata. The clutch is just right and the shifter is so fun to throw around that you’ll be obsessed with practicing.”

There’s always one! But, the Miata does have a lovely little gearbox that’s great place for anyone looking to get their head around a stick shift.

Suggested by: sidbridge

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Someone Else’s Car

Someone Else’s Car

An aerial photo of a parking lot full of brand new cars.
Photo: CFOTO/Future Publishing (Getty Images)

“The best car to learn on is not your own. At 16 my best friend knew how to drive a stick but I didn’t. We would test drive used cars… he would drive off the lot… I would take over a few blocks away.”

A popular answer to day was anything that’s not yours. So rentals, a friend’s car or even ones you could test drive.

Suggested by: Keith Wayne Hamilton (Facebook)

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Jensen Healey

Jensen Healey

A photo of a yellow Jensen Healey sports car.
Photo: National Motor Museum/Heritage Images (Getty Images)

“While I get the appeal of learning in a rental as you don’t need to worry about trashing the clutch, I feel like if it’s your own car it will teach you from the get go to be more cautious. Prior to actually getting a car with a stick shift I had had a few very short and uniformative times behinds the wheel of a few, never long enough to actually learn anything really.

“I finally taught myself how to drive stick on a project car I picked up at the start of covid, my 1974 Jensen Healey. I spent about 4-6 months fixing it up to get it to a point it was running and all the obvious mechanical faults had been sorted. With that much time invested in it I wanted to be very careful with it. I had a fair idea of how the whole manual transmission thing worked in theory but it was practice and clutch control I needed to iron out. I pushed it into my driveway and spent a few days just practicing getting it moving, going back and forth until I could do it smoothly and not stall the car.

“Then I committed to taking it on the road (kinda steep driveway, took 4 people and a running start to push it up into my garage when I got it). First time out I just circled my block in my area, stops signs only no real traffic one steep hill. Little by little I took it out farther and farther. The first day I decided to really take it out properly I talked my wife into coming along (this was a mistake), all was going well until it started overheating. Up to this point I had never driven it long enough for it to get hot enough to realize there was a cooling issue. So we had to abort and head home after it had cooled down a bit, trouble was the area we were in I only had three directions I could take to get us home quickly. One involved a very brief stint on the freeway (I had not taken it on the freeway yet) the other two involved pretty steep hills with stop lights on them, something I was still having trouble with.

“So on to the freeway we went, it was terrifying, I couldn’t get it up to freeway speed (later discovered carbs had gone out of sync) cars were swerving around us and honking and my wife was freaking out thinking we were about to die. Managed to limp home and get it back in the garage, she wouldn’t get back in it with me for several months until I had the car running better and my skills improved. And I did little by little at this point I am extremely confident driving it and the clutch that came with it still feels great according to folks I know who have been driving stick much longer. Last big learning experience I had with it was low speed driving when my wife drafted me to drive the San Diego public library’s new mascot in the San Diego Pride parade, car does not like moving at very low speeds so I had to drive the entire parade essentially with the clutch and man was that a work out. Best part of the whole event though was the parade came to a stop for a few minutes and we happened to be right next to protestors with megaphones telling everyone they were going to hell. When I really rev up the lotus 907 under the bonnet my car is extremely loud, will very easily set off car alarms so more then loud enough to drown them out and so I did and while I couldn’t hear them I could see people cheering and clapping us when I did.”

Rebuilding a vintage British sports car and then learning to drive stick in it. What an excellent few years you’ve had!

Suggested by: Barguest

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Geo Metro

Geo Metro

A photo of a pale blue Geo Metro hatchback.
Photo: General Motors

“Three-cylinder Geo Metro ftw. That thing had a great gearbox. 😆 Reverse was actually the best way to get a feel for the clutch... more forgiving than that tall first gear.”

Is this poster suggesting you learn to drive stick by starting backwards? That’s a rogue tactic, but whatever floats your boat.

Suggested by: @jdsforfun (Twitter)

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Dodge Dakota

Dodge Dakota

A photo of a black Dodge Dakota pickup truck.
Photo: Dodge

“I learned on a 1997 Dodge Dakota in the Midwest. My mom took me out to some county roads to practice. I actually thought that was a great little pickup to learn on because the throws were so incredibly long, as was the clutch travel, that it was very easy to find the proper gear and ensure it was in gear. Also, because of the incredibly long shifter, it was easier for me to tell, as a beginner, when the clutch was engaged. You could visibly see and feel when the shifter stopped vibrating after the clutch bit. I had a lot less stalling than anticipated.

“That being said, my first winter as a new stick driver in a pickup was atrocious, so... double-edged sword, that.

“ETA: I also taught my buddy and my girlfriend how to drive stick on that same pickup. I know I’m not the greatest teacher, and they picked it up fairly quickly, so I attribute at least some of that to the pickup (and the rest to my mom for being great at teaching me). I think the fairly torquey response also helped to prevent some stalling; it was forgiving, I suppose.”

This is America, so everything should be done in a pickup truck. You should know that by now.

Suggested by: apeddlerofdeath

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Ferguson Tractor

Ferguson Tractor

A photo of an old red tractor in a field of grass.
Photo: Michal Fludra/NurPhoto (Getty Images)

“You want something that won’t likely stall if you let the clutch up at an idle and has a decent shifter that’s easy to differentiate between gears by position of shifter.

