Old man winter is around the corner, but it’s not too late to go on a sight-seeing trip to take in the fall colors, and enjoy the milder temperatures. Road-tripping in the fall has several advantages; restaurants, bars, and other attractions are far quieter than in the summer, and hotels tend to be cheaper in the off-season. The trade-off is that the days are shorter, but that’s what headlights are for.
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Taking a long trip on the road is one of the most enjoyable experiences on four wheels, assuming you have the right car and group of friends. We can’t help much with the friends part, but we’ve compiled a list of the best cars to carry you across the country in style. We’ve factored in attributes such as fuel economy, comfort, reliability, and useful tech features.
We’re focusing on new vehicles, but we’ve added a few legacy options at the end of our list for road-trippers who would rather shop used. And, as always, buckle up.
2020 Subaru Crosstrek
A good road trip car must be reliable, practical, capable, and fun, and few automakers satisfy those requirements better than Subaru. Obviously, we’d love to take a WRX STI cross country, but the fuel-sipping Crosstrek makes our list for its rugged construction and well-rounded character. Plus, there’s plenty of room for speed and spoilers later.
With fuel economy ratings of 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, the Crosstrek is an apt choice for couples or small families looking to log some serious highway miles. All-wheel drive is standard, of course, and with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, this compact crossover will go just about anywhere you need it to, on or off the interstate.
2020 Honda HR-V
With the Fit, Honda proved a good value doesn’t always come with squished proportions and a chintzy interior. And, with the Fit-based HR-V, the Japanese firm added an extra dose of practicality to the mix.
Honda’s smallest crossover boasts 6.7 inches of ride height and an ingenious “Magic Seat” interior layout, which allows passengers to configure the cabin in five different modes — normal, split, tall, utility, and lounge. That means the car can easily ferry anything, whether it be luggage, bikes, tall plants, or even surfboards.
2020the HR-V’s biggest asset is its low cost, which comes both at the dealer (starting MSRP is $20,620) and at the pump (it returns up to 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway when ordered with front-wheel drive). Throw in a plethora of safety features and you’re all set.
2020 Aston Martin Rapide S
The Aston Martin Rapide S is not your typical four-door. One of the most aesthetically-pleasing sedans ever made, the Rapide S flaunts Aston Martin’s core values of speed, luxury, and style more effectively than most. We can’t think of a better way to cruise down the left lane than in this V12-powered stunner.
Speaking of V12s, the Rapide’s 5.9-liter mill churns out 552 horsepower (that’s 138 ponies per seat) and shuttles all of it to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Flat out, it’ll hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds before reaching a maximum speed of 203 mph, which is more than brisk enough to get you where you need to go quick. But when you look, sound, and feel this good, you might consider slowing down a bit to enjoy it.
2020 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
What goes better with a great American road trip than an emblematic American car? Nothing, that’s what. The Ford Mustang GT is a legend through and through, and the sixth-generation model is the most refined version yet. It has the best interior of any pony car before it, and with an independent suspension setup front and rear, this horse can corner with the best of ‘em. Ford recently updated the model with more tech features, too, including an available digital instrument cluster that will let you keep an eye on key road trip metrics such as speed, distance to empty, and the tunes blasting through the speakers.
Let’s be honest, you don’t need a thumping V8 soundtrack for a successful road trip, nor do you need the open wind rustling through your hair. You definitely want them, though, and the Mustang GT Convertible happens to provide both. “GT” does stand for “Grand Tourer,” after all.
2019 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel Hatchback
Diesel-powered cars have been demonized in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal but they’re not all bad — we promise. The technology’s penchant for stellar fuel economy makes it a splendid choice for long trips because, put simply, the fewer times you have to stop the better. Chevy’s diesel-powered Cruze Hatchback returns up to 45 mpg on the highway, and that’s pretty difficult to argue with.
The engine is just one element of a good road trip car, but don’t worry, we’re just getting started. The Cruze Hatchback is, well, a hatchback, which means it has ample storage – 47 cu ft! – room for bags, snacks, and all your favorite trivia games. The ride can also be smoothed out with the optional “Z-link rear suspension” that enhances rear stability and will give you confidence when the weather turns bad. Chevrolet stopped making the Cruze, however, so you’ll need to find a used one.
