Wheels Go Round: Rentals / Reviews

I have a fantasy.

No, not that one... one that involves owning a Volvo Estate. Yes, seriously; I'd love to drive a Volvo Estate car, and my betrothed agrees with me – they are a functional and stylish solution to the problem of finding a car that is spacious and safe. One that will be able to give me everything that I would want from a long term car purchase.  On top of this, I'd quite like to own a Land Rover Defender, but that's more pie-in-the-sky than the normal Volvo ideal.

Unfortunately, in my current lifeplan a car is not on the top the priority list. Many who had been told that we planned to not have a car when returning to Scotland were quite surprised, as it appears to be a measure of wealth as much as anything else, or a status symbol. You don't have a car? How ever are you going to survive?  The answer is quite easily, it would turn out. Aberdeen is fucking tiny compared to the sprawling span of Houston and is manageable. Even the commute has actually been worthwhile.
There are, however, no matter how righteous I bang on about it, positions and situations that are not conducive to public transport. My affiliation with rental cars came in late 2010 when I travelled to Canada for a family engagement – picking the keys up to a 3.6l HEMI V8 Dodge Charger SXT AWD (woop) at Toronto Pearson Airport was nothing but the coolest thing I had done in a long time – I felt like a Top Gear presenter. The next time was a rental in the UK at Christmas time, this time a Hyundai i30 1.6l Hatchback. Ugh – the car was drab, dreary and pretty boring to drive.

Since then I have driven a smorgasbord of cars, North American and European. And here lies the list and thoughts on the cars.

Ford Taurus
I hated the Taurus, over time, because it was a gas guzzling boat of a car. It felt like you had timewarped into the late 1990s, despite the car being a model year after my own Punto.  It still is the largest car I've ever driven, being longer and wider than BMW 3-series, and it probably is also the least desireable of all the cars I have driven, but I had it for a year – and it never really gave me any problems. The AC took too long to cool down in 100F heat, and the driving of it felt like you were driving it from 5 minutes ago, but it worked, served us well, and didn't cost me anything. So I suppose that counts a lot in it's favour. I should point out that in Texas the "large" Taurus is actually quite small and sent shivers of giggles down anyone spine who dared ask Joe or I what car we were driving.

Dodge Charger (first time)
In September I flew out to Canada to see my extended and now close family for the first time. This would be the first time I had hired a car and it was a beauty – a 3.6l V8 HEMI Charger SXT All Wheel Drive – a man's car, for sure. It handled okay, had a distinct bought of vroom when I put the pedal down, and was a sumptuously spacious vehicle. I really enjoyed throwing it about the mean streets of Parry Sound in the fall.


Hyundai i30
Christmas time, for me, will now forever be renting periods – in the 2010-2011 period I rented two cars – a small Hyundai in Scotland and a Mitsibushi Lancer in Canada (see below).  The Hyundai would rank at the very bottom of all the cars I have driven, and the drop from even the Taurus was a shock. I did almost kill the little car when I forgot how to use the clutch pedal. The problem with the i30 was that it was obviously supposed to be a medium class hatchback for a family yet it lacked a nice dashboard, space, and most importantly it rode like it had been built in the 1990s. I felt, unlike the Taurus, that instead of going back in time in terms of style that this was a car from the present built on top of an old car. I really didn't enjoy driving it.

Mitsibushi Lancer
In Canada, in December, all cars need to have some sort of ability in the snow – this is a fact. It is also the same fact that has convinced me to get a 4x4 car in the UK when I finally do end up getting a car.  I reckon that it is the most offroad capable of all the cars I have drive, and probably my favourite car I've rented – even Connie liked it, driving it and me for the first time on Highway 11 in Ontario. Pretty nifty. Interestingly, the car is not available in the UK – the only Lancers that you can get here are the hatchback ones which are beastly, and the saloons are reserved only for the Evolution X, the high powered (and high insurance) model of the car. Which is a shame.

Dodge Charger (second time)
When traversing the western states of the US we hired a car for three whole weeks, an impressive feat by any account. At the rental desk we were asked if we wanted a Chevorlet Impala (ugh) or a Dodge Charger. I said Charger, after the experience in September. He warned us it didn't have Californian plates, something I didn't quite get.  In that car for 10 hours at a time was pretty good, considering. If we had been in the Tarus i think we would have killed each other. Instead, it was much more amiable and happy. And the car was a good drive along the Pacific Coast Highway despite it's rather mental juddery brakes.

Hyundai Elantra
The North American version of the i30, i fear – the Elantra was nice enough and felt good to drive on the roads, but is unremarkable. The car is well proportioned and would sit well in the UK against the Focus, but being a small saloon the boot is a tiny bit restrictive.  Still it served a purpose (and swallowed our Wild Beasts album, the cheeky bastard. I hope the person who rented it after us enjoyed the sounds of the band).

Peugeot Partner
A VAN! It was ordered to help us get all our clothes and gear that my parents had nicely stored away in Glasgow during our Texas stint. Empty, the van was mental, bouncing and fast and high. Good fun. Laden it was less fun and more workman like, as it should be. I didn't hate driving it, but going from driving on the right and having an automatic to driving on the left and having a manual shifter is hard enough, but coupled with no back window, no blind spot view, and a weird arm rest... haha, that made for some fun times.

Chevrolet Spark
This is the worst car I have ever driven, yet it was also some of the most fun. It was tiny, yet still had three doors, and coped kind of well with the long roads and the long drives. It performed better in town, zipping into spaces like a magnet and generally being quite a nice little thing to throw about – trying to accelerate in 5th gear was laughable, and the dashboard looked like it had been ripped from a snow machine. Trying too hard is how it felt.

Volkswagen Polo
This felt like a bit of karmic resonance, being given to hire – only three weeks ago had I told a few friends of mine that I hated VW and their designs, as they are boring. Driving the new Polo I realised that yes, that might be true, but to drive and sit in the cars are the best I've ever seen – the polo was solid, fun, sharp and classy. The interior was simply exactly what I like in a car – symmetrical, not fuss, and quiet. 

I miss driving, but I love walking.