Being as how I can be a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to travel, my wife generally prefers to handle everything herself except for one item, that one obviously to all of us here at CC being the most important and critical one: The Rental Car. I am firmly convinced that getting stuck with the wrong car can ruin a trip.
So, with a wedding near Fort Wayne, Indiana affording the opportunity to visit friends in Chicago at the same time, she booked flights to O’Hare Airport and I started looking at rental cars for a five-day trip.
Usually I am fairly enthusiastic about playing the rental car lottery and spend way too much time comparing rates, recalling old experiences, and deciding if I can let a particular firm have one more shot at my business or deciding to really just roll the dice and use a service like HotWire.
However, the dates that we chose seemed to be a pricey set at all of the usual suspects until I remembered hearing about a new company that so far is only in select locations, Chicago being one of those.
Silvercar is a newcomer to the rental car game and from what I see, is shaking things up a (little) bit. I’ll come right out and say it – this was, bar none, simply the best rental car experience I have ever had in all respects from making the reservation to dropping the car off again after putting about 600 miles on it in five days. I don’t want to sound like a paid shill for the company (and am not, I paid my own hard-earned dollars), but I was very impressed.
They only rent one kind of car. That car is a current model year Audi A4 quattro. In silver (hence the name; I wish Burger King was as truthfully named). At the Chicago location, they have 95 of them in a warehouse just off the airport and you have your pick of the litter.
It sure cuts down on the decision making when they are all they same, either it works for you or it does not. You know what you are going to get. No “or similar” crap where upon arrival the car deemed “similar” to whatever you chose could not be more different.
Their website was super simple to navigate for the reservation, the price was $59 (no cents) a day. When I checked it while writing this post for a few random days it seemed to be $69/day no matter if I reserved for tomorrow or two weeks from now. In any case when I booked it was still $59/day plus the usual governmental taxes and fees.
However a few niceties include the car having navigation and satellite radio as standard. Another very nice thing was that each car had a toll transponder installed. As opposed to other companies, this one will only bill you the actual amounts accrued, this shows up on one or more supplemental invoices.
We traveled a couple of weeks ago, to date I have received my original invoice as well as one additional one that covered the tolls in Illinois on our last day. So far no charges for the first couple of days that we spent in Illinois, nor the tolls we incurred in Indiana which recognizes the same transponder.
An additional nicety is the option to be billed a $5 fee plus the actual cost of gasoline if returned less than full. We took full advantage of this option when our return to the airport was massively delayed by traffic and as promised were charged the $5 convenience fee plus $3.09 per gallon of gas (premium in this case) for 6.3 gallons which was realistic by my calculations. The per gallon price was very competitive compared to what we saw en route.
This is FAR better than the exorbitant fees charged by the regular companies or the scam of pre-paying for a full tank of gas and then hoping to return it on fumes but not actually running out half a mile from the airport…
Before our flight, the company sent us a text asking us to let them know when we landed and they would send someone. As soon as we had our bags I texted them back, they acknowledged and we waited outside for a few minutes.
A representative (pleasant, well dressed, and seemingly happy with her job) showed up, placed our bags in their shuttle car (a new Hyundai Santa Fe for whatever reason) and drove us a couple of miles to the facility. Upon arrival, the rep unloaded our bags, scanned my driver’s license with her company smartphone and asked us to select a car and to have a pleasant journey.
As I said, I had my pick of literally dozens of identical cars, we selected one at random and used the Silvercar App to scan the sticker and it unlocked for us. We threw our bags in the trunk and got in where we were greeted with something more and more rare – a spotlessly clean car.
I figured maybe this was a brand new one, but no, it had 12000 miles on it and was built in March of this year. They just seem to actually clean the cars between users.
What a concept and what a contrast to the last car I rented from Enterprise for which I literally had to stop at the closest gas station after checking out to clean the windshield, it was so filthy.
Anyway, the car was a 2015 model equipped as all A4 quattro’s are in this country with Audi’s 2.0 liter turbo 4-cylinder engine (220HP, 258lb-ft of torque)and 8-speed automatic transmission.
I tried to price it out on Audi.com but they have since changed to the 2016 version, I believe the sticker would have been about $42,000 or so based on that. The car was equipped with the S-line package, 18-inch wheels, Pirelli P-7 tires, leather interior, navigation system, sunroof, heated seats, an excellent radio with Sirius/XM enabled and obviously metallic paint (Florett Silver) for which Audi charges extra.
Not stripped at all, in fact I can’t really think of anything that I would have liked to have had that this didn’t have. The curb weight is around 3700lbs.
My wife and I had recently looked at a new Audi Allroad (same basic car, but in wagon format) to possibly add to our personal fleet but ended up rejecting it as it seemed a bit small for us and our family. However, for just the two of us this A4 was perfectly sized.
The front seats are nicely padded but properly firm, and the door panels and center console hold you in place quite well. I did not find the center console overly intrusive at all, a fact which at least one other contributor here is undoubtedly pleased to read.
