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I'm planning a 3 week family trip to USA Florida (from Europe) and we already have numerous locations we want to visit. To name a few in no particular order, West palm beach, Miami, Everglades, Orlando, Wellington, The Keys and St Petersburg.

Renting a car is naturally the best option for us, but I'm not sure which type of car to choose. My family consists of me and my wife and our two children, 1 and 3 years of age. So we would like to have big car that can transport a lot of luggage and us with good comfort and without feeling cramped.

Even though both my wife and I "like" and enjoy driving cars, we honestly have very little knowledge. We do have some requests and wishes though...

  • We do not want a European car such as Volvo, BMW etc. We want a new experience, preferably an american car.
  • A large car/SUV that can handle 3 weeks worth of luggage including two vandals/kids.

I was thinking about Chevrolet Suburban but have some concerns about it being actually too big. Especially when driving in cities and when parking. I have no experience what so ever so that is why we need advice and input.

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    Bear in mind that most of the time, with the standard large rental agencies, you won't get to pick the specific car you get anyway, merely a general class of car (meaning size/style). It might look like you do get to pick a specific one, but looking closely, you'll see most rates are "Ford Focus or similar"-style rates. It will depend what they have available, although at large outlets you can always ask for something different of course. Some agencies, e.g. Hertz, do offer rates for pre-reserving specific car models, but they are often more expensive. – Andrew Ferrier Jan 2 '15 at 13:02
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    As a side note, make sure to have the SunPass added to your rental. Based on the destinations that you plan to go, you will pass a lot of tolls, and some of them you might need the SunPass. The removable SunPass costs around $25, and you need to activate and recharge it at the SunPass website. Rental companies can charge you around $3 - $6 per day to use it, but in this case, I do not think that you need to recharge it. – scubaFun Jan 2 '15 at 14:37
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    Keep in mind that car agencies often run out of the smaller automobiles and you'll almost always be offered either the class you reserved or (quite often) a larger vehicle. You're supposed to shut up and be grateful (since you're getting a bigger car for the same price), but if you're planning a lot of driving the gas cost can be a bit of a hit (like when I got a Ford F150 to drive across Texas). Of course if you want the biggest vehicle it won't be a problem unless they overbook (or someone doesn't return on time). It can be a problem if you call it too close (had a problem in Europe). – Spehro Pefhany Jan 2 '15 at 17:09
  • Some answers assume you're going to have 3 weeks worth of clothes, etc. Is that the case, or are you planning to bring more like 1 week's worth and will do laundry a few times during the trip? – mkennedy Jan 2 '15 at 22:53
  • Minivan or Fullsize are overkill. Chevy Suburban or GMC Yukon are quite insane. Compact SUV is perfect for 2 adults + 2 kids. (it's even perfect for 4 adults, except a squeeze when you're all going to the airport) – smci Jan 3 '15 at 4:52
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A Chevy Suburban is an absurdly large truck. It won't handle like a car, it won't fit in some parking spaces, and there may even be a few people left in America who will look at you funny for driving such a monster.

Let's start from the smaller end and work our way up, shall we? I'm looking the Hertz offerings because it's one of the most major rental agencies, but Avis and Budget are worth a look too. I've rented most of these myself.


Chevy Malibu: this is a very normal, mid-size American car. Totally sufficient for two adults and two kids and a normal amount of luggage. Not high performance, not interesting looking, just a decent, well-made car.

Dodge Challenger: a big sports car. The ones they rent are not super-high performance, but more fun to drive than a regular sedan. This is a two-door car though, so might be less fun to manage child seats (but possible, if you like the aesthetic). A modern American "muscle car."

Infiniti G37: a nice, large-ish Japanese car. I rented the older G35. A very good performing, fun to drive sedan. This was one of my favorite rentals ever. But it's not American, so there's that.

Ford Explorer: The SUV that started it all. Not too big, not too small, not too exciting either, but still a benchmark if you like the idea that you could drive a bit off-road but probably won't actually do so. A good vehicle to move about without drawing suspicion, especially at youth football games.

