|Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt County, California|
I consider rental cars fun. National is my preferred vendor simply because I can choose any available car, rather than getting stuck with the white Chevy Impala the bored high school dropout assigns the next customer. I refuse to drive bad cars, and so should you.
Only a few years ago the major manufacturers each owned a rental car company. As a result you were stuck with Fords at Hertz, GM cars at Avis, and so on. But now each company makes fleet purchases from a variety of manufacturers, greatly widening the selection. Much more fun for car enthusiasts.
Another big change in car rentals: even the cheapest Nissan Sentra or Hyundai Elantra is a decent car, a far cry from the horrible compact and midsized cars of just a few years ago. Simply put, there are few bad cars to choose from on the rental lot, with one important exception... I refuse to drive any compact or midsized Chrysler. The seats are horrible and the entire experience just awful. Nope, I will sit and wait for another car to come available before leaving the airport in a Dodge Avenger.
That said, one fun aspect of renting cars on a regular basis is the ability to try out new models. I've been looking for the opportunity to drive a new Dart and will probably grab one the next time I have the opportunity. It's really an Alfa, right?
|California Highway 1 north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County|
Rental convertible choices come down to three: Sebring (see Chyrysler statement above), Camaro, or Mustang. All have V6s with decent power. But the Mustang has more trunk space with the top down: an important consideration on vacation. So Mustang it was. National came through for me and soon I was cruising out of SFO at the wheel of a nearly new 2013 Mustang V6 Premium. And the premium part was important as that package includes Sirius satellite radio, a must for long vacation trips - and we had many miles to go (and the woods were actually dark and deep).
Over four days and a thousand miles we drove on every type of road and in every type of weather the west coast has to offer. With assistance from the lovely Lynne (she daily drives a BMW 330ci Cabrio and has strong opinions about ragtops from her early days in an Austin Healey Sprite), here are some good, some bad, and some ugly.
- The 3.7 liter 305 HP V6 in the Mustang is a strong and efficient engine. The car had plenty of power and averaged 26 mpg over the course of the trip. Unless you really need 400+ horsepower I think the V6 is the way to go in the 'Stang. Add a manual transmission (see The Ugly) and some suspension bits and this could be a fast and fun car.
- Track Apps. I was very surprised to find this part of the V6 Premium package. My best 0-60 was 7.1, but I wasn't trying very hard.
- A comfortable and spacious interior is key to vacationing, and the Mustang has it. Decent seats too (the V6 Premium had leather - in the old Mustang seat pattern!).
- LED driving lights and HID headlights are common in better European cars, and nice to find in the Mustang.
- In black the car has a menacing look, helped by the cool LED driving lights. Multiple times on twisty Highway 1 slower cars pulled over to let us pass. And no, I wasn't tailgating, though I may have arrived a bit suddenly.
- Johnny Rotten once said of Pete Townsend, "He's got a big nose." So does the Mustang. To see over the cowl I had to shove the seat much higher than usual. Parking was mostly guesswork.
- Cheap interior bits. The glove box's plastic lock jammed, broke, and then refused to close. There were numerous unfinished plastic edges, particularly around the windshield.
- Everyone always mentions the Mustang's solid rear axle. To be honest, most of the time it was not an issue. But in the 22 miles of mini-Nurburgring that is Highway 1 from the Pacific Coast to US 101 at Leggett, handling suffered. The car just couldn't get out of a corner smoothly. And any pavement seam caused an unnerving lateral hop.
- The good V6 was seriously compromised by a balky and slow transmission. The five speed box had decent gearing, but glacial shift times. And why Ford thinks little autoshift buttons on the side of the shift lever make sense is beyond me. If you are not going to provide flappy paddles just give me a side gate for the console. On that intense section of Highway 1 I eventually just locked the car in second and screamed to redline (I mentioned it was a rental, right?)
- How can any manufacturer can sell a $32K+ convertible without some sort of rear windblock? A simple plastic panel between the rear headrests would probably suffice. Instead the car is useless in colder weather or at speed on the interstate.
- Worst steering wheel in a sporty car ever. Period. Look where your hands sit at 9 and 3! I held cheap aluminum-look plastic for a thousand miles. How does that happen? The rest of the wheel was nice leather. Epic fail.
In the end the Mustang was fine. But if I ever do Highway 1 through Mendocino County again, I'm taking my 911.
Everyone has a rental car story. Share yours!