The first time I rented a car was through one of the big traditional rental companies in 2011. I had been rear-ended the day before at a red light by an inattentive young driver, and needed something to get me through the next few weeks while my car (3G Acura TL) was in the shop. They gave me two choices: an automatic Chevy Cruze or a Malibu. Safe to say, my week instantly got worse.

Five years later in April 2016, Turo launched in Canada.

For those who aren’t familiar, Turo is a car-sharing service similar in concept to Airbnb, where people can post their own vehicles up for short- or long-term rentals through Turo’s phone app or website. Pricing and terms of use are solely dictated by the owner of the vehicle, and a ratings system is in place for both owners and renters to weed out any problematic users. Every user must be validated by Turo before being allowed to use the service as well.

Turo has seen strong growth since their Canadian launch:

• 350,000 members across Canada
• Active in 351 Canadian Cities
• Largest car sharing network in Toronto and Montreal
• 10,000 available vehicles
• Members have doubled and available vehicles have tripled over the last 12 months

What originally sparked my interest in Turo was the fact that manual transmission vehicles are available for rent, which is almost never the case with typical rental companies.

You see, I love shifting my own gears with a clutch – it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to be so connected to your vehicle. Rather than feeling like you are just along for the ride, a manual gearbox makes whatever you are driving feel like an extension of yourself.

Sadly, there is a sharp decline in the prevalence of manual transmissions thanks to the threat of self-driving cars and a lack of interest from the general public. Additionally, vehicles equipped with automatic or dual-clutch transmissions shift significantly faster these days, but if you aren’t too concerned with shaving fractions of a second off your lap-times this won’t matter much at all for street driving.

Perhaps the coolest feature of Turo, however, is the availability of classic cars like the 944 shown below.

As a car lover I want to drive (almost) everything under the sun, and as someone who was born in the late 80s and didn’t find his love for cars until well into his adult years, I missed the chance to experience many beloved classics. Here is a small list of honourable mentions available throughout Canada:

1964 Ford Galaxie Convertible
1984 Volkswagen Rabbit
1985 Cadillac Fleetwood (on hydraulics!)
1986 Porsche 944
1989 Acura Integra
1989 Jaguar XJS
1987 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign

I haven’t had a need to rent a car since that accident so many years ago, but I couldn’t resist giving Turo a shot. Despite my ramblings about manual transmissions and classic cars, I ended up choosing something completely different, and certainly not something you would find at a traditional rental company.

My Experience

After spending far too much time browsing all of the vehicles available on Turo, I decided to rent a 2014 BMW 335i for a bit of fun weekend driving.

You might be thinking “Is he serious? I can rent a three series anywhere!”. Well, this was no ordinary 335i: it was making over 400hp and 420ft lbs of torque thanks to a stage 2 tune installed by the owner. Quite a far cry from the stock 300hp and 300ft lbs of torque that comes from the factory. It also came equipped with BMW’s M-Performance package to tighten the handling for a sportier feel.

When I arrived at the pick-up location, the owner explained some features of his 335i, and we chatted about our shared interest in cars. Truth be told this interaction felt more like having a friend say “have fun!” and throwing you their car keys.

Visually, the car was a total sleeper. Other than the gorgeous 19” M-Performance wheels, it looks like any other 3-series you would see on the road. Personally, I loved the low-key look. I did wish the exhaust note was a bit louder, although perhaps this speaks to BMW’s high quality sound-deadening materials and engineering. A manual transmission would have been preferred as well, but the automatic transmission was more than well-suited, with the paddle-shifters going up and down gears quickly and smoothly. When left in auto-shifting mode, the car usually found the correct gearing without much delay or hesitation.

With a generous 400kms included, I decided to take the car far away from the congested roads of Toronto (where fun driving goes to die) and out to the countryside to let it loose – safely and legally of course. It was here where this beastly 335i truly showed off its strengths.

Naturally, I headed straight the Forks of the Credit and its surrounding areas in Caledon: one of the most popular locations for driving enthusiasts and motorcycle riders alike for its curvy roads and beautiful scenery. Here, the 335i’s handling shined. It was confident and planted through the many corners with just a bit of body roll. The rear-drive biased X-Drive system was certainly felt as well, unexpectedly creating a mild “pushing” sensation and pivoting the car like it was RWD through heavy cornering.

Having said this, steering did feel rather loose and lifeless due to the electrically-assisted power steering, even while in Sport mode. The chassis was not communicative either as the softer suspension soaked every road imperfection up. As this is the owner’s daily vehicle, I can understand why he would want to avoid a stiffer, sportier suspension. Besides, you will forget about these relatively minor problems when you put your foot down along a clear straightaway.

And what a feeling it is to launch this 400hp brute. Even weighing in at a hefty 3700lbs, the 335i’s acceleration unbelievably quick while never feeling squirrely or unsafe. Once your foot is to the floor, you truly feel how different the car is from a stock 335i. From the factory, the 0-100km time is approximately 5.4 seconds, however this one felt closer to the mid-low 4s thanks to the various mods installed by the owner.

In the evening, the 335i served as a refined and classy vehicle for date night. Here, none of the brutishness of the car was obvious. Putting the car into comfort mode and employing a lighter foot revealed the demeanor of the luxury cruiser it was intended to be from the factory. Yet, all the power hidden under the hood was very much on tap and ready to be unleashed when needed.

Would I Recommend Turo?

Absolutely. As a car enthusiast, Turo’s features are extremely appealing. It offers me the opportunity to experience finely aged classics, dedicated sports cars, expensive exotics, and other vehicles that I would normally not have access to.

As well, Turo offers willing enthusiasts the chance to share their passion with others – something that is integral and core to the car community. For my own trip, I was able to drive something that was uniquely personalized by a fellow enthusiast for his own tastes and needs – in this case a double-duty family hauler that can hang with the big boys on the track or on the drag-strip.

Turo’s future is extremely promising, and I am thrilled to have had the chance to try it. While I may have experienced it through the lens of a car enthusiast, I firmly believe that Turo has something to offer everybody – whether or not they share my passion.

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