Dodge (Chrysler) Grand Caravan: an American minivan. These were very popular before SUVs took off, and are still worth considering if you want a lot of cargo capacity for some reason. Not exciting to drive, but drives like a big car, not a truck.

Chevrolet Tahoe (or GMC Yukon): A pretty big truck (but slightly smaller than the Suburban). I haven't driven one myself, but it should drive like a truck and be slightly annoying to park. These are not incredibly popular in most parts of the US, but they do somehow represent (part of) the American automobile market and its differences from elsewhere. Lots of space, and even more if you get the "XL" model (shouldn't be necessary).

Cadillac Escalade (or Lincoln Navigator): like the Tahoe/Yukon, but fancier. Considered by some in the US to be the quintessential car for entitled rich people. An ideal car if you will hire a driver to deliver you and your family to a red-carpet event.


And a couple common ones from Avis:

Chrysler 300: a large-ish American car, some people really like the looks, sort of a retro flavor like the Dodge Challenger. Probably a solid choice, but I haven't been in one myself.

Lincoln MKS: a somewhat fancier sedan. Not exactly the pinnacle of luxury, but not priced like it either. Compare with Jaguar, because that's what Lincoln want you to do. I imagine they sell well to estate agents.

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    Escalades and Navigators are pimp mobiles ;-) – user13044 Jan 2 '15 at 5:24
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    Caravan, Tahoe, Escalade or Navigator are the only vehicles I would be comfortable driving in for 3 weeks with 4 people. If your kids are small and you plan to pack light, one of the sedans would be practical. – Sam Berry Jan 2 '15 at 6:54
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    Caravan (or any minivan) seems perfect! – Sam Berry Jan 2 '15 at 7:03
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    @SamB.: the OP said the kids are 1 and 3 years old. Given that one of them will be immobilized in the car and the other one is tiny, I doubt a large sedan will be too cramped. :) And if the driver actually enjoys driving, they're likely to enjoy it more in a sedan than a minivan. – John Zwinck Jan 2 '15 at 7:14
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    @JohnZwinck 3 weeks of luggage for 4 people can take quite a large amount of space. A sedan could definitely get cramped with that much luggage unless you can get one with an absolutely enormous trunk. – reirab Jan 2 '15 at 7:50
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For what you are doing a minivan works best. It has plenty of room for you and the kids and lots of baggage. The side doors are nice a big making it easy to put the kid's car seats in (and out). You tend to sit a little higher up in a minivan compared to a sedan,l so better for checking out the scenery as you drive.

The SUVs really provide nothing more in the way of benefits over the minivan, actually some are even smaller on the inside.

A variety of sedans are available as well, ranging from compacts to full size. Their primary advantage over an SUV or minivan is that your luggage is not visible when it is in the trunk.

Overall I doubt you will find driving a US car that much different than driving a car back home, other than the fact they all come with automatic transmissions.

  • Minivan ftw. Easier to drive compared to a large SUV (Suburban, Escalade, Navigator), decent on gas, and lots of big windows for viewing all of FL's glory! – Sam Berry Jan 2 '15 at 6:59
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    @AmadeusDrZaius The OP seems to be from Sweden, so hould not need to switch road sides when travelling to US. (European left-side drivers tend to not describe themselves as "from Europe" ;) ) – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 3 '15 at 11:28
  • @HagenvonEitzen, correct :) – David Jan 3 '15 at 18:30
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I think that the provided answers give solid advice worth considering. However, since this is a vacation to Florida, I feel that someone might as well throw in some "Pros" for going with the oversized, luxury SUV.

To be clear, my hunch is that the mini-van class will probably suit your families needs, but if the rental car dealership has enough cars available you might be able to reserve a vehicle and ask if you can peruse their lot for an upgrade. If they have the stock available, usually they are willing to let you since it equates to more money in their pockets. Assuming you get that chance, here are some reasons why you might enjoy the SUV.

1. These things can be HUGE!

You've already mentioned that you are coming from Europe. I've been to Europe, from the US, multiple times on business. One of the first things I noticed when I left the airport on my first few trips was that American cars and streets are BIG, compared to European cars and streets.

