On the weekend before Thanksgiving, Bryan Jennings and myself, Max Katsarelas rented a couple of cars and took road trips. Bryan drove to Virginia Beach in a Mazda3 sedan and I went to East Lansing, Michigan in a Chevrolet Cruz. For Bryan, it would be a round trip of about 800 miles. For me, it would be a round trip of about 1700 miles. Total driving time for the two of us combined was over 40 hours.
That was a lot of time to get to know our respective cars. We broke down our reviews into five categories: gas mileage, ride comfort, review of Hertz rental agency, tech gadgetry and the overall experience. Make the jump to see the Mazda3 square off against the Chevy Cruz in the first edition of Battling Rental Cars.
Max: The Cruz LT I rented with a 1.4 liter 4-banger six-speed auto with turbo is supposed to achieve an EPA combined city and highway of 28 MPG. On the way to East Lansing, the Cruz definitely met the estimates and I probably averaged over 34 MPG. This was all while leveraging cruise control and following posted speed limits. On a full tank of gas and traveling at about 70 MPH, the car’s computer estimated I could drive over 500 miles before running out of fuel. Pretty darn good if you ask me. On the drive home, though, I was in a bit of a rush and may have exceeded posted speed limits. This drove down my gas mileage considerably and the amount of stops at gas stations nearly doubled.
Bryan: I was put up in a 2011 Mazda 3, a nice little car with great gas mileage. Our car had just over 41,000 miles which surprised me as rental cars generally have a much lower mileage. However, I was just glad that it had four wheels and I could begin my 7 hour drive to Virginia Beach. One of my favorite things to do when renting a car is to test the fuel efficiency. In our current economy, gas mileage is an important thing to take note of and always a good thing to think about when deciding which car to request at the rental counter. I wanted to see what this little Mazda 3 could do so I got out of the city and onto the highway, set the cruise control just below 70 MPH, and let the car take over. This was a night drive so there was no need to speed and I really wanted to get an accurate idea of the gas mileage. On my first tank of fuel I averaged 37.4 miles per gallon, which I thought was really good for a car of this size. I will say this to all you diesel and hybrid lovers out there, you better drive a lot to earn that extra $7,000 – $9,000 you will spend buying one over a traditional gas car.
Max: I could go on about how much I loved the Cruz for weeks. Not only is the Cruz technically an economy car, the one I drove was a rental AKA fleet car AKA not made to be luxurious or nice. Thing is, the white Cruz I had was amazing. It had leather seats that didn’t make me feel sore about 11+ hours of driving. The cockpit felt roomy, the dashboard instruments were easy to reach and the car never felt really underpowered thanks to its turbocharged engine. More importantly, the car always felt stable and well balanced. While driving through the hills in Pennsylvania I caught myself going much faster than 90 MPH, a lot. Most economy cars would shake or vibrate at these speeds, but in the Cruz I didn’t even realize how fast I was going until looking at the speedometer. My only gripe was the lack of a vent for passengers in the backseat. My girlfriend was constantly complaining about being cold even though I was roasting in my heated front seats. Also, the front seat cup holders weren’t the most conducive for 44 ounce frozen beverages.
Bryan: Mazda, PLEASE find a new seat manufacturer. The seats in this great ride start out really nice. They are comfortable with nice side bolsters that hold you snug in the seat, which I enjoyed. But what they are missing was lumbar support. Seriously, there was no support and there’s no way to adjust the seat to create any. About three hours into the trip my back started to feel fatigued. If your road trip is lasting longer than three hours , let’s just say it’s lasting for oh, about seven hours, here is my suggestion. Stop at a rest area, unroll about 3 quarters of the paper towels from the dispenser then take what is left on the roll and boom! Instant lumbar support. You’re welcome.
Max: This was my first time renting a car and was recommended to go with Hertz. Since I am under the age of 25, rental companies will sometimes charge exorbitant rates for us “youngins.” Hertz did charge me something like $30 bucks or so extra a day for being 24, but with two other people, the cost of renting a car and filling it up with gas was still cheaper than flying. I was originally supposed to be driving a Corolla, but was switched to the Cruz without much of an explanation. Since there was no price difference I didn’t complain. Service was quick and I was driving away in under 10 minutes which was lucky because a long line formed right as I was paying. I would definitely rent from Hertz again.
Bryan: I booked my rental car through Hotwire, which I learned the hard way may be the cheapest route but it’s not always the best. Hotwire had inadvertently made my reservation for a weekend in January and with it being November, naturally Hertz couldn’t locate my reservation. After an hour and a half setback which involved multiple phone calls and no less than two moderately raised voices (my fiancée was traveling with me), Hertz was able to work it all out, get us our money back from Hotwire, and get us on our way.
Max: First of all, the Cruz had an awesome sound system. There were six speakers and the music was always crisp. The little Chevy was chock full of tech goodies like XM radio, an auxiliary port and a USB port. The USB port proved to be especially helpful when we needed to give our phones a quick charge. I don’t have any complaints about Cruz, even though it would have been nice if there was a dimming function for the lights on the dashboard. I’m also convinced there is no button to open the trunk. I had to turn off the car and use the key fob to get access to my bags in the trunk which proved to be an annoyance.
Bryan: As I got used to the car and we went into the third hour of the drive, I started to tinker with the buttons on the steering wheel and there were quite a few. Four to control the cruise control, three for the stereo, and one for the Bluetooth (which I might add you will need a degree in electrical engineering to figure out). I got really excited when I saw that the car had XM radio only to have my hopes dashed when I pushed the button and it didn’t work. Apparently, the car had been in service for so long that the XM free coverage had run out on the car and Hertz had not renewed it. This meant that it was going to be hard to listen to the NASCAR race that would be happening during our return trip. However, the good news was that the car did have a port for the iPhone so I was able to plug that in.
Max: The Cruz was a perfect road tripping car for myself and two friends. It had excellent gas mileage when driving conservatively and it didn’t look like a cheap fleet car. While I never needed to let the turbocharger loose, I never experienced turbo lag or sluggish acceleration which has been a common complaint about the Cruz. The car certainly isn’t “quick” when it’s full of people and baggage, but it’s adequate at worst. Nonetheless, it handled beautifully and was pretty much dead silent, even when traveling at 80+ MPH. The backseat wasn’t particularly huge, but unless you’re over six foot tall, you won’t be too uncomfortable. Lastly, on a non-Cruz related note, if you’re looking for an absolutely wonderful frozen beverage, stop by a Speedway. The consistency of their frozen drinks are far superior to 7-Eleven. Take my word for it if you’re traveling through the Midwest and need a frozen beverage fix.
Bryan: The Mazda 3 overall did the job it was a car with four wheels. No real frills and no real pep when you would step in to the gas pedal. But what it did have was great fuel mileage room for luggage and great cup holders to keep that coffee or your drink of choice flowing for those road trips. Next time if your in-line at Hertz, they pull those keys out and it is a Mazda3, fear not, it is a great little road trip car. Just remember those paper towel rolls.