The Truth About Cars » rental car The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:52:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » rental car Rental Review: 2013 Ford Escape SE Ecoboost FWD Mon, 06 Jan 2014 14:00:58 +0000 intercoastal

Jewish custom dictates that at 13 years of age, males are called to read from the torah scroll as part of a Bar Mitzvah, a rite of passage signifying the transition to manhood. Having served at TTAC for nearly three years, under thee different EICs, I’d yet to partake in the TTAC equivalent of a Bar Mitzvah, which involves reviewing a rental car. This past October marked my 25th birthday, which in the rental car world signifies the transition into responsible adulthood in the eyes of their insurance underwriter, and the transition into an off-the-reservation degenerate in the eyes of PR people and fleet manager. With no press cars available during a last minute trip to Florida, Jack decided that it was time for me to be called to TTAC’s torah. I would be reading from the Book of Ecoboost, Chapter 1.6.


While both Jack and Bark M provided discount codes for other major rental companies, the best deal came via Avis, which had a promotion with Air Canada’s Aeroplan frequent flyer program. While Avis was about 25 percent less on average, the “Small SUV” class was inexplicably the cheapest, at about $18 per day. For the two-week duration of my trip, the total cost was $254, excluding taxes and various confiscatory fees. A “subcompact” like a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent was $80 more for the same duration, and with my mother, father and brother traveling with me, the SUV was a no-brainer.

At the rental counter, I was offered a choice of a Chevrolet Captiva, a Kia Sportage, a Traverse for an extra $17 dollars per day, or an Equinox for another $7 per day. I felt like asking the attendant if she could “try harder” to find something else, and lo and behold, a new Escape materialized. I took it, hoping that I’d get a real stripped out 2.5L powered S trim level, the kind that would never be put into the press fleet.

Imagine my surprise when I was assigned an SE model, sans MyFord Touch or a sunroof, with a 1.6L Ecoboost. Even more shocking was the strong presence of a number of SEL and 2.0L Titanium models. With nearly 24,000 miles on it, this Escape appeared to have held up well, though it looked like it hadn’t been washed or cleaned since it was delivered to Avis. A number of early Escapes were sent to fleets after being damaged in a hailstorm (and repaired) but the build date on this car is too new to be from that batch. Ford seems to be keeping the poverty-spec cars for security guard patrol vehicles and other fleets. Not that this car was what we’d call “premium”. This SE lacked things like a power liftgate, MyFord Touch, rear parking sensors, which come in the Convenience Package, which costs an extra $1,395, and is the kind of option package that you’d find on most Escapes at your local Ford lot.

TTAC is fond of ripping on MyFord Touch as being the devil’s own spawn, but I found the basic SYNC system and the tiny LCD screen to be absolutely infuriating after a mere 24 hours. Neither my iPhone 4s (that I use when traveling) nor my iPhone5s would successfully pair, and the music integration was slower and more cumbersome than any MFT system I’ve ever encountered. By the end, I had given up, and resored to using a 3.5mm auxiliary cable with my brother operating the music.


SYNC aside, the rather pedestrian trim level did little to deter my enthusiasm for the Escape – or that of the rest of my family, who normally drive a fully loaded Volvo XC60 T6. Our flight originated out of Buffalo, New York, and the XC60 struggled to hold our four large suitcases. The Escape had no trouble swallowing them up, with room for our backpacks and computer bags as well (these tend to go on the rear middle seat in the Volvo). My parents and brother remarked that they had much more room in the back of the Escape, but that the rear seats themselves were much flatter and harder. Pitting them against the Volvo’s rear bench is a tough comparison, but the Escape’s rear seats are especially upright and stiff, like some kind of orthopedic back brace.

Whoever occupies the front seat is in for a treat. On the Cherokee launch, I was very impressed with the driving dynamics of the Escape 2.0T Titanium, calling it a “jacked-up Focus ST”. The 1.6 SE didn’t have the same forward thrust, but the heavy, accurate steering, quick turn-in and nimble chassis were still there. The 1.6L Ecoboost felt like it was just the right amount of power, and there were even hints of torque steering in the lower gears. In Sport mode, the transmission is eager to shift, compared to the sluggish, fuel-economy centric programming when left in Drive. But even that didn’t stop the Escape from returning some truly poor mileage.


During the portion of my trip where I put the drivetrain through its paces, the Escape delivered an astonishing 11 mpg. The best figure I ever got was 34 mpg on a trip back from Kendall towards Miami, with highway driving staying consistently around 30 mpg. In town driving, with the throttle gingerly applied, stayed in the high teens, with 21 mpg returning as the average observed fuel economy figure at the end of my trip. Figures like that make “Ecoboost” seem like a misnomer – though the Fiesta ST, with the same basic mill, returned 26 mpg overall, under extreme duress via an overactive right foot. The “boost” part of the equation is there with the new Ford F/I mills, but the “Eco” needs work.


Having driven pretty much everything in the small crossover segment, the Escape is still tops in my books, even over the vaunted Mazda CX-5. What is sacrifices in outright driving fun (and really, it’s not that much), it makes up for in refinement. On my Avis Preferred profile, I’ve set my default vehicle choice to the Escape (though I’ll be sure to try other selections in future rental reviews). In terms of cargo and passenger space, it held as much as a full-size sedan while keeping me suitably entertained behind the wheel. But that’s not to say I’d recommend one to someone who needed a crossover as a family car or commuting appliance.

