I Need A Responsible Family Car With A Manual Transmission! What Should I Buy?

Danielle drives a manual Honda Fit—a good car! But it’s getting worn out and is no longer ideal for hauling two kids around. She is feeling some pressure to get something “more responsible” but doesn’t want to give up the stick shift life. What car should she buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )


Here is the scenario:

Is there a phenomenon when you are a completely competent and independent adult, until you have kids, and then your parents start treating you like a teenager again? Just me?

Despite the fact that, when I was kid, my parents hauled me around in a 1965 Porsche 911 with no seatbelts (my dad belted me in with tie downs. Ah the ‘80s), an old Mercedes from the junkyard that my mom could only start by beating the carburetor with her clog, and a 1970s Rivera that may or may not have had a back seat (I can’t remember), my parents have been all over me lately that my religiously serviced 2011 Honda Fit is “NOT SAFE FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN.” I don’t know what they’re talking about.

But here’s the truth, the clutch is on its last legs, and, OK, with both car seats in the back, no full-sized adult can comfortably sit in the passenger seat. So, it’s time to move on. I don’t want to give up my clutch though! What’s something big enough for a family of four, full of safety features, but please lord not a minivan?

I can spend up to $25,000 and I’m fairly open to options, but this car needs to fit two kids fairly comfortably, have modern safety features, and I really want a manual transmission.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $25,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Centerville, Mass

Wants: Safe, Family Car, Manual Trans

Doesn’t want: A minivan

Expert 1: Tom McParland – RIP Good Wagons


Danielle, good for you for being the cool mom who can row her own gears. We need to make sure we maintain that. While there are plenty of great manual cars for under $25,000, most of them are not ideal for family duty. There is one that fits the bill nicely: the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. Sadly, VW is discontinuing this model in America, but there are still plenty of pre-owned versions around, and since it shares components with the rest of the Golf family, I wouldn’t be too concerned about service and parts.

The good news is that the Alltrack has everything to keep your parents from pestering you. It’s a wagon with a decently sized rear seat and plenty of cargo room in the back. It also has all-wheel drive for New England winters. Of course, the best news of all is that the Alltrack was available with a manual transmission and you didn’t have to get a base model car if you wanted a clutch pedal.


While three-pedal Alltracks aren’t easy to find, some dealers are clearing out inventory, which could mean a brand new 2019 model for well within your budget.

Expert 2: Justin Westbrook – Zoom Zoom

Photo: Mazda


You want a nice car that’s somewhat modern, with a manual and updated safety features, and you don’t want a minivan? You should be looking at a Mazda, my friend.

And while we could go for a Mazda 3, why not upgrade you a vehicle size to the Mazda 6? It’s a pretty enough sedan with everything you need at a price you can’t say no to.


I found one in Worcester that’s red, the best color for a Mazda, with the good wheels, with a manual, with keyless start, a backup camera, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert for a steal at $17,660. That’s well within your budget.

It’s also sad but fun to think that they don’t make these anymore, so your kids will grow up in something of a unicorn. One day they’ll be commenting on Jalopnik’s TikTok (the only platform we’ll be publishing on then) about how cool you were, shepherding them around in a manual Mazda 6 while the other parents sadly gave up and went for the minivan.


Think about their future. But also think about your present driving a fun car.

Expert 3: Patrick George — Crossover Life Doesn’t Have To Suck


I also like most Mazdas, and I like the idea of putting your kids in a unicorn. You sound like you had some great car experiences growing up, so you owe it to your own kids to put them in something unusual. Unfortunately, knowing how much gear you probably have to haul around, a sedan may be a suboptimal choice.

But people forget the Mazda CX-5, one of the few truly fun crossovers, came with a manual gearbox for a time. I, however, have not. I’m here to tell you I found a stick-shift CX-5 near you with just 25,000 miles, coming in way under your budget at $16,987. Hot damn!


The CX-5’s naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine may not make this thing a riot to drive, but it has enough grunt for everyday use. It’s also a pretty superb handler for its class. And it should carry all your kids’ crap more than fine.

These are pretty rare cars, but I can’t imagine too many crossover buyers really want a stick, so I bet you could talk the dealer way down on this one. Do them a favor, take it off their hands. You’re one of the heroes.


Expert 4: Raphael Orlove — Safety Third

Photo: Craigslist


I don’t think your parents are so much concerned with your kids’ safety so much as they are concerned with worrying about it, and they’ll take anything that at least gives the appearance of safety. This is good! It means you can buy literally any Volvo you want and they’ll be happy.

And under the umbrella of “any Volvo you want” lie some very fun cars.

I will be honest, I failed you. I was unable to find either a newer Volvo V60 Polestar that wasn’t $10,000 too expensive, nor could I find a Volvo V70R wagon that wasn’t $10,000 too cheap. But I believe that somewhere out there is a middle ground worth hunting for. I found this S60R in red with the coolest shifter of modern mass-produced performance cars for sale not far in Connecticut with pretty low miles for half your budget. I would scoop it up and raise hell in it, if it were me, though I think keeping an eye out for a good V70R isn’t a bad plan, either.


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