They're cheap, efficient and utterly bland

Jonathan Glancey has spent a year using hire cars without an inkling of driving pleasure

Economically, renting rather than buying a car might make sense - but it is any fun? Over the past year, I have had the opportunity, courtesy of Budget, Avis and Godfrey-Davis, to drive almost every variety of new Ford, Vauxhall and Nissan. Not one of them has offered even an inkling of driving pleasure. Some, like the Mondeo and Cavalier, sport helpful plastic coathooks over the back door in an unconvincing attempt to make up for this spoilsport character. All (save the modest Nissan Micra) boast speedometers that read up to Stirling Moss speeds as if encouraging drivers to put their foot down.

In the summer I needed to rent a car to drive to a friend's wedding in Oxfordshire. I collected a car, jumped in and drove off. Ninety minutes later, I parked it in a field with a crowd of others. When it came to offering fellow guests a lift back to London, however, I was unable to find it. The car I had driven earlier that day was so utterly bland that I had no idea what make it was. In the end, I knew it had to be the blue Fiat Punto because it was the only small car left in the field by the time most of the guests had gone.

This is not to say that the Fiat Punto is a bad car. Far from it. Like many small motors used by rent-a-car companies, it is competent, secure and a doddle to drive. Yet this was the first time I had driven a car without remembering what it was. It was not, however, the first time I had driven a car and forgotten what it was like to drive. In fact, I have forgotten the character of virtually every car I have hired in the last year.

Admittedly, in years past, I have remembered rented cars for all the wrong reasons. It would be difficult to forget the Morris Marina 1.3L that not only had a tendency to skid on the most subtle bends in the road, but broke down in foul weather when the heater was switched on with the wipers and side lights on. "The alternator's packed up," said the man from the AA. "You shouldn't have switched everything on at once." Presumably experienced Marina owners had the knack of motoring in driving rain with the wipers parked to save putting an undue load on the vehicle's feeble electrics.

I remember, too, a Fiat Panda with bald tyres and occasional brakes in southern Italy (fun on the hairpins), a Moskvitch with a sticky throttle in a Moscow rainstorm, a Daihatsu jeep hopping with giant tree frogs in Cuba, and a 5-litre Chevvy Classic Caprice in Canada that spun on its lazy axis whenever it encountered snow - handy, as you can imagine, on the backroads of Ontario at Christmas.

But, all these were in another time - the years of big, bad British Leyland - or in countries far away where such gremlins must be expected in the course of a colourful holiday. Today's hire cars are uniformly, erm, uniform. You can jump from the driving seat of one to another without having to relearn the controls. Perhaps this is sensible, safe and efficient - but it is also very boring.

All the cars I have recently hired can be thrashed along at high speeds, all have the same rubbery gearshifts, smelly plastic mouldings and seat covers that look as if they have been pinched from a high street branch of a building society. All are a little ragged if pushed fast around corners, and none is happy on poorly made roads.

The only car of the 20 or so I have hired that has had anything like a decent engine and chassis (the Ford Mondeo V6) was let down by an interior so dull that it would make a Trust House Forte hotel room look like a set from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

I do not want to buy another car. Hiring is cheaper and it makes more sense than owning a car: no problems with parking, resident's permit, servicing, tax, insurance and so on. And yet the numbing blandness of hire cars could be enough to drive me back into the world of precise gears, characterful engines, aromatic leather, responsive steering. And no more of that all-pervading smell of lavatory freshener when you open the door.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Computer Futures

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures (an SThree br...

    SEN Learning Support Assistant

    £60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

    IT Technician - 1st Line

    £19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

    PPA Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London