Every year, Road and Track publishes their Performance Car of the Year. It’s a well put together test that accounts for objective track testing with tons of data and subjective back road enjoyment. All (?) of their writers are part of the test and they get cars loaned from some of the best marques on the planet. This is not that competition.
Full disclosure: I do not work for any companies listed in this review nor was I compensated in any way, besides the normal points you get while renting. I was going to do a review for each car but I’m lazy, then came up with this idea last night. I might make this an annual thing, though.
I rent a fair number of cars. Some for business, some for out of state weddings, or trips to see my family, some are to give me mobility on vacation, and some are just to explore the great state of California. Of the categories listed above, this competition includes one from a wedding trip, two vacation cars, one family trip, and three from spontaneous CA road trips. There are four awards that are up for grabs this inaugural year. Favorite interior, The SPAM speed award, The Zen award, and the Prestigious, Performance Rental Car of the Year award. Here are the competitors:
2017 Mustang Ecoboost Premium with Performance Pack, Out of state wedding, Memphis, TN, Borrowed from a friend with the stipulation he can drive my Ferrari next time he’s in LA
2017 Chevy Suburban: Vacation, Napa Valley, National Rental Car
201x Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Vacation, Oahu, Budget Rental Car
2018 Mazda Miata RF, CA road trip, National Rental Car
2018 Mustang GT Convertible, CA road trip, National Rental Car
2018 Mustang GT Convertible, Family trip, Denver, CO, National Rental Car
2019 Camaro V6, CA road trip, National Rental Car
Looking at the list of cars, I know you have some questions. Namely, why are there TWO SUVs in the Performance Rental Car of the Year Competition? Also, why do you have so many Mustangs? First of all, this is my post so I’ll do what I want. Secondly, and less important, the Wrangler, in my mind, is a performance vehicle, but for off-road, and the Suburban is really expensive new and has a Big Ass V8™. On paper, that means it’s a performance vehicle. And for the Mustangs? No comment. Anyway, let’s get on with this. Starting with a description of the vehicle and the details of the rental
2017 Mustang Ecoboost Premium:
Car Details: Grabber Blue, Manual, Performance Pack, and a few other fun upgrades. Toys included a big touch screen with Apple Car Play, Adjustable gauge colors, Mustang logo puddle lights, A nice sound system, and heated/cooled leather seats.
What I liked: Pretty much everything. I might have played a hand in convincing my friend to buy this exact car. It was plenty quick, looked good, had plenty of toys, and returned great fuel mileage.
What I didn’t like: Four cylinder turbos are not known for their sound. This car, sadly, is no exception, especially with stock exhaust.
Rental trip details: I was back in Tennessee for a close friend’s wedding back in January. I mostly planned on bumming rides all weekend until my friend offered to just loan me his car. I drove it most of a Friday while he was at work and it got me to all my required destinations such as picking up my tux, rehearsal dinner, a sweet tea run, and various other little trips because I was bored. Driving around was pretty tame but spirited. I kept to most local laws and ordinances and took care of the car since it was my friend’s daily driver.
2017 Chevy Suburban:
Car Details: Silver with black leather. 2+3+2 configuration, 4WD, LT trim. Toys: Touchscreen with Carplay/Android Auto, sunroof, heated front seats, backup camera, parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure, and a pretty bangin’ stereo.
What I liked: The size made the trip easy. We could fit 7 adults into one car. It made it easy to go to many wineries. Also, it returned better than expected fuel mileage.
What I didn’t like: The size. This thing is a Bigly family truckster. Parallel parking in a small city center isn’t really possible.
Rental trip details: We rented this to cart people from our Airbnb to wineries. We had the car for 3 days. It rained most of the time and some roads were really muddy. We even got to use 4Hi for soft roading. We needed something Yuuuge to fit everyone and their crap.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited:
Car Details: Black, 4 doors, hard top with an easily removable front part. Toys: power windows and locks and sunshine for the front seats via the removable top.
What I liked: Topless sunshine, the high ride height, the simple doors, and the 4WD that allowed me to park in a bigass muddy puddle for a hike. It also fit boards, coolers, and beach crap in the back.
