An Interview With Stephan Wilkinson
Wilkinson is the automobiles editor atCondé Nast Traveler and author of Man and Machine: The Best of Stephan Wilkinson (The Lyons Press).
So often, rental cars are an afterthought—the last thing you arrange for a busy holiday. But they can really make the vacation. I once spent a week driving a Maserati and a tiny Opel around Italy. As great as that sports car was on the open road, the Opel was even better; it was lively, fun, and perfect for navigating little Tuscan towns.
• __ Take it for a spin.__ Be adventurous and rent something new; it could be the highlight of your trip. If you’re in California, for instance, driving a convertible on the Pacific Coast Highway is gorgeous. It’s worth seeking out that little BMW you’ve wanted to try. In Europe, there’s a whole world of new cars to rent. Ask for a manual transmission or a model you’ve never heard of. That’s how I ended up behind the wheel of that Opel.
• __ Go exotic.__ It used to be that high-end and vintage cars—Mercedes, Porsches, Corvettes—were only available in major cities, but now small firms throughout the country carry them, too. The best way to find them is to Google “rent exotic cars” and the name of the town you’re visiting. Since these companies often lease privately owned cars, ask the agent for the model, year, mileage, and the date when it was last serviced so you can get a sense of what kind of shape the car is in. And it’s crucial to make sure they offer full insurance.
• __ Ban the sedan.__ Renting from one of the large companies doesn’t mean you’ll end up in a boring subcompact. I like Enterprise because it’s the largest car-rental company in the country and has 120 models—Mercedes, Mini Cooper, Prius, and so on. If you don’t have a specific vehicle in mind, ask the agent what her favorite car is. Many companies now have a fancy line of cars intended for their VIPs, but you can get in on it, too. Hertz’s Prestige Line includes Volvos, Audis, Jaguars, Ford Mustangs, and a bunch of muscle cars that cost a bit extra to rent.
• __ Get a green machine. __ Agencies have added hybrids to their fleets at the same prices as standard cars—and I find that they are actually more interesting to drive. Just be wary of hybrid SUVs. Many get the same highway mileage as a regular SUV. If you haven’t driven a hybrid before, be sure to get a tutorial from the company.
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