F905 Askja Iceland

How to choose the best car for Iceland: 2021 Guide

Type of car = Type of trip

I’ve done tons of research on how to choose the best car for Iceland. I’ve done tons of research on Icelandic car rental companies, reviewing more than 50 of them. If you are like me, and you want to do your research on your own, then Northbound.is would be a great place to start when choosing the best car rental for Iceland. The car is a really important part of any road trip in Iceland, for us, the car was the most important thing to have in many aspects. What I concluded after a thorough research was the following. Primarily, you have to decide what kind of trip do you want to do:

  1. Ring road only, no F-roads
  2. F-roads with no river crossings or only minor ponds
  3. F-roads with medium river crossings
  4. F-roads with big and treacherous river crossings

Read our guide on how to choose the best car rental insurance for Iceland.

Of course, you can always opt for the big, expensive, super-jeep 4×4 car (like Land Rover Super Defender) which will serve you for all of the options above. You will be fine, you’re gonna just end up paying 2-4 times as much as we did. What we aimed for, was the best performance to price ratio, as many people aim for as well. If you aim for that too, here’s what I advise to do (for the trip types from above):

1. Ring road only, no F-roads

small 2wd car

Small 2wd car

Basically any car, just read carefully what’s included in the insurance. We took an old Hyundai i20 for our first day because it was cheaper than roundtrip from the airport to Reykjavik by bus. The company I can recommend for this kind of trip is Go Car Rental. Mostly because they offer one of the cheapest cars in Iceland while being a reliable car rental company which doesn’t scam its customers. Lately also Lotus Car Rental went with their prices lower, so they are one of the cheapest now as well.

If you want to go for a Campervan option, I can highly recommend Happy Campers. They are one of the biggest and cheapest campervan companies in Iceland. You can be more than sure that your experience with them will be awesome.

Go Car Rental promo code:

A PROMO CODE epiciceland will get you a 5% discount with Go Car Rental and us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

2. F-roads with no river crossings or only minor ponds

small 4wd car

Small 4wd car

Basically any 4×4 car. If it wasn’t for the Icelandic law, which requires you to have 4×4 on EVERY F-road, I would say even 2wd car would be sufficient for most of the Icelandic F-roads which do not have river crossings, during good weather. They are just really bumpy with many potholes, but in 90% of cases easily passable. Bad weather may change this dramatically of course. We had the best experience with Lotus Car Rental and heard great feedback on Go Car Rental from many travellers as well. But, of course, if you prefer to do your own research go for sites like Northbound.is.

If you want to go for a Campervan option, I can highly recommend Happy Campers. They are one of the biggest and cheapest campervan companies in Iceland. They even rent 4×4 campervans!

Happy Campers promo code:

We offer to our readers a 7% PROMO CODE for Happy Campers rental.

3. F-roads with medium river crossings

medium 4wd car

Medium 4wd car

4×4 car with decent ground clearance, i.e. in my opinion at least 18 centimetres and with air intake which is high enough (at least your hip height). Best performance to the price in this category is for me undoubtedly Dacia Duster 4wd, the option we took after my research. Again, we had the best experience with Lotus Car Rental, but you should do well also with Go Car Rental or your own research which is easiest to start with the Icelandic search engine Northbound.is. If you feel unsure and better want to go for the safest option, you may still choose the biggest car available – super-jeep. In this category, I recommend Isak 4×4 Rental.

Lotus car rental promo code:

A PROMO CODE absoluticeland will get you a 5% discount with Lotus and us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

4. F-roads with big and treacherous river crossings

Icelandic Superjeep

Icelandic Superjeep

The so-called super-jeep 4×4 car. You need to have really high ground clearance, strong engine, artificially modified air intake, very good tires and other things a car mechanic would describe better than me. Even in this case, crossing big rivers (like Krossá near Thórsmörk) may be dangerous. There are just a few companies which will let you rent a super-jeep, where one with the best performance to price ratio is Isak 4×4 Rental according to my research.

Isak 4×4 promo code:

A RARE PROMO CODE epiciceland will get you a 10% discount with Isak 4×4 and us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

It’s all about river crossings

At the end of the day, it’s all about river crossings. The size of rivers you want to cross determines what car do you need for those rivers. Apart from river crossings, there’s nothing super dangerous about Icelandic roads in the summer, other than any other roads around the world. Winter season, of course, changes this significantly and factors like how the car handles snow come into the force.

iceland river crossing

River crossing in Iceland. Taken from https://www.foodiebaker.com/day-3-iceland-travelogue/

I wanted to try many interesting F-roads and see the magical surreal landscapes surrounding them, so I haven’t even considered options 1 and 2. I finally opted for option 3, because you are able to see the majority of the most beautiful places in Iceland without crossing big rivers. You cannot avoid the small to medium ones, however. Secondly, a price jump from option 3 to option 4 is a huge one, you can easily triple the price of your rental car because of it being a super-jeep.

