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.
Rental Car Review: Lancia Ypsilon
The Lancia Ypsilon is a surprisingly spry little car. It’s a typical Euro rental, a very compact little car with a manual transmission and a tiny diesel engine. But this little guy has a very turbo charged little mill that is quite zippy, even with four people in the car, very important in Italy where two lane mountain roads are shared by powerful BMWs, funny little farm three-wheelers, tractors, and large lorries.
The car is entirely functional in every important way: it is quiet, it is zippy, it holds four people comfortably, it actually holds some luggage. The lack of a trunk of any sort means you can’t store anything in the car when parked though.
We got the rental while taking a language class in Lucca – we picked it up in Florence and had no trouble driving it along the A11. We used it all week to commute between Pieve di Cerreto, where it made fine time up and down the hill, and Lucca. We had no trouble passing. We met a few couples in class and took them out in the back of the car, even a full-size Australian couple who fit just fine.