Economy car rentals in USA
By the nature of life I ended up traveling quite a bit. Across the US this year I rented 5 cars in 5 different locations in 4 states, all from the same (well-known) rental company, due to discounts and loyalty points. But it’s not about that company, it’s about the cars themselves.
Generally speaking, they were all in the “full skinless” category, in fact without any other features or accessories. In fact, let’s face it, they were the base model sold by the manufacturer in the US. Moreover, we are talking about normal, popular cars even, maybe a little smaller than the ones that walk on the streets there. I had them all on hand between 3 and 7 days; I drove between 200 and 600km with each one. It’s a big country, people there don’t even talk about miles, they just talk about driving time.
In the USA the speedometer of cars is programmed with zero error, that is, if the needle is on 40mph, on the GPS the speed will be 40mph. Also, almost all cars have automatic gearboxes, the manual gearbox being considered the best anti-theft system. The engines are bigger / more powerful than in Europe, but the power transfer to the wheel is optimized differently. From what I’ve seen, it’s not the top speed that matters – it’s the acceleration, the ability to climb the ramp, the carrying or towing capacity. The result is a very good flow of traffic at speeds of 100-120km/h. Of course, when there are too many cars on the road this detail no longer matters.
Returning to the cars I rented, they were of the 2017-2018 generation, with safety and comfort elements already standard – such as air conditioning with temperature control, electrically adjustable mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth integration and a reversing camera.
The first car I “got into” this year in the US was a 2017 Kia Optima with surprisingly few scratches after a year and 50,000km with various customers. I don’t remember ordering such a big car back then, I probably got it as an upgrade. In short, a car of almost 5 meters in which I would have had enough room to sleep relatively comfortably in the trunk. The “presidential” kind of car – sure, for presidents of lower standards.
As engine we are talking about a 2.4 (185hp), with immediate response to the pedal and extremely smooth gear changes. Automatic box with “eco”, “standard” and “sport” modes; I drove it only in “standard” mode, but I also noticed a minimum of sporty valences. I didn’t exaggerate though, being scared by the rumors with the American police.
I found the driving position a bit low, with limited rear visibility, otherwise I quickly found all the buttons I needed. Total consumption, on my route with highways and city streets, about 10% (calculated from gas receipts and distance traveled). Verdict? Working / lower middle class family car, bought in installments, with the advance paid from the annual bonus. A slightly better than average year, let’s face it.
The second was a 2018 Chevy Cruze hatchback, registered 5 states away, probably brought in by some customer who wanted to walk around more. Under the hood I think it had a 1.4 turbo (153hp) and I had a hard time getting along with it.
The car seemed optimized to reduce consumption to the minimum possible, being the only one with start-stop among the ones I tried. The response to the pedal seemed very slow to me, on the highway on the ramps you had to accelerate a lot in order not to lose speed, the alternative being the use of cruise control, otherwise the most brilliant I’ve seen. Speed adjustment was done with 2 buttons on the steering wheel, the response being almost instantaneous.
The driving position seemed to me quite high, with very good visibility in all angles. I couldn’t find all the adjustments myself, for example I had to download the car manual to find out how to adjust the seat (with a small joystick). Otherwise the car had some rattling and rubbing noises in the steering column which I have read are common with this model. Unpleasant. Consumption 6.1%, incredibly low. My verdict? Student car with the money counted.
The third was a Kia Forte 2018 sedan. An interesting car to a point, in terms of dynamic performance, but not enough to make you want to take it home. As an engine, it had a 2.0 (147hp) with good response to the pedal, being even sprinter on the ramps. The box I think was actually a robotic manual, the gear changes felt pretty sharp even in “eco” mode (the box had the 3 Kia specific modes I mentioned above).
The cruise control seemed very unintuitive to me, the speed adjustment was done with some kind of flaps on the steering wheel, the operation was of the “press and wait and hope that what you want will happen” type. The consumption was very high for a car in its class, around 8.5%. My verdict? The first new car of a young couple, that I don’t know who else could trick a car salesman into buying it. Maybe a economy car rental company?
Fourth: Toyota Corolla 2018 sedan, a car registered less than a month before, with 2000km on board and way too many scratches for its age. After only 3 days I also identified the cause, after the car was “caressed” by another door. The paint was simply removed from the contact area, instead of leaving at most a superficial scratch that, with a bit of luck, also comes out with polish. Sure, we’re not talking about metallic paint on the basic version, but at this rate I’m afraid of what the car will look like in 2-3 years.
Having owned a Toyota for almost 10 years, I immediately found all the controls and buttons, otherwise it might not be natural for example for the wiper lever to work in reverse to other brands, or for the cruise control to be a lever small behind the wheel. But let me not digress.
As an engine, we are talking about 1.8 (132hp); CVT automatic gearbox (continuous transmission, without gears), with optimized settings to reduce consumption. There is also an “ECO” indicator on the board, which disappears during sudden accelerations for example. The car has cruise-control with radar, that is, it “follows” the car in front and automatically adjusts the speed to maintain a safe distance (quite high even at the minimum setting). It also has a lane-departure warning system or automatic braking to prevent low-speed impacts, but I didn’t get a chance to use it.
I didn’t find a good position at the wheel from the first moment, I had to insist a lot by adjusting the seat and the steering wheel. Other negative points – besides the much too sensitive paint – would be the lack of alloy wheels (already standard on basic equipment in the USA) and the USB port that cannot keep the phone charged if it is used for navigation (yes, the phone discharges) . Consumption 7.2% without insisting too much in any respect (sport / eco). Verdict? Fleet car or taxi. Or a better choice as a first new car for young people who might be tricked into buying a Kia Forte.
Fifth car: yes, I lied above about the dimensions, but not by much. Toyota RAV4, 2.5 engine (176hp), I received it as a kind of upgrade because there were no more cars available in the class I ordered at that time. The joy went away after the first 2km on the highway, when I really thought about whether to turn it back: at speeds of 100km/h, an annoying hissing noise started to be heard, from the tires or from the wind. The next day, in addition to that, some crickets woke up on board. On the third day, an acceleration in the rain activated the traction control. Used tires maybe? It had a little over 25,000km on board.
Well, since I haven’t changed it yet, let me tell you a little about it: automatic gearbox “with gears” and sport mode, Bison air conditioning plus some comfort accessories like push-button start or sunroof. There was no AWD issue with the base model. About Toyota-type levers and adjustments, cruise control with radar, USB port with too little amperage and sensitive paint I said above.
As for dynamic performance, I found it harder to accelerate than the Corolla, and I think that’s just because of the size. Consumption 9.3%, somewhat expected. Verdict? “Soccer mom” car – the second car of a family, the kind of car with which the mother takes the children to school / kindergarten or to activities.
Bottom Line: If I had to drive one of them home (knock on wood), I’d probably go with the Toyota Corolla – and I’m aware I’m biased, but I’d negotiate for a higher trim level. And I would use a USB adapter on the 12V outlet.