2012 Top 10 Road Trip Autos
We’ve reached the peak of summer, and Americans everywhere are readying for their vacations. They’ll be packing their gear, loading the cars, and hitting the open road for a memorable journey.
The road trip is an authentic American experience made all the more enjoyable by the right vehicle. Whether you’re solo or a family of seven, whether you're heading to the beach or the mountains, there’s a great road trip vehicle out there for you.
We've made selections based on wide variety of criteria: space efficiency, fuel economy, longest range, style, luxury and more.
Let’s take a look at some of our favorites.
Griswold Family Vacation Road Trip Pick
Someday, somehow, who knows when, wood siding on station wagons will come back. Well, station wagons will need to come back first though, right? Until then, the Ford Flex will have to do. The Flex was born of a problem. Ford couldn’t seem to get any traction in the minivan segment. The Windstar, then Freestar never quite got a foothold on the competition. That, combined with the ever-growing stigma of driving a minivan (more on that later) led Ford to devise something different.
With a rectilinear shape harkens back to the capacious land barges of the 60’s and 70’s, the only thing really that keeps it from being called a station wagon is that it doesn’t have a sedan version in the family. Look at the ribbing along the doors and the aluminum panel across the back. Does that not evoke the wood cladding of the Country Squire? Subtly perhaps, but evocative nonetheless.
Three rows of seats and available AWD make the Flex a versatile family carryall with old school station wagon style.
Base MSRP: $29,465
MPG: 24 hwy/17 city
More Than Four Road Trip Pick
A minivan. Any minivan. Seriously, it’s time to get over it. You’re not tougher or cooler because you drive an SUV. You’re just giving up valuable space. You’re not a weenie for driving a minivan. You’re smart. And self-assured. You don’t care what others think. Because no vehicle is more efficient at holding people and their stuff than a minivan. Put up all three rows in a crossover and your luggage space shrinks to wash-your-clothes-in-the-hotel-sink-because-you-need-to-pack-light size. Use all three rows in a minivan and you’ve still got enough space to have a different wardrobe change each day.
Throw in the lower step-in height and easier third row egress, better gas mileage, and a staggering array of convenience and entertainment goodies, and you’re living large on the road.
“Waaah, but I need All-Wheel-Drive because I might go skiing some time this decade, waaaahhh!” Okay, fine. Get a Toyota Sienna. Minivan + AWD = no more excuses.
Base MSRP: $26,300
MPG: 24 hwy/18 city
“I Told You To Go Before We Left” Road Trip Pick
What is it with Dad? Is a 10-minute bathroom stop really going to have a profound effect on our vacation? Does he really expect us to repurpose our energy drink bottles? If you’re a passenger, you may never truly know the answer to those questions. If you’re a Dad, have we got the car for you! The Volkswagen Passat TDI SE with a manual transmission, is the cruising range king, with a whopping 795 miles. You can practically feel your bladder distending already, can't you?
Thanks to the 43 MPG from VW’s outstanding 2.0L TDI (Turbo Direct Injection) 4-cylinder diesel, paired with an 18.5 gallon fuel tank, you can motor from New York to Chicago with nary a stop. And you will be doing so in fine comfort and style. The Passat is an award-winning and spacious midsize sedan with Euro flair. Steel yourself against their whiny complaints of potential pants-wetting, intrepid father! You are the master of road trip endurance; if you can do it, so can they!
Volkswagen Passat TDI SE
Base MSRP: $25,995
MPG: 43 hwy/31 city
Cheapskate Road Trip Pick
Not all road trips are of the family variety, of course. Youngsters take road trips, too. Whether it’s spring break, or a long weekend snowboarding, dudes and dudettes need a cheap way to hit the highway. You’ll find none cheaper than the Nissan Versa sedan.
The Versa has the lowest price of entry of any new car sold in the U.S. At a miniscule $10,990, the next closest sedan is over $1500 up the ladder. That much cheddar will buy a lot of gas. Or Natty Lite (when you arrive at your destination, of course; please don’t drink and drive, kids). At that price you’ll be doing without a few of the creature comforts featured in even the cheapest of rental cars. Power windows? Nope, get cranking. Power locks? Sorry, but you’ll actually be inserting a key into the door to get inside.
Once inside though, you’ll enjoy the most space that so little money can buy. Add nearly 15 cubic feet of cargo volume and 36 MPG on the highway (38 with the CVT auto; but that costs more) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for cheap travelling.
Nissan Versa Sedan
Base MSRP: $10,990
MPG: 36 hwy/26 city
Grandpa Golf Vacation Road Trip Pick
Okay, we got the kids out of the way; now let’s slide to other end of the age spectrum and take care of our retirees. Creature comforts are an absolute must, space must be copious, and we prefer a traditional sedan profile, please. No liftgates or hatchbacks for the conservative grandfolk. And it wouldn’t hurt if it was an American make, either. So what vehicle fits this bill? Look no further than the Ford Taurus.
With a class-leading 20.1 cubic feet of trunk space, the Taurus will easily swallow gobs of gear and golf bags. Inside, the niceties include seats that are not only heated and air conditioned, you can opt for massaging as well. With that much tush comfort you can pile the miles on. All-Wheel-Drive is also available for extra security in inclement weather. And you know gramps is always checking the weather.
