Last updated on April 3, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, travelling and renting cars In Italy

Rental Cars in Italy: is Automatic Transmission Better?

Renting a car in Italy can present a unique challenge for those accustomed to automatic transmissions.

While automatics are gradually becoming more common, manual cars still dominate the roads and rental fleets in Italy.

Is automatic transmission better for your trip to Italy? Yes and no.

It depends on various factors, including your comfort with manual driving, your itinerary, and your budget.

In this post, I have also written about 3 possible road trips in Italy where automatic transmission works better or worst, and I will tell you why.

Understanding Transmission Types

Understanding the distinction between manual and automatic transmissions is crucial.

A manual transmission requires the driver to manually shift gears using a clutch and gear stick, demanding a greater level of skill and engagement than an automatic transmission.

The automatic transmission does the gear shifting for you, allowing you to focus more on the road and less on the mechanics of driving.

When renting a car in Italy, manual transmission is traditionally more popular due to its greater fuel efficiency, lower upfront costs, and the control they offer, particularly in mountainous terrain.

However, automatic cars are steadily gaining ground, particularly in city centres and among younger drivers.

You can always find surprising cars on sale in Taormina
You can always find surprising cars on sale in Italy, most probably with manual transmission

Benefits of rental cars in Italy with automatic transmission

Automatic cars provide several benefits for drivers, especially those unfamiliar with manual transmissions.

Firstly, they are inherently easier to drive. You can navigate Italian roads without the added task of gear shifting, particularly useful in hilly regions or congested urban areas.

Secondly, automatics eliminate the risk of stalling – a common occurrence for inexperienced manual drivers.

This convenience can be a boon in many scenarios such as navigating through busy city centres, steep country roads, or crawling along in the stop-start traffic of a rush hour autostrada.

My tip here: book an automatic car if you usually drive on the left side of the road (Italy drives on the right side). One less thing to worry about if you are not already used to the manual transmission.

I usually rent my cars on the DiscoverCars website, a rental aggregator that compares the prices of local and global operators providing the best deal around, either with manual or automatic transmission and with the possibility to add full insurance for just 7 Euros/day, such a great peace of mind.

Drawbacks of Automatic Transmission

Automatic cars are not without their drawbacks.

They are typically more expensive to rent than their manual counterparts, which could impact your travel budget.

Moreover, the prevalence of manual cars in Italy means that automatics may be less available, particularly in smaller cities and towns.

You might need to reserve well in advance or be flexible with your car choice.

My tip: look for an automatic car in a major city, where there is more availability. Then drive to the smaller city. You will have probably no automatic options in smaller cities

Making the Decision: Automatic or Manual?

The decision between automatic and manual transmission ultimately hinges on your comfort level, budget, and travel plans.

Automatic cars, despite being pricier, offer a more stress-free driving experience, particularly for those not accustomed to manual transmissions.

On the other hand, manual cars, while requiring a higher skill level, are cheaper and there is a wider choice.

Double parking in Via Garibaldi leading to the Catania Duomo - N
Double parking in Via Garibaldi leading to the Catania Duomo – Not that uncommon

Three case scenarios with rental cars in Italy with automatic transmission

A road trip in Sicily

Imagine renting a car in Sicily and embracing a road trip across the diverse landscapes of the region, an exhilarating adventure.

Let’s say you start your journey in the vibrant city of Catania, one of the most beautiful places to stay in Sicily.

Here, the streets are often bustling with traffic and the driving style of the locals can be somewhat erratic.

You may already know how it is so much easier to drive an automatic car in city traffic, and Catania is no different.

With the automatic, you will be more focused on the traffic itself (the right thing to do) than on running the car.

You then proceed along the picturesque southern coast, a region known for its serene beaches and crystal-clear waters.

The drive along the coastline is beautiful but winding, and a vehicle with automatic transmission can again make the experience more relaxing and enjoyable.

In your road trip, you plan also a Mount Etna Tour, Europe’s most active volcano.

The drive up the mountain involves numerous hairpin bends and steep inclines, which can be challenging for those unfamiliar with manual transmission.

An automatic car simplifies this process, allowing you to manage difficult terrain with ease while appreciating the awe-inspiring vistas.

Finally, you decide to cross the Strait of Messina by ferry and continue your journey to Calabria.

The frequent stop-start nature of queueing for and boarding the ferry can be tiresome in a manual car, but an automatic transmission can make this process smoother and less taxing.

