For car lovers, college students, families, and adventurers alike, the road trip is one of the greatest experiences one can embark upon – so long as its done right. And a major part of what makes any road trip successful is the vehicle in which you do it. Sure, you can pack 5 full-grown adults into a Honda Civic and drive thousands of miles and have a memorable time – but ‘memorable’ doesn’t necessarily mean enjoyable, efficient, or comfortable.
As such, we’ve endeavored to compile a collection of some of the best 4-wheelers to get the job done. Whether you’re driving home for the holidays between semesters, taking the kids on their first trip to a National Park, or just seeing how long it takes for you and your closest friends to drive from coast to coast – each and every one of these vehicles are excellent in their own way. These are the 15 best road trip cars you can buy right now.
What We're Looking For
For certain types of driving, there are clear dos and don’ts that set some apart from others. For instance, a 4×4 off-roader must have all-terrain capabilities, good ground clearance, and a good amount of torque. That which makes a great road trip car, however, is a little more ill-defined and is weighted at least in part on the basis of opinion. As such, we believe it’s important to outline exactly why we’ve put together this particular list. The metrics are as follows:
MPG: Probably the most highly valued trait on our list, a good MPG rating is of the utmost importance for a road trip vehicle. Gasoline is an expensive commodity and, if you want to make the most out of your money on an extended street-bound vacation, having a car that uses fuel efficiently can make all the difference.
Cargo Space: Driving long distances requires the ability to take a good amount of gear with you – especially if you’re not taking the trip alone. This includes clothing, food, and any entertainment your passengers may require. As such, having space to put said gear is definitely a must for many vehicles to qualify as good road trip options – with a few exceptions.
Specialty: While the previous two metrics are arguably the most important for a long-haul road tripper, they’re not both necessary depending on circumstances. Some folks, for instance, value enjoyability over hauling cargo. For our list, the ethereal “specialty” must outshine the value of the other aforementioned criteria. Cars that don’t meet the MPG or cargo space criteria absolutely have to have something else to offer as a trade-off.
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
Normally, we’d take the Golf GTI as our daily driver (or the excellent Golf Alltrack for our adventure vehicle), but the SportWagen makes the most sense for a road trip when it comes to the Volkswagen badge. It’s got an excellent balance of fuel efficiency and internal cargo space, and isn’t a bad little vehicle from an enjoyability standpoint, either. That’s especially true when you consider exactly how budget-friendly this little sport wagon is, too. It’s no hypercar, but that’s not what we’re looking for in this case. You can be confident in this car as an all-around great choice.
Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited 5-Door
If German engineering isn’t really your thing, but you like most of what you see in the Golf SportWagen, then the Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited 5-Door is an excellent substitute. Not only does this one benefit from much better gas mileage than previous generations of the Japanese brand’s vehicles, but it also comes standard with 4-wheel-drive, has a roof rack for extra cargo hauling, and looks quite good for a wagon. Of course, you don’t have to opt for this trim – just about any Impreza is a great road trip car – but this one is our all-around favorite. It’s budget-friendly, has a lot of included options and capability, and the hatchback style makes for grabbing stuff from the cargo area a lot less involved than the trunk of a sedan might.
Toyota Rav4 Hybrid
We understand that hatchbacks and wagons are not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s heavily reflected in the American marketplace. In fact, the fastest growing vehicle class is that of the SUV. Granted, most road-going SUVs and crossovers are little more than hatchbacks with a higher stance, but it’s what the people want. Still, not all of them are great road-trippers. Toyota’s Rav4 Hybrid, however, is pretty top-notch. It’s big enough to fit a lot of cargo or passengers, certainly capable of going off road a bit, and – thanks to both gas and electric power – has an impressive fuel economy for a vehicle of its size. It might not be our overall favorite Toyota SUV (we prefer the 4Runner TRD Pro overlander), but there’s no denying the value here for driving from coast to coast.