Base MSRP: $25,555
MPG: 28 hwy/18 city
Cowboy Comfort Road Trip Pick
We simply cannot ignore pickup trucks on a list of road trip vehicles. Or many other lists for that matter. After all, the top selling vehicle in the U.S. month after month is the Ford F-Series. Moving that much metal, they must be doing something right. While a lot of them may be for work, a whole bunch of them are for play. And you can pack them with enough luxury features to make a make a Bentley blush.
Get the Super Crew cab and you’ll find enough space inside to vacation with the front four of a football team comfortably. Throw a cover on the pickup bed to get the biggest trunk in the land, then when you get back you can load it up with sheets of plywood, or manure, or whatever unwieldy cargo your heart desires. Campers? Tow to your heart’s delight, outdoorsmen.
Bonus points: Properly equipped, you can get a range of 756 miles, second only to our bladder-busting VW Passat.
Ford F-150 Super Crew XL
Base MSRP: $30,980
MPG: 23 hwy/17 city
Urban Hipster Road Trip Pick
Is your idea of a great road trip touring ironic roadside attractions? Is your preferred head covering a fedora? Are you wearing a scarf even though it’s 75 degrees outside? Do you drink Pabst Blue Ribbon just because the can looks cool? You may be an Urban Hipster. But that’s okay, we won’t judge; there’s plenty of room on the road for everyone. And do we have the road trip car for you! The MINI Cooper Countryman has everything you need for your trip to The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle.
Like the smaller Cooper Hardtop, it’s cuter than a bug with just the right mix of modern and retro, but with four real doors and a back seat that isn’t a torture chamber, you and three of your hip pals can travel with all the stylish comfort of a pair of Chuck Taylors. If you’re filling all four seats, though, the luggage area can be a bit cramped, so don’t pack too many skinny jeans and cardigans. Gas mileage is outstanding, so you’ll have plenty extra cash to spend at vintage diners and old man bars.
MINI Cooper Countryman
Base MSRP: $21,750
MPG: 35 hwy/27 city
Green Road Trip Pick
Well, the absolute greenest thing to do is to not put another car on the road at all; take the bus or a train. But we all know that doesn’t mesh with the American Dream of unlimited mobility on the open road, so what car gives us the best balance of road trip convenience and minimal ecological impact? Our vote goes to the Toyota Prius v.
Take the highly successful Prius, graft on a wagon backside, and you’ve got the formula for the Prius v. With the rear seats up you’ve got over 34 cubic feet to stuff with stuff. Plus, those seats do all sorts of tricks, like slide back and forth, recline, and fold 60/40, so there’s plenty of hauling options. Also available are high-tech goodies that team up your smartphone to the Prius v for the fully connected mobile lifestyle.
Treat your passengers to a panoramic moonroof, while you treat yourself to 42 MPG combined, so it won’t matter if your road trip is across the interstate or over the back roads.
Toyota Prius v
Base MSRP: $26,550
MPG: 40 hwy/44 city
Fun In The Sun Road Trip Pick
Too often, convertibles will cramp rear passengers and chew up large chunks of luggage space. Not exactly optimal for road trips. The Audi A5 Cabriolet is one convertible that does a fine job of avoiding those pitfalls. Through some clever mechanical contortions, the insulated folding top manages to retract without major impact to trunk room. Quickly, too, at 17 seconds. The rear seat, while unavoidably offering less shoulder room than the coupe, still accommodates adults with comfort.
Having fulfilled the basic tenets of road trip worthiness, Audi adds on the usual niceties we’ve come to expect from the brand. Their interiors are renowned as the pinnacle of restrained elegance, and like all Audis, their Quattro all-wheel-drive system can be added for all-season capability. If top-down driving causes you safety concerns, know that the hidden pop-up rollbars activate instantly if you wind up shiny side down.
Audi A5 Cabriolet
Base MSRP: $42,600
MPG: 30 hwy/22 city
Lap of Luxury Road Trip Pick
For the ultimate, I’ve-got-six-large-to-burn road trip experience, the Mercedes-Benz S350 BluTEC 4MATIC (gosh, that’s a mouthful) is your ride to Plushtown. In the big M-B, you will want for nothing. Comfort? Check. Heated and cooled seats available not just for the front seat, but the back seat passengers as well. 4-zone climate control will keep each passenger comfy. Unless you got the hump. You’re on your own if you got the hump.
Safety? Check. Adaptive cruise control, radar-based collision avoidance, active blind spot and lane keeping; does this car even need a driver? Entertainment comes via a 600-watt harman-kardon surround sound system for the concert hall experience prerequisite of this level of conveyance.
But lest you think we’re just spending your money willy-nilly, notice in the alphabet soup name that we checked the BlueTEC box. M-B’s diesel will net you a sweet 31 MPG on the highway. So really, you're saving money with this car.
Mercedes-Benz S350 BluTEC 4MATIC
Base MSRP: $92,550
MPG: 31 hwy/21 city
Before you hit the road, do all you road trip auto research at AutoBuying101.com.