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The Silvercar Experience

When GeorgeCo was out in California last summer, he walked past the Hertz Porsche 911s on the way to pick up his hair-shirt Toyota crap-can and thought there must be a better rental car option out there. Now there is: Silvercar. From Austin Ventures comes a new way to rent cars. The CEO of Silvercar is the former CTO of Zipcar and they’ve greatly improved the entire rental experience.
For about the same you would expect to pay for a Nissan Altima or Ford Focus ($59/day), Silvercar only has one type of car for rent: The Audi A4 Quatro. The cars are nicely appointed with leather seats, 3G wifi, and Nav. Download the Silvercar app for iPhone or Android, create your account, choose your destination and go. Cars are currently available in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Francisco and Los Angeles. GeogeCo rented in Los Angeles. When you arrive at LAX, head outside to the LAX parking shuttles and board the bus for Lot C. When you get on the bus, use the Silvercar App to text the concierge that you’re on your way and someone will meet you when you step off the bus. On the way back to the office they will explain the features of the car, help you scan the QR code to start your rental and away you go. (Be sure to ask how the #$% electronic e-brake works.) The return location is already loaded in the Nav system. You don’t have to remember to gas the car when you return — for a five dollar service charge, you pay regular pump prices for gas. The concierge then drives you to the airport and drops you off at your airline.
The A4 was very comfortable on my 200 mile trip up the coast, even on California’s click-clack expansion joint freeways. The A4 accelerates well and is very sure footed even on slippery roads thanks to Quattro all-wheel drive. Steering is somewhat heavy, but not burdensome. It feels like a front-wheel drive car thanks to the engine which is well in front of the front axle. The front doors are quite narrow, however, and might prove challenging to some.
nose heavy
There was plenty of space for two real adults in the back seats. In the photo below one seat is almost all the way forward, and the other all the way back.
rear seats
The trunk is fairly deep, but might be tight for four suitcases. Two sets of golf clubs should not be a problem.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is good. Audi interior materials and surfaces are excellent. The controls are logically laid out (mostly). The eight-speed transmission was very smooth and combined gas mileage was good at 28 MPG. The Audi MMI Navigation Plus Package is one of the better infotainment systems on the market. Pairing of Bluetooth devices was easily accomplished. We liked both the large Nav screen in the center as well as the turn by turn display between the gauges in the main cluster. I really have only three nit-picks with Audi about this car: the electronic e-brake is just a dumb idea; the seats were a bit hard and lacking decent side-bolsters; and in the normal operating mode, the eight-speed transmission would not hold a gear on a seven-percent grade. The last one is minor; just switch over to sport mode, select the gear you want, and never worry about touching the brakes on your descent. The seats were not the optional sport-seats and probably make sense in a rental car as you have to account for the large backsides of most Americans. The electronic e-brake is just engineering hubris.
A4 rear side
Overall, the Audi A4 and the Silvercar experience both get a big thumbs up. When we get to choose which car to rent, GeorgeCo will be going back to Silvercar. (Like Silvercar on Facebook and get $50 off of your first rental as well as discount offers.)

FIAT 500 Rental Car Review

FIAT 500 When I got to the airport in New Orleans this week, I was quite surprised to learn that my “mid-sized rental car” was in fact a FIAT 500. Since my car last week was a completely uninspiring Nissan Altima with “Pure Drive” (whatever that means), I thought I’d give it a try, especially since I hadn’t driven a FIAT since 1985. Here’s my (totally unbiased) review of the rental-car version of the FIAT 500: It stinks.

This car has 1.4 liter multi-air inline 4 cylinder engine. Multi-air is FIAT’s variable intake valve technology used to improve the fuel economy of the 101 hp engine. (The car should be called the “Mila Quattrocento” instead of the “Cinquecento”, no?) Unlike the original 500 cc engines, this one has enough grunt to get you up to and beyond legal speed limits. That’s the good news.
side rear view
The bad news is that once you’re there, the tall, slab-sided shape makes the short wheel-base car very susceptible to cross-winds. Visibility is surprisingly bad for a car this small. The seating position is more mini-van than MINI cooper. And the split outside mirror is just confusing.
The front sloping wind shield moves the very thick A-pillar forward and blocks much of the view from someone pulling into your lane from the front. The thick B-pillar blocks most of the view over your left shoulder.
The interior fit and finish is good; the materials feel solid and not cheap; and the interior lay-out is very clean. The tachometer within the speedometer is confusing. The information screen in the center of the binnacle is all your really need even if the controls are not very intuitive. Leg room was good and the interior comfortable.
The rear seats seem to offer about as much room as the MINI, but the space to get in and out seems tighter.
Luggage room is about the same as the MINI.
engine compartment
Under the hood is a master class in packaging, though it’s not a friendly place for the do-it-yourselfer. Surprisingly, the FIAT 500 got an overall rating of “good” from the Institute for Highway Safety. There must be some serious crumple-zone engineering going on there. One thing to note: don’t sit too close to the steering wheel. The crash test dummy registered a significant injury to the head and neck as the head went through the airbag to contact the steering wheel.

