Bark's Bites: All The Cars I Rented in 2018
As all loyal Bark fans know (Hi Mom), I travel extensively for the ol’ day job. Thanks to Uber and Lyft, I don’t always have to rent a car when I’m on the road, but most of the time it’s actually cheaper to rent a car for $35 a day than it is to use ridesharing services, not to mention to increased convenience and saved time. Plus, I’m a firm believer in job creation, and somebody needs to keep those valets at the hotels employed.
In 2018, I used National’s Emerald Aisle Executive services 21 times, which is a bit low compared to my average over the last 10 years. Nevertheless, let’s see what I can remember about all of my rental rides that I borrowed this year, and then I’ll make some sweeping generalizations that are sure to offend many of you. Go!
Rental Jeep Cherokee, SeaTac International Airport, 54 miles driven
I don’t remember much about this one, other than it was raining a lot when I was there (shocker) and the Jeep Cherokee was suitable to the task. I like the Cherokee, overall, but it doesn’t stand out from the crowded CUV field in any significant way.
Rental Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 235 miles driven
I didn’t care much for this one. It wasn’t a bad deal at $38 a day. There, I said something positive about that complete piece of trash.
Rental Nissan Altima, Miami International Airport, 106 miles driven
It’s starting to occur to me that I am fortunate to get to spend so many miles behind the wheel of so many cars. Most press drives consist of 30-40 miles, tops. This particular Altima was of the V6 variety, so it wasn’t as bad as you’d think. The interior was still a hideous shade of tan that resembled nothing so much as cat vomit, and the suspension behavior felt like Popeye’s boat, The Olive, on rough seas. That being said, there might not be many cheaper ways to buy 270 horsepower when real world transaction prices are involved. I respect that Nissan is still shoving the VQ motor in the Altima.
Rental Chevrolet Camaro Turbo 4, Fort Lauderdale, 146 miles driven
Not a fan. All of things that make a Camaro bearable are missing from the four-cylinder turbo, and you still get all of the fun of a ridiculously small trunk, non-functional backseat, and WWI bunker comfort and visibility. Combine that with all-season tires and you’ve got a real loser on your hands. The EcoBoost Mustangs are superior in every way.
Rental Mazda CX-5, Fort Lauderdale, 113 miles driven
What can I say about the CX-5 that every neckbeard “automotive journalist” hasn’t already said? Well, a lot, actually. The CX-5 is my go-to recommendation for people who ask me for my opinion on which small crossover to buy, and while the dealer network is difficult, I’ve never known somebody to test drive one and not buy it. It feels light and capable in comparison to other entries in the segment, and while it doesn’t have a ton of sexy curb appeal, at least it looks different. Plus, they’re downright cheap in low-end trim. Bark gives it 4 out of 5 dogbones.
Rental Infiniti Q60, Fort Lauderdale, 256 miles
It says something about the Infiniti that I kept it five days and drove it 256 miles. My commute from my Miami home to my office is 14 miles. That means I drove the Q60 for an additional 116 miles that were non-essential — it’s just a pleasant car to drive, and I enjoyed driving it. If you’re truly a sporting car enthusiast, it’s a hard car to justify buying at its $40,700 sticker price. There is no shortage of pony cars you can buy new at that price that will eat the Q60 alive. But not everybody want a Mustang or a Challenger. The Q60 actually feels like it’s worth the price when you drive it, thanks to a pleasant interior and good sound system. Of all the rentals I had this year, this is the one that drew the most “This is a rental?” comments from friends and colleagues.
Rental Lincoln MKX, Denver International Airport, 558 miles
That’s right, I drove this thing 558 miles in three days, thanks to a team meeting that involved a few trips out into the mountains. I’m very glad to see that the MKX has been replaced by the Nautilus. While it was numb enough to drive, it certainly had no features that were worth the $40k+ price tag. Plus, those shifter buttons on the center dash are super annoying. Boo. Die in a fire, MKX.
Rental Nissan Armada, Fort Lauderdale, 596 miles
Rental Ford Edge, Elmira-Corning Airport, 242 miles
Not bad to drive (I actually got a 75 in a 50 speeding ticket in it), but this build quality makes me cringe. No thanks.