I'm not complaining but it was a stark observation. Europe has had people populating and growing in that region for thousands of years. In the US, we haven't experienced a population "explosion" until a few hundred years ago. This means that America is quite spacious and our roads are wide and parking lots tend to be large to make room for our oversized vehicles.

Many people may feel that an SUV is "to much" and a ludicrous display of nonsensical, gas guzzling American consumerism. They might be right but if this is your only chance to drive something that feels like a tank, you might actually enjoy the experience! Florida is a rather spacious state, even for America. It has a lot of farmland, which means that their is plenty of room for growth around it's cities. As such, you shouldn't have any trouble learning to use an SUV, versus a small, family sized vehicle because the roads and parking lots can easily fit these larger, common vehicles.

2. SUVs are often manufactured to be semi-luxurious, yet family-friendly vehicles.

The SUV comes in all shapes and sizes but they are often equipped with bigger, cushier seats and better sounds systems. They are more likely to have drop-down TV consoles for your kids to watch TV (very handy when you are on long trips, with little ones!) and the A/C might be a little better since the vehicle has a more powerful drive train.

Florida can get hot in the late-spring to early-fall months. In Florida, there won't be a car on a rental lot without A/C but the oversized SUV might cool down quicker than some of the smaller options due to the extra power under the hood. Which brings me to point #3.

3. More power!

The SUV was originally designed to be a hybrid passenger vehicle + work truck. Oversized engines were put in them so they could pull considerable weight but also function as a day-to-day passenger vehicle when not towing.

Some time around the late 90's, manufacturers realized that that if they made these vehicles a little more consumer friendly they could market this vehicle to those who like a combination of power+luxury. This is when the Escalades, Excursions and Hummers started to come out as consumer vehicles. The population picked up on it and a new type of consumer vehicle was born.

Part of the "luxury" feel is having a big vehicle that can get-up-and-move. The hummer was initially designed for the US Government for military use across aggressive terrain. When the GMC company began making consumer-grade, luxury versions of the vehicle they left the power with the vehicle (and it shows in the gas mileage!) and all other manufacturers of luxury SUVs followed this trend.

This could be a turn-off if you are environmentally conscientious because some of these vehicles will get as little as 10 miles per gallon (23.5 L/100 km) under worse conditions. That's worth considering. However, if you have the extra funds for the fuel and you think you might enjoy the extra power from the pedal, the SUV could make for a fun driving experience.

Conclusion

The oversized, luxury SUV might be too much for you and your family. There are smaller sized SUVs and, from my experience, many rental companies tend to have Japanese vehicles on site which also tend to be slightly smaller, and more efficient, than their American contemporaries.

A mini-van will certainly meet your needs but an Oversized Luxury SUV will add to the experience of your vacation if you are willing to try to drive the larger vehicle. If you take a look at one on a rental lot and you think you'd rather not try to drive a vehicle the size of a european passenger bus, you might want to get a smaller sized SUV.

Most of these smaller vehicles have some of the luxury options, but not all of them. The smaller size shouldn't be an issue for you because they should seem rather big, considering you are likely more familiar with European sized, smaller vehicles.

I wouldn't worry to much about navigating the bigger vehicles in Florida. It is a tourist-friendly state. Many of the places you will want to visit understand that people get in their BIG vehicles and drive down from regions as far as Canada to come and visit. Because these tourists come from so far away, they often come with oversized vehicles to haul all of their road gear.

I hope you enjoy your vacation. Regardless of the vehicle you pick, you should have many transportation options and I'm sure you will have fun, even navigating our American highways.

