Hire cars. You’ve got to feel sorry for them. They get thrashed mercilessly by a succession of drivers who really couldn’t care less about them, each one casually handing back the keys safe in the knowledge they’ll never have to drive that car again. You can see why hire cars usually end up being base models. Anything with fancy alloys and expensive paintwork would just end up being trashed.
I was reminded recently of the hire cars we used to have on our family holidays, usually a budget model thrown in as part of the package deal. They tended to be small Fiats (I remember at last three Pandas)painted in white or faded red paint, and the only luxury features they had were opening windows and an interior fan that was about as powerful as a sparrow’s fart.
One of the most memorable cars we had was a tiny Fiat 126, equipped with little more than a 2-cylinder 652cc petrol engine. The resulting 23bhp was barely enough to move the car with just the driver in it, never mind a family of four and their beach clutter. The air-cooled, rear-mounted engine buzzed away loudly but produced very little forward motion and the slightest incline could wipe out any momentum that had been built up.
It’s a long time since I had a hire car for holiday and it was only when I started looking for car hire in Mallorca for a friend that I realised just how far the hire car has come. Nowadays you’re almost guaranteed to get something with at least 60bhp, and you stand a good chance of getting air conditioning too.
The current favourites for holidaymakers on a budget are the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107. To all intents they’re identical, both powered by 1.0-litre engines with 68bhp and both can just fit four adults and a bit of luggage.
But the C1 and the 107 could soon face a threat from three newcomers who offer an even more complete driving package. These are are the triplets from Skoda, SEAT and Volkswagen. The Citigo, Mii and Up! are all perfect candidates for cheap holiday transport and yet the driving experience they offer is positively luxurious compared to twenty years ago.
Their cheeky 3-cylinder engines are great fun and can propel them along at a reasonable rate. Proper sound-proofing comes as standard and most models have air conditioning too! They handle well, are fun to drive – qualities that were sadly lacking in those early hire cars. These triplets are also relatively cheap to buy so should appeal to penny-pinching hire fleet managers.
So if you find yourself being handed the keys to one at the airport, don’t complain – things are so much better than when I were a lad.