Mazda CX-5 Diesel
Thanks to hybrid technologies, it seems likely that we are at the beginnings of diesel’s final demise. It’s been a long time coming, but the old-school fuel just can’t keep up with contemporary technologies. But it isn’t completely down for the count – even when it comes to new releases. Yes, we’re reaching a bit with this road trip-worthy SUV, as the performance metrics haven’t been entirely released yet, but we’re confident the Mazda CX-5 Diesel is going to be everything we’re hoping for – a fun and easy drive with solid fuel economy and a hell of a lot of low-end torque (and hopefully some towing power). Diesel is definitely the retro option of engine power at this stage, but we think its still got some tricks up its sleeve, metaphorically speaking.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Wrangler takes the cake when it comes to off-road 4x4s, but it’s far from the only Jeep worth driving. The Cherokee is a classic through and through and definitely suits extended highway driving a little more than its hardcore all-terrain brethren. But, just because the Cherokee isn’t quite as trail-ready as most Wranglers doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty of performance on its own. After all, the standard horsepower in this particular model is 295, which is nothing to scoff at. Sure, that means you’re going to have to hit the fuel pump a little more often than some of the other options on this list, but that’s a trade-off we’re happy to take most of the time, as it means a lot more fun when we are on (and off) the road.
Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium Fastback
This particular trim of Ford’s famous pony car is certainly not their most impressive – but it is still a Mustang. Which means it’s still a fun drive – what with its 310 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque. Though it doesn’t have as much power as some of its kin, it does offer a pretty great trade-off in the form of 31 miles per gallon on the highway. Sure, it’s no Shelby, but that unique combination of drivability and solid fuel economy make this muscle car certainly a worthwhile option for a coast-to-coast road trip. Its biggest downside, however, is the lack of cargo space. This isn’t a car you’ll want to haul the whole squad in, but it’s excellent for solo trips or with one-to-two other people.
This British SUV (Jaguar’s first, actually), has a lot more in common with the Mustang above than you might think at first glance. For instance, it has the option of a V6 engine capable of 380 horsepower and a fuel economy rating of up to 33 miles to the gallon – making it solid both in regards to performance and driving cost. That extra $10k, however, comes to you in the form of a lot more cargo and passenger space, as well as a few handy cabin options. Honestly, though this thing looks like a sport utility vehicle, it’s actually more like a sports car with some handy tech and luxury built right in. And, hopefully, it’s a sign of more of what’s to come from the lauded English marque.
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Limited
As far as we know, nobody has ever been excited to get behind the wheel of a minivan – they’re just not sexy in any way, shape, or form. But there’s no denying what they have to offer in regards to people-carrying capacity and gear space. There’s a lot of headroom, legroom, and an enormous amount of room for all your gear. And this one has an even more enticing metric: a whopping 84 miles to the gallon (when using both gas and electricity). But before you get too excited, it’s worth pointing out that there are a couple of downsides. That MPG figure is only as good as your access to electricity – so you’ll have to be sure, when you head out on the road, you know you’ll have access to either a Level II charger or a standard wall outlet alongside the 120-volt charger. The electric battery will only take 2 hours to charge at a Level II charger (not bad at all, if you’re stopped for the night), but if you can’t find one and have to use a wall outlet, it will take a good deal longer. Sill, that’s a small price to pay for the fuel economy.
MPG: Up To 84
Advantage: Cargo Space & Fuel Economy
BMW 330e iPerformance
No, a Chrysler minivan isn’t the only plug-in hybrid on our list – that would be absurd. If you don’t have a big family or a band of companions coming along for the trip, you may want to look into something a little more fun and nice to look at, like BMW’s 330e iPerformance sedan. A member of the legendary Series 3 family, this is a luxury 4-door with a performance pedigree through and through. In fact, it’s got an impressive 248 horsepower under the hood, which is only bolstered by the fact that this hybrid can also do up to 71 miles to the gallon. Sure, it’s no supercar – but it’s hardly boring. Truly, this thing strikes up an excellent balance of style, capability, and luxury – especially for the price. It’s not what we might call cheap, but it won’t bankrupt you, either.
