We had some amusing rental cars in Italy. First and last a Ford Focus that was quite competent, had enough room, and handled quite well. Then we went to Portugal and rented a car to drive to Spain. Perhaps because Spain and Portugal still have some hard feelings, it is absurdly expensive to rent a car in one country and return it in the neighboring company. It would cost less to pay someone to push the car back.
So we were given a “Spanish car” in Lisbon, a Toyota Yaris with a really pronounced fuel delivery problem at anything above 1/2 throttle which had the car juddering and barely making it up hills. Hertz sent out the mechanic who asked if we had the AC on (yes, it was 40 out) and then said it was normal. I told him it felt like it was running on 3 cylinders and he said that was right, it had 3 cylinders. Now we’ve rented a couple of Yarii before, and they make it up the mountain in Italy fine with the AC on, and would easily have climbed the hills of Lisbon, but they wouldn’t take it back and besides even if they wanted to there simply wasn’t another car available in Iberia. So we got a reservation from EuropeCar and called Hertz and were told we could drop the sick Yaris off at LIS.
But when we got there, that wasn’t the case – apparently Hertz Spain would charge Hertz Portugal €25,000 if they accepted it. As we made it clear we wouldn’t be driving it away, there was suddenly another Spanish car at the Hertz downtown office.
We drove downtown where they were super nice and promptly produced another of the same competent Ford’s we had in Italy with one minor variation – the driver’s side mirror had been destroyed by the car wash just before we got there. So they gave us a nice Portuguese Renault Laguna III with the key card ignition system. It worked great and was a fine car to drive with a useful 6 speed manual transmission.
It got us to SVQ without any problems and we could even keep up with our friends in their Mercedes C230 with the strange transmission that switched into “limp home mode” immediately. Yes, the car rental adventure was not ours alone, their car, a high end rental Mercedes was flawed as well. They asked “why does the car redline at 150? Is that bad?” It took a little work to be sure there wasn’t a button or feature being missed (like some manual shift override), but no… it was a “feature” not a bug, and was to remind the driver to get to a service station before the transmission fell out of the car. It made it to Spain and back in 2nd.
When we got back to BLQ our Focus was touring around Florence, so we picked up the cheerful Yellow Fiat Panda. Pandas are great little (little) cars. They handle surprisingly well, have surprising pickup and, like the tardis, are bigger inside than outside. Even so, a panda can’t really hold more than two people and their normal travel luggage, and three is a tight squeeze even if one is only 80% full size. But we all packed in and zipped back home suddenly noticing that the yellow panda must be the year’s most popular car.
Finally we returned the Panda, got our Focus, and drove to Rome with three adults, one awfully tall 12 year old, and a lot of luggage in relative comfort and in good time.
I rented a pugeot 207 in Lyon and drove it over 2,500km through France, Italy, and Switzerland, through blizzards and over single track mountain roads in the alps and dolomites alone and filled to exploding with passengers and luggage. It never failed and from the day I picked it up to up to the day I wistfully dropped it off; I never had even the slightest problem.
The 207 is a fast, sporty car that handles alpine roads with finesse and aplomb. I never squeaked a tire or upset it in the slightest despite making good time on roads mostly frequented by 3 wheelers and 4WD Pandas, but making far better time.
The car was quiet, had a loud, clear stereo, and a very comfortable cabin. Luggage space was compact (inevitably) but adequate and fortuitously sized to carry two large roll-aboard duffel bags. It was not sufficient for four passengers and luggage, but managed three.
It had good manners on snow and ice, even when other vehicles spun out and slid across the road, the 207 managed to pull through and when it couldn’t it was light enough to push. It was admirable on the unpaved roads in the mountains of Tuscany, though the sporting suspension limited ground clearance and thus the available roads to explore.
The configuration I rented had the lesser stereo option which did not include a line-in input. This is a major shortcoming on any modern car, but particularly manifest where radio stations come and go and offer limited selection. There is still value in traveling with an assortment of CDs – at least it could decode MP3 off redbook disks, if not accept an accessory input.
The 207 gets good mileage but has excellent pickup. On the long trek through some of the geographically undifferentiated north of Italy around Parma, the car just naturally drifted toward 200 kph. It was always comfortable at the more standard 130, climbing or descending or though 15km tunnels like Mont Blanc or the one in Switzerland between Italy and Basil.
All in all a very nice upgrade from the Panda I reserved (though Fiat Pandas have their charm too).