Thursday, 22 November 2012

The cars we drove...

Over the course of our nearly six months away from home, we've had the opportunity to 'test-drive' a selection of rental cars.

So this is "Brad's totally biased, not even close to being objective, a VW will win anyways, European Car Comparison"

Note: if you are not in any way interested in cars (not a "petrol head"), you really don't need to read on any further... yes Rene, you can wait for the next post if you want!

We had a few key pieces of criteria each time we rented a car. The first rental needed to be small and fuel efficient (and cheap!) because we were driving it from Bruges, Belgium to Austria and back to Brussels.

One thing to keep in mind: when you select a car rental, it always shows what is generally an unavailable model, replaced by a totally different car. When you go to pick up the car, you can then negotiate for the exact car you want...sometimes...

Rental Car #1. Booked a VW Up! (The exclamation mark is part of the name)
Received: Nissan Micra 4 door. "You've been upgraded!" (actually it's the only car we have left....I'm sure they meant to say).
Yahoo! 3 cylinders of raw, Japanese(?) power. Drove many km's on the German Autobahn and Austrian mountain passes with the pedal to the metal, watching Smart Cars fly by us.

Best attribute: possibly the only Micra in all of Germany (and Austria)
Worst attribute: grannies in their VW Up!s laughed at us.
Funniest moment: roadblock on a Friday night in Austria. My reaction as we pull over: "OMG, do you think the cop will speak any English?"
We pull up, roll down the window and the first thing he excitedly says to us is "Do you speak English?"
Apparently our Belgian license plate made him freak out a bit.... Dutch, Flemish, French... We were on our way in no time!

And here she is... The Micra! (Last place. Like that's a surprise.)

Rental Car#2
Booked a VW Polo 4 door.
Received: Peugeot 308 4 door.
This one came out of left field after our one hour flight was delayed almost 4 hours in South Brussels airport.
We were once again upgraded and this time we were quite impressed. The Peugeot rocked. Tons of power from a 2L diesel, and power-everything: auto wipers, auto headlights, auto dimming rear mirror, awesome stereo, power folding door mirrors.
We drove this car to Italy, picked up John and Megan, drove around Tuscany and then back to France.

Best Attribute: excellent brakes. Tested outside of Milan at 120km/h when a motor home wanted our EXACT spot on the Autostrada...
Worst Attribute: adjusting to up-shifting at 1500rpm.
Funniest Moment: Had a big laugh at the 2 retired Belgian couples ahead of us in the rental car line after landing in Nimes. The one husband who was in charge of the driving rented the French equivalent of our (former) Micra, the Renault Twingo. Picture 4 elderly people in a tiny 4 door, with only 2 of their 4 suitcases fitting in the hatch... And the two of us getting into the exact car they needed, but were too cheap to rent.

Overall placing: second, definitely second! You'll see why soon enough.
Below: the über cool 308.

BTW: our intention had been that we would not really need a car for our time in France as we rented bicycles and there is a really good bus service from our town of Uzès to the nearby cities. However, a trip to IKEA was required at the end of September so off we went to the AutoEurope booking site.

Rental car #3
Booked a Fiat 500
Received a Fiat 500!!!! Yes, Cassie even cheered at the rental counter.
I am perhaps a little biased here, as I really (REALLY) do like the little Fiat. Even in the rental car version with the 69 horsepower 1.2L four cylinder, this car is a scream to drive! All you need to do is keep the revs high when shifting and all 69 of those horses work wonders. Ironically, Cassie's MG has more horsepower than the 500.

Best Attribute: It is as cool to drive as it looks.
Worst Attribute: 2 things: 1. Only had this car for a two day rental. 2. Happily driving around Avignon when a bee stung Cassie in the arm. Dead bee and unhappy wife.
Funniest Moment (sort of): to save money, we try not to pick up a car at an airport or train station if possible, as those locations charge about a €30 fee on top of the rental. In Avignon, the car rental offices are in the suburbs, which was no big deal as we chose to just walk there (and back). As we were dropping off the Fiat, another couple were picking their car up. Joe and his wife, it so happens, own a house in Union Bay! So we talk about Vancouver Island, blah blah blah, and Joe offers us a ride back into the centre of Avignon. We hop in the car and Joe starts driving... without too much thought about how to actually get downtown. After witnessing some tense moments between Joe and his wife, and a few close calls, we were quite happy to be getting out of the car. Nice couple. Hope they survived.