Rental Volkswagen Atlas, Miami, 725 miles
Really? I drove it 725 miles?? Why the hell can I not remember a single thing about it, then? Like, not one? That can’t be right.
Rental Dodge Charger GT, Pasco/Tri-Cities Regional Airport, 527 kilometers
I think we just posted a review of the Challenger GT from Tim Healey, so you should probably read that. My car was a Canadian model, so the novelty of seeing the “km/h” everywhere on the dash was fun for a little bit. Eastern Washington was beautiful at that time of year, and I remember genuinely enjoying the AWD the few times that the system felt the need to engage it. But there is no fucking way that this car is worth the $41k that they want for it. No way at all. I don’t care if dealers are offering $10k off. It’s not enough.
Rental Cadillac XT5, Miami, 68 miles
So this is what Cadillac is now, eh? I don’t get it. I drove this only as much as necessary. I didn’t derive a minute of joy from being behind the wheel. The XT5 was neither luxurious nor powerful nor fun. Hard pass.
Rental Ford Expedition, Miami, 91 miles
Too big for any city driving, but still sort of an OG level of cool about it. It’s one of the few SUVs left that feels like it was made for serious work. I have no doubt about the fact that the Expedition will last 200k miles and then be sold at a Buy Here Pay Here lot for $399 a month. Although I can’t foresee any circumstance which would require me to purchase an Expedition, I would gladly do so.
Rental Ford Mustang EcoBoost Convertible, Miami, 804 miles
I kept the ‘Stang for a week and a half, hence the large number of miles on it. There is no better car for South Florida than the EcoBoost Mustang, and that’s why every rental lot in the state stocks them to the max. Yes, I’m partial to Mustangs in general, but it’s hard to understand why anybody in his or her right mind would choose the equivalent Camaro (at the base level, anyway). Fun per dollar quotient with the EB Vert is very, very high.
Rental BMW X3, Miami, 97 miles
Rental Mazda MX-5 RF, Miami, 68 miles
One time, back when I was playing music for a semi-living, I was performing with the great Cincinnati pianist Big Joe Duskin at a club in Columbus. Right in the middle of a song, he stopped playing. He said to the audience, “I apologize, but I have forgotten the lyrics to this song. It’s a fine song, and another time, I’ll come back and play it for you. God, I wish I had a fish sandwich.” He then counted off another song, sadly without the accompanying fish sandwich.
Dear readers, this one was worth its own individual review, and I apologize for not writing one. Someday, when I’m back in Miami, I’ll rent it again and write you a review. I don’t like fish sandwiches, but if anybody wants to meet me at Versailles for a Cuban sandwich, I’m in.
Anyway, the RF is a fantastic car.
Rental Buick Cascada, Miami, 162 miles
Somebody let Stu Fowle know — I liked the Cascada. I actually liked it a lot. It is exactly the car that my grandfather should have been driving in his seventies. It’s a pleasant looking car with enough power to get out of its own way and a comfortable ride. The ingress and egress are easy enough for a convertible, as well. It even makes cool whooshing turbo sounds. Unfortunately, the Cascada is based on old tech, with infotainment and dash directly out of the 2011 Equinox (can confirm, owned said Equinox). Unfortunately, since its Opel cousin is going out of production, it looks like the Cascada isn’t much longer for this world, either.
Rental Chevrolet Camaro SS, Miami, 145 miles driven
My rental highlight of the year. There’s no need for a rental car to be anywhere near this fast, but I’m so glad that it is. All my complaints about the four-cylinder disappear when I have 455 horsepower at my disposal. It’s a damn rocket ship, and I’m kinda worried about National handing out the keys to these things to anybody with $40 worth of available credit on a Aspire Visa. It makes my heart warm to know that this car is available for $37k.
PS — the interior, sound system, rear seat, and trunk space all still suck. So my complaints mostly disappear.