  • Easy there Hoss, you don't want to offend them effeminate European sensibilities. 'big' and 'powerful' things tend to be a bit too much in their soft hands. – easymoden00b Jan 2 '15 at 16:24
  • No offense was intended, explicitly which is why I explained why the US tends to have larger driving equipment. We have more space because our land hasn't been inhabited by settled groups of people for as long as Europe, and we have the "room". One's perception of space has nothing to do with ones passivity or sensibility. If the asker (or anyone) takes offense to my observations, then they are free to comment and I'm more than willing to revise my comments. However, there is a difference in these two regions of the world, and it's worth noting because it is pertinent to the experience. – RLH Jan 2 '15 at 16:33
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    The original poster said they wanted to visit the Keys. If that includes Key West, I'd suggest avoiding the SUV in that case since the downtown has narrow, crowded streets. A minivan works just fine there (if a bit tight in places), based on my experience last week. That said, my daily driver is a Mini Cooper, so I may be a bit biased :) – Colin Young Jan 2 '15 at 19:01
  • Thanks @ColinYoung! I've travelled all across the state of Florida (yeah, again for business) but I've not been further south than Fort Pierce. From Pensacola to Lakeland, you'd be fine with an SUV. If the Key's are crowded, then you are likely correct. Also, I've always heard that Miami has some of the worst traffic in the US. Never experienced it, but that could greatly negate the experience also if the city has tried to aid the problem by narrowing lanes to go from 8-lane highways to 10 lanes on certain highways. shudder – RLH Jan 2 '15 at 19:31
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    @RLH I've lived in Toronto, Boston and Tampa, visited/driven in San Francisco, NYC, Miami, Vancouver, Montreal and yeah, I'd say Miami is up there in traffic. I should qualify that a minivan will be better than a large SUV. Smaller SUVs might actually be smaller than a van, although with less passenger/luggage space. I think the minivan is the top choice, as much as I don't like them on principal they are very useful (I also regularly drive a Sienna). – Colin Young Jan 2 '15 at 21:00
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I'm going to second the minivan suggestion. In particular, the Dodge Caravan / Chrysler Town and Country (essentially the same vehicle with some aesthetic differences) is a good choice.

Luggage for 4 people for 3 weeks is probably going to take up a lot of space, which will likely exceed the baggage capacity of most sedans. Minivans, on the other hand, provide a large amount of baggage storage space. In particular, most of them allow you to fold seats that you aren't using down into compartments in the floor, which can open up a lot of space for baggage. You might want to double-check with the rental agency that their specific vehicles have this feature before booking, though.

Minivans are also typically much taller than sedans, too, which provides more head space and leg space, which I personally find very useful on long trips. Perhaps this doesn't matter as much if you and your wife are both short, but it's definitely nice if you're tall. The seats are also significantly higher off of the road surface than in a typical sedan, which helps for visibility.

If you haven't driven a taller vehicle before, though, do keep in mind that minivans and SUVs both have a center of gravity that is much higher off the road than a sedan. As such, you need to be much more careful about making turns at high speeds in a minivan or SUV than you would need to be in a sedan. Especially when driving at highway speeds (which are usually 110-120 km/hr in Florida,) you'll need to slow down significantly before making a sharp turn, such as on a curved ramp. There will almost always be signs advising you of such curves ahead of time. The highways themselves usually don't have sharp turns, though, especially in the flat terrain of Florida, so it's mostly just an issue when taking a ramp from one highway to another.

As far as driving in cities, I don't personally find driving minivans to be any harder in city traffic than driving a normal sedan. The only issue would be if you have to parallel park (which I would personally advise to just avoid where possible.) Aside from parallel parking, parking isn't significantly more difficult in a minivan than in a sedan.

  • I fully realize that a minivan would be an excellent choice, but somehow it seems so boring ;) – David Jan 3 '15 at 18:31
  • @David: It will be boring. I got "upgraded" to a minivan once, against my will (i.e. they failed to have the car I booked), and it was the most boring driving I have ever done. I say this having driven an Oldsmobile 88, which used to win awards for the most boring car sold in America before GM abandoned the entire marque. – John Zwinck Jan 4 '15 at 10:06
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Sounds like you have done tons of research already regarding the vehicle. As a FL/Orlando resident I have helped folks come down here and I see how you can overspend in various ways. Looks like you are all over the map here. Assuming you are going to be relatively centrally located at least part of the time then you could probably hit the state in a 2 tiered way: do the N/Central part in one part of the trip and then the S. part in the other.

Vehicle-wise, if it were me I would get one of the minivans like the Honda Odyssey since it offers a lot of flexibility and good mileage. You have a good set of options with this. Mileage should be good too. Personally I would not be trying some big car unless I knew that it has a turn radius that is very good. Some of the theme park parking lots are terrible in terms of trying to get around, if you happen to be there during the summer peak period. In St. Augustine you won't need your car really at all, once you park somewhere near the trolley tours.