I’m willing to sacrifice poor gas mileage (Escape EB) or a bit of wind noise (CX-5) in exchange for better driving dynamics.  The kind of person who needs to ask for car advice is not interested in that kind of trade-off – and would be better served by a CR-V. It may be “boring” or “beige” to us, but that’s exactly what a mass market car should be – devoid of interesting idiosyncrasies, able to do its job competently every single time without making the user aware of its operation. Good luck finding one at a rental counter though.

]]> 109
Rental Car Review: My Wisconsin Week With a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Mon, 21 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, I spend a lot of time in bottom-end rental cars. Sometimes I get press cars and write about them on these trips, but that’s usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. For about 15 four-day race weekends a year (plus a few vacation trips here and there) I’m in a Dodge Avenger, Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, or other rental-fleet favorite. 2013 is a year of Wisconsin visits for me; first, I went to my wife’s Milwaukee high-school reunion with a ’13 Jaguar XJL Portfolio, then I spent nine days in Door County with a rental ’12 Sonic, and next month I’ll be at the Chubba Cheddar Enduro at Road America with a ’14 Mitubishi Evo. The Sonic made an unexpectedly strong impression on me in August, so let’s see what life with Chevy’s little Daewoo is like.
00 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, the rental-car agency had just one car available in the class I’d reserved: a 2012 Chevy Sonic with more than 25,000 miles on the clock. Twenty-five thousand miles, on a rental car! Rental-car miles are like dog years, with one rental mile roughly equivalent to seven owned miles, and I had never before seen a rental car (in the United States) with more than 15,000 miles under its belt. I figured I’d be getting a sneak preview of what a Sonic with 175,000 hard miles would be like in the year 2025— an opportunity, not a disappointment, for the serious automotive journalist.
08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMinutes after leaving the airport, I spotted a good-sized car show, complete with live music, so I figured I’d get right into Upper Midwest car culture.
31 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn a way, trips to the Upper Midwest serve as reminders of my cultural roots; though I spent most of my childhood in California, I spent my first six years in Minneapolis. Here we see the Martin Family Motor Pool, circa 1970.
30 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, before the commissars of California turned me into the coastal-elitist Zaporozhets lover I am today, my family lived a proper Old Milwaukee-drinking, sauerkraut-eating, snow-shoveling, Custom 500-driving life in the heartland. In fact, every photo from my early childhood features Old Milwaukee (or Old Style, or Grain Belt) beer bottles and/or Old Dutch pretzels somewhere in the frame.
10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRight. So, a Milwaukee car show did a good job of getting me back in touch with my inner Midwesterner, plus there were a few interesting machines standing out from the usual background of first-gen GM F-bodies and pre-Pinto Mustangs. Say, this Stovebolt six with vintage Offenhauser intake.
09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOr this more modern version of the custom-Chevy theme.
24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe were hungry, so we headed to the south side of Milwaukee to grab some dinner. Before leaving, however, I futzed around with the audio system of the Sonic long enough to get my MP3 player hooked up to the stereo’s AUX jack…
22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin… at which point I discovered that this no-frills econobox has functioning Bluetooth integration. How long ago was it that only luxury cars had this stuff? Ten years?
13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic felt a bit loose and rattly, as you’d expect with a high-mileage rental, but everything worked fine and the 1.8 liter Ecotec still made decent, if buzzy, power. In fact, I can say without reservation that this is by far the best overseas-designed badge-engineered subcompact in General Motors history; the mildly unpleasant Aveo was better than the punitive Metro, which was better than the miserable Sprint, which was far superior to the wretched LeMans, which beat the hell out of the excremental Chevette, which seemed like a fine automobile next to the unspeakably terrible Kadett. With those comparisons in mind, we rolled into the south Milwaukee neighborhood in which my wife’s grandparents spent their entire lives.
11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDinner was at Three Brothers, a little Serbian joint located in the building that once housed one of Joseph Schlitz’s first breweries.
12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s always a good sign when you’re eating dinner at a restaurant with one of these things on the roof.
14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReally getting into the Upper Midwest thing at this point, I tried to imagine rolling up to this restaurant in 1964, driving the rental-car equivalent of a Sonic. A Chevy II sedan with four-cylinder engine and 10,000 miles on the odometer?
15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor dinner, I had the stuffed zucchini with dumplings. Highly recommended. No, I didn’t drink Schlitz with it; there is such a thing as carrying local authenticity too far.
18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter spending the night at my mother-in-law’s place just north of Milwaukee, we hit the road for the 140-drive to Sturgeon Bay, a Lake Michigan town about midway up the Door County peninsula.
23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic’s suspension was a bit rattly and the body was pockmarked by old hail damage, but the unapologetically plasticky interior had held up to all those miles of rental-car punishment pretty well. I continued to be impressed by the number of once-luxurious features that are now standard on even the stripper rental version of the lowest-end car of a car company’s entry-level marque. Cruise control!
21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTilt steering wheel! No power seats, but we may see them go the way of manual-crank windows in the next few years.
07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI had to supply my own GPS device for the Sonic, but once backup cameras become mandatory in all new cars we can expect all those little screens to enable GPS in even the cheap Daewoos of the US car marketplace.
02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPassing through Belgium, Wisconsin, not far out of Milwaukee’s sphere of influence, I spotted a highway sign for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society Museum. As my legal surname should make clear to any lifelong resident of southern Wisconsin or Minnesota, I am a proud Luxembourg-American— just like Chris Evert and Dennis Hastert.
17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe museum wasn’t open at the time, but it seemed like a pleasant place. No, I don’t understand why the Luxembourg American Cultural Center is located in Belgium when the town of Luxembourg, Wisconsin is nearby.
16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere we are in traditional Luxembourger outfits, which gave me a powerful hunger for some traditional Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht. So, we climbed back into the Sonic and resumed our journey.
03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRural Wisconsin is one of my favorite road-trip states, not least because you can stop in just about small town and snarf up an excellent meal based on the principles of the Upper Midwest Food Pyramid (more of a Food Holy Trinity, really): cured meat, cheese, and beer. The Port O’Call in Kewaunee didn’t have Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht, but they did offer the full spectrum of New Glarus beers and a good selection of meaty, cheesy fare.
25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinArriving in Sturgeon Bay, which is sort of a weird mashup of corn-fed Midwestern town, salty port city, and upscale resort community, I wanted to pose the Sonic by all the old-school taverns with nicely weathered Malaise Era beer signs.
26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI suspect that the Red Room’s Blatz sign predates the Malaise Era by a decade or two.

