What car to rent in Iceland – 2×2 or 4×4? Automatic or manual?
You might have read about varying weather situations and different road conditions in Iceland and might have got confused if your itinerary really requires you to spend that extra buck by renting a 4×4 in Iceland. If you have clicked on this article to find out the right rental car for you to around Iceland, then you have come to the right place. Regardless of whether you choose a campervan or a car, this article is going to help you make the decision between selecting a 4wd or a 2wd for your Iceland trip. Read on, and I promise, you would have decided what kind of car to rent by the end of this article.
What made me write this post? Well, after reading my Iceland 10 day itinerary, I have had many readers come back to me and ask this question in blog comments, Facebook messages and in Instagram. So, I decided to pen down this post to help clear out your mind on making this choice.
Also, let me make it clear that, in this article, I shall only concentrate on educating you on what kind of car will be ideal for your Icelandic self-drive journey. Other necessary details like what things to keep in mind while driving in Iceland and tips to choose the best rental car company shall be discussed in future posts. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to be informed when we publish a new post.
Why choose to drive in Iceland
The reason for choosing self-drive option in Iceland is fairly straight-forward. Public transport in Iceland is scanty, there are no trains whatsoever, and internal flights are expensive – moreover, Icelandic landscapes are too beautiful to miss out on if you take that internal flight. You do have an option to take day tours which can be quite convenient and stress free. I suggest this website to book your Iceland day tours. They are quite reliable and live up to their reputation.
Coming back to why self drive, the reason is simple – Iceland is expensive. Period. Even people who earn and spend in Dollars and Euros find costs in Iceland expensive. The only way to cut costs on your Icelandic holiday is to rent a car and drive around as much as you want and see many more places in a half or less price of that costly day tour. Plus, there is that ultimate freedom to stop by a place you like and spend time to your heart’s content than rushing into that tour bus with hordes of people within a given stipulated time. Driving in Iceland is not a puzzle at all as most of the roads are well paved and if not paved, are well marked and there is no reason for you to get lost (unless you drive in highlands with lots of water streams. More on highlands in the next section). This brings us to our next topic, the types of roads in Iceland.
Types of road in Iceland
There are mainly 2 types of roads in Iceland – Primary Roads and Highland roads/F-roads. Though there are a few subsections in the above two categories, for easier understanding – the roads that make the Ring road are Primary roads and the ones that take you into the core of Iceland are F-roads.
While some ‘Primary roads’ are really well paved and marked, like the highway roads to and from Keflavik Airport, others include just 2 lane, well tarred roads and a fair amount of gravel roads and unpaved roads. The Ring Road which circumnavigates the edge of Iceland covering all major sightseeing places, fall into Primary Roads category in the entirety.
Talking about roads in Highlands, these form the core of Iceland and really go deep into the deserted zone that resemble the Maritain landscapes. At some places there are literally no roads or there may be rivers overflowing onto the path, forcing the vehicle to trudge through the gushing water to move ahead. See this video for reference.
While the highlands of Iceland are fascinating to see and experience, I’d suggest you go on a day tour with experienced driver to stay safe and informed. Check out some day tours to Iceland highlands below. Click on the place name to take you to the tours offered to that place.
That said, if you are an adventurous and experienced driver, well versed in driving in extreme conditions then by all means you can explore the highlands with your 4×4 monster 🙂
P.S: Roads in Iceland as such are lonely. As we move away from South Iceland and go further up North, we find less people on the roads and sometimes we will be all alone for tens of kilometres. Its scary at times, but its one of a kind experience. While we were driving along the Westfjords, we would be the only car on the road and could not find any soul except for sheep and horses for hundreds of kilometres. When we’d spot a vehicle or a campervan, we would be like ‘Yay! We saw someone!’. We were that bored of seeing our faces! 😀 But the varying landscapes kept us busy and made sure that we were constantly awed! Also keep in mind that these are primary roads that we are driving on. So, you can imagine how empty and secluded the F roads will be!
Tip: Check this website for driving conditions in Iceland which clearly explains on what roads a 2wd and 4wd vehicle can drive on.
Questions to ponder before booking 2wd or 4wd rental car in Iceland
These are the few questions you need to ask yourself to make an absolute decision on the type of rental car that suits your travel style and itinerary.
In what season are you traveling to Iceland? Is it in summer, fall or winter? This is a really important criteria which plays a huge role in selecting the type of car/campervan that is a good fit for your itinerary.
If you are travelling to Iceland in winter, then no matter where you have planned to visit, you will need a 4×4 car/campervan. The roads in Iceland will be covered in snow and not safe for 2wd vehicles to ply as there are chances of casualties with high risks associated with it.
While some people are comfortable driving a 2wd in Icelandic winter, which is not totally impossible, it depends on how good or bad the weather is in Iceland. And weather in Iceland is very fickle. If its raining cats and dogs at this moment, it can be bright and sunny in the next five minutes. But, if you still decide to rent a 2WD in winter, then I’d say, you better pray to the weather gods! Otherwise, be wise and choose to be safe by renting a 4wd car in winter.
