Tag Archives: rental

2013 VW Jetta

2013 VW Jetta SE

2013 VW Jetta SE

The other day I had to take my car in for repairs and received a brand new 2013 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 SE as a loaner. I was not too impressed with it. I remember test driving a previous generation Rabbit and Jetta a few years ago and those were good cars. The older model felt solidly built with nice materials. The new Jetta just felt hollow and it could be felt in minor parts like the turn signal and shifter, which was surprising.

This Jetta was equipped with a 2.5L inline 5 making 170 hp and 177 ft-lbs of torque. The 2.5L accelerated the car quickly with all the torque. It helped that the car weighed around 3000 pounds. Handling around the corners had minimal float and stuck to its course like it was on rails. It had a nice tight turning radius as well. I couldn’t tell that it had a non-independent rear suspension, but then again I didn’t try and push it very hard either.

My loaner was equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission, which felt like a nice break from driving a stick. The transmission in this car is probably the best automatic transmission I’ve ever driven. It shifts very smoothly under normal driving. Downshifts are lazy like any other automatic transmission, but it’s not jarring unless the accelerator is floored. The gears are spaced close together so it doesn’t feel like it’s losing a lot of steam during the shift. Sixth gear on the automatic is geared close to fifth gear on the manual so the closer gears are better.

The car has a nice feature where there is a detent on the lower 25% of travel on the accelerator. When the pedal hits the detent, you can push the pedal a little bit harder and the car goes into ludicrous speed! As much as I wished it went plaid, the extra 25% of pedal travel just activates the transmission kick-down (drops it from 6th gear to 3rd gear for extra acceleration).

The shifter has a manual-shift mode which was as lame as all other automatics with manual shift. I suppose it’s useful for hills, but for daily driving in traffic it’s not that fun. I just left it in drive and let the computer shift for me because that’s what automatics are built for: to drive mindlessly through traffic. The shifter also felt too light which made it feel as if I was playing Daytona USA in the arcade.

The interior felt cramped inside since I’m used to driving a bigger car, but the seat was comfortable. The seats were “leatherette”, which is vinyl made to look like leather. In the 100 degree Texas sun, that thing burned as soon as I sat down! That is why I don’t buy cars with leather/vinyl seats. The air conditioner was also one of the weakest A/C units I’ve ever had to deal with. On Max A/C, it was blowing a good amount of air, but it wasn’t very cold. It’s interesting that the larger Passat with the same engine has a much colder A/C system.

The Jetta is good basic transportation. It’s designed for those that don’t need the latest, greatest, flashiest gadgets. It’s a basic car. It looks and operates like a car without much complication. The 2.5L and 6-speed automatic have been around for years and have been proven to be reliable units so it is likely that the car will last a while. The styling, while a little conservative compared to its contemporaries, will probably not be dated in a few years. However, it does not feel too competitive with the current crop of compact cars. It’s not even very competitive with the last iteration of the Jetta. The quality of materials aren’t there, but the fit and finish still is. I considered buying a MK6 (2011-2013) Jetta once, but the lack of some features and the overall cheapness of it compared to the MK5 (2006-2010) Jetta was just too much of a bummer. It is a nice rental car if you can get it.

Surprising Win: 2012 Hyundai Sonata

2012 Hyundai Sonata in red

2012 Hyundai Sonata in red

Arriving at the airport, I had a choice of a Chevy HHR (which I had already driven) or a Chrysler 200 (puke!) in my class. Fortunately for me, this red Sonata was parked near the Chrysler so I decided to upgrade to this for my weekend ride. It already looks like a much higher quality car than the marque suggests and it certainly couldn’t be worse than the Chevys I’ve had. Color me impressed because I’ve never considered owning a Hyundai, but this car just go bumped up my list of new cars I’d buy.

The thing that impressed me the most was that this car is a 4 cylinder, but you’d never know it! For most of the trip the car was loaded with five adults, luggage, with the A/C on. Driving in southern California requires a lot of quick maneuvers and this car took it like a champ! It accelerated like a bat out of hell without any lag or buzzy-ness that you’d normally get with a 4 cylinder. It handled real well during lane changes without much body roll. Cruising at speed was extremely smooth. Sometimes I’d get up to 80 MPH, but it felt like I was going a lot slower. There was virtually no wind or road noise. We were able to maintain a nice conversation without having to shout.

What’s interesting is that it looks like a small car from the outside, drives like a small car from the driver’s seat, and inside it kind of feels like a small car from the waist up, but there was gobs of legroom for all passengers. I was able to stretch out my legs without putting the seat all the way back! The trunk was very spacious as well, but the trunk opening was short resulting in a small opening. The interior trim and materials felt top-notch especially with the subtle details like the brushed texture on the dash and door panels. The dash had a very cool multi-colored LCD info center in the gauge cluster adding to the luxurious aura. The projector headlights had a nice sharp cut-off for the bright-as-sun beams. The headlights turned off with the engine so it was hard to remember to turn off the lights in the day time (because it made the radio and cluster dim). I was also surprised to see a foot-pedal parking brake since import cars typically have handbrakes. It felt like a higher class car than it should be.