The one thing that did remind me of the FIAT of old was the strap on the rear deck. It has a sort of “you want a strap, here’s your damn strap…” quality to it that reminds me of 1970’s Italian craftsmanship. Another odd feature was the size of the brake rotors and calipers. They appear to be the same size front and rear. That either means that the rears are seriously over-sized, or that the fronts are seriously under-sized. Let’s hope it’s the former and that FIAT figured it was easier to stock one part than two.
FIATs of the 1970’s were notorious for coming pre-rusted from the factory. Quality of workmanship was spotty, panel fit atrocious, and reliability non-existant. The exteriour design of the cars (or at least those that carried over from the 1960s), however, was glorious. This car is just the opposite: Build quality is excellent, materials used and fit is equal to or above it’s price segment, and the car has the speed and safety features demanded of a modern car. The design, however, is insipid. There is not a good angle at which to view this car. It seems as if it were designed by a committee whose members were not allowed to talk to each other. FIAT has some wonderfully designed contemporary cars. This isn’t one of them. For those enthusiasts counting on a long-term return of FIAT to the US, this one was a swing and a miss. Your experience may vary.

Rental Car Review: 2010 Chevy Camaro

Camaro front

It’s been a while since we featured a rental car review, so we thought it appropriate to write one when presented with this choice at the Enterprise counter at midnight the other night: “We don’t have the compact car you reserved so would you like a Jeep Compass or a Dodge Minivan? Or you could have the Red Camaro in spot #4” The Camaro option changed the equation. The Compass is a dog. A Minivan is a Minivan.

side view

I haven’t been in a Camaro since the mid-eighties so what the heck, why not? It turns out there are some decent reasons why not, like because you have luggage, or you have children with legs, or you enjoy looking to the right through the windshield to see oncoming traffic or pedestrians. But that’s jumping ahead.

First, the Good: Its red. It’s kind of sinister looking in an over-weight hit-man sort of way. The coolest feature has to be the flow-in-the-dark emergency release lever in the trunk. That Could come in hand for when you inevitably get car-jacked and are thrown in the trunk for the long drive out to the woods….


The Bad: Everything else. The sight lines are terrible. The hood bulbous. The interior door handles, mirror adjustments, and front setback release handle are impossible to find in the dark. The fit and finish are marginal. The interior plastics (and there is a lot of plastic) cheap and uninspired.

The gauges look straight out of the 1970’s. The steering wheel appears to be off center and it’s both huge in diameter and skinny in backseatthickness. That’s a bad compilation and it’s made from the same cheap plastic as everything else. Seating was comfortable but not particularly supportive. The ride was smooth but not sporty; acceleration from the V6 was decent but there wasn’t much feedback to the driver from the throttle, brakes, or suspension. It was remarkably flat though for such a hefty vehicle. The trunk is quite large but unfortunately largely useless thanks to the small opening and high lift-over height. Visibility out the front is poor; the sides unsafe; and behind impaired. The roofline is so low that the rearview mirror almost totally obscures the driver’s view to the right. That’s counterbalanced by the ginormous A pillar to the driver’s left which blocks the view from that side leaving the driver free to only worry about what lay ahead. At least whatever lay ahead beyond the view obstructed by the hood. behindFrom the backseats — I’ve seen pictures of max security prison cells with larger windows and better views.

The Ugly: Have you seen the car from behind? Do you think my butt is fat, no honestly?…

In the end, I should have taken the Minivan. It would have been a better ride.

Final Grade: D-. It would have gotten an F if it weren’t for that panic release leaver in the trunk.

carjack release

Test Drive: R56 Cooper S Automatic

Front R56

The car is a R56 2008 Cooper S Automatic. The color is Sparkling Silver, not my favorite, but not as bad as most of the press has made it out to be. It seems like a color that belongs on a Camry, not a MINI, but it sort of fits a theme: the Camryzation of MINI.

