The holiday season is upon us, and that of course means traveling to spend time with family, gorging on festive delicacies and — inevitably — renting a car. But if the words “rental car” conjure up nightmarish memories of some shitbox Dodge Caliber your dad was swindled into on a family trip, you need to refine your search.
After a little bit of combing through the bigger rental companies — Hertz, Budget, Enterprise and Avis — we picked out the best cars they have on offer. Consider them a temporary gift for yourself.
Performance for Hire
If you’ve already spent an arm and a leg on presents and plane tickets, the Volt is a solid way to save some money once you land. 53 miles on battery alone and 420 on a full tank and full charge — you may not have to fill up once.
Shelby Mustang GT-H
Sporting a 435 horsepower 5.0-liter V8, this special-edition Mustang might not be a good idea for a snowier destination. But, hey, sometimes the lure of a black-and-gold paint job is just too much to ignore. Brush up on your car control first.
When it comes to performance, Hertz doesn’t mess around — their Dream Car selection is the antithesis of the standard rental-car fleet. So if you’re looking for a somewhat understated sedan, you owe it to yourself to reserve the Mercedes-AMG C63. It’s the holidays. Treat yourself.
If your destination is blanketed in snow this year, there are few choices better than a G-Class. It might weigh 5,724 pounds, but it can still get to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and tow 7,000 pounds (not at the same time). Perfect for transporting the other car you’re about to gift the in-laws.
Better Than Your Average Beater
Even the base-model Focus is miles ahead of your average rental car. Plus it’s maybe the best-handling front-wheel-drive car on the market; and two, it’s a rental — you’re supposed to drive it like you stole it.
The current-generation Camaro finally brought stiff competition to the Mustang, and won a lot of “car of the year” awards, too.
Cadillac has gone to great lengths to step up its luxury trims, especially in the XTS. Swaths of supple leather, walnut trims and a Bose sound system actually make the XTS a little awkward to rent, because you’ll much rather lounge in the back than drive.
If you’re heading somewhere snowy and don’t reserve ahead, you can get stuck in a special hell known as a micro-sized economy car with all-season tires. Wranglers were built to take on rough terrain; reserve a Jeep in advance and have peace of mind when you land.
The Ultimate Secret Menu
Easily the coolest-looking “economy car” on the list. BMW’s futuristic i8 looks like a supercar, hits 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and can still net 134 MPG from its inline-three engine/battery combo. Just forgive it for pumping fake engine noise into the cabin through the speakers.
Porsche 911 Targa
The 911 Targa needs no justification. And if you’re heading somewhere cold, just turn up the heat.
Tesla Model S
Performance, efficiency, and killer looks. No one will assume this is a rental.
Land Rover Range Rover
Out of the box, the Range Rover is one of the most capable SUVs on the planet. Which is why it’s a shame the majority of Range Rover owners will never know how competent it is off-road. But since this is a rental, “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” can be more than just lyrics.
An Even Mix of Ordinary and Outlandish
It’s one of the more mundane cars on the list, but that doesn’t make the VW Golf any less of a car. Winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year is high praise for a rental.
Easily the best-looking Corvette since the C2, the C7 will probably be the car that wins you “uncle of the year.” You might even be able to get away with forgetting a few presents, so long as you promise a few joy rides around the block.
Speaking of mundane, the BMW 328i is the most understated car on this list. But the 328i isn’t for showing off; this one is for you to enjoy from the driver’s seat. Perfect balance, handling, response — when you arrive you’ll also be seriously satisfied.
If the Cadillac isn’t big enough an American luxury, reserve a Navigator and you’ll be set. It may look like you got separated from a presidential motorcade, but there’s enough room inside to comfortably cart around your immediate family, the presents you got them, and your extended family’s presents too.