Overall Placing: Tied for first.
The Fiat 500. Just like home. Made in Poland.

Clayton is arriving...
Rental car #4
Ordered: Opel Astra sportwagen. (Guaranteed to have this EXACT model to rent. Paid extra from Hertz. Available only at the train station.)
Received: Option 1: Chevy Cruze 4 door sedan. What? Are you joking? We need to fit 3 people and 2 bikes in the car! Option 2: Renault Clio sort of station wagon. Don't you have an Astra? No? But it says here... 30 minutes later...
Oh, look, we can offer you a Ford Focus Wagon that is just like an Astra... Yes, we'll take it!
As advertised, the Focus did fit all of our needs, although it wasn't as powerful as the Peugeot nor as roomy. We did get lucky finding free parking near our apartment, although a guy in an old Toyota truck scraped our bumper while he was trying to parallel park behind us, while we were sitting in the car... I blame myself. He didn't seem too concerned.

Best Attribute: both bikes fit inside.
Worst Attribute: Ford.Focus.Wagon.
Funniest moment: see renting the car, above.
Happiest Moment: there already had been a scrape on the bumper, so we weren't too worried about Toyota truck guy.

Overall rating: 3rd place. What we needed was the Peugeot 308 wagon!
Here's the Focus. It looks pretty good from the front.

Our last few weeks have arrived and we decided that we would do a few road trips, so we've rented one last car for three weeks.

One more time on the websites.
Looking for the best deal available.
Once again, we don't really need anything but a small car.
Just enough room for us and our luggage when we catch the train to Paris.

Et voila! I find an anonymous discount code for Europcar (it was really hard, typing "discount code for Europcar" into Google) and it worked! Yeah, it took me 5 months to figure that one out.
...although it almost seemed to be too good to be true. 21 days, $350 CDN. All in: $17 per day!
Apparently some sort of "Ex-pat" discount. Who cares, it worked.

So... Car rental #5
Ordered: Fiat 500
Received: Fiat 500. Didn't even need to beg. Girl at rental counter surprised by rate. Reminded me of the IKEA commercial "start the car!" Literally. Start the car!

And off we went to Barcelona...
What more can I say. We drove the round trip of about a thousand kilometres quite comfortably, most of the time cruising at 130km/h on the toll highways and once again I was impressed. For such a short car, it really handled well. I also reminded Cassie that the one I want is the Abarth version (look it up, Rene, if you're still reading) which has almost 100 more horsepower than our rental!

Best Attribute: unlike the other Fiat 500, this one has an iPhone/iPod connector, which allowed us to hear our GPS through the radio. And charged it too.
Worst Attribute: this one had a white leather steering wheel.
Funniest moment: As Cassie went to pay for gas, I quickly hid the Fiat beside a very purple Porsche Cayenne. Cassie not amused. I still am laughing about the guy who would order a purple Porsche...

Overall Rating: First place again!
And here is the winner, in dark grey this time.

(And I still have yet to drive a VW product in Europe)

Technically that's not true. In England, we used a VW Golf as part of our house exchange. It was a very nice car, but driving on the other side of the road took up all my attention and I totally forget what the car was like to drive.


  1. Yes, I know nothing about the working parts of cars, for me it's all about the visual part and yes, color matters. I have to say that I am extremely disappointed with the cars you rented(visually speaking). I envisioned you driving around Europe in James Bond type cars - alfa romeo, abt r8, porsche 959. Aren't these only available in Europe? Heck, even the purple porsche sounds sporty. For crying out loud, Cassie's MG is way better looking than anything you rented. Brad - forgive my mechanical ignorance and I'm glad you had some fun driving a few of the good ones.

  2. Hey, hey, sounds like fun all around regardless of the size of the car.Although, how are you going to get use to driving at the top speed of 100 km when you get home? Love the looks of the Fiat though. Sorry to hear about the bee sting.