Rental Nissan Rogue, Miami, 132 miles
Maybe the most surprising vehicle I rented in 2018. I despised the first-gen Rogue with a passion. I called the “Rogue Select,” which was a continuation of that model’s life cycle into the second gen, the worst car that I’ve ever driven. So it was with some level of astonishment that I discovered that I did not particularly hate the facelifted Rogue. It’s at least as good as its competitors in class, and when you consider that Nissan will finance anybody with a pulse, the Rogue is a good option for young families on a budget.
Rental RAM 1500 5.7 Hemi “Classic”, Fort Lauderdale, 179 miles
Why not? The lovely Luisa, whose Encore was the subject of its own review earlier in the year, needed some help moving, and the Emerald Aisle provideth. It only had 78 miles on the odometer when I picked it up, and I enjoyed breaking it in a bit. Spacious cabin, power to spare, with enough room in the bed to move a sofa and a loveseat, and fuel mileage that creeped into the twenties. I’m not sure that I’d want to get in and out of it every day. Other than that, it’s a winner.
Rental Infiniti QX30, Miami, 997 miles
The year’s last rental was perhaps its most vexing. Painted in a shade of something that mostly resembled the “rose gold” found on iPhones, the QX30 was…ugh, I hate to say this. It was fun. National says I drove it nearly a thousand miles. I don’t think that’s right. But I did drive it quite a bit over the seven days that I had it, and I went from loathing it to almost liking it. While it’s nearly a direct port of the dreaded Mercedes-Benz GLA 250, there’s something about placing the Infiniti badge on it that makes it seem less fraudulent than its star-ridden brother, mostly since nobody really knows what the hell Infiniti is anymore, anyway.
Two women stopped me at separate times to say how adorable or beautiful it was. It wasn’t terribly slow, thanks to a nifty pairing of 208 horsepower and a well-executed 7-speed transmission. The character of the car changed significantly when shifted from “Eco” to “Sport.” In fact, there is some small part of my brain that wants to call Infiniti to see if they’d let me drive one at an SCCA Time Trials event next year.
Because let’s be clear — this isn’t a crossover. It’s a hatchback. In some parallel dream universe, this could even be a Golf GTI competitor, provided that you ditched every possible piece of fake-ass “luxury” from it and just made it a 208 horsepower hot hatch. As my rental was equipped, you’d have to pay $46k for it, and that makes baby Jesus cry this Christmas season. Find a way to package this motor and this chassis for $30k, and you might have something.
Now for the sweeping generalizations.
21 rental cars in a year. 80 days and thousands of miles in someone else’s driver’s seat. What did I learn?
- You don’t have to rent bad cars when you travel. Most of the cars on this list were picked because I wanted to drive them. There were also dozens of blah, boring cars that I could have picked — I could have picked a Camry LE or a Malibu instead of what I did pick every single time. Why not try something new, even if nobody is paying you to review it?
- Infiniti has a bad rap, and maybe not deservedly so. I liked the Infinitis I drove this year, and I wonder if maybe I would like other Infinitis, too. The Armada I liked is essentially an Infiniti with a Nissan badge. I’ve written before that Infiniti should die, and maybe it still should. But the issue appears to be a branding one, not a manufacturing one.
- Honda is right to refuse to do fleet sales. When I see Toyotas and Nissans, I think “rental car.” Honda is probably a more prestigious badge than any other Japanese marque, save for Lexus (yes, more prestigious than Acura, too). They could easily surpass Nissan and Toyota in sales if they were to sell to rental car companies in bulk (spare me the “YES HONDA DOES TOO DO FLEET SALES), but they are wise to choose not to. It maintains the brand.
- But Nissan is right to do them. Two different brands, two different strategies. Nissan and Infiniti need the volume help, and maybe people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to the brands get the chance to experience their cars, some of which aren’t so bad.
- When I want to do some mindless, traffic-heavy driving, I’ll pick a crossover every time. They’re just easier to drive. Sorry if that offends you enthusiasts. I drive a Focus RS every day in Kentucky. For Miami traffic, I’ll take the CX-5, thanks.
In 2019, I promise to do a better job of writing reviews of these cars for you, the people. If you have specific requests, put them in the comments below. As always, I appreciate your readership.
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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