What I didn’t like: At first, everything. The ride was rough, it was slow, NO BLUETOOTH (!!), kinda hard to street-park, and bad gas mileage.
Rental trip details: My family decided to go on vacation in Hawaii. My grandpa lives on the North Shore of Oahu so we’ve all been out, but never together. This is a nightmare scenario for me. My brother and his GF aren’t really active or early risers, my mom and step-dad are old and not very mobile, and my cousin isn’t really active either. With all of that to navigate, and staying under one roof at a family friend’s townhouse, I figured I should rent something. It would allow me to go on hikes or other adventures around the island while everyone dicked around until, like noon. It was also my plan to show my brother, his GF, and my cousin cool spots I previously found on the island. But that didn’t really happen after I took my brother on one easy hike the first day. That was too much for them, apparently. ANYHOOOO, I rented the cheapest thing available at budget, and then used rugged good looks and irresistible charm to score a free upgrade. And by that, I mean I went to the counter and they gave me keys to what happened to be the Wrangler.
2018 Mazda Miata RF:
Car Details: White with black leather, touring trim. Toys: Navigation, responsive dual clutch transmission, blind spot and lane departure nannies, and the neat power targa top
What I liked: The steering, confidence inspiring handling, the open air experience with the top down, the quietness with the top up, and the small, chuckable package.
What I didn’t like: Lack of storage space on the inside, the location of the power top switch, and the two things they changed for 2018. It really did need a bit more power and a telescoping wheel.
Rental trip details: I had a free rental day that was expiring in a week and a weekend with no plans. I text a friend on the central coast and decide to go for a little road trip and spend the night. I’ve always wanted to take a certain route with fun roads so I hoped National had something cool. The free day was only for a midsize (their emerald aisle) so I figured I would have to pay to upgrade to something fun. Once again, I got lucky and the lot manager gave me the car for free.
2018 Mustang GT Convertible:
Car Details: White on white, 460 HP V8, RWD. All the same toys as the EB mustang above but this had the 10 speed auto.
What I liked: The sound. Even with the stock exhaust, it was loud, brash, and intoxicating. I liked the ability to drop the top before it was too hot outside and I liked all the Gimmicks mustangs come with. (gauges, lighting, etc.) Although I liked the pre facelift styling better, overall, I like the style. Also, the line lock feature is a neat party trick if you aren’t paying for tires.
What I didn’t like: The gas mileage, and the range. Even after filling up the max range the computer would spit out was 250 miles. I think I averaged about 15 MPG. Also, as bad as this sounds coming from a self-proclaimed “car enthusiast”, I didn’t really think I needed the amount of power this car had. It’s too fast for my maturity level while being driven on the street. Also, I managed to overheat the engine slightly while driving aggressive in the heat while running the AC. Maybe Ford shouldn’t have tried to squeeze more out of the already lovely Coyote.
Rental trip details: Much like the Miata above, I rented this car purely to go on a weekend cruise. The same origin, destination, and pretty much the same roads. This time however, Wrong Wheel Drive decided to join in the fun. I sadly did not get a free upgrade but was able to haggle down to $20 extra a day. This seemed worth it but I made sure to get my money’s worth in tire usage. WWD wrote about the trip here.
2018 Mustang GT Convertible: (No, you aren’t reading double. I rented another one of these)
Car Details: Dark blue with brown leather. Everything else is the same as the previous GT except this one had close to 40k rental miles.
What I liked: I loved the style of this car. The color combination is one of my favorites. I still loved the V8. Range was less of an issue because I mostly used it around town. I filled up once and got about the same 15 MPG. Too much power wasn’t really an issue at 5000 feet. I don’t know how many ponies it lost, but this felt a lot more balanced than the last one.
What I didn’t like: This car had a rough life. The hood wouldn’t close properly (didn’t see any external damage), it smelled like something was burning when you turned it off (didn’t overheat though!), and there was something bad going on with the 10 speed.