Beer at local prices! I gave up on the Sonic-with-vintage-beer-signs idea once I realized that such a project would take about a week to finish.
32 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinActually, I lost focus on beer signs when I spotted this Nissan Figaro parked in downtown Sturgeon Bay. I couldn’t find the owner, so I can’t tell you what no-doubt-innovative paperwork magic was performed to make this car legal for US roads.
33 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNor can I tell you how a Citroën 2CV can survive in Wisconsin without vaporizing in a cloud of red dust within hours of arrival.
19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne feature that really struck me about the Sonic was the cheap-and-cheerful instrument cluster, a discrete standalone unit that can be mounted on left or right side of the dash without too much trouble. No doubt using the same Korean-design/Taiwanese-capital/Chinese-labor system that brought us $25 boomboxes that can be tumbled down several flights of concrete steps and still crank out the Tang Dynasty, Daewoo has produced a tough, easy-to-replace analog/digital instrument cluster that provides all the needed driver information, looks vaguely science-fictiony, and probably cost less than the fuel gauge on a Maepsy.

In fact, this cluster is the first thing you see in the add for the Japan-market Chevy Sonic. Wild compact!

Now that we’re watching Sonic commercials, let’s take a look at a few more examples of the way this Daewoo is conquering the world. Here’s how they pitch it in Brazil.

In Australia, the Sonic gets badge-engineered into the Holden Barina.

In Argentina, this Sonic ad gives the econo-futuristic instrument cluster heavy billing.

The Thai-market Sonic is So You. Note the instrument cluster on the right side.

This US-market ad features Theophilus London and the sort of hoonage that would have been illegal under Malaise Era car-ad restrictions.

Speaking of hoonage, marketers of the Korean Sonic (still called the Aveo in 2012) encourage “Fun Riding” in Italy.

In Mexico, all night party people use the Sonic sedan to escape oppressive techno-state control.

Former Warsaw Pact countries got local-language versions of this ad.

This Indian-market ad is for the previous-generation Aveo, but I’m including it for general entertainment value (and to provide yet more evidence that GM has gone seriously global with its Sonic/Barina/Aveo/Zafira/whatever).
20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
OK, back to Wisconsin! After admiring the instrument cluster a while longer, I headed to the log cabin.
29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMy wife’s grandparents bought this log cabin on the Lake Michigan shore back in the 1940s, and I parked the Sonic in the spot where generations of Buicks and Packards once parked.
05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOver the course of the next week, I took the Sonic on many trips into town, to purchase crucial supplies (and to get internet access, so I could write about my Bonneville Salt Flats adventures of the previous week).
06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSonic trips to fine Wisconsonian eating establishments such as the Nightingale Supper Club, took care of my recommended yearly allowance of perch and whitefish.
04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Naturally, the Sonic went on a few shopping expeditions for treats to bring back to Denver.
28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn the end, I was a little sad to return the hail-battered, much-traveled Chevy to the rental-car lot at MKE. The current generation of Sonic turned out to be a decent transportation appliance. If it can survive 25,000 miles in a rental fleet, you have to figure it should be good for at least 200,000 miles on the street, right? My Rental Car Review Verdict™ of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT: Utterly bereft of Mack Daddy style, surprisingly pleasant to drive. If given a choice between this car and a Nissan Versa at the rental-car counter, take the Sonic (and if given a choice between the Dodge Journey and walking, take walking).

