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What should I drive on a European vacation?

Ford C-MAX and Grand C-MAX


Dear Cato and Vaughan,

I will be travelling in Europe this summer with my wife, my 13-, 10- and 8-year-old children, and luggage. When I look at the websites for the car rental agencies, a lot of the models are not familiar. Any suggestions on what type of vehicle to rent?

- Ian in Toronto

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Cato: You don't need a car, Ian; you need a van of some sort. And there are lots of them in Europe.

My first suggestion would be to find a 2011 Ford Grand C-Max, the seven-passenger version of the regular C-Max. We're going to get a North American version of this for the 2012 model year - the big one - so why not take an early test drive to see if you like it?

Vaughan: Cato, you are so, so boring. Ian didn't mention a price range, but with that army of kids and luggage he's hauling around with his obviously ever-patient wife, I suggest he should blow the bundle and have some fun. He can get into some really good stuff, and all of it more interesting than a van of any sort.

Cato: Who are you? The cheapskate Vaughan I know would be touting the C-Max, or competitors such as the Opel Zafira, Renault Scenic and Chevrolet Orlando, a new version of which we'll also be getting in Canada for 2012.

Vaughan: You don't get it, Cato. We're spending Ian's money, not mine. That being the case, maybe the family would like to cruise around in a Porsche Panamera Turbo or a Maserati Quattroporte or an Audi A8 W12. All the super-premium stuff is available if he wants to tear up the autobahn in style. In any event, to make the trip more fun, he should rent something that he can't get over here.

Cato: Like a C-Max, or a Zafira, or a Scenic or an Orlando. Europe is for smaller and highly functional vehicles like these - vehicles powered by smaller engines that emit modest emissions including ever-lower CO2 yet make big power. I'd say Europe is five years ahead of North America here.

Vaughan: Ian, expand your horizons beyond the mundane and the familiar - or in the case of the C-Max and Orlando, the soon to be familiar.

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Have a look at what you can only get in Europe - Peugeots, Alfa Romeos. Why rent the same old stuff that's at any Canadian airport, or soon will be?

Cato: So the Renault Scenic. It's not coming to a Canadian rental car company.

Vaughan: I'd say Peugeot is a good place to start and it's a very popular brand with the rental fleets in Europe. Peugeot departed North America years ago, but in Europe it is still strong and building some beautiful cars.

Race cars, too. They won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009. We saw the brand-new Peugeot 508 at the Geneva auto show and it is a very stylish hatchback, indeed. But it might be a bit small for five. In that case you could ask for a Peugeot 5008, which is its sport-ute.

Cato: Now you're heading in the right direction. The 5008 is available with a couple of gas engines, but I'm telling you to insist on a diesel. It seems that everybody drives diesel in Europe and you should experience it.

Vaughan: There are three diesels available in the 5008. When Peugeot won Le Mans, it was with a diesel.

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Cato: Look, the streets of Europe are filled with high-tech diesels. In fact, half of all cars sold in Europe run on diesel. Diesels are central to every auto maker's business plan.

Ian definitely wants to rent something with a diesel under the hood. He'll love the fuel economy, the range per tank of fuel and most of all, with that big brood of his, he'll love the torque - the real power to get up and go.

Vaughan: He will. Cato, if you insist on a van or a European sport-ute of some sort, I think Ian should try the Renault Scenic. He'll have no problem finding it at any major rental car company. Insist on a diesel, of course.

But really, why not something spicy like an Alfa. If so, I think it has got to be the 159. It comes as a sedan or a sportwagon and it's the latter I'd choose. It comes with a 200-hp gas engine or a 170-hp diesel. You know the one to choose.

Cato: Alfa? You are all over the map. Scatter-brained and confusing.

Vaughan: No, I just want Ian to have a great time. So stay away from the cities; enjoy the countryside. One more thing: make sure you've got a navi system, Ian. You will be totally lost without one.



2011 Ford Grand C-Max

2011 Chevrolet Orlando

2011 Renault Scenic

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





2.0-litre four-cylinder, diesel

2.0-litre four-cylinder, diesel

2.0-litre four-cylinder, diesel

Output (horsepower/torque)

140/236 lb-ft

150/270 lb-ft

150/266 lb-ft

Drive system

front-wheel drive

front-wheel drive

front-wheel drive


six-speed automatic

six-speed manual

six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

7.4 city/5.0 highway


6.6 combined

Base price (MSRP)




Source: car manufacturers

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Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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