I should put my review in context: My car is a 2004 Cooper S (R53). It started with the Sport Suspension to which I added stiffer springs, camber plates, and a beefier rear sway bar. The net result is a car with almost no body roll. Contrary to popular belief, none of my passengers has (yet) lost a filling riding in my car, but the ride might be considered harsh. I consider it properly sporting. (I like that phrase, I’ll have to use it again elsewhere.) The supercharger screams like the dickens at red line; and the Alta exhaust has a throaty growl without drone. To ride in my car is quite a visceral experience. Most of these characteristics where present to a lesser degree before modifications were made — and now they’re gone from this new car.

Left Front

The Specs. This car has over 10,000 miles on it, so it’s been in the loaner fleet a while. It’s titled so there isn’t a spec sheet in the window, but a quick comparison to the MINI configurator, puts the car out the door at about $25,000. For that you get a Cooper S; Convenience Package; Winter Package; dual pane sunroof; automatic transmission with Agitronic paddle shifters.

To start the car, first insert the key fob thing into the slot and press start. I’m not clear on how this is more convenient than having an honest-to-goodness key, but my nine year-old daughter got a real kick out of pushing the start button so at least someone appreciates it. That got me to wondering: how do you get into this car when the battery is completely dead? There must be a real key somewhere. (No manual in the glove box either.)


The interior is a mixed bag. The seats are much wider and don’t have as much lateral support as the old ones. I suppose this is to compensate for the ever widening Arses of Americans. The interior is more spacious — I noticed I no longer hit the pillar with the knee of my right leg. The back seats have more legroom as well. Driving position and visibility are good. There’s even room for two decent sized cups in the cup holders.

Rear Seats

The redesigned center-stack seems like a half-baked concept you’d see from a school of design. The speedo is over-the-top large and the radio/computer controls are not intuitive. Most of the other controls are more or less where you expect them, except the turn indicator lever. All I want in a turn indicator is for it to click and stay on until I complete my turn. I’m not sure what this thing was doing, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Center Stack

From the exterior, 90% of the population probably cannot tell the new and old cars apart unless they were parked right next to each other. The new car is like that cousin you have that looks just like you; only 20 pounds heavier. The higher hoodline for pedestrian safety has lead to a higher hip line. Those hips are also a bit wider. BMW designers saved some money by not including curved side glass and have added a bit of an aero flare to the C-pillar to deflect the air moving around the side of the car to the back.

C Pillar

The front end is also an evolution, though the factory hood scoop is vestigial now. The boot seems about the same, though the cargo nets are interesting.


The Agitronic paddle shifters provide a fun diversion while driving. Shifting is smooth if somewhat delayed, but you quickly learn to anticipate and shift a moment sooner than you would manually. If you come to a complete stop and forget to downshift, it will drop back into second for when you pull away again. Hit the “sport” button near the main shift lever and your shift points and throttle response change for the better. The electronic display at the bottom of the tachometer lets you know what gear you are in and if you are in manual or automatic shift mode.

Rear Left

The ride is very compliant. On the interstate, I’d say this is a big improvement over the previous generation. When you get to the twisty bits, there is quite a bit more body roll than the old car. I didn’t feel as connected to the road or that I was getting as much feedback through the steering wheel. Hit the gas at the apex and you get lots of torque steer. Braking seems improved over stock. The suspension is still biased toward understeer, but it’s manageable.

The engine has an amazing amount of torque from very low RPMs. (I’d like to take this engine and drop it in an old E30 318is if it weren’t driving the wrong end of the car.) It might even have too much torque. Torque-steer is much more pronounced than the old car. I found myself starting out in sport mode using the paddle shifters and once I was cruising on the interstate, I’d shift over to D and turn off sport mode. The car would shift into 6th and still have enough grunt to accelerate when needed. Interior cabin noise is low.

It was while I was playing with the paddle shifters (and tried unsuccessfully for the fourth time to turn down the radio) that I realized who they created this car for: It isn’t for the sports car enthusiast, it’s for the great motoring masses. It’s for the 95% of the population who want a transportation appliance, but want to have some fun with it. They want a Camry (reliability, build-quality, convenience features, comfort) but they want paddle shifters. They don’t want a Scion because they aren’t twenty-somethings.

As a commuter car that’s fun to drive, this car gets high marks. As a premium sports-car that gets good gas mileage, I’d have to say look elsewhere. It maintains some of those go-cart characteristics that made the original new MINI so much fun, but this is no longer a hang-on-for-dear-life go-cart ride. This is one of those safe-for-all-ages de-tuned go-carts the kind that has those bumpers that go all the way around.