01 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 85
TTAC Celebrates America’s Sweetheart With Impala Day Fri, 23 Aug 2013 14:54:32 +0000 20130823-110301.jpg

The W-Body Chevrolet Impala, a TTAC darling, made way for an all-new Epsilon II version this year, and TTAC was initially skeptical about the changeover. But being such fans of the outgoing Impala meant that we’d have to review the car. Twice.

Monday will see us two side by side reviews of the 2014 Impala. The first will be a thorough run-down of a press car by our man Alex Dykes. The second will take a look at a 2014 Impala rental by veteran traveling salesman Bark M. Given the importance of fleet sales to the Impala in past years and Chevy’s states goal of increasing retail sales, we’ll be able to get perspectives from both sides of the fence.

]]> 101
Rental Car Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:00:41 +0000 IMG_1026

I had dinner recently with TTAC’s enfant terrible, Doug Demuro, something we do every few weeks as our respective schedules permit.  Predictably, our pre-, mid- and post-prandial conversation revolved around our shared passion for automobiles, as well as the people who read and write about them.  At one point I made a hasty proclamation, which was in retrospect unwise given my audience: “Doug, I really don’t think any manufacturers are making objectively bad cars right now.”  Doug paused and replied: “My friend, have you ever heard of Chrys-ler?,” enunciating the last pair of syllables as if speaking to an alien.  He continued, “check out the 200 if you have a chance.”

As (bad) luck would have it, I found myself at the local Porsche dealer not long ago, eager to trade my hard-earned dollars in exchange for renewed braking capabilities for my car.  As always, they were bereft of loaner cars, but they promised to provide me with an Enterprise rental car.  After leaving my 911 at its home-away-from-home – I am legitimately on a first name basis with the majority of the service department at my local Porsche emporium – I rode with the Enterprise lady (they really did pick me up!) to their nearby lot.  I was confronted with two options – a ubiquitous Ford F-150 or a 2013 Dodge Avenger.  Mindful that the Avenger is the ostensibly edgier stablemate of the aforementioned Chrysler 200, as well as some recent accolades directed at the sub-prime striver’s car of choice I chose the Dodge.  After the perfunctory walk-around and paperwork, I was on my way.

Truth be told, I was a little excited to try out the Dodge.  Walter P. Chrysler’s namesake company has endured ups and downs and a variety of masters and bedfellows throughout its nearly 90-year history.  Like anyone who would name a car after himself, or commission an iconic, Art Deco Manhattan skyscraper with the same nomenclature, the eponym obviously took great pride in his body of work, the representation of his endeavors.  The company endured after his passing, but fell on hard times by the late 1970s, with newly hired executive Lee Iacocca approaching Congress for a bailout in late 1979.  After over $1 billion in backstopping, Chrysler was back on its feet in the next decade, riding the successful restructuring and the strength of its product offerings, including the minivan.  Chrysler later consorted with Daimler and ended up in the arms of private equity sponsor Cerberus after the dissolution of the uneasy union with the Germans.  The automaker suffered more misfortune courtesy of the financial crisis and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the spring of 2009.  A curious ownership structure resulted, with Fiat and the United Auto Workers union sharing custody of the company.  In recent years we’ve seen Super Bowl sloganeering that appeals to emotion – “Imported from Detroit”, “Halftime in America”, and “God Made a Farmer” in succession – and suffered partisan bloviating and mudslinging concerning the company’s direction.

But how are the products, the cars that the company designs and manufactures with the intention of returning a profit to its owners?  I wanted to find out.

My Avenger for a few days was a 15,000 mile example that was already showing considerable wear due to its rental fleet usage.  Upon getting settled inside I was struck by the exceptionally cheap plastics that permeated the interior.  Enterprise had helpfully added an admonishment against smoking inside the car, presumably to prevent those trapped inside it from attempting self-immolation.

Avenger No Smoking

I adjusted the trio of mirrors in an attempt to enhance rearward visibility, but it was futile.  You might forgive compromised situational awareness in, say, a Lamborghini Countach, but I found this distressing in the Dodge, in particular the enormous blind spots created by the plastic cladding extending from the c-pillars.

Avenger C Pillar Inside

This design feature was apparently elected to facilitate the placement of aerodynamic addenda on the exterior, ensuring that the rear end of this front-wheel drive economy car remains planted during aggressive maneuvering.

 Avenger C Pillar Exterior

While I wasn’t able to position the rear-view mirror at any angle that afforded a reasonable view of whatever was tailgating me, I was permitted an excellent view of the rear shelf, which appeared to be upholstered in scraps that otherwise could have been used to form the coarse outer covering for a stack of Marshall amplifiers.

 Avenger Rear Shelf

I eventually composed myself and reasoned that the poor visibility could be a blessing in disguise – I couldn’t see out, but no one else would be able to see me driving the car.  I cranked the engine and returned to work.  The Avenger featured 4 cylinders and 4 forward gears, and it moaned like a dying animal when anything beyond half throttle was applied.  The transmission proved extraordinarily dimwitted, pausing for several seconds before swapping cogs, even when cruising on surface streets.  The steering wheel featured small buttons on its reverse, and I hoped that they would allow me to control gear selection, just like Doug’s Cadillac CTS-V station wagon, which was also made by a bailed-out domestic automaker.  Instead, I later found out via the world-wide web that the buttons controlled the car’s stereo, although on my car they were already broken (or never functional), as pressing them elicited no response from the Dodge.

