What's Your Foreign Car Rental Story?

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Photo: Patrick George
CountersteerYour true stories of good and bad things that happen in cars.

Hello, I just got back from 10 days of vacation in France, and I missed you all very much.* One of the highlights of the trip, sort of, was that we rented a car to drive between Paris and Nice. I wanted something I really could never get back home, and while it wasn’t a new Citroën or Skoda, it was a Fiat Panda, and that was European enough for me.

The whole experience got me thinking about your rental car experiences abroad. Do you have any interesting stories from when you tried to do that?

I was hoping I’d come back with more of a crazy tale from the whole experience, but it was pretty straightforward. I was hoping to score an Alpine A110 or Renault Megane RS press tester, but the pickup and drop-off on those didn’t work with our schedule. It was fine in the end, as I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with parking across 10 days and multiple cities.

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But I did score the Panda for a little bit, and it was fine! All fine, I suppose. The Panda is one of those cars that Jalops always say they wish was sold in America, but in normal, non-4x4 guise, it’s not exactly inspiring. It’s a good, solid, basic, super practical mini-minivan thing. It basically drives like a bigger 500, but it’s not as cumbersome as the 500L, which everyone seems to hate.

Once I got over the initial thrill of renting a car with a five-speed manual transmission, it was just... a car. Nothing mind-blowing, but the kind of cheap, solid, basic transportation that’s increasingly hard to find in America as we kill off our small cars and move to huge, expensive crossovers financed across a decade at insane interest rates.

Anyway, the Panda—packing an earth-shaking 1.2-liter naturally aspirated engine—was perfectly fine around town, but out on the Autoroute, I really had to work the gears hard to get it up to an acceptable speed. Once I did, however, it was happy to do 80 mph (130 km/h) all day long. I wish I could have tried the trick TwinAir two-cylinder turbo engine, but that wasn’t an option at the rental counter.

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I was glad to be done with it once we arrived in Nice, because it was one less thing to deal thing when I was trying to enjoy my vacation. We took the train back to Paris, and I’d actually recommend that unless you’re planning an actual driving tour across Europe—or you score the keys to something that’s actually worth driving on good roads. Other rental cars I would have been happy to try: the Renault Twingo, the Volkswagen Up.

So that’s it for me. Sorry there’s no more drama here, but since I only sprang for the cheap insurance, I’m glad there wasn’t. What’s your foreign rental car story?

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*Editor’s note: I actually didn’t, sorry 

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.

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I went to the US in 2016, and got this as a rental. Chevy Impala limited, a 2016 if I’m not mistaken. It had about 4k on it or so when I got it, and it had about double when I handed it in, if I remember correctly. I visited every New England state in it.

That car was remarkable. Remarkably different than anything I’m used to. It felt like a 5/3 scale econobox from 1990, somehow built a quarter of a century later.

Shittiest seats ever; zero bolstering, back pain inducing, horrible and already slightly worn (at 8k miles) fabric.

I was already used to horrible interiors (my German father in law owns a Dodge Magnum RT) but that Chevy takes the cake. And that’s coming from someone owning a 1987 subcompact, which somehow has a better interior. Those plastics, that fake wood, that design. Ugh.

It had a 300 hp engine, which is over double of what I’m used to. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car this slow. It was about as inviting to drive not-slow as a bicycle with two flat tires. I’m sure it could accelerate properly, I however never felt the need to try. Remarkable.

The transmission was smooth. However, when I drove in the mountains there was no proper mountain program. Nothing that worked at least. Horrible. I kept on braking almost constantly. Now I admit I’m used to (and prefer) manuals, but even the slushbox 1996 €500 Mitsubishi Galant I drove through the Alps and the Pyrenees just a few months before had a far better automatic gearbox with mountain program (L, 3, 2, hold, whatever) for not-flat roads.

Now I realize one shouldn’t judge a company on its rentals, but I’m surprised GM is still in business. I am not at all surprised that Opel/Vauxhall (read: GM Europe) went from losing money for decades to profitable only 1 year after it was sold to Peugeot.

With age and mileage taken into account that Impala is, by far, the worst shitbox I’ve ever driven. By far.