Around the Memorial day holiday, I had a trip to Europe with my girlfriend. During this trip we had two rental cars, one in Norway and one in Italy. These cars were both among the cheapest options at Sixt and Budget so they were nothing special. However, it was interesting trying out some manual cars with odd quirks that I would probably never find in the US.

Only picture I got of the car.

The first was an Opel Corsa 5-door in Bergen, Norway. We only had this car for a day but it was interesting to drive this car around. Being a 1.3L diesel, this thing was pretty slow and had a red line of about 4500 RPMs. That low redline was foreign to me but makes sense for the motor. It was raining pretty much the whole day in Norway so we were very happy to have a comfortable vehicle to drive around Hardanger Fjord a bit and navigate all of the roundabouts along the way. Lots of trunk space for luggage and it was nice to have the hatch for access. Hatches seem so much less common in the States! I am aware that Opel is a GM product but I don’t believe the Corsa is a direct platform for any US products, correct me if I am wrong.

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After Norway, we continued on to fly to Rome and spend the rest of the trip in Italy. After three days in Rome, we headed to Termini train station and picked up a rental car from Budget. I was trying to get an upgrade to something interesting but all they really had were big automatic sedans and wagons, most of which were American cars (Ford mostly). So I ended up settling with the original option given, the SMART ForFour!

This little thing was a bit peppier than the Opel thanks to the 1.0L 3 cylinder gas engine and again a 5 speed manual transmission. Getting out of Rome with this thing was fun, it is a pretty good city car with plenty of low gear acceleration to help dodge all of the mopeds. Driving here in Italy was a lot less civilized than Norway but it was about on par with driving in NYC or LA.

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On the highway, the SMART handled itself well enough and didn’t feel like I was driving a golf cart. Sure the ForTwo probably would have felt that way but the ForFour is basically a normal car, especially by European standards. Cargo room was tight but since we only had carryon luggage, it was sufficient. I found it odd that the car had no tachometer but the car at least liked to be revved and actually sounded pretty decent when doing so. I spent plenty of time in Tuscany and the Amalfi coast with the car banging through 1st and 2nd gears to keep things moving. Thanks to the tiny towns we passed through, the car never really felt small but I was very glad it wasn’t large either. Idk how we would have made it through Positano in some sort of SUV...

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This car was actually willing to be pushed hard enough to be enjoyable. During one day of the trip, we drove from Siena to Florence via SR222. This road started out as dirt and rocks where we were coming from but eventually it was a proper twisty and challenging mountain road. I very much wished for my Miata in that scenario but the SMART was still able to be fun with constant downshifting and hard turning. Many bicyclists were out and in the way (just like the US, guess they suck everywhere) but at least passing them was easy enough.

I didn’t realize until I got home though how light the steering and clutch were and also how high up the seating position is. This was immediately apparent when I got in my Miata in NJ to drive home. My clutch felt like it was 100 pounds, the steering wheel felt like there was no power assisting it, and I thought I was sitting on the pavement. Normally I don’t notice any of that while daily driving it but the European cars really reminded me that the Miata is a proper fun car.

Oh and auto stop/start with a manual is really weird and annoying! Both cars had it. Every time I put the car in neutral (slowing to a stop) the car would shut off and wait until I hit the clutch pedal again to turn back on. Maybe this saves emissions? But it was really annoying in stop-n-go traffic because the car would cycle between on/off multiple times a minute. Cant imagine that does good things for the starter. Maybe the car expects me to stand on the clutch and leave it in gear? Idk about y'all but I prefer to never sit in gear, I will always just throw it in neutral even for short bursts of waiting.