Advice on the &^(( turnpike is true, you'd have to get your roaming-tax-meter for big brother, but it saves you time from having to stop and dig for change, etc. If there is an upside to that, that's what I would say...:)

Also it is worth noting that if there are any 'deals' to be had in terms of car rental, you could probably add on to the hotel package and save rather than rent as standalone. I have seen folks try to put together vacations (e.g. guy tried to come here with Mariott miles and pay for parking and other things out of pocket only to find that he should have listened to me). All of the possible permutations have probably been worked out by now, so if there is a 'deal' I would take it and run with it probably. Also of course factoring in what I call the 'hassle factor' which is always through the roof with some alternatives. In the case of this particular mariott, the guy saved about 5 bucks, but he, his wife, and daughter had to walk almost a quarter mile from their car to get that deal. So the savings is not really savings and they would have literally had valet for about 5 bucks more. It kinda sucks to not have control, but at least speaking for myself, I am willing to give away some control for comfort and overall family happiness' sake. Also the whole 'happy wife happy life thing' LOL.

Cheers Marc

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First, I agree with everyone else, your best choice is a minivan.

The SUV will be parking nightmare and you'll get tired of climbing in and out of it. Further, you'll have to fold "up" the third row of seats to fit any decent amount of luggage (I am talking about Tahoe/Yukon - the Suburban is a monster, avoid it). These seats do not fold into the trunk (due to the common truck frame that these SUVs use). End result - lost luggage space and limited practical use.

You might get away with a smaller SUV but if you are going on a long road trip, you can get real mileage out of the minivan by folding up second row of seats and then having plenty of legroom for a stretch/nap.

Also, do not forget to ask for the following:

  1. Child seats (they are required by law in some jurisdictions)
  2. Navigation (its not included in most rental fleets, and as you are new, you might need it). Although if you have a mobile with Google Maps you can bypass this requirement.

Now for your comment here:

I fully realize that a minivan would be an excellent choice, but somehow it seems so boring

Welcome to the US!

Driving here is all about the open road, the vast frontier, and smooth rides. This is not where you'll find sport chassis and sharp turns. Here you are expecting manicured highways, wide cars and a general taking-it-easy attitude (for long cruises).

For example, you will be hard pressed to find a manual transmission ("stick shift") car - which are common in Europe.

Now, a Dodge/Chrysler Caravan is not a dull car. It has a sporty V6 engine and drives like a normal sedan. Its quite peppy despite its girth.

You'll also enjoy things like automatic tailgate and automatic dual sliding doors, lots of luggage space and room for your kids to enjoy an entire bench to themselves.

  • "Now, a Dodge/Chrysler Caravan is not a dull car. It has a sporty V6 engine and drives like a normal sedan. Its quite peppy despite its girth." - OK now, this is too much. Drive a G37 (to which this statement actually applies) and see what you think then. :) – John Zwinck Jan 4 '15 at 10:01
  • In the world of the minivan, its actually very sprightly. Compare it something like the KIA minivan :/ You can't compare it to the G37. Apples vs. a horse cart full of apples. – Burhan Khalid Jan 4 '15 at 10:16
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In any case, you will need children's seats (just for the record; and your budgeting).

Most of the UAVs (aka SUVs) are essentially trucks. Oversized, and if you are not used to that size, you may not really enjoy things. And they are quite expensive to rent and to operate.

So, you have another "vote" for a minivan or a station wagon. I don't think that you can get cars with the form factor of an Opel/Vauxhall Zafira, or Ford S-Max, or Citroën Picasso in the US; that could be suitable, and still have quite a bit space for baggage, despite the children's seats.

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    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles? – Jasper Jan 3 '15 at 6:10
  • Good one… I thought about Urban Attack Vehicle… The risk for kids to get hit by a car is highest at schools where their mammies go pick them up because they may be hit by a car… – Max Wyss Jan 3 '15 at 7:47

protected by mindcorrosive Jan 4 '15 at 20:28

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