MPG: Up To 71
Advantage: Performance & Fuel Economy
Though most folks might look at the Suburban’s meager 16/23 MPG and find it laughable to call this a road trip vehicle, we posit that this monster makes up for it elsewhere. For starters, you could practically fit an entire baseball team. And any space not taken up by a body can be filled with all measure of gear. In fact, you could literally fit a kayak in the length of this SUV and still have room for passengers and more stuff. The sheer space inside is absurd – we wouldn’t be surprised if you could holler from one end to the other and hear an echo. It doesn’t stop there, either. This monster also has the ability to tow up to 6,300 pounds. That means, if you wanted, you could also haul a camper trailer behind it – and not a small one, either. This thing is a tank in multiple senses of the word and absolutely deserves a spot on this list.
Advantage: Cargo Space & Towing
Volvo V90 Cross Country Inscription
Long before the Wagon Queen Family Truckster appeared in comedy film, National Lampoon’s Vacation, the station wagon was a staple of cross-country road trip vehicles. But the old boxy eye-sores are a thing of the past, even for Volvo – a brand that has a history of being notably un-sexy. Just look at their V90 Cross Country Inscription, if you don’t buy it. Yes, it still has the classic elongated body of a wagon, but that’s where the traditional stops and the contemporary begins. Everything else about this vehicle is beautiful. From the 53.9 cubic feet of cargo space, to the high-tech touchscreen entertainment system, to the optional supercharged 316-horsepower engine under the hood – this Volvo trumps all expectations and certainly makes for a great road trip car.
Whereas Volvo is rewriting their history with surprising new offerings, Land Rover appears to be staying the course with their city-dwelling Range Rover line – and that’s a very good thing. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything new about this luxury SUV, as it is certainly more refined and stylized than previous models, but the whole package is definitely in line with our expectations from this legendary U.K. marque. All-wheel-drive is standard, as is a dual-touchscreen dash system, as is a gorgeously sleek exterior. Really, this is just another example of all good things. And, if you can afford it, there are also a number of higher-end trims that are all worth consideration.
Advantage: Luxury & Performance
Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S Wagon
We’re pretty sure that if you gave AMG an old rusty pedal car to fix up, they could give you back a luxury performance supercar – their prowess is nothing shy of amazing. Especially when you consider how much they manage to improve upon Mercedes-Benz’s already impressive offerings. Their E63 S Wagon is no exception. And it’s the perfect thing to show to anyone who still thinks that station wagons can’t be sexy. With a whopping 603 horsepower V8 engine, this road trip car could get you from coast to coast without you having the chance to truly enjoy everything the interior has to offer – which is quite a bit. Sure, the fuel economy isn’t the best, but that’s not what you’d want out of a performance vehicle such as this one. Plus, the cargo space is still plentiful – though you might just want to leave everything behind and drive.
Advantage: Luxury & Performance
Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo
Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo – it’s a mouthful, to be sure. But, with so much to offer, you shouldn’t be surprised that the name is so long. Just to give you an inkling of what we’re talking about, this hybrid shooting brake can do 0-60 in 3.2 seconds – which is approaching supercar speeds – and has 680 horsepower. That would be impressive on its own, but it also has the ability to do a whopping 94.2 miles to the gallon, which is just absurd for a car with this kind of power and agility. On top of that, it also has a pretty great amount of cargo space (for a Porsche), thanks to the hatch on the back. Really, this car pretty much has everything you could ever want and more – except for a reasonable price tag. Guess you can’t win ’em all.
Class: Shooting Brake
MPG: Up To 94.2
Advantage: Luxury, Performance, & Fuel Economy
If you can afford the $300K that a Ferrari GTC4Lusso costs, you’re not going to give a squat that it only does 17 miles to the gallon at best. All you’re going to care about is the menacing roar and the feeling of having your eyeballs pushed through the back of your skull while you slam your foot down on the pedal and go from 0-62 in just 3.4 seconds. This gorgeous Prancing Horse has 680 horsepower, offers 514 foot-pounds of torque, and – oh yeah – it’s a Ferrari. All that, plus there’s actually room inside for more than just a shoebox-worth of gear, thanks to the shooting brake body style. You could feasibly take along the wife and kids – though you’re just as likely to forget that they exist once you’re strapped into this beautiful beast.
Class: Shooting Brake
Advantage: Luxury & Performance
8 Best Overlanders You Can Buy Off The Lot
The problem with road trips is that you are limited to whether the roads go. But That’s not something you’ll have to even consider if you get behind the wheel of one of the 8 best overlanders you can buy off the lot.
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