Car Reviews

An Audi A Day, At Fifty-Nine Bucks: Silvercar For Dummies

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From now until the end of February, visitors to eight major markets in the United States will be able to rent a 2014 or 2015 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro for fifty-nine dollars a day. If you drive through an automated tollbooth with the car, you’ll be charged the actual amount of the toll charge. If you forget to fill the car up, they’ll fill it for street price plus five bucks. The company is called “Silvercar” and you can get their app on your smartphone in just seconds.

At this point, you can just read the next article, right? Given that an Altima or Fusion from Hertz will run you between $35 and $55 per day at most of those airports, what’s to think about? Either you don’t care what you rent, in which case paying for an Audi seems stupid, or you are anxious to not be seen driving a rental car, in which case paying $59 a day for an Audi instead of $149 a day for a Cheap-class Benzo is beyond obvious.

What? You want to know how it works? Okay. Click the jump.

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Silvercar works much like FedEx did back in the early days of FedEx, which is to say they emphasize a narrow range of service and attempt to excel within that range. As previously noted, they operate in just eight markets, and they don’t have a conventional airport rental office. This is presented as an upscale feature — your Silvercar concierge will meet you with your car! — but in practice it means taking a shuttle to a parking lot somewhere so Silvercar can avoid airport concession fees. This is about as upscale as it sounds.

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My Silvercar experience lasted six days and started at LAX, where I took a shuttle out to a parking lot and met my concierge. He directed me to use my smartphone to scan the QR code on the windshield. Insofar as it as night time, this did not go well. Eventually we settled on using his phone for a light and my phone for a scanner. I mention this to show that the company is still working out some issues, like how do we rent a car to someone when the ball of fire that lights the world is sleeping with Persephone or something like that.

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The actual specification of the Silvercar itself is quite fascinating to a former Audi owner such as myself. It’s not a car you can buy in the United States, at least not from a dealer. It has a full suite of infotainment features including a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and navigation, but it has single-zone climate control. Also, the keyless entry features are disabled, no doubt to prevent various issues at their garage facilities. Some of the cars have Sport aero, others don’t. There are no shift paddles on the wheel, either. However, it’s the single-zone climate that will reliably identify former Silvercars in the used lots of the future.

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In Silvercar spec, the A4 exudes complete and total acceptability but not much else. The combination of the small engine, Quattro drivertrain, and semi-dim-witted eight-speed automatic isn’t magic, although when you really need to force the issue the Audi will hustle in a way that a four-cylinder Malibu or Sonata simply cannot. Driving this back-to-back with a 2014 Camry SE, I had to wonder where, exactly, the sixty-percent markup was going.

In any kind of race with my Accord V6, this Audi wouldn’t see which way the Honda went. However, a thirty-mile canyon run with The Smoking Tire‘s Matt Farah and his tuned-up Fiesta ST showed that the Audi has absolutely trustworthy chassis behavior. There are few cars out there that I’d want to take to tire-squeal territory on a completely unfamiliar mountain road — but that’s also an indictment of the A4’s relatively low limits. Low, but wide; you can make a few mistakes and the nose-heavy balance will combine with a bit of torque-to-the-rear and fix things pretty well. Under no circumstances will this car behave neutrally. If you want that, go get a Camry and learn to hop off the throttle in midcorner. Seriously.

There’s also the fact that this generation of Audi has been around for eight years now, without much in the way of improvement. While I’m pretty happy with the MMI navigation and audio interface, having used it for two years in my lime-green S5, every passenger I had in the Silvercar was utterly disgusted with the twist-and-press school of entering addresses or searching for music.

Although Silvercar has a return method that is very similar to their pickup method, I chose instead to visit their base of operations near LAX to inspect the facility and see just how fly-by-night it was. The answer: not at all. They had perhaps eighty cars in stock, all of them clean and in outstanding shape. The whole place was quiet and dirt-free. The return process was easy enough, and I suspect they’d have run me to the airport had I asked.

As a way to try-before-you-buy with an Audi A4, Silvercar makes excellent sense. As a limited-scope replacement for a rental car, it makes excellent sense. At full retail price, whatever that price turns out to be, when these Audis have thirty thousand miles on them? At that point, you might want to consider that Camry from Hertz.

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