We’ve all heard it before, and with increasing regularity: “Twenty-thousand miles? That’s just getting broken it! It’s practically new!” In the times of once unimaginable engineering and manufacturing processes, 20k truly is nothing these days. But where twenty-thousand miles isn’t “new” though is with the machines that so regularly get treated with reckless abandon, the vehicles that take a licking and (usually) keep on kicking: rental cars.
A twenty-thousand-mile rental is one that usually shows signs that it’s at, or nearing, the point of hating its own existence. Dying seats, a tired engine, interior and exterior panels that look like they were subject to a demolition derby, and invariably a smell you can’t place coming from a location you’d rather not examine. Twenty-thousand rental miles are tough on a car unlike any other because, after all, most people treat a rental like the damage-waiver-bearing piece of machinery it is, not the personal possession of your own that you love and care for.
Recently I spent a day in the Hyundai Accent pictured above and came away with some thoughts on the car itself and on cars as a whole. The little sedan had more of an impression on me than I anticipated, so read on to see what came of my time with the “Nissan Versa or similar”, as Enterprise calls it.
Rental-spec cars are, usually, almost unbearably basic. They exist to serve the sole purpose of bare-bones transportation for those in need of it, the absolute minimum to get you where you need to go. Options are usually scarce if present at all, the engine the smallest available. In reality, a rental-spec car is one of the last things you want to drive. They’re notoriously resilient things, but luxurious they are not.
By that definition, the 2015 Hyundai Accent I recently had for a day was exactly that: a rental. It was slow, in no way sporty, poorly appointed, and beaten up. The nearly nineteen-thousand miles showing on the odometer might as well have been the equivalent abuse of one-hundred-and-nineteen-thousand under the care of a traditional owner.
But after commuting in the car for a day and logging around 150 miles in the Accent, it struck me that the machine was nowhere near as bad as I expected. For as horrible as I thought the two-year-old car would be, it was actually holding itself together better than I ever would have guessed. Not that it felt anywhere new in any regard, but fundamentally it still felt “together,” something that would have been difficult to say about a rental with this number of miles as recently as even five years ago. Don’t let me fool you into thinking the Accent was in any way a great car, as it certainly wasn’t, but it was nowhere near as as it could have been.
In fact, it was a surprisingly decent vehicle. Not good, but by no means the punishing shitbox that these used to be. Power was adequate, interior material quality sufficed, the seats were comfortable enough, gas mileage was good, NVH was fine, and it was moderately practical. But when it comes down to it, this low-tier and inexpensive car was, taken as a whole, in actuality a pretty solid car overall.
The underlying mantra that I’m getting at is another one which you’ve probably heard a lot of in the last couple years: there are no truly bad cars on sale in the States today. Sure, there can definitely be individual crappy examples (the Lemon Law exists for a reason), but even the most basic of offerings, like a rental-spec Hyundai Accent, has a solid chassis and genuinely solid engineering at its core, and will hold up really well when subjected to even some of the hardest miles you can throw at them. The Accent I had felt strong and like it had a lot of life left in it despite the worn out surfaces and suspension. Though it might be beaten and battered, it in no way gave off the impression that it was anywhere in the neighborhood of nearing death. That’s a lot to say about a rental car, and especially one that’s lived its life in the Northeast.
So the next time somebody says, “there are no more truly bad cars on sale,” I’ll remember the Accent. Just a few years back, a small economy-minded sedan from a Korean manufacturer would have been a quality nightmare, a car you pleaded with a friend not to buy if they said they were shopping for one. But today, it’s capable of withstanding even the murderous life that is that of a rental. If that doesn’t show how far cars have come, I don’t know what does.