Sadly, I neglected to take the all-important shot showing my leg intimately connected with said console as he likes to do. My bad. In the interests of doing a good job for you all, I did try the rear and it would have worked for us if we were a party of four normal sized adults as well. Not oodles of room in the back, but acceptable. The picture below is with the front seat set up for me (6’1″, 32″ inseam. Green eyes. Libra. But I digress…)
The first day we only drove about twenty miles to our friends in the Chicago suburbs. I found the engine to be very responsive and the transmission to be very eager to upshift but also very happy to oblige with one (or many more) downshifts as needed and without delay. I found it quite interesting that the engine is happy to lope along at 1300rpms in city traffic, a significantly lower engine speed than I would choose if this were a manual transmission car.
It was actually borderline lugging the engine and the engine made a sound that is familiar to anyone who has ever spent much time driving a watercooled 4cylinder VW or Audi and let the revs drop to the low end of the range. Not an unpleasant sound at all, kind of a “grumble”, the sort of noise that if I were a passenger in the car on a long trip would literally cause me to fall asleep quite quickly.
It never actually lugged the engine as it downshifted at the slightest increase in pedal pressure but seemed to just choose the most economical engine speed to run to remain at whatever steady speed was desired.
A couple of days later we left for Indiana. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason CurbsideClassic.com seems to have a very large contingent in Indiana and since reading and writing for the site I have found myself in Indiana more total times than I have been in any other state for various reasons. A curious state of affairs.
In any case, we headed south on I-355 out of the western Chicago suburbs, then picked up I-80 East and for some reason I decided to then take I-65 South to Highway 30 East to our hotel in Warsaw, IN. Until we hit Hwy30 all was great, then I realized that Hwy30 has way too many traffic lights and towns and I should have stayed on I-80 longer. On the interstate the car was a delight, it was extremely comfortable at any speed I wished to travel, even at 80mph was only turning around 2000rpms in 8th gear which was doing wonders for the fuel economy.
After exiting the interstate, the car had plenty of opportunities for acceleration and was fun to drive then as well, pulling well into the upper reaches of the tach upon request and then upshifting into high gear when I let the throttle go.
We didn’t have much opportunity to test the all-wheel-drive system as it was dry for our entire trip, but the cornering abilities of the car were excellent, I was able to negotiate plenty of on- and off-ramps at far higher speeds without any drama that I could for example do in my own all-wheel-drive 300C. The tires obviously had a lot to do with the grip, but the suspension was stiff but well-damped, not allowing the car to roll very much and doing its job very well.
The interior of the car was very attractive, featuring high quality plastics, real metal trim, and comfortable leather seats. Audi really does do interiors to a superior standard (and charges accordingly), overall it was an exceedingly pleasant place to spend time. The centerpiece of the interior was the MultiMediaInterface (MMI), which controls most aspects of the car.
Not a touchscreen, this system requires use of a dial/joystick and several buttons to control the audio system, navigation, HVAC, and other parameters. I have to say it was not 100% intuitive but by the end of my time with the car I was able to navigate around most of it quite deftly without once consulting the manual.
A particular touch I liked was on the steering wheel, where the audio volume is controlled by a small thumb wheel as opposed to the buttons found elsewhere. But in trade they took away the old-style thumb wheel heated seat controls with 6 levels that they used to offer in the older cars, replacing that control with a 3-level button to accomplish said task.
The day after the wedding we drove back to Illinois, however this time we took more of I-80 in order to avoid Hwy30 as much as possible. The car had a very composed ride over the frost heaves present in the interstate in Indiana. I distinctly remember cursing that interstate in my 911 last year returning from the CC Auburn meet, as the bumps were extremely punishing in that car and I could not wait to be done with that section of road.
This was a very pleasant comparison to that experience, and frankly impressive that they are able to combine that level of ride comfort with the handling prowess that the car possessed. On the return trip we averaged just over 32mpg per the trip computer, much of which is no doubt due to the way the car is geared. I was not taking it easy on the car at all and did not consciously drive in a frugal manner so was quite pleased to see that result.
The car is officially rated at 21mpg City, 30mpg Highway and 25mpg combined which even if the trip computer is optimistic seemed to be very realistic judging by my back of the envelope calculations involving our miles traveled and gasoline expenditures.
When we returned the car to the agency, we were running very late and thought we might have to miss our flight. The attendant told us to leave our bags in the car, scanned the barcode and took the wheel. At the first red traffic light she handed me my receipt and then proceeded to drive the car hard to get us to our terminal as quickly as possible. We ended up (barely) making the flight.
Overall we were very impressed with the car, extremely pleased with Silvercar, and frankly I hope to be able to use them again next time. Even if the cost is a bit more (which it was not in this case), I found it to be well worth it and would be happy to pay a reasonable premium for what was a very premium experience.