I’ve been in the (fortunate?) position to have to rent several cars in recent months, and have managed to derive a few opinions on what’s currently available. Even though not all the cars are the same class, most are, and I’ll focus on them with a couple of comments on the alternative I had one day.
I’ve had to rent cars, as having recently moved to St. Louis from Australia, my wife and I have not yet got a car, and this city requires one if, like us, you want to get out and about a bit, and see some of the things the city has to offer. We’ve resorted to two types of renting; the standard rental company pay-per-day hire, and through my wifes work we have been able to get free membership to one of the shared car pay-per-hour rental systems.
The first thing I’d like to say is that the car share style of system, which is yet to really catch on in Australia, is absolutely brilliant. Well it’s brilliant in a situation like ours where you have just moved to a city, don’t yet own a car (or even long term don’t plan on buying one), but could still use one for things like making a trip to the supermarket or department stores to pick up bulky things that would otherwise be difficult to get. The one we’ve joined costs us $5 an hour, which includes gas, though if the fuel drops below 1/4 tank during your rental then you’re expected to fill it up in your rental period. Because the cars this company uses are hybrids, they don’t consume that much gas. So far out of about ten two hour rentals I’ve had to fill it once, which was a straightforward operation using the fuel card that lives in the glove box.
Anyway, I digress. I’ve had the dubious pleasure of using a Honda Civic Hybrid from the above company, a Toyota Corolla, a Chevrolet Aveo, and a Nissan Rogue (called a Murano in the Australian market). I’ll deal to the Rogue first as it’s the odd one out. Overall not a bad car, though it has relatively poor visibility, especially for something where you’re sitting nice and high. Large pillars make the rear-view feel quite small. The major problem though was with the drivetrain. It was an automatic CVT attached to a 3.0L V6. The car simply felt heavy and slow no matter what you did with it. It was fine just cruising on the Interstate, but for a car primarily part of the Soccer-Mom collection, where stop-start traffic driving is more likely the norm and long range cruising the exception, it made the car relatively uneconomical, and not that much fun to drive, aside from the laughter every time it would rev its head off and go nowhere fast.
The other three are more or less the same group; small car sedans. The runner up in this comparison was the Corolla. I’ve driven pretty much every Corolla generation built at one point or another, and the first car I owned was a little ’93 Corolla hatch. I know there’s nothing particularly exciting about them and expected as much, true to form it delivered. As a base model rental Corolla fitted with an automatic gearbox I found it lacked any sense of urgency. Ever. But it was an economical unoffensive car. It was easy to park. And once you’ve said that about a car as a positive, then you’re running pretty low on the praise, but aside from the lack of vigor there’s really nothing wrong with it. I think a manual box would seriously help the car though.
Third place was the Chevrolet Aveo. Essentially I found this car to be much like the Corolla, but worse in every way except one. It felt a bit more peppy for the around town driving we were doing, and didn’t struggle so much getting up to speed. But it was still a worse car. The entire build of the car felt cheaper. Amazingly Chevrolet have managed to make a small car with powersteering feel heavy too. The only thing I’ve driven that had similar steering weight was a non-power assisted original Mini. Somehow the car managed to feel as heavy as an E39 BMW 5-series when driving it, despite it being smaller. Finally it didn’t score well in fuel economy either. We did the lowest mileage in this car, yet somehow used the most fuel. It really was the small car that felt like a medium to large. One combo you don’t want to buy.
That leaves me with the best of the three, a Civic Hybrid. The only gripe I have with it is the digital tachometer. Presonally I still like an analogue dial, as it’s easier to read quickly. Aside from that everything about the car actually feels pretty decent. It’s no racecar, but it’s got plenty of up-and-go when you need it for city driving thanks to the electric assisted engine, but it can also be driven in a miserly manner with ease. It even encourages energy efficient driving by giving you a score each time you switch it off, and hey, as a guy that like winning games but has a bit of a lead foot it still had me wanting to try and get a high score. The possibility to change driving behaviour is actually a lot higher than I gave this system credit when I first learned of Honda including it. I feel I should disclose here that I’ve driven Toyota Prius’ in the past and the Civic was a much better real-world performer. Where the Prius felt constantly limited by it’s hybrid nature, the civic doesn’t.