America's Coolest Rental Cars
Let’s face it: nobody who daydreams of a Los Angeles vacation envisions riding around in a poky four-door Dodge. Even if you have one at home—and even if you love it—how much more fun would it be to zoom along the Pacific Coast Highway in a Ford Mustang Selby? Or down Wiltshire Boulevard in a ’63 Cadillac convertible, the ragtop down and those gorgeous tail fins turning heads at every red light?
Time was, the only rental cars available to travelers were generic sedans meant to offer function and value—with a minimum of flash. But now, more agencies—from Hertz and Avis to more specialized companies—are filling their fleets with cool rental cars that make their customers’ automotive dreams come true.
“The biggest improvement to the domestic rental market has been the upgrade to better models,” says Evelyn Kanter, travel writer, automotive industry expert, and the editor of car-and-travel.com. As well as benefiting the rental agencies that get a higher resale value when it’s time to upgrade their fleets, says Kanter, fantasy cars please customers who expect features like power windows and keyless entry in their own vehicles.
Of course, it’s a big step up from power windows to the features that define America’s coolest rental cars, like the fine leather interiors and purring engine of a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé. Or the sleek lines and formidable acceleration (490 horses’ worth) of a convertible Ferrari F430. But if you’re looking to fulfill your childhood dream of driving a classically gorgeous car—or just to make a serious impression next time you visit your in-laws—rental agencies across the country are ready to cater to those whims.
Just remember, everyone’s idea of an awe-inspiring ride is different. A gearhead like Adam Ferrara, cohost of Top Gear USA, for example, gets revved up only by truly exotic vehicles.
“It’s really cool that you can rent supercars,” Ferrara admits. But “if you really want to impress me, offer historic military vehicles…. I would like to rent a 1944 Sherman Tank to see if I could beat Patton’s time to Bastogne.”
Until then, we’ll just have to make do with these cool rental cars.
Fast? Yes. Flashy? Yes. Ostentatious? Oh, yes. But if your dream is to drive a Lamborghini, spring for the Italian automaker’s flagship vehicle, the two-door, ultra-high-performance Murcielago. Just 4,099 were produced between 2000 and 2010. This $350,000 coupe is powered by a finely tuned V12 engine that rockets you from zero to 60 in less than four seconds.
Rent It: Exotic Car Rental—a rental network with member agencies across the U.S.—can put you behind the wheel of a Murcielago for approximately $2,500 per day, or a more affordable Lamborghini Gallardo for about $1,400 per day. Insurance is extra.
This classic American sports car may have suffered through a few years of ignominy (ahem, the entire ’80s and ’90s), but today’s Vette is roaring back and earning rave reviews. Credit goes partly to the six-liter V8 that pumps more than 400 horsepower through the vehicle’s relatively light frame. There’s also the design. With its low-slung grill and wide hips, the sixth-generation Corvette is at once a trip down memory lane—where the legendary Sting Ray is still considered by many to be the ultimate Corvette—and a step into the future.
Rent It: Avis has offered the Corvette as a “Cool Car” since 2008. The company has also added the Camaro SS—another American legend recently resurrected by Chevrolet. Rent either for approximately $220 per day, including taxes.
Rated at 13mpg, the convertible Ferrari F430 won’t make you any friends among environmentalists, but that’s the price of driving a vehicle that shares DNA with the world’s ultimate supercar, the Ferrari Enzo. Though it’s no longer in production, the F430 is still the model for drivers who choose performance over preening, with a design that’s cool but restrained, stunning but not garish. Still, tucked away behind you and one lucky passenger is a V8 powerhouse (jointly developed by Ferrari and Maserati) that can propel you to 200 mph. Not that you should try.
The open-sided, three-wheeled, two-seater Campagna T-Rex is more motorcycle than car, but it’s also a fun, fast drive for brave gearheads. Bikers will be more comfortable with the six-speed manual transmission, but everyone should double-check their seatbelts. Though this Canadian-built road toy is powered by a modest 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, its light weight and small profile means it can do zero-to-60 in less than four seconds. Top speed? 150mph.
Rent It: I-95 Exotics and several other agencies across the U.S. will rent this car for about $500 per day.
Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR
Not only is the McLaren SLR one of the world’s most expensive production cars, it’s one of the finest grand touring cars ever made. Combining Mercedes’ high standards for luxury and comfort with the high-performance expertise of sports automotive specialists McLaren, the SLR was an instant hit among enthusiasts (even if few were able to afford its $450,000 price tag). While most cars powered by a 617hp, supercharged V8 engine will rattle your skull, the engineers at Mercedes-Benz paid ample attention to the interior, too. The result: a Formula 1 car outfitted to five-star standards.
Rent It: Drive this legend for about $3,000 per day through Gotham Dream Cars and other specialty rental agencies.
Can’t justify spending thousands to rent the incomparable McLaren SLR, but still want to experience the cool, calm thrill of a finely tuned Mercedes-Benz? Skip the dreaded C-class (known as the Baby Benz for good reason) and stick to the classy, stylish E-class, which is often compared to the classic W123 from the 1980s. Indeed, many reviewers and Benz fans consider the current E-class a return to form for the German automaker—a proud step back to a time when Mercedes-Benz made boxy-looking but peerlessly engineered cars. The classic four-door has come a long way: the new E-class is equipped with many of the safety features that first debuted in the higher-end S-class, such as pelvic air bags and variable agility control.
Rent It: Available for less than $200 per day (plus taxes) through Hertz’s Prestige Collection.
1960s Cadillac Convertible
There’s something about driving around Los Angeles that makes you want a better car. This Caddy is your chance to roll like a rock star—a rock star with good taste, that is, and maybe a leather jacket and a pompadour.
Rent It: Visit Beverly Hills Rent-a-Car. In addition to contemporary upscale vehicles (think: Bentley, Rolls), its fleet includes several mid-century Cadillac convertibles. The 1963 is a white beauty with restored leather interior and, of course, a ragtop that’s ready to fold away under the bright L.A. sunshine. Want more flash? Rent the 1966 convertible Cadillac DeVille—white leather on the inside, bold red on the outside. From $549 to $695 per day, plus taxes.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé
While some Rolls-Royce models have been assembled by Volkswagen and BMW over the years, the Phantom Drophead Coupé is built to order in England, just like the original 1904 10hp. Perhaps that’s why it’s considered by many the ultimate gentleman’s automobile. Think back to those iconic “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?” commercials—this is a direct descendant of that car.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT
For many red-blooded American gearheads, the ultimate muscle car is the Mustang Shelby GT350, built between 1965 and 1970. But though original examples of this model are today all owned by collectors, fans of raw fossil-fueled power can rent the GT350’s descendant, the Shelby GT. True to its roots, the car is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 capable of cranking out 325hp and 330 foot-pounds of torque. In other words, it’s tough and quick.
Smart Fortwo Coupé
Cool cars needn’t be gas-guzzling monsters custom-built by Italian engineers who live on racetracks. These days, “cool” can mean something else entirely—particularly if you’re small enough to fit inside a Mini Cooper with room to spare. So check out a Smart Car, the tiny, fuel-efficient two-seater that has been popular in Europe for years. With the price of gasoline ever volatile (and often rising), you’ll welcome the Smart’s 33 city and 41 highway mpg rating. Considering this model was originally named the City-Coupé, though, you might want to keep it off fast, busy highways.
Rent It: Budget can help you get Smart.