Speaking of the steering wheel… steering feel is often discussed by car reviewers and enthusiasts, but its something that’s quite difficult to describe adequately using only words.  It depends on the complex interplay among weighting, linearity of response, and the transmission of the tires’ relationship with the tarmac back to the helm; perhaps it’s a bit like pornography, you know it when you feel it.  You also know when you don’t feel it, and the Avenger provided no feel whatsoever.  It reminded me of playing Cruis’n USA at the local arcade as a child.

Despite the record levels of rain that have plagued Atlanta this year, it still gets hot in the Dirty South during the Dog Days of summer.  I cranked up the air conditioning on my maiden voyage, but quickly noticed that it mostly provided a huffing and puffing of sound and fury, rather than serving its intended purpose, so I just rolled down the windows instead.  The Avenger’s window switches are quite interesting.  Whereas my 20th century Porsche’s switches return a precise click upon reaching their detents, the Dodge’s switches appear to be made from a Styrofoam packing peanut that was spray-painted black.  They are so flimsy that I could easily detach them from their housings using only two fingers.

 Avenger Window Switch

The passenger side window features an ironic sticker.

 Avenger Sticker

There’s no pride to be taken in any aspect of the Dodge Avenger.  There’s no pride to be taken by the taxpayers who have facilitated the continued existence of this stinker of a car.  There’s none of that pride that Walter P. Chrysler had when he put his name on his cars.  All that’s left is shame.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

]]> 271
Rental Review: 2012 Nissan Frontier S King Cab 4×2 Thu, 01 Aug 2013 17:34:43 +0000 frontierside

The compact pickup is an endangered species in North America, but the reasons for its demise depend on which camp you ask. Its proponents will tell you that CAFE, the chicken tax and marketing campaigns have all conspired to kill off small trucks. Detractors claim that the new generation of full-size trucks are just as fuel-efficient and affordable, while in many cases being more refined.

I really like pickups, but haven’t had a lot of seat time in them. Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that I mistakenly called the new Ram 1500 a “quarter ton” pickup, with some members of the B&B responding in a manner that made Kohmeni’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie look measured and calm. In keeping with our new mandate to expand TTAC’s rental review program, I decided to work out my Zipcar membership when I needed to haul two sets of R-Compound tires and wheels to the tire shop. And it just so happened that I ended up with what could actually be called a quarter-ton pickup.

For $14.25 per hour or $113 per day (including taxes, insurance, fuel and 120 miles of driving), Zipcar’s Toronto outpost offers you a choice of a Nissan Frontier or a Toyota Tacoma. There is no vague “pickup truck” category that surprises you with the exact model. You can pick your car of choice assuming it’s available at the time you want it. It just so happened that all the Tacomas were booked up, but the Zipcar website showed a Lava Red Frontier Crew Cab SL.


Imagine my surprise when I strolled up to the parking lot (above the fold, situated in the showroom for one of the city’s ubiquitous condo development projects) to see a silver, base model “King Cab”, Nissan’s nomenclature for an extended cab truck. Press fleets never stock such a basic vehicle, so I seized the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a truly basic vehicle.


This Frontier’s sole option was the automatic transmission hooked up to the 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. It had basic creature comforts like air-conditioning, power locks and windows and a tinny sound system, but everything else was decidedly poverty-spec. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen block-off switches in a new car.


Not that I blame Zipcar for ordering the most basic trim. I’d be hard pressed to think of a car that has gone through a rougher life than a pickup being operated by an urban car sharing service. Those 23,479 km (14,589 miles) are without a doubt some of the hardest ever racked up on any car. But a quick walk-around reveals something disconcerting for such low mileage.


Rust. All over the unlined bed. This car has likely had all sorts of crap mercilessly tossed in the back, and gone through one wretched winter of road salt and associated grime, but I find the notion of surface rust all over the bed (the spots were too numerous to photograph) to be rather disconcerting after such a short service life.



Undettered by the corrosion, I made the 7 mile journey from the lot to my storage area, which necessitated a drive through dense, urban traffic. And you know what? I quite liked the Frontier. The 2.5L 4-cylinder is hardly a model of refinement, and it’s quite eager to rev up and make lots of noise without doing anything, but for this kind of driving, it was perfectly adequate. The ride quality was most surprising: it was hard to unsettle the Frontier. I’ve driven other Japanese full-sizers with far worse ride quality, and NVH for that matter. This truck was quiet, something I noticed because the stereo was so awful that turning it up even one-quarter of the way would immediately make everything sound like a Yoko Ono performance art piece. By far the biggest dynamic letdown were the brakes, which were as firm as a moldy apricot.


Once I finally arrived, I was easily able to fit all 8 wheels into the fairly long bed. Once the rims were separated from the tires, I threw a set on the pitiful jump seats, which are suitable for a house cat at best. It’s hard to imagine any human or canine being comfortable back there for any period of time.



In this setting, the Frontier performed admirably. One might even say its spartan character lent it a bit of charm and I was perfectly satisfied with the way it performed. I can’t say it’s an object of lust for me like a nicely equipped F-Series or RAM 1500 might be, but I’d have no problem renting one again.

