Life, etc

In search of the world’s best car

By Deon Schoeman 5 November 2012

It’s one of those questions levelled at motoring journalists the world over: “So, what’s the best car?” The answer? Well, there isn’t really one. Too much depends on personal preference, budget, application, and a host of other parameters – or so I thought. But it’s since become clear that there is an answer to this conundrum after all. By DEON SCHOEMAN.

There is no such thing as the best car in the world. Think about it: what suits a budget-burdened youngster won’t please the well-heeled executive, nor the mother-hen mom and her brood of toddlers. What’s good for the goose, is very rarely good for the gander. 

However, waiting for you, the youngster – or you, the executive. And yes, even for you, the harassed housewife, at an airport near you is … the best car in the world.

It can be small, or big. Luxuriously appointed, or bare-basics simple. It may have been built in Korea or Japan or China – or France, or Germany for that matter. You see, the best car in the world is a rental car. And here’s why.

Firstly, it’s not your car. It wasn’t your money that extracted it from the dealership. And thus, that invisible bond between car and owner, created by the financial commitment it required to be handed the keys, simply isn’t there.

Freed of the shackles of responsibility, the rental car driver can slide behind the wheel of his or her temporary steed with little regard for the vehicle’s longevity. There’s no need to let the engine warm up before chasing the revs, or be smooth with the gears – you don’t need to be gentle with a rental.

“Oops! Was that a kerb? Sorry…”

Secondly, rental cars are the most versatile cars in the world. They can do anything. Want to go 4×4-ing? That Citi Golf, Toyota Tazz or Hyundai Atos will do just as well on a gravel road as your average bakkie or SUV.

I’ve seen tourists tackle the most horrendous dirt routes in rental cars – roads that most 4×4 double cab 4×4 owners would think twice about traversing. Not Mr and Mrs Brown in their Chevy Spark: they’ll let the little motor clamber over rocks, scrape through ditches and plough through sand, while happily perusing their surroundings.

“Is it making a strange noise, George?” 

“Just turn up the radio, Mavis…”

Rental cars are also bullet proof. Want to discover the after-dark delights of Langa or Khayelitsha? Grab a rental. That vanilla white Corolla – a rental company stalwart – will keep you safe and snug in the danger zone. After all, it’s the GPS you ordered with the car that showed you the short cut in the first place!

“Is that what a bullet hole looks like? I thought it was a stone chip …”

Want to go racing? A rental’s the ideal machine. There was a time, some years ago now, when standard car racing was alive and well. The so-called Group N series pitted road machines against each other in various classes, and many a rental company ended up as a quasi-sponsor without knowing it.

If your racing machine was a VW Citi Golf, you’d make sure you rented a similar car, and parked it behind the pits, where it would become a handy source of donor parts. Gearbox feeling a little scratchy? Borrow the rental car’s transmission. Need a brake calliper? Here’s a spare …

Of course, the intrepid racing teams would put their rentals nicely back together before returning them on Monday morning.

“Was everything all right with the vehicle, sir?” 

“Absolutely perfect, thank you!”

Rentals are also great for practicing racing techniques. Nobody pulls away faster, brakes later, revs the engine harder, or turns into corners sharper than the rental car driver. 

See that car right on your rear bumper? It’s a rental car driver, improving his slipstream technique… Hear those tyres squealing through the corners and hairpins of the Bain’s Kloof Pass? That’s a budding rally star giving his rental horns – and scaring the tourists witless.

“You say there’s a vibration on the wheel, sir? I’ll inform the workshop – thanks for the feedback.”

Rentals are great for moving things if you don’t have a bakkie. It’s amazing what you can fit into the boot of a Corsa Sedan: bricks, cement, plumbing hardware… Or how about a couple of bags of manure for the garden?

In fact, trips to the nursery are so much more enjoyable in the company of a rental car. That palm tree you’ve been eyeing? Just wedge it into the back. Pity about that stain on the upholstery – nothing a bit of soap and water won’t sort out later, if you remember…

“Is that a branch in the roof lining?” 

“Where? I didn’t notice it – it must have been there when I collected the car.”

And then there is the rental car’s people-carrying capability. Who needs a bus when you can squash six people into the back of a rental – and another three up front? Pump up the tyres, and you can put two more in the boot, too. 

Is it getting a bit stuffy inside? Open a window and turn up the fan. Is that your foot in my ear? No problem, just rest it on the grab handle. If only it had a tow hitch, we could have brought along the Venter as well!

“The suspension seems to be sagging a bit on the left side – perhaps you should have that shock absorber checked out …”

The thing about rentals is that the possibilities are endless. Just make sure you opt for the super insurance cover, and tick the puncture and windscreen waivers. The little bit of extra is money well spent when you’re pushing the limits of fair usage.

So what cars do the rental car companies opt for, then? As far as small, budget cars are concerned, the most popular choice seems to be the Hyundai Atos and its successor, the Hyundai i10, although you’ll also see Kia Picantos and Chev Sparks in the rental car lots.

That there are so many of these cheapies in rental use says a lot for their hardiness and reliability. In fact, if they can survive the onslaught of your average rental car user, they can survive anything. It’s the ultimate durability test.

Volkswagen’s Polo Vivo has replaced the legendary Citi Golf as another one of the rental car world’s favourite sons. Built like a tank, with a bullet-proof engine and gearbox, the Vivo eats abuse for breakfast, and comes back for more. And when its time in the rental fleet is over, it still commands good resale values.

“Here’s a great deal, sir. Low kilometres, not a scratch, and never been raced…”

A couple of rungs up the rental car ladder, you’ll find that perennial favourite, the Toyota Corolla. Big boot, decent air-con, USB for the iPhone charger. It also has that nice, creamy velour upholstery, and carpets in various shades of mustard.

Performance is willing enough, fuel consumption is decent, and reliability comes as standard. It’s the brand most South Africans trust – like a member of the family. But there are lots of rivals to the Corolla’s reign: Hyundai’s Accent is a strong contender, as is the Chev Cruze.

Want something luxurious? The big three premium brands command the show at rental level too, with the Mercedes-Benz C-class, BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 duking it out for the rental driver’s attentions.

Right now, it’s the Beemer that’s hogging the limelight. The F30-generation 320i is the youngest and most modern in its class, and offers niceties such as navigation, Bluetooth, a Sport mode and an eight-speed auto gearbox as standard.

Want to make an impression at that business meeting? Or treat your date to a fancy ride? One of these luxury sedans could do the trick. And if you really want to go big, some rental companies even offer convertibles and sports cars – at a price, of course!

Want to do some taxi moonlighting? Rent a Toyota Quantum, hire a helper, put a cashbox in the cubby, and off you go. But don’t let the local taxi association find out what you’re up to…

Whatever the requirement, or the application, there’s a rental car waiting for you. And as I said, a rental can do things normal vehicles can’t. Which is why rental cars simply are the best wheels in the world. DM


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