Cuba car rental guide: The facts

Mazda? Nope, Changan Alsvin.
     MUCH OF what you read on the Internet about renting a car in Cuba is confusing. Some of it is wrong.
  And some things – like the supposed "Chana Alfwin" – are confusingly wrong.
   Several Cuban rental sites (well, they're mostly not Cuban – see below), list the Chana Alfwin sedan among available cars. Never having heard of the Alfwin, I was curious about who makes it and how it is regarded. Yet for all my digging, I couldn't find any mention of this car elsewhere.
   A unique-to-Cuba vehicle?
   Nope. The "Alfwin," I finally discovered, is actually the Alsvin, produced by Chinese manufacturer Changan Automobile Co., which sometimes refers to itself in English as Chana. Changan is reportedly a division of the state-owned Chinese Weaponry Equipment.
   Considered a midsize model in Cuba, the Alsvin would be regarded as a compact in most other places. It bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the first series Mazda 3, though with a 99-inch (2515 millimetres) wheelbase, it's considerably shorter than the Mazda (103.9 in./2,639 mm).
   Is it a good car? Who – apart from many thousands of Chinese drivers – can say? It appears to have scored three of a possible five stars in Chinese crash-testing, not wonderful but several constellations above the Geely CK that is another Cuban rental choice.
   I'll be in Cuba soon. I'll watch for the Alsvin/Alfwin.

   If you're thinking about renting a car in Cuba, check these posts:

1. How it works

Renting a car in Cuba: So many, so few
Don't be fooled by all those sites. Most are middlemen for the handful of Cuba's state-owned rental companies.

There will be paperwork

Written before I realized I was renting through an intermediary. Still, you'll find useful information here about the process.

You won't drive a bargain
What it costs to rent a car in Cuba. (Hint: Plenty.)

Keep the lead out
For you, special gasoline. Yes, really.

2. What you'll get

Spicy little number
The Kia Picanto subcompact has tons of tang.

Geely. Prounced Jee-lee. Or in Cuba, Heely
Cuba's rental car of choice. Not your choice. Cuba's. But model by model, Geely is getting better.

It's a Geely – really
Any resemblance between the Emgrand EC8 and a Cadillac XTS is you-betcha intentional.

Another rental choice
They want to give you something called a Samsung SM3? Relax. It's a Nissan.

3. Behind the wheel

Leave the driving to them
Hiring a car and driver can be cheaper – and calmer.

Driving in Cuba reconsidered
A countryman's plight prompts some second thoughts.

10 tips for driving in Cuba
Where there's always a cop around when you need one – and often, when you don't.

Samsung (Nissan) SM3, left, and Geely CK. Take the Samsung.


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