But, if you are travelling in summer or fall, then you can either go for 2wd or 4wd depending on places you have in your itinerary. This brings us to our next criteria – What places we aim to travel to?
Places you have decided to visit
As I mentioned earlier, during summer and fall in Iceland, the sights we decide to see and visit will narrow down our decision further. If your itinerary includes self-drive to Landmannalaugar, Þórsmörk, Askja volcano(the one in the highlands) then, you will definitely need a 4wd vehicle. As a general rule of thumb, if your itinerary includes self-drive in F-roads, then the choice should be a 4wd.
If you are sticking to the Ring Road and not venturing into the highlands, then you will do just fine with a 2wd vehicle. If driving around Ring Road, East fjords, North Iceland, Westfjords and Snaefellsnes peninsula are on your list, then a 2wd will suffice. While we were in North Iceland, some parts of the Ring Road were unpaved and were gravel roads. We pulled it off easily (see the next section to read up our experience) and we also saw some small cars and campervans do just fine in those conditions.
So, if you plan is to do ONLY the Ring road, then don’t worry, go ahead and book that 2wd vehicle. This will save you substantial amount of money too!
P.S: Just giving you an heads up on the website we use to book our car rentals in Europe. We always do our rental car bookings from this site. It compares cars and facilities provided by various suppliers in a very efficient way helping us to take that well informed decision and to book the best vehicle that suits our requirements.
Type of car you are comfortable driving
This is a completely personal choice, so I leave the decision to you because you the best person who knows your skills the best. Isn’t it?
But, if you are comfortable with both and not sure which one to chime in, like how we were confused. Then check your budget, if it is generous and allows you to indulge then automatic is the way to go. Otherwise, driving a manual car in Iceland isn’t a difficult task at all as most of the roads are straight and well maintained. No frequent twists and turns which results in changing the gear frequently.
When we did the Amalfi coast drive in Italy, the roads were serpentine and narrow, which was strenuous to maneuver in our rented manual car. Though Neetan was comfortable driving a manual car (As we often drive to the mountains in our manual car we have back home), he told that an automatic would have made the drive easier. But in Iceland, that was not the case. Roads are pretty straight. So a nice, manual car will do fine. Check our Amalfi Coast video below.
Other necessary obvious factors.
Other factors like – number of people traveling, number of suitcases you want to fit in the boot, Fuel efficiency, comfort etc. These are obvious factors hence I leave those at your discretion.
Take a look at this info graphic to make things simpler 🙂
Our experience: What did we rent and how was it?
We were 4 people travelling to Iceland, so when we booked a car, we booked a 2×2 sedan which can comfortably accommodate 4 people and all our luggage. Because our plan included no F-roads and we covered South Iceland, East fjords, North Iceland, Westfjords and Snaefellsnes peninsula, a 2wd was perfectly suitable for our plan.
But to our surprise, lovely folks at Lagoon Car Rentals upgraded us to a 4×4 Automatic Hyundai Tucson! How sweet! Read our review of Lagoon Car Rentals here. The car was really comfortable and made our trip memorable. But as our plan did not include F-roads, we hardly used the Sport mode in the Tucson. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, as we went further deep into the country side of North Iceland, the roads weren’t tarred and were gravel roads for hundreds of kilometres. But still, this didn’t warrant the need to engage the 4×4 mode, which was unnecessary.
The only time we engaged the Sport mode was when we were driving from Pingeyri to Dynjandi Waterfalls in Vestfjarðavegur pass which still could have been pulled off by a 2×2. Otherwise, we didn’t use the 4×4 option anywhere else.
The roads all along the Ring Road aren’t challenging at all and are straight roads without steep curves and turns. Apart from driving the Ring road, we did drive in a few passes during our trip and the ones we did drive through were when we strayed away from the Ring road to visit places that spiked our interest. Like when we visited Seyðisfjörður(below pic), the drive from Pingeyri to Dynjandi(above pic) and the drive from Búðir Black church to Grundarfjörður and all these drives were enjoyable and nothing very dangerous and scary.
Driving in Iceland in general is a once in a lifetime experience and we totally loved our time there. The landscapes are surreal and constantly changing throughout the drive. Loads of waterfalls, small hot springs by the road side, out of the world landscapes – all make this country extra special and makes me wants to go back so bad!
This was our experience driving in Iceland. Hope I have cleared the doubt in your mind about which vehicle to choose when you book your rental car in Iceland. Please let me know in the comments if you have any more questions or suggestions. Lots of posts on Iceland coming your way, so follow us on our social media in the links at the end of this post or the top bar to get notified when we publish a new post. Until then, Ciao! Oh, wait. I have few more pictures to show you 😛 Enjoy and see you in the next post!