Best rental cars for a trip to the mountains, coast or town

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Renting a car can be a lot like buying a bottle of wine. You never want to get the cheapest, if only to prove something to yourself. The second cheapest, however? Fair game. Oh, and it must be beautiful, because it’s a reflection of your tastes, right? While this is how most of us approach rental cars, there are so many different factors worth considering, especially if you need the vehicle for more than a ride around town. . In this way, renting a car is really like hunting for the perfect wine. You wouldn’t rent a sports car for an off-road adventure, just like you’d never serve a cabernet with flounder, right? (Law…?)

So which vehicle is best for your next vacation? To point you in the right direction, we spoke with Andrew Maness, Editor-in-Chief of The Automobile Journal, the official magazine of the Motoring Club.

Here are Maness’ tips for choosing the best rental car. Note that we will try to keep this as universal and as timeless as possible. We will not choose specific models. Instead, we’ll suggest the types of vehicles and their features that serve each type of driving experience. It will be up to you to apply his advice to the options you have at each rental location. His advice also applies to the purchase of a car, if you want to adapt your purchase to the same criteria.

Best rental car for driving in the mountains

If you can drive manually, then you should go for that option here, whether with three pedals or two, says Maness. “The ability to brake smoothly on descents, especially in bad weather, is ideal. He also says that an all-wheel drive system plus a high-torque motor are your best bets for constant elevation changes.

“You are spoiled for choice, from compact trucks, crossovers and even most midsize sedans,” he says. But his favorite remains the always reliable station wagon (or a crossover based on one). “It balances comfort and economy on long journeys, and is also ideal for transporting people and things. If you can, get one with a premium all-season tire, he says. “A tire designed for mud and snow, while having a good water sipe tread, is the best all-round tire for mountain terrain. Unless you follow it regularly on off-road trails you can leave the 33 and 35, you don’t need an extremely aggressive tire.

Best off-road rental car for off-road and varied landscapes

Believe it or not, bigger isn’t better with off-road vehicles. “While they look cool all built, light and heavy trucks aren’t perfect in most off-road trail situations, due to their size,” Maness explains. “This is now the compact truck segment where the best options are found, although the market is still catching up on including all of the features you hope to find in these vehicles given the price tag. admission. Among those ideal features, Maness lists good approach and departure angles, manually operated gears and a locking rear differential (otherwise front and center as well).

Remember that your vehicle is not just a vehicle; it is a tool, especially when venturing into alternate terrain. “Ground clearance, break angle and underbody protection are also important considerations. But don’t be fooled by the body coating on the wheel arches and fancy badges… which won’t help you on rough trails, ”adds Maness.

… As for navigation in winter or in bad weather

“Perceived toughness doesn’t count for anything in bad weather,” says Maness of vehicles that boast of power. Really, it all comes down to the tires: driving a vehicle with normal tires on any day.

Best rental car for easy and airy cabotage

Suppose you are driving on California Freeway 1, a windy stretch like the curves of Big Sur. You don’t have to worry about speed, but rather prioritize its management. And don’t worry, there are plenty of convertibles still in the running. “If you can’t get one, a ‘studless’ coupe with the windows down is a great alternative,” says Maness. (This is where the B-pillar, or the physical separation between the front and rear seat windows, is removed.) “If all else fails, a sedan with a brisk engine will do. Avoid SUVs, trucks, or anything else with a large footprint that will have a lot of body roll. “

Best compact rental car

Whether you’re saving gas or just want more parallel parking, a compact car is an obvious choice for the solo traveler (or even a duo). “I generally prefer a compact sedan over a sedan for more cargo space, but the most important consideration overall should be visibility (your number one safety feature), then active safety systems, systems driver assistance, ”Maness explains.

Greenest rental car

“All automakers talk about their concern for the environment and their plan to save the planet, but remember that the best-designed bluster and plans don’t always work,” Maness recalls. “It’s important to consider the whole picture, or as much as you can see, when you assess how environmentally friendly a vehicle is. Hyundai and KIA lead all automakers in the number of EV and hybrid models offered and they are rightfully great products. Subaru, Volvo and GM also offer a number of efficient vehicles that use sustainable materials and are built using environmentally friendly production methods. Beyond that, it stresses the importance of knowing where and how a vehicle was built, what materials were used and how those materials were acquired. “This is how we really understand how ecological it is. “

Best rental car to satiate your need for speed

Three qualities are imperative for these long sections of motorway: Stability, braking power, grip. “There aren’t a lot of slow vehicles anymore, because pretty much everything new is fast and there are a lot of fast vehicles,” Maness explains. “However, speed isn’t worth anything if you can’t control it. The sports cars (or SUVs for that matter) that I enjoy the most are those with the option of fast manual transmissions, but are smart enough to automatically pick the right gear for me, depending on my driving style and from the selectable mode I’m in. Maness says he would choose a light vehicle with less power and a manual transmission rather than a heavy vehicle with a lot of power and an automatic transmission.

“Mazda, Subaru and Toyota are the only brands that currently offer what I would call a pure sports car at a reasonable price,” he says. “Upgrade to a higher price point and your money will be better spent with Porsche. I know it’s predictable, but nobody makes a reliable, capable performance car that ticks all of the enthusiast’s boxes the way they do.

Best rental car for families

Safety should always be the top priority, but when transporting children its importance increases exponentially. “No one does better than Volvo, Subaru and Mercedes-Benz when it comes to safety,” says Maness. “All three offer great three-row SUV options. Visibility and stability are major considerations here, and these brands tick both boxes. “

Best rental utility vehicle

Is this question as simple as “SUV or pickup”? Maness says it really comes down to whether you want to throw something in the bed or neatly tuck it inside. “Are the items you move regularly dirty, slightly dangerous, or aren’t they ideal to have in a shared space with people?” If so, get a truck. Otherwise, get an SUV. Towing is also a consideration, but most new full-size SUVs share towing ratings with their pickup counterparts. In many cases, a commercial van is the best choice for construction jobs that don’t involve a large payload. But pickup trucks are generally overlooked because they don’t match the aesthetic that people are looking for. Just be honest with yourself about how much utility you actually need so that you don’t end up with more vehicle than you actually need.


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