2012 Honda Civic Si HFP Coupe. Photo by Sandy Caetano.

Driving a manual transmission car has always been a fear of mine. Just the thought of getting behind the wheel and stalling the vehicle or wrecking the clutch or ruining some other vital part under the hood, makes me ill.

Growing up my dad always had a passion for cars, and I have always wanted to learn how to drive. But the one thing I swore I wouldn’t do was drive stick. My dad actually had a great fire engine red Chevy Cavalier that I loved, but since I was too afraid to learn how to drive it, I never did.

When I started driving school, I was asked which I wanted to learn to drive – standard or automatic – I, of course, chose the latter of the two. When I was offered the chance to learn how to drive a manual transmission car by Honda Canada, I figured why not finally give it a shot? So, I said yes.

No, I didn’t chicken out last-minute, though the thought did cross my mind. The event was held at Polson Pier in downtown Toronto. It was a gorgeous day, with not a single cloud in the sky. After dropping off my kids at the sitter, I got into the 2012 Honda CR-V Touring I was test driving and headed down to the event.

In the first of its kind event put on by Honda Canada, the objective was to take those who “drive” – people like me who had never been behind the wheel of a manual car – and turn them into “drivers” by teaching the principles of safe, controlled handling and the art of the manual transmission. Media from both print, television and radio were invited down to get in on the action, or to just watch and make fun of us newbies who had no idea what we were doing.

Before our lessons began, we were given a mini crash-course on what the role of the clutch is and how a manual transmission works by Honda Canada’s Assistant Vice President Dave Jamieson, and Jonathan Weir, Honda Product Planner.

When it was time to begin, we were introduced to our instructors – Chris Bye, President of Franczak Enterprises Ltd., and Race Car Driver Daniel Morad – and divided into pairs of two. The car we were test driving was the sporty 2012 Honda Civic Si HFP Coupe, some in black and some in white. I was partnered with Maki Inoue, Supervisor of Public Relations at Honda Canada, in the sleek white Honda Civic.

Maki went first, even though she insisted I get in the driver’s seat, and from the passenger’s side I watched and took in all the mental notes I could before it was my turn.

“This is the hardest part,” said Daniel, our instructor. “If you can learn how to get started, the rest is easy. The most difficult thing for people to grasp is how to release the clutch. Once you’ve got that down, shifting and adding the throttle (gas) is simple.”

I was quite impressed with how quickly Maki picked it up. She too had never driven stick before. When she was comfortable enough, she gave me a shot. Needless to say I was pretty good. My instructors kept calling me a pro, adding that I was a natural. I couldn’t stop laughing at their comments. Even though I only stalled the car twice, I definitely did not feel like a professional.

The trick is knowing how to release the clutch, once you nail that the rest isn’t so bad. My instructor walked beside the car and guided us on what to do and how to do it. First things first, turn the key and make sure the parking brake is on. Next, put the car into first gear and release the parking brake. Then, remove your foot from the brake pedal and slowly lift your foot off the clutch until you feel the car start to move, and hold your foot there.

Once the car is moving then let the clutch go the rest of the way up and put your foot to the side. Once you get the hang of this you can start to add a little gas and learn to switch gears. Believe me, we didn’t use the gas for quite a while. Learning to switch gears was actually not so bad, and my drive around the track was really smooth and included very little jerky movements.

Daniel Morad, Race Car Driver and Instructor and myself, Sandy Caetano, at the Honda Manual Drivers Event at Polson Pier, Toronto.

At the end of our lesson, we got the chance to ride in the car with the race car drivers as they showed off their bold moves on the track. Let’s just say my ride with Daniel will be an unforgettable one. Once I was buckled in, and someone verified I was safely strapped to my seat, I was warned to hold on tight. All of a sudden I it was pedal to the metal, and with the scent of burnt tires in the air, off we went around the race track, hugging corners and knocking down orange pylons.

That bad boy Honda Civic was whipping around like a bat out of hell. It’s a good think I was the first victim, because had I seen what I was getting myself into, there’s no way on earth I would have gotten in that car! In the end, it was a fabulous day and an amazing event I was very excited to be a part of.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be test driving the 2012 Honda Civic Si HFP Coupe, which is only available as a manual transmission.  And I’ll be doing this without the safety net of my instructor. Pray for me.

For more information about the new Honda Civic visit www.honda.ca.

Have you driven a standard car? What was your first time like learning how to drive stick?

Fun Facts:

  • Honda’s Civic Si is the sporty member of the Civic family and only available in a manual transmission.
  • The Honda CR-Z is the only Hybrid vehicle in North America available in a manual transmission.
  • Honda vehicles available with a manual transmission: Civic, Fit, Accord and CR-Z
  • Acura vehicles available with a manual transmission: TSX, TL and ILX (coming May 25)
  • The Honda Civic has been Canada’s top-selling car for 14 consecutive years.
  • With its two most popular vehicles (Civic and CR-V) produced in Alliston, Ontario, approximately 70% of Honda’s 2012 Canadian sales will be Canadian-made.
  • Honda has produced more than 5.7 million vehicles in Canada since 1986.

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