Hertz Shelby Mustang GT-H Review

Mustang Shelby GT-H

Forty years ago, you could walk into certain Hertz locations and rent a beast of a car. Legend has it they were often returned on Mondays with welding scars where roll cages were attached and removed after a weekend rental. If you missed out on the original, here’s your chance to at least imagine what it must of been like. I rented this one, number 135, from the Tampa International Airport Hertz location. What’s the MINI connection? I think of this car as the un-MINI: a heavy brute of a rear-wheel car, but a hoot to drive. So here’s a review from an average MINI driver. Subtle, it isn’t — power-dome hood, tie-down pins, twin exhaust, black and gold color scheme — if you are trying to maintain a low profile, this isn’t the car for you.

The nose

Turn the key and note a pleasant exhaust note. Blip the throttle, and set loose the dogs of war: power on demand at any speed. Power tamed perhaps by (lawyer-mandated) traction control you cannot turn off and an automatic transmission keen to shift too early under less than full throttle. It is still a rocket and a smooth one at that. As you glance in the rear view mirror trying to figure out why everyone else is still crossing the intersection, you’re approaching triple digits. Large brakes bring you securely to earth and the suspension is tuned just enough that you might stay on the road while you try to stop grinning like a fool.


The driving position is good, especially for a Mustang. The seats are comfortable and adjustable enough that you’ll likely find the sweet-spot. Interior design is well, Mustang-ish. I’ve never been a fan of the twin cockpit design and this interior offers nothing special. View to the rear is good (and you’ll spend a lot of time scanning the rear if you know what I mean). The view to the front and sides is a bit restricted due to the high hip design of the car and low roof line. The power-dome makes the view forward even more difficult. This is problematic at low speeds while negotiating cramped parking lots. Somehow I don’t think most drivers of this car are taking it to the mall, but it’s hard to tell where the car is as you negotiate your way out of the parking lot at the airport. On the open road, you’re scanning so far ahead you won’t care anyway.

Instrument layout is logical and easy to read. I liked the infinitely adjustable color option for the instrument lights. The fit and finish is typical Ford parts bin — not good, but perhaps good enough. I’m not a fan of the T-handle shifter which I suppose is an ode to Hurst. The emergency brake just seems to be in the wrong place, possibly to make room for the two huge cup-holders in the center console. Shelby door sill plates and a sticker on the dash remind you you’re driving a Shelby. But if you need them to remind you you’re driving a Shelby, you must be deaf and stuck in Park. The trunk opening is Mustang-small, but the volume of the trunk is surprisingly large, so bring soft-sided luggage.


The back seats are comfortable enough, but with even an average height driver, there is no legroom. It’s so cramped back there, that I think the MINI actually has more room. You don’t rent this car because you want to take four adults on a road trip down I-95. This car is about going fast. And with that goal, it’s a huge success.


Look under the hood and you see some of the Shelby touches. The photo shows the cold air intake and strut brace as the two most obvious touches. If you look closely where the arrow is pointed, you’ll notice some wire and a couple of lead seals which would indicate that you had opened a valve cover. I found that odd until I turned the car back in at the airport. Normally when you return a rental car, they look over the car with you to see if there was any damage. With this car, they pop the hood and look for the run-fast bits. The first thing they check is if the lump is there at all. Evidently, someone must have tried to do an engine swap, thinking Hertz wouldn’t notice.

The car isn’t what I’d call beautiful, but the black and gold color scheme actually works well for what the car is all about. It isn’t going to go unnoticed, however. We parked in a lot with a Ferrari 360 Modena and the most chrome infested H2 Hummer I’ve ever seen (what do you call 24 inch wheels?) The car that got the most attention of the passers-by? The Shelby. I’m not sure if that speaks more about this car or where we were in Florida. Regardless, you’ll make an impression in this car.

The bottom line: Would I want this car for my daily commute as I creep along the Beltway? No chance. Would I like to take it to the track? Where can I sign up? Driving a MINI is all about cornering speed. This beast is about straight-line speed. And more speed. The standard daily rental rate for this car is about $148/day. Search the web for BreezeNet and you can get it for about $123. Considering a Ford Focus in Tampa is about $70/day, this car was certainly worth an extra $53, but I wouldn’t rent one for a week if it were going to sit in a Disneyworld parking lot all day. Is there one single reason why you should rent one? Yes. Because you can. And in 40 years you can make your own urban myths about the Shelbys you used to rent.