Rental trip details: I was visiting my oldest brother in Denver for his annual wine and cheese party. Both brothers with their SO’s were there, plus two people I brought along. We needed another car so free rental credits were used. This car was in the asile covered by the rate we booked. So essentially it was a free upgrade. I guess no one wanted a RWD V8 convertible in Colorado in November. Their loss.
2019 Camaro V6:
Car Details: Rental spec, black with gray cloth seats. Toys: touch screen with Carplay/Android Auto and power seats. Not many amenities but that is not what this car is about.
What I liked: The Chassis and the Powertrain. The car handled great, steering felt really good in sport mode, and the 8 speed auto did a pretty good job when in manual mode. I think this should be the benchmark for affordable sports cars. If this had the 1LZ (??) performance package, I think this would be the perfect driver’s car. The V6 sounded pretty decent and got respectable gas mileage on the highway. Keep your V8’s, this is the one to get.
What I didn’t like: Everything everyone has said about the visibility is absolutely correct. Who in the hell approved this thing? Also, there is very little storage space inside, the trunk opening was tiny, and I do not like the way the car looks. You got so close, GM.
Rental trip details: This was purely another fun trip. I had a friend in town and we both wanted to go up to the central coast. He agreed that he wanted to take the fun route. I let him drive about half of the trip. We both agreed the trip and the car were exactly what the doctor ordered.
With each car introduced, let us get on with it. As I mentioned above, there are four awards that I will be, er, awarding. I believe all four categories to be important to a car. The interior is where you spend the most time in a car. It should look nice and be functional. The Zen award is all about how well rounded a car is, and how it would perform with mixed duties. The SPAM speed award is rewards the quickest vehicle here. Finally, I will name the Performance Rental Car of the Year.
Favorite interior: 2018 Mustang GT, Denver Colorado
I alluded to this above, but I loved the two tone leather, big integrated touch screen, chrome toggle switches, and all the options for interior lighting. There was plenty of storage for a car of this size and the seats comfortable and supporting.
The SPAM speed award: 2018 Mustang GT, Central California
This car really was that fast. At one point in the middle of nowhere, I looked down and was traveling at [REDACTED] MPH. I don’t really want to go that fast, but I appreciate that I could.
The Zen award:
Also known as the best balanced car. This should handle all your daily needs as well as be fun to drive. This year, it was a close call between the Boostang and the V6 Camaro. Both had compromises as well as strong points. The Camaro’s handling and steering feel were amazing, even on generic all season tires. The Boostang had much more luxury and style, with similar performance. The Camaro is honestly more fun to drive but is a nightmare in the practicality department. Abysmal visibility and zero storage space, knock this car out of the running. Therefore, I must bow to our winner of the Zen award, the 2017 Mustang EB Premium. Namaste
Finally the moment we all scrolled past the #content to see, SPAMBot’s 2018 Performance Rental Car of the Year.
The vehicle to win this year’s award may be surprising, or it may have been painfully obvious. This award isn’t really about things you can measure. It’s about a feeling you have towards the equipment you were given to complete your trip. It can be which vehicle made you smile, even while dealing with family, what vehicle performed its purpose the best, or even which car you wanted to buy as soon as you got home. This year, however, is none of those. I don’t particularly want to buy this car, or live with on a daily basis. It’s not the fastest, or the most practical. But, driving this car, on my trip, was better than anything I could ever ask for. The trip was perfect, and the rental was a big reason why. This vehicle is the 2018 Mazda Miata RF.
But since you will ask in the comments, here are my “everyone gets a ribbon” awards:
Car that made me smile while dealing with Family: Jeep Wrangler. Driving around Hawaii with part of the roof off was amazing. I don’t think I’d ever buy a Jeep, but I get it why you would.
Vehicle that performed its function the best: Suburban. It’s hard to transport 6 wine drunk adults, plus the driver. Plus, you can get it really sideways with the TC off on a damp road. Allegedly.
Car you liked more than you thought you would: 2018 Camaro. I don’t like the styling, the lack of storage, or the terrible visibility, but damn this car was a hoot to drive.