The big problem that this and other mid-size trucks face is when customers take a look at actually purchasing one. For the same $22,218 Nissan wants for this exact truck in Canada, you can get a far superior full-size truck. Take Canada’s best-seller, the Ford F-150, for example. Ford is now offering a basic V6 standard cab F-150 XL for just over $18,000, while a 5.0L STX can be had for $19,611 – add another $1000 for the 5.0L V8 and you’re still undercutting the 4-cylinder Frontier with a truck that is undoubtedly a generation ahead of the Frontier. Add 4-wheel drive to the mix and you’re stepping up to the $27,218 Frontier SV V6, while adding it to the STX brings the total to $22,911. Given that the Frontier and F-150′s respective powertrains are within 1-2 mpg of each other, the fuel economy argument becomes moot. And at 205 inches long, this Frontier isn’t exactly the ideal urban truck that people tend to think of when discussing smaller trucks. All this illustrates exactly why mid-size trucks have had such a tough go in the United States (and Canada for that matter). The new full-sizers are better than ever and priced so competitively that it’s tough to make the case for one over a full-size truck. I’ll leave it to the commentariat to make the case. For now I’m not quite convinced.

photo blockerswitch admin-ajax rust3 rust2 jumpseats instrumentpanel frontierside blockerswitches rust2 rust1 rims ]]> 142
QOTD: What Should We Rent Next? Mon, 22 Jul 2013 15:52:22 +0000 photo-45-450x337

It’s no secret that over here at TTAC, we like to pay for it – at least when it comes to test cars. Sure, we do go to the press fleet frequently, but when time and budget allow, abusing our Hertz #1 Club Gold membership is a great way to get behind the wheel of select automobiles.

For starters, press fleet vehicles tend to be heavily optioned variants of popular models, the kind that most shoppers would never drive off the lot. Rental cars, on the other hand, are typically “fleet specials”, with base powertrains and few options. If you’re lucky, you might wind up with an Impala LT instead of an LS, or a Camry Sport rather than the stripped-out LE model. They also live much harsher lives than press vehicles and tend to come with more miles on the clock, giving us a better idea of how the cars will hold up under harsh conditions.

Let us know what rental cars you’d like to see reviewed. While Jack is known for his reviews of straight up rental cars, I am not afraid of going to Zipcar to get impressions of vehicles that aren’t available in the fleet (or are off-limits to TTAC).

Let us know what you’d like to see in the comments.

]]> 68
Piston Slap: To Rent, To Own Wed, 20 Mar 2013 11:00:14 +0000 Brad writes:

Hi Sajeev -

I’m a longtime reader of the blog, and also have been car less for the past 17 years. I live in a major Pacific Northwest city and haven’t needed a car. But I’m getting older, I’m partnered up and need to visit in-laws out in the boonies, and I just find myself wanting a car. I don’t want an older car. The two cars I did own back in my teens and early 20s were a 1980s Buick Skylark and a 1988 Dodge Omni. I think dealing with the repairs on those two beaters put a bad taste in my mouth for very old cars. So I’m looking at new or slightly used.

I’ve noticed that various rental car companies sell off their car with 30-40k miles on them for a decent price. What is your opinion on buying a rental car? On one hand, I think that people abuse a rental car, but then again, a rental car also might be well maintained by the company. Thoughts on buying a rental car?

Sajeev answers:

Normal rental cars (not Vettes, etc) aren’t more or less of a crap shoot than other used cars.  My only advice is to avoid cars that wound up in press fleets, or those used in driving schools. If a car is sold by a manufacturer at an auction…

Most rental cars aren’t abused as badly as you might think, thanks to today’s performance inhibitors built into the system.  Neutral dropping the transmission at red line?  Not possible, as the factory tune often has a 3000rpm governor in park or neutral.  Air-fuel ratios always(?) err on the safe/rich side, as you approach red line.  Traction control systems take the fun out of serious hooning too. Aside from excess brake wear from the active handling nannies (addressed by fleet mechanics) and the chance of transmission problems in the WAY distant future, I don’t believe that buying a former rental is a bad idea.

I’m more horrified at the prospect of buying a clean one-owner car with zero service history and a teenager in the house that’s beat the living shit out of it when they had the opportunity. That’s real fear: you can’t trust that smiling family! Rental cars have good upkeep, and the factory “tunes” them for safety and longevity.  The odds are good that you’ll get a decent machine.

So go ahead and get whatever vanilla rental machine suits your, um, fancy.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

]]> 45
Current-Generation Chevrolet Impala Gets A New Lease On Life – Will The Bench Seat Get One Too? Thu, 20 Dec 2012 14:00:58 +0000

Christmas has come early for our beloved commenters Zackman and Mikey – GM has confirmed that the current generation Chevrolet Impala will be produced until June, 2014, ostensibly for fleet duty and used car market fodder.

The announcement was buried in a press release for the Camaro’s move to Michigan, with GM proudly stating that

The consolidated line at Oshawa Assembly will continue to produce the current generation Chevrolet Impala and Equinox until June 2014.

