My rental car got egged! This was a new one for me. It all began when …
I had to fly out for a one-day meeting in beautiful Silicon Valley, Northern California. I arrived the day before my meeting and showed up at Hertz, where I’d asked for a generic mid-sized car and they gave me… (drum roll please) a Jeep Liberty. Yawn. I wandered back to the “Gold Choice” area to see if I could do any better, but nothing seemed worth the bother. But right next door was the “Upgrades” section. As I stood there, staring at the Mercedes and Porsche, a helpful saleswoman came up and started fast talking me. Business or pleasure? Want something really fun? How about the Cayman? Yours for only an extra $300/day. Too much money? How about this Mercedes SLK convertible? Nice supercharger. Only an extra $150/day, such a deal!
What I really wanted was a Mazda MX-5 Miata. I was only staying one night, so I had just one small bag. The mid-60′s weather screamed convertible, and I wasn’t going to be doing anything fancier than driving 20 miles to my meeting. I ultimately zeroed in on this convertible Camaro. For $50/day extra, above the $100/day price I was already paying, it seemed reasonable. Something kinda fun, even if it is the base V6. Sure, let’s do it.
I’ve driven a bunch of GM rentals over the past few months, so I’m starting to know my way around the latest in GM parts bin engineering. The driver information screen in the gauge cluster shows up on all sorts of GM cars. The turn signal indicator has a twist knob and press button that lets you scroll through all the viewing options. (Grumble: a Buick Verano I rented last month was exactly the same as this Camaro, but a Chevy Equinox I also had last month lacked the turn-signal twist/press and instead had corresponding buttons non-intuitively located in the center stack below the cabin air controls.)
GM’s Bluetooth these days is relatively straightforward to set up and does all the latest A2DP music and album art. Watch out, though, if you’re on a limited data plan. The Camaro told my phone to start playing music, which then started chewing up my data plan via Pandora, even though I was listening to NPR on the FM radio. Still, GM specified decent speakers. For cars at this price point, it’s safely above average in sound quality.
I mostly drove with the top down, and I’m pleased to report that the Camaro got something decidedly right: cabin heating. There’s a vent above your left knee that you can point anywhere, keeping you comfortable even at freeway speeds. This is far better than many of the older Mustang convertibles I’ve rented over the years, which would happily cook your feet without doing anything for the rest of you.
I had few opportunities to floor it or otherwise exercise the engine, but I’d say the performance is about what you’d expect from the ubiquitous two-liter turbo fours that are all the rage in the European cars, and the Camaro’s engine runs on regular gas. Overall mileage in mostly freeway, relatively sedate driving, was an indicated 25.4mpg. In comparable driving with a modern turbo two liter, I’d expect more like 27-29mpg.
Too many GM cars these days still have tiny buttons that are hard to press, but the Camaro has two big, chunky knobs for cabin air and temperature. Nice! The buttons next to the screen have no tactile feel to them, though, so you can’t press them easily without looking. Bummer.
As you can see, the trunk space, particularly with the top down, is limited. I can somehow hear Jeremy Clarkson intoning, “See this? It has room… for a bag.”
But what about that egging? Well, I spent the night at a friend’s house in Los Altos, a nice part of town. The Camaro was parked on the street. In the morning? Eggs. Probably half a dozen of them. Honestly, I’m a bit baffled. Does this represent a protest against the overweight excesses of GM engineering? Would they have left a Prius alone? Did I merely park in somebody’s favorite spot? Are we talking about Los Altos gang activity? Does Justin Bieber live around here? Were the eggs free range, and what’s the effect of high Omega-3 fatty acids on the clearcoat? Did they also stuff my tailpipe with Lululemon yoga pants and quinoa granola?
Parking on the mean streets of Los Altos.
The last thing I wanted was to have Hertz charge me a mint to clean up after Los Cholos Altos, so I took the Camaro promptly to a nearby car wash. To a man, everybody there was grossed out. Clearly, they’d dealt with this sort of sticky muck before. It ultimately took two passes through the machine (including a dude with a high pressure spray wand), but all the egg residue came off. When I returned it, I felt obligated to tell Hertz what happened. The lady noted that the car had an eggy smell (I didn’t smell a thing), but charged me the expected price and I was off for my flight home.
Overall, you could buy a Camaro like this (as best I can tell, it’s a 1LT convertible plus the automatic transmission, although I think the frameless rear view mirror is an upgrade item) for $32,735 (MSRP). A base-level MX-5 Miata is $26,775. Curiously, if you take the top-of-the-line Miata (folding hard top “GT”) and add the “premium package”, you also end up facing an MSRP of exactly the same $32,735. If you need the token back seats, the Camaro is your winner. It’s also apparently a little bit faster in 0-60, but if you care about that, you’re spending the extra bucks and buying the V8 (or souping up a Miata, or buying a used S2000, or…). On the other hand, the Miata gets better mileage, is easier to maneuver and park in tight quarters, and has its own SCCA racing series if you’re so inclined. If Hertz gave me the choice, rental Miata vs. rental Camaro, at the same price, I’d have the Miata every time. If I were shopping for a toy car, along with the fantasy garage large enough to hold it and our daily drivers (sigh), then I’d almost certainly buy the Miata as well.