“The Toyota Echo is actually a decent example. Very easy to drive. 16 and newer Honda Civic is another common car that is very forgiving. A car/truck with a diesel, loads of low end torque to bail a beginner out of a sloppy start. Farm tractors are also great learning tools. Lawn tractors are good too, but I don’t think there’s many out there that don’t have a hydrostatic anymore.

“I actually learned to drive on a Ferguson tractor. Very simple 4-speed and didn’t need to shift very often. The 12 speeds in the other two tractors can offer a challenge to anyone under the right conditions(3 levers between your legs, mostly non syncro, fun!). But are generally pretty good. Then I had to learn driving stick cars at work, seemed simple, but I admit I had a learning curve.

“The bigger thing is having a patient teacher who encourages progress. Not everyone is going to master it within an hour.”

I’ll be honest, I was not expecting anyone to suggest a tractor. But, lots of torque and relatively low speeds make it a good starting block, I guess.

Suggested by: Greg Henry (Facebook)

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A Bike, Actually

A Bike, Actually

A photo of a dirt bike rider making a jump on a beach in the UK.
Photo: Finnbarr Webster (Getty Images)

“A dirt bike.

“I learned a manual transmission when I was 4 years old (1979 Suzuki RM50 had a 5-speed and a real clutch) so I already knew what to do when I first sat in a car with a manual.

“My 10 year old son already knows how to drive a manual (CRF80). But he wants an electric car when he’s 16. (Get a job, kid!)”

Once you’ve mastered two wheels, you can graduate onto four.

Suggested by: angrybob-va

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BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series

A photo of a BMW E36 driving on a road.
Photo: BMW

“Two ways of going about it:

“Underpowered = will be able to drive anything

“Over-torqued = impossible to stall

“I learned in my dad’s E36 316i, totally underpowered but great controls. But honestly, anything you have access to.”

The four-cylinder engine in the 316i produced 100hp and 104 lb ft of torque at 4,250 rpm. the perfect combination for anyone dipping their toes into a manual.

Suggested by: @PETROSPECT_R (Twitter)

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Acura TSX

Acura TSX

A photo of a red Acura TSX sedan parked on a street.
Photo: Acura

“My daughter learned to drive manual on my 2011 Acura TSX. It’s a pretty forgiving car to learn on. She bought a 2016 Nissan Versa with a manual and that’s the car my youngest daughter is learning on. Works fine as well.”

Another Honda-badged gearbox, this time in an Acura sedan. The second-generation TSX came with a six-speed manual, giving you plenty of hands on experience.

Suggested by: SerolfDivad

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12 / 17

Saleen Mustang

Saleen Mustang

A photo of a bright yellow Saleen Mustang sports car in a studio.
Photo: Saleen

“I taught my gf in high school on her Dad’s Saleen Mustang. Not the easiest clutch in the world, but after learning how to turn left in heavy traffic in that car, she can literally drive anything. 30 years later she still only drives manual.”

A supercharged Mustang might not work for everyone’s first manual car, but apparently it worked for this poster and their girlfriend.

Suggested by: Michael Bova (Facebook)

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13 / 17

Hyundai Excel

Hyundai Excel

A photo of a pale blue Hyundai Excel car in a studio.
Photo: Hyundai

“I learned on an ‘86 Hyundai Excel and an ‘84 Ranger. The Ranger was a disaster, but the Excel was easy as easy can be.

“Weirdly, fourth and fifth gear were *exactly* the same on the Excel. I even learned how to shift without the clutch on that car, and it didn’t have a tach.

“My spawn has asked to learn on my Sky and I told him no. The gears are so close together after a nightmare drive with my nephew on the Tail of the Dragon and a lot of 5-2 and 2-5 shifts I now know what a horribly bad idea that is. To be fair to my nephew the only manual he had driven beforehand was a three on the tree F100.”

Good to know that a Ford Ranger is best avoided in this instance. Instead, opt for an aging Hyundai if you want to learn to drive stick.

Suggested by: istillmissmyxj

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14 / 17

Volkswagen Van

Volkswagen Van

A photo of a red VW Van from the 1970s in a studio.
Photo: VW

“I believe in keeping the driver and drivetrain as far apart as possible, that’s why it is best to learn stick on the 1979 Volkswagen Bus.”

The first VW van to pack in power steering also came with a four-speed manual gearbox.

Suggested by: @PatsCurtins (Twitter)

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15 / 17

Pontiac Ventura

Pontiac Ventura

A photo of a brown Pontiac Ventura coupe in a studio.
Photo: Pontiac

“I learned to drive stick on a 1973 Pontiac Ventura with a three-on-tree manual.

“Heavy clutch, worn out bushings in the shifter and almost impossible to get into reverse on a cold morning before the transmission warmed up.

“Every other manual felt like a hot knife through butter in comparison.

“My 1974 Mercury Capri was a fun car to drive, but with so little power and torque, the clutch felt like an 0n/off switch. Took me nearly a month to master it without stalling.”

When it launched, the second-generation Ventura could be ordered with a three- or four-speed manual gearbox.

Suggested by: earthbound-misfit-i

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Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler

A photo of two Jeep Wrangler SUVs on top of a hill.
Photo: Jeep

“Both my kids learned in a Jeep Wrangler. Lots of torque, positive shifter feel and a long clutch throw make it pretty easy to get it moving, and it’s just a lot of fun to drive a Jeep. Currently I’m teaching people in my 1970 VW-based dune buggy.”

Would you rather learn to drive stick in a Jeep Wrangler or an old dune buggy? It’s a tough choice, but there are definitely pros and cons to both.

Suggested by: Adam Martin

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