One thing I did not like was the stereo. The display was incredibly hard to read at night since it had a dark blue backlight with black LCD text. I did not test the sound, but getting to the sound settings was not as intuitive as it should have been. The bass/treble settings were buried in a menu where other radios allow access from a button. It did have XM radio, which was pretty convenient. I’m also not a fan of how the Asian carmakers put the headlight switch on the turn signal stick, but now I’m just nitpicking.

The positives clearly outweigh the negatives here. It’s an underdog as Hyundai has been winning awards and gaining consumer confidence with their products, but it’s still got the stigma of being crappy from past decades. I can definitely see and feel the Honda-like quality in this Sonata and while I would have never considered looking at it before, I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

Chevy Cobalt

Chevy Cobalt in red

Chevy Cobalt in red

Add yet another Chevy to my rental car list. I recently received a bright-red Chevy Cobalt and while it was lackluster, it was better than the alternative: an Aveo and an Accent. This car was about a year old with 30,000 miles on it, but it had automatic headlights, power windows, power locks, a decent A/C, and a radio with an aux-in. Now this car had been ridden hard and put away wet long before I received it. This was a classic GM beater: a true descendant of the Cavalier. It was designed to be abused by everyone and it held up pretty well so far.

The SneezeGuard™ steering was minimal, but it was equipped with SuperSqueeker™ tires. Squealing around corners always makes any car feel like a race car. It actually handled well for a small, crappy car meaning it didn’t feel like a brick on Jello. The acceleration, however, was lacking. It was adequate when empty, but when loaded with three other people of normal size, the car had half the power. When floored, it felt like a turtle pulling a wagon full of bricks. All my moves had to planned in advance, just like the U-Haul.

Braking was average. It had a firmer brake pedal feel than I’m use to, but I adjusted quickly. I did not realized it did not have anti-lock brakes until it was almost too late. I was in the left lane traveling at a high rate of speed behind a Corolla. To my right was a large pickup truck pulling a trailer and to my left was the Jersey barrier. The Corolla suddenly braked so I got on the brakes hard. I locked up all the wheels and the car started to fishtail causing a nice smoke show behind me. I’m pretty sure I freaked out everyone behind me. At that moment I told myself “I am not going to die in this shitty little car!” so I kept calm and miraculously I recovered without hitting anything. It was amazing!

To sum it up, this car takes abuse like none other. It’s perfect for students and people who don’t care about cars. I suppose that’s why it’s a rental car.


The smallest U-Haul you can get

The smallest U-Haul you can get

It’s that time of the year again where moving van rentals peak. Take a look at the beautiful specimen above. Looks pretty sporty with that swoopy orange swipe, right? I can assure you it is as sporty as a brick on Jello. After driving one of these beasts I feel for truck drivers an others that have to rent a moving van.

First of all, not having a rear-view mirror dead-center in the windshield and the view of metal when turning your head around is a bit discomforting. You MUST rely on the mirrors to see behind you. Thankfully, this van has four mirrors: the two standard rear-view mirrors and two blind-spot mirrors right below the regular mirrors. When adjusted correctly, you have a very good panoramic view of what’s going on behind you. From what I’ve realized, people just love to hang in that blind spot. I would not see them in the regular mirrors, but the blind-spot mirror would reveal them. I’m pretty sure others that rent these vans never adjust the mirrors correctly to see people hiding in the blind spot. Now imagine the people renting the bigger vans. Normally, one would need a commercial driver’s license to drive such a large van, but the companies rent them out to anybody with a regular driver’s license. That means someone who’s accustomed to driving a Honda Civic is able to drive a truck the size of a house. The amount of training of driving the truck can be measured in minutes. That is a good reason to avoid driving near a moving van!

While the van I had is the smallest van that most places will rent, it is still the biggest vehicle I’ve ever driven. The brake pedal can be described as stepping on a wet sponge. I swear, there was absolutely no braking at all until the pedal was half-way down. The acceleration was actually pretty good, even when loaded. It’s no race car, but it lumbered up to speed decently like every other V8 I’ve driven. It was fine and dandy until driving it on the freeway. It struggles to do 65 MPH and combined with the SneezeGuard™ steering and shaky vibration, it was not a very pleasant ride. I also had to have an exit strategy at all times. That means always keeping track of what cars are around me by checking the mirrors constantly and trying not to tailgate as if I panic-stopped I would probably end up stopping ten feet in front of the car I’m following. It was kind of nice to sit up higher than most trucks and SUVs though. That gave me some sort of advantage to look farther down the road.

If you ever have to drive a moving van, I’ll feel for you. Take precautions and stay safe! And avoid being around other moving vans like the plague!