I Can Finally Own A Manual Car Again! What Should I Buy?

Photo: Mazda
Photo: Mazda

Scott’s teenage daughter will be driving soon and she will take his Volvo, which means he can finally get a manual transmission car after years of automatics. He has a modest budget, but is open to options that are sporty with reasonable mpgs. What car should he buy?

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Here is the scenario.

My daughter just turned 16 and will be getting her license in August. The current plan is to give her my current 2016 Volvo S60 and I get something used, but new to me. For the first 15 years of my driving life, I always had at least one car with a manual transmission to drive on a regular basis. However, I’ve had automatics in the 21st century and I’m dying to row my own again. My wife, who refuses to learn how to drive a manual, has always insisted that my car be an auto in case her car is unavailable (a situation that has arisen maybe twice in the last 20 years). As this will be our 3rd car, I am insisting on a genuine 3-pedal manual. No floppy paddles!!!

Now, for the interesting bit. There is a reasonable chance that our family will relocate to Europe in 2-3 years, in particular, the UK. So I don’t want to spend too much and would like something that wouldn’t lose too much value over the next two years. Alternatively, a car that could be exported to the UK and maintained there without costing a small fortune.

To recap -

A manual transmission is a must!

Reasonable gas mileage (e.g., 20 mpg or better in mixed use).

Sporty. Top speed/acceleration isn’t as important as handling.

It will be a daily driver, so reasonably reliable. I’m handy with a wrench, but I don’t have much spare time for tinkering.

For budget I am targeting around $15,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: around $15,000


Location: Austin, TX

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: MANUAL, sporty, reasonably reliable

Doesn’t want: A gas guzzler

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Reasonably Reliable


Scott, I’ll let my colleagues offer the obvious answer to the fun, manual, car for $15,000 question, but let’s be real if you wanted a Miata, you would have just bought a Miata. So you are probably looking for something just a bit more interesting. After years of driving a nice, but boring Volvo you need some excitement in your life.

Also, since you are likely relocating in a few years, this fun car doesn’t need to last forever it just has to hold up for a relatively short period of time, which means you can live a little. Check out this 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth convertible. Yes, it’s an Italian car with a minor accident history, but it’s only ten grand with less than 55,000 miles and it has a fairly consistent service history. It’s also a blast to drive, looks fantastic, and makes great sounds. The small turbo motor can get up to 34 mpg on the highway, so you won’t be spending much on fuel. These things can be a bit of a gamble, but sometimes that gamble pays off. You don’t need it to last for 10 years, just enough to get a fun car out of your system.

Expert 2: Collin Woodard - Budget Schmudget

Photo: Extreme Autoplex
Photo: Extreme Autoplex

I get it, Scott. With a big move potentially coming up, it feels a little counterintuitive to spend a lot of money on a car. The fact that you may have to sell your new car with relatively little notice, though, means that you may want to consider buying something more expensive but easier to sell. Also, as you mentioned, you’re going to want to get something that won’t lose much value over the next couple of years. I think we can get you all of that and more if you’re willing to spend a little extra to get something truly desirable.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the Fiat 500 Abarth. It’s an absolute riot to drive around town and turns even a quick grocery run into an experience. I’d just be worried about resale value and reliability. So instead, I say get a much older Honda. Specifically, a Honda S2000. You’re not going to find one in your price range, and if you do, it’s probably going to be a rolling disaster. Here’s one near you for just under $25,000, though, with less than 90,000 miles on it.

For your money, you’ll get a simple, reliable convertible that’s got plenty of power but still returns decent fuel economy from its naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine. You’ll get to enjoy owning a dedicated sports car for as long as you live in the U.S., and when it comes time to sell, you can probably expect to get about what you paid for it. I just don’t see S2000 values dropping much, if at all, over the next few years. Also, Honda sold the S2000 in the UK, so theoretically, you could take it with you if you wanted. Maybe. I’m not an expert on importing cars to Old England.

Anyway, forget your budget, Scott. Buy the S2000. You’ll love every second that you own it.

Expert 3: Andy Kalmowitz - One Last American Hurrah

Photo: <a class="link " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk=";elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas"></a>

Scott, first of all, don’t go to the UK. There is nothing of value for you there. OK, with that out of the way, here is my suggestion. Fella, what you need is (like everyone else on this planet) a Dodge Challenger with a got’damn HEMI V8 motor under the hood. If you’re really going to move to the UK, it’s best you enjoy your last taste of freedom in the free-est car of them all: a Chllaenger R/T.

A car like this is going to tick all of your boxes: it’s a really solid daily with huge, comfy seats, it’s got a pistol grip manual transmission, the 5.7-liter Hemi engine is reasonably reliable, and gas mileage is only as bad as you want it to be. Buddy, with a manual, you are the engine computer. You drive this thing all day long just about idle and get all the power and gas mileage you need. But, you won’t be doing that for long. Freedom calls, and you will answer it with your V8 motor.

Because I’m so committed to the cause, Scott, I found the perfect Challenger for you. It’s located vaguely near you and features a very sleek black on black look with the all-important chrome wheels. Miles may be a little high on this 2012 model, but who cares man? You’re out of here soon, anyway. It also comes in well under your $15,000 budget so you’ve got room for maintenance and other odds and ends. Scotty, you deserve a good car as your last one in America. You deserve a Dodge Challenger R/T

Expert 4: Lawrence Hodge - Pocket Rocket

Image: M&F Auto Sales
Image: M&F Auto Sales

Scott personally, I think you need something that’s capable of being both at home on the huge highways of Texas as well as European streets —whenever you get back there. For that, I think you would do well to go and grab yourself a Ford Fiesta ST.

Legitimately one of the best hot hatches on the market at the time, it’s perfect if you want something that’s fun to drive. These specs scream tossable. A turbocharged I4 making 197 horsepower mated to a six-speed manual in a hatchback weighing just over 2,700 pounds? It doesn’t get any better than that, and probably never will again. Sadly, Ford has no interest in making cheap fun stuff like this any more.

Luckily for us, these things are old enough now where they can be had for reasonable prices. If you’re willing to deal with high miles, you can find them under $10,000 easily. Lower miles can even be found within your price range. Take this 2016 Fiesta ST I found at a dealer in New Mexico. It has just over 42,000 miles and they’re only asking $15,550 for it. And I bet you could talk them down even lower.

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