Chevrolet has a history of churning out previous bodystyles as fleet only specials; witness the Captiva Sport, aka the Saturn Vue, as well as numerous old bodystyle Malibus badged as the “Classic”. The big question here is, of course, how long will the bench seat remain in production. Does it die with the transition to fleet-only sales, or will it live on in Avis lots across the land?

]]> 43
Capsule Review: 2011 Hyundai Getz Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:00:59 +0000

Please welcome Jeff Jablansky, our newest guest writer and resident messhugeneh

Attempting to carve into the curves of the Ramon Crater with a machine as dull as a Hyundai Getz is like trying to slice sashimi with a plastic knife. Or performing surgery with knitting needles.

If you had walked around the right side of the Getz, you would have seen the word “FUN” cut out of a vinyl sticker and emblazoned above the right-side turn-signal repeater. If you had spent any appreciable amount of time behind the wheel, you would know that there was little truth in advertising.

I ended up behind the wheel of Hyundai’s lowliest hatchback as the result of a three a.m. decision to drive from Israel’s desert metropolis of Tel Aviv, where I lived, to the desert oasis of Eilat, to get a cup of espresso — a round-trip journey of 500 miles. A new branch of the popular Aroma Espresso Bar chain had just opened at the country’s southern border, overlooking Egypt. As soon as I heard the news, I was already out the door.

It’s not that the beaux-arts, gentrified city of Tel Aviv isn’t bursting with cafes and their associated, inherited socialites and latte-sipping proletariat. On the contrary. But when the opportunity strikes for the enthusiast, rational argument gives way to raw instinct. Six hours later, I found myself at Avis signing the papers for a 24-hour rental of a dusty, late-model Hyundai Getz with 45,000 miles on the odometer.

Five hundred miles seemed like a long drive to find the same cup of coffee as offered four blocks down the street. A true enthusiast, however, would realize the route was a chance to blast through the relatively trafficless desert on some of the best roads east of Europe. Historically, the port of Eilat was linked with the rest of the country via the Arava Road, which enabled the British to move imported wares with relative ease. As the country’s infrastructure developed, a second dual carriageway, Route 40, was designed to weave through the Ramon Crater as a parallel path to the south.

Route 40 is a road constructed of driving fantasies. It sweeps through the desert and fits to its contours as if plotted by ibex. Double-yellow lines are rare; high-speed passing maneuvers of all levels of bravery are, therefore, encouraged. Distraction-free driving, with the exception of good company and background noise, is the key.

With that in mind, the Getz was not the ideal road companion. Although lightweight, it was powered by an engine that must possess, on a good day, 100 horsepower, with an engine note as coarse as the surrounding sands. The suspension was sloppy, our tester suffered from botched alignment, and the steering suffered from being too wooden and disconnected. At speed, a strange clicking noise seemed to emanate from underneath the car. In some countries, the Getz is known as the Click. Coincidence?

The interior exemplified “no-frills” in an era in which Hyundai leads most of its competition in feature content. No power anything, no anti-lock brakes, no defrosters. Avis cheered up the interior by installing a radio, as opposed to the standard sound system: the pleasure of lowering the windows and listening to the whining of an overrevved engine.

The rental agent gave us the Getz on the lot with a blue interior accent color, which worked to spice up the dour, black interior. It also drew attention to the execrable fit and finish, and hard plastics that dotted the interior. The seats, which were almost definitely lawn chairs covered in the thinnest velour available, offered the impression of comfort and the reality of late-onset thrombosis.

For all the faults of a cheaply built, underpowered, questionably maintained hatchback, there is still an argument in driving a slow car on potentially fast roads: the chance to wring out every available horsepower.

The road from Tel Aviv begins as a supermodern, six-lane highway, but transitions into a four-lane highway after about 100 miles. The road split near the Be’er Sheva junction, offering a continued four-lane or a more challenging two-lane, and I naturally opted for the two-lane. With the destination just 150 miles away — in relative terms, nearly half the country’s entire north-south span — the road started to open up.

I overtook everyone. I did the equivalent of 85 mph (135 km/h) and watched the tachometer’s needle wail into the 3000 range, just to keep up. I played cat-and-mouse with a late-‘90s Pontiac Grand Prix (unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Israel’s American cars are similar to ours) for almost 50 miles before he pulled over to let me go. Not that I could actually go much faster on the Getz’s small, thin tires.

Then, almost out of nowhere, the road looked as if it’s about to drop off a cliff. The highway suddenly dips dramatically to follow the curves of the Ramon Crater, which rivals the Grand Canyon in size and the Stelvio Pass in sinuous surfaces. The Google Earth view of the road, showing its adherence to nature’s intended path, makes the mind reel. For a moment, I wondered if there was automotive karma. Then the Getz started clicking again.

The path is worth descending slowly, before moving on to the next segment of road, when Highway 40 reaches a junction with Highway 12. I took the fork eastward with some hesitation, but was rewarded in spades. Just before reaching Eilat, with the faded, salty air of the Red Sea in the distance, Route 12 wound its way down another set of cliffs.

In the end, reaching Eilat was the most anticlimactic part of the entire trip. I should have known the cappuccino wasn’t going to be anything special. and it only took about ten minutes to realize I had driven a long way from home to find myself with little to do in Eilat.