Now, let’s talk about costs.

Renting a car with automatic transmission in Italy can be more expensive than a manual one.

Usually, you come up with a bill that is 20-30% higher than manual transmission.

Furthermore, automatic cars are usually less fuel-efficient than their manual counterparts. If we consider a trip of about 1000 km, you might end up spending an additional €10-€20 on fuel with an automatic car.

However, when calculating the total cost, remember to factor in the potential stress and inconvenience of driving a manual car, especially if you’re not used to it.

If an automatic car can provide a more enjoyable and less stressful driving experience, this might well offset the additional costs.

For a Sicilian road trip that involves diverse terrains and intense city driving, the automatic option might indeed be the more advantageous choice.

Sardinia - Wonderful morning panorama of the colourful houses of the old town of Bosa
Sardinia – Wonderful morning panorama of the colourful houses of the old town of Bosa

A road trip in Sardinia

Renting a car in Sardinia and embarking on a journey across its idyllic landscapes promises an unforgettable adventure. Sardinia’s roads are generally less congested than those in mainland Italy, making it a potentially less stressful driving experience.

You might begin your Sardinia road trip in Cagliari, the region’s lively capital. Similarly to Catania, the automatic car will help you to navigate smoothly through the traffic.

In saying that I personally suggest renting the car only when you leave Cagliari and using public transportation to visit the city. In this way, you can also save some money when renting a car in Sardinia.

Next, let’s imagine a drive to the picturesque village of Villasimius. The route offers stunning coastal views and winding mountainous roads.

A manual transmission can make for a thrilling drive, allowing you to feel connected with the landscape as you manually control your vehicle to match the terrain.

A trip to the otherworldly landscapes of the Su Nuraxi archaeological site is a must.

Navigating rural roads in a manual car can be quite satisfying, given the control you have over your speed and gear selection, making it a rewarding experience for many drivers.

Your road trip might continue north, through the scenic landscapes of the Barbagia region, to the captivating town of Alghero.

With open roads and less traffic to contend with, a manual car allows you to save on rental costs and fuel, without the typical stress of stop-start city driving.

Finally, you decide to visit the glamorous Costa Smeralda, renowned for its stunning beaches and elite resorts. Parking in this popular tourist area can be easier with a manual car, which typically is smaller than many automatic models.

As for the cost, opting for a manual car in Sardinia could save you around 20%-30% on rental fees compared to an automatic one.

However, it’s important to be comfortable and experienced with manual driving before opting for this choice.

If you’re proficient with a manual transmission, Sardinia’s less crowded roads and relaxed driving environment make it an ideal place to take advantage of the savings a manual car can provide.

Alberobello - Street view of the typical Trulli - Puglia
Alberobello – Street view of the typical Trulli – Puglia

A road trip from Puglia to Roma

Imagine renting a car in Puglia, exploring this beautiful region and driving to Rome where you drop off the car.

Begin your road trip in Puglia, known for its whitewashed hill towns and centuries-old farmland. Here, in cities like Lecce or Bari, an automatic transmission can be particularly helpful, enabling you to navigate the bustling urban traffic without the need for constant gear shifting.

Next, you head west to Matera, a city in the region of Basilicata that’s renowned for its ancient cave dwellings.

Driving on the winding roads leading to this UNESCO World Heritage site could be more engaging with a manual car, as you’ll have more control negotiating the hilly terrain.

After exploring Matera, you set off for Rome, traversing the Italian peninsula.

On the highway, the choice between automatic and manual becomes a matter of personal preference.

With an automatic, highway driving becomes a more relaxing experience as the car smoothly handles gear changes. However, some drivers might prefer a manual car for its generally better fuel economy and the feeling of control it offers.

Upon reaching Rome, navigating the notoriously chaotic traffic can be less stressful with an automatic transmission. It allows for smoother manoeuvring in stop-and-go traffic and makes parking in the city’s compact spaces a bit easier.

If you just have to drop off the car at the airport, having an automatic or a manual does not make much of a difference.

Beautiful drive at sunset time in Tuscany
Beautiful drive at sunset time in Tuscany

Conclusion

So, is automatic transmission better when renting a car in Italy? It depends.

Overall, automatic cars provide a more relaxed driving experience, beneficial for those less confident in their manual driving skills or navigating through Italy’s challenging roads.

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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