Under option 3, i.e. 4×4 (or 4wd is sufficient as well), the clear winner in terms of performance to price ratio has been Dacia Duster. I can confirm this after our 12 days trip. We successfully drove all our planned roads without any problems, crossing around 20 rivers, including several medium-sized ones. I can highly recommend Duster under normal weather conditions even in the Highlands.

Although we didn’t experience any heavy rain during our drives on F-roads, Duster should still be capable of dealing with most of the situations, except big rivers, which, however, is not an option 3 anymore. You can read this blog further for a list of F-roads which we’ve done and also to see which rivers are considered to be small to medium-sized ones.

Dynjandi Vestfjarðavegur road 60

Road 60, or Vestfjarðavegur in Westfjords towards Dynjandi waterfall

Car rental company and insurance

For me, this was an easy choice. I wanted to do the river crossings. That means, there is always an option that your car can get stuck in water or your engine may be damaged by water. And this may cost thousands of Euros. I definitely wanted to avoid that. And, since there is only one car rental company in Iceland which insures you even for river crossings, I’ve opted for this company – Lotus.

River crossings are part of their platinum insurance package, which costs around 40eur/day, i.e. almost the same as platinum insurance packages from other car rental companies that do NOT insure you in case of river crossings. Although a car rental via Lotus costed a bit more (around 100eur/day for 11 days) compared to some other companies, river crossing insurance was a deal-breaker for me.

lotus car rental iceland

GET 5% DISCOUNT for Lotus Car Rental with PROMO CODE: absoluticeland

On top of that – not only Lotus insures you in case of river crossings – it also allows you to drive on ANY F-road. What does this mean? Majority of car rental companies do not allow you to drive certain roads (e.g. F249, F210, F26). What does it mean “do not allow”? Firstly, you can get fined for doing that. Secondly, in case you drive them, no insurance applies for your rental, even if you paid for the platinum one.

Read our guide on how to choose the best car rental insurance for Iceland.

Of course, with some roads, this makes sense, like the ones I mentioned above, as they may be often dangerous. However, rental companies often tend to forbid you driving even on F-roads which are not that dangerous, but the rental company has “some risk” that you may damage the car somehow, so they better forbid you to drive the road. Which makes really no sense to me – why am I borrowing a 4×4 car then, which is allowed to drive F-roads, when a rental company doesn’t allow me to drive almost half of them?

That’s why I chose Lotus. They let you drive on any F-road and their insurance applies in case of ALL F-roads, which really is a great feature. Then it’s up to you to judge which routes are doable for you and which are not.

Southern part of Icelandic F208 road

F208 road from Vik towards Landmannalaugar

Our car rental experience

With Lotus, the entire rental process was really smooth, you’ve got a nice website with all info you need, you’ve got really great reviews (I would say the best among all rental companies in Iceland).

We arrived at the car rental desk, being the only customers at that time (unlike in the case of some other companies). The car was ready immediately. Kudos to Laura at the desk, who explained to us everything we needed, showed us how to operate the rooftop tent, how to use wi-fi router, gave us advice on how to drive the car the best way and other important basics. The car was in a great condition without any damage (unlike in the case of some other companies).

I asked Laura on her opinion about river crossings we were planning to do and she reassured me they all should be doable in case I drive properly, even in Dacia Duster, and that most of them she had done already and are not that hard. She told us the only river she doesn’t recommend us crossing is Krossá river on the road to Thórsmork, which reassured me even more. I was pretty sure I don’t want to cross this one, I was just afraid whether the ones we were planning (like F208, F235, F905, F910, F347) are not too dangerous as well. For example, some famous Icelandic rental companies are banning you from doing F910. Her reply reassured me that they should be fine.

I studied a lot about how the car may be damaged when crossing a river, so my last question was where the air intake of Duster is located. She replied that it’s somewhere above her hip height (i.e. some 80-100cm) which reassured me even more. I definitely was not planning crossing rivers that big (from what I’d studied, the biggest should be around 50-60cm maximum). So, empowered with my newly gained confidence from Laura’s advice, we started our journey.

