There are certain practices that as time has passed and technological advancements occur at warp speed, people don’t embrace as much as they used to. Something that has become less and less common, for example, is people learning to drive stick shift. With the increase in the preference for automatic transmission over manual options, it’s rare to find people who own and know how to drive these cars, despite the benefits of having one (including that they’re cheaper vehicles).
So when the opportunity came out of the blue for me to be able to acquire this skill, and do so in the newest, fastest addition to the Ford Mustang family, I jumped at the chance. It was an added perk that I would be taught how to drive stick shift in the 2024 Mustang Dark Horse by NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney.
I trekked to Citi Field stadium, where the New York Mets play in Queens, to test my driving chops in an empty parking lot for the “Save the Manual” event. In addition to the Dark Horse, you were also given the chance to try out the 2024 Bronco, which has become a very popular car of choice around NYC, with help from Ford Flat Rock plant manager and drag racer Sandy Ilievski. I spent most of my time in the Dark Horse though, a stark contrast in size to the high-sitting Bronco, and got the rundown on how driving a manual car works from Blaney.
The most important detail was understanding how essential it is to press down on the clutch to do anything, which, when you’re not used to it, can be easy to forget! Also crucial is understanding how best to let your foot off the brake and step on the accelerator (easy there, cowgirls), as well as how to successfully move the gear shift knob from one to the next depending on the car (going from 4 to 5 initially gave me some trouble because I was going more up than diagonal, taking me back to 3). After driving around and around and around in an attempt to go from first all the way up to, eventually, sixth gear, I finally got the hang of things and was able to really enjoy the vehicle.
I’m not going to try and pretend like this is a car you’re going to be running errands in. It’s not happening. With its 500 horsepower, this vehicle is for leaving folks in your dust on race tracks and open roads. It’s also a great high performance addition to the collection of a muscle car lover in your life — which may be you! The seats are deep and cozy, and the vehicle roars to make you think that you are the actual NASCAR driver in it.
My time was limited in the car so I can’t get into too many specific details (its fuel consumption, for the record, is 14 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 17 mpg when combined — the more you know). However, when Blaney got behind the wheel to take me on a brief joy ride, the car reached speed levels that were impressive. They were also levels my scary self was not ready for, but thoroughly enjoyed as I screamed through the parking lot and showed gratitude for the dependable brake system.
Both in its exterior and its handling, the Dark Horse makes a big impression. It was quite the thrill to both ride shotgun in it and take hold of the steering wheel to feel its power. It was also the perfect teacher, along with Blaney, of course, to help me learn how to handle stick shift driving. I still have some more lessons I need before I fully take off on the highway in a manual vehicle, but if I could handle this roaring Mustang, everything else should be a piece of cake.