Five hours after leaving the city, though, the mission was fulfilled. Foam dripping off my lips, I stared at the Getz, which had managed to inject just the right amount of excitement into the trip, and smiled.

Then I realized I had forgotten about the all-uphill return trip. I gulped, accompanied by the Getz’s continued, incessant clicking.

Sometimes, the advertised fun is in the journey, not how you get there.

Getz1 Getz2 Getz3 Getz4 Getz5 Getz6 ]]> 25
Hertz To Rent CNG Vehicles, Pilot Program Begins In May Thu, 12 Apr 2012 12:09:02 +0000  

If you’re traveling to Oklahoma City any time soon, Herz will give you the option of renting a Honda Civic or GMC Yukon that runs on Compressed Natural Gas.

Renters will be able to select from one of eight Honda Civics or two GMC Yukons that use CNG. The vehicles will have a Hertz Neverlost GPS System on-board that will assist with locating a CNG refueling station.

Oklahoma may be “flyover country” for coastal greenie types, but OKC is home to big natural gas producers, including Chesapeake Energy Corporation. The state also has 70 CNG stations that are already in use or about to come online. Launching a pilot project here is akin to launching an all-E85 fleet in Iowa. Hertz is, of course, playing up both the green angle and the fact that CNG is a domestically produced fuel.

Hertz already rents CNG vehicles in Italy and the UK, and CNG cars can be rented at a Hertz outlet at Oklahoma State University, but this marks the first time that the company has offered CNG cars at an airport location.

]]> 4
Ask The Best And Brightest: What Car Should Four Scots Tour New England In? Thu, 27 Jan 2011 18:08:35 +0000

Andy writes in

Hi – I wonder if you can help a confused Scotsman who is coming across for a 3 week holiday (flying into Boston) in September.

Four of us are going to drive around New England and we would like to hire a comfortable SUV or Crossover but we are not familiar with your models.For example I could have gone for a Chevy Uplander but I understand it is a complete dog. In Scotland we have a Jaguar XJ and a Merc 320ML so we want something that drives nicely and preferably has ”armchair” type seats in the second row so that our wives don’t moan too much. Can you help??

]]> 56
Rental Car Companies Turn In Own Customers To Photo Ticket Firm Wed, 07 Jul 2010 14:21:08 +0000

At least four of the country’s top rental car firms sell information on their customers to a photo enforcement firm. American Traffic Solutions and its subsidiary, ATS Processing Services, signed contracts through which Avis, Budget, Hertz and Advantage agreed to hand over information on renters so that ATS can collect extra money on photo tickets.

A California motorist, who asked to remain anonymous, found this out the hard way when his rented Toyota was accused on August 24, 2009 of traveling at 55 MPH on Interstate 295/395 near 9th Street in Washington, DC. The limit at this freeway location is just 40 MPH. Even though the driver believed the $50 ticket was issued in error, his credit card was automatically billed $30 pursuant to the small print in his rental car contract. The driver learned that the District’s photo radar tickets were not valid when two vehicles are visible in the violation photo and decided to contest the fine by written declaration. He won.

“The examiner determined that the ticket should be dismissed for one of the following reasons: there was an error on the ticket, the government was unable to establish the violation or the evidence submitted was sufficient to prove a defense to the violation,” the District Department of Motor Vehicles examiner ruled on May 16.

Despite the victory on the $50 ticket, the motorist now had to fight ATS to get his $30 “processing fee” back. Frequent business travelers who rent cars complain that they are often billed in error for photo tickets, parking tickets and toll road tickets that pass through ATS.

“They are hoping that a large number of people won’t even notice the $30 charge, or will simply accept it,” one user of the forum wrote last year. “Then, by making it so onerous to get the charge reversed they hope more people will just give up. They hire minimal customer service staff, so their costs must be next to nothing. It doesn’t take many $30 charges to turn a tidy profit.”

ATS defends the $30 fee by claiming it covers a number of real costs associated with processing all municipal violations issued to the rental car company.

“The administration fee covers the cost associated with data entering each citation document, identifying the renter of the vehicle at the time the violation occurred, printing and bank fees incurred with billing and collecting fine amounts from renters, as well as the administrative costs of writing and mailing checks to ticket issuers before the citation due date,” the ATS website explains.

In the case of Washington, DC, ATS also happens to be the “ticket issuer” — the company that runs the photo radar program — meaning the firm collects $80 instead of just $50 from every Avis, Budget, Hertz or Advantage customer photographed.


]]> 20
Citroen C1 ev’ie Named Official Rental Car Of The Copenhagen Climate Conference Mon, 07 Dec 2009 22:52:44 +0000 (

On the same day TTAC ran Martin Schwoerer’s review of the C1 ev’ie, comes word that the diminutive EV has been named the official rental car of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Apparently the auto rental firm Sixt ordered a bunch of the ev’ies, becoming the first car rental company with electric options. And of course, it just happened to make them available in Copenhagen in time for the conference, so delegates would have an alternative to the Climate Express. Sadly, none of the delegates were environmentally aware enough to arrive on electric airplanes.

]]> 7