Fellabær campsite

Fellabær campsite next to Egilsstaðir

First day – 2wd rental

For our first day in Iceland, we decided to rent a cheap 2wd car due to several reasons. Firstly, we had to wait for the results of Covid test adhering to “social distancing”. Secondly, we wanted to explore Reykjavik, Keflavik and their surroundings at least for a few hours, for which a 4×4 car would be useless. Thirdly, we wanted to prepare for our trip doing shopping etc. for which again a 4×4 would be useless.

Last but not least by renting a 2wd car we saved around 80Eur compared to 4×4 rental and saved even compared to a return journey from Keflavik to Reykjavik by bus, not to mention the flexibility the car gives you). So I’ve done quick research for a cheap car rental company with decent reviews (you obviously can’t find the cheap company with fabulous reviews as these 2 things contradict each other).

Our rental experience was a bit cumbersome in this case but still fine. Mainly, because we had to wait around 1 hour in a waiting room full of customers served by some really slow clerks from the car rental company, which, during Covid face masks times, was an awkward experience. Moreover, the car we got had tens of scratches, chips and damages of both to the interior and exterior of the vehicle – none of them huge, however. Maybe that is why the rental was so cheap (around 50eur).

I didn’t buy any additional insurance on top of the compulsory one (CDW, TPL), because damaging the car on a way from Keflavik to Reykjavik and back was highly improbable. I was a little bit afraid whether the rental company would examine each scratch on the car after I return it, so I took tons of pictures of the car before departing from the car rental lot. When returning the car the next day, however, the return process was smooth. There were no customers waiting and nobody examined any scratches, so it luckily took maybe 5 minutes.

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Posted by epiciceland


Because in my country I drive only automatic cars do you think that Rav4 is comparable to Duster? Planning to do F208 South and Askja.

Hi John, it depends on:
-the model (2018 vs 2019 vs some other) of Rav4
-actual road conditions at the time of your visit

-According to Google, Rav4 2018 has a ground clearance of 6.5inch (16.5cm) and Rav4 2019 has 8.6inch (22cm) which is quite a difference. Dacia Duster is about the same as Rav4 2019.
-Also, the best time to go is usually August, because the water levels are at their lowest.
-The third important thing is the height of the air intake of your car. It should be at least 31inch/80cm for F208 south and Askja roads (not sure where is it on Rav4, but Duster has it at roughly 90cm/35inch).

To sum up – in good conditions you should be fine, in worse conditions you may not be. We wrote more on the topic here:

TLDR: If you go for Lotus with full insurance, you should be fine. To be even more confident, I would maybe go for Subaru Forester (automatic, ground clearance 8.7inch for all models, price about the same)

After contacting Lotus they said that Forester has a low ground clearance and is not suitable for Askja and they said that Duster has higher ground clearance. How is this possible?

Dear John,

it’s good you contacted Lotus, the car rental company should always know the best what type of vehicles they offer at a particular time. There may be several factors influencing this:

-they may have changed/renewed their fleet (sometimes newer models have lower ground clearance)

-there are always several versions of one car (e.g. classical 4×4, modified 4×4 for higher ground clearance, etc.)

So the only one who knows exactly what parameters do the cars have, as of today, is their owner, i.e. the rental company. 

As per our experience – I can 100% confirm Dacia Duster we drove was fine in the conditions we experienced.

We didn’t drive Forester/Rav4 by Lotus, so about that we may only give you general information which can be googled (which said Forester has similar ground clearance as Duster and Rav4 lower). If Lotus said Forester has lower clearance, then it’s probably like that, for whatever reason. You may ask them further if you are interested – I’m sure they will answer you all your questions.

It’s really a great and helpful piece of information. I am satisfied that
you shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date
like this. Thank you for sharing.

Thoughts on the Suzuki Jimney 2019?

Any f-Roads to avoid that car?

Hi Allan,

Suzuki Jimny is good if you don’t plan to go on F-roads with major river crossings. Because Jimny is a “small 4wd car”, it is dangerous to cross big rivers and sometimes even medium rivers (depending on the weather and your driving skills).

Definitely avoid roads like F249, F210, F206, F261, F233 (big river crossings).
Roads like F208 south, F905, F910, F224 all have medium river crossings – sometimes you may have problems with Jimny (depending on the weather and your driving skills).

We wrote more about each F-road here:

I remember from earlier days that rental companies had an age limit of 70 years. That means that elderly people are excluded from renting. I am an experienced car driver, but I am 77 yearsyoung. Has that situation changed? When I come byboat i can drive my own car.


Hi Fred,

some companies have this limit, some don’t. The only way to find out is to ask the specific car rental company

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