Economy Sedan Category: The economy category offers two and four-door models and virtually none have automatic transmission. This category is fine for one or two persons with luggage, but don't expect much performance on the Autobahn. We doubt you'll be comfortable at much over 80 mph. Typical cars at the VW Polo, Opel Corsa, and Ford Fiesta.

Compact Sedan Category: We recommend this four-door category for two or three persons plus luggage. These vehicles are OK on the Autobahn to about 95 mph. For an additional cost increase you can book a compact with automatic transmission. Typical cars: VW Golf, Opel Astra, Ford Focus.

Intermediate Sedan Category: Unless the occupants travel with very large suitcases, these cars will accommodate four persons and luggage and are stable on the Autobahn at 100 to 105 mph. Automatics available at a 25% to 50% premium. Typical cars: VW Passat, Ford Mondeo, Skoda Octavia, Peugeot 407.

Fullsize Sedan Category: Rarely are the cars in this category larger than those in the intermediate category, though sometimes they are nearly double the price. Cars in the fullsize category are just more desirable brands such as Mercedes, BMW or Volvo. The three-series BMW, for example, lacks trunk space and is not suitable for four persons and luggage. The C-Class Mercedes is also considered by Germany rental car companies as a fullsize vehicle but its overall dimensions are slightly smaller than the intermediate VW Passat. This category is likely to include factory-installed GPS in the basic price. With these cars the driver can begin to live in the left lane and be fairly comfortable up to about 110 mph.

Luxury/Premium Categories: If you're looking for top German luxury cars—BMW (five and seven series), Mercedes (E-Class and S-Class) and Audi (A6 and A8)—these the categories for you. For those brave enough, some of these cars can loaf along at speeds of 125 mph...and more. At the rental counter you will probably be required to show two major credit cards and it's also possible that your credit card will not cover for CDW and theft insurance. None of these vehicles will be allowed to travel in eastern countries and probably not in Italy as well. It it also likely that S-Class Mercedes, the seven-series BMW, and the Audi A8 will not be allowed out of Germany.

Station Wagon Categories: Wagons come in compact, intermediate, fullsize, premium and luxury categories. Generally speaking they provide more luggage space but not more passenger room than a corresponding category sedan. It very difficult—and expensive—to find station wagons with automatic transmission

Van Category: Two types of minivan are commonly available in Germany: a seven-passenger fullsize van such as the VW Multivan and the nine-passenger standard van such as the VW Caravelle. Rarely does either come with automatic transmission. We don't recommend more than five passengers and luggage for the fullsize van, or more than six or, at a stretch, seven passengers for the standard van. Both vehicles are short of luggage space. Be aware that the fine print of most credit card insurance programs excludes the standard van. An exception is American Express's Premium coverage which costs an extra $20 to $25, depending on the cardholder's state of residence. Suggested reading: Renting a Van in Europe

Intermediate Special Category: The vehicles in this category are the so-called "crossovers" which combine van, SUV, and station wagon elements. The two most commonly found in German rental fleets are the VW Touran and the Opel Zafira. Though both are sold new with seven seats, that configuration is almost never available as a rental in Germany. The same goes for automatic transmission. In the five-passenger configuration there is a bit more luggage room than in an intermediate wagon. These vehicles are fine for four passengers but not more, unless the fifth is a child.