2020 Ferrari GTC4Lusso
Ah, the practical Ferrari. The successor to the FF, the GTC4Lusso is a grand tourer in every sense of the word, as its gorgeously-appointed interior and quiet ride are offset by a 681-hp V12 and a trick four-wheel steering system. It does “GT” a bit differently, however, as the three-door configuration and shooting brake profile make this a head turner in more ways than one.
It may not have the storage capacity of an SUV (though Ferrari is working on that) or the fuel economy of a hybrid, but the GTC4Lusso is as easy to drive in the city as it is on the Italian autostrada, and the brilliant V12 will never, ever get old. These are the keys to life, folks, and don’t let anyone ever tell you different. This machine speaks tech, too. Ferrari recently added a large screen with a split-view function, as well as Apple CarPlay compatibility.
2020 Volvo XC90
We know Volvo can build safe, sophisticated, and elegant machines, but the levels of opulence found in the XC90 make us rethink our outlook on the brand entirely. Not only is the XC90’s interior one of the best we’ve ever seen in an SUV, its smart technology and excellent efficiency make it a no-brainer if you prefer your road trips with a group.
The available Bowers & Wilkins sound system is nothing short of fantastic in this car (a key factor for this list), and it can be shuffled between a variety of listening modes, including studio, concert hall, and stadium. The XC90 also features polished semi-autonomous technology for laid-back driving, and the tablet-style touchscreen interface is one of the most intuitive units on the market. Throw in an efficient T8 powertrain that somehow combines a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with a plug-in hybrid system and you have the ultimate long-haul cruiser for up to seven people.
While most of the vehicles on this list emphasize fun, style, or practicality, the Toyota Prius is nearly singular in its goal: Maximum fuel economy. The most fuel-efficient car on the road without a plug, the Eco model returns up to 58 mpg on the freeway and flaunts a total range of more than 600 miles. In a word? Wow.
Toyota made notable enhancements to interior quality and driving dynamics over the previous generation, improvements which will be appreciated if you’re forced to sit in the car for extended periods. Looking to save at the pump? The Prius is your best bet. Select the plug-in Prime model if you’re looking to add a few miles of electric-only driving to your trip without stopping to charge a battery-electric car.
2020 Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 Miata wrote the book on the modern roadster, so it’d be a travesty if we didn’t include it. The long-standing sports car is as close to perfect as an inexpensive two-seater can be, with an expertly-balanced chassis, a fantastic six-speed manual, and a tangible passion for driving you can actually feel through the steering. It’s one of the few cars that hasn’t gotten significantly bigger or heavier since its inception.
There aren’t a ton of bells and whistles here, but that’s not really the point. The MX-5 is about escapism done simply, and it emphasizes that better than just about any car on the market. It’s clearly best suited for solo or short two-person trips, but the fourth-generation model features just enough modern gadgetry to keep you busy if the brilliant engineering isn’t enough.
2020 Jaguar F-Type Convertible
Ok, we needed at least one more convertible for our list, and Jaguar’s stunning F-Type is one of the most evocative drop-tops ever put to pavement. It has the look, it has the sound — my goodness, the sound — and most importantly, it has the feeling. It’s also fast, agile, and surprisingly refined, as the suspension can be tuned depending on what surface you’re rocketing over.
Practicality obviously takes a back seat in this one (if there were back seats, that is), but people don’t buy V8-powered convertibles because of logic or reason. They buy them because they’re beautiful, stirring, and create a new experience every time you press the start button. Hell, if all you need is to get somewhere quickly and you can’t live without your three favorite suitcases, you’d probably just buy a plane ticket. For the rest of us, open up the throttle and enjoy the ride.
Lexus LS 400
With the new cars out the way, let’s take a short look back at a few legacy options. Lexus’ first vehicle, the LS400, was the product of a project called Circle F, which was Toyota chairman Eiji Toyoda’s vision to build the world’s best car. The result was something that shockingly still feels modern today, with a buttery ride, rock-solid reliability, and a tasteful interior that has stood the test of time. Speaking of sturdiness, the sedan’s 4.0-liter V8 is the only automobile engine to be rated by the FAA, meaning the 260-hp power plant is tough enough to power a plane. Seriously.
Impressive credentials aside, used LS400’s can be found for less than a few thousand dollars nowadays, which is an absolute steal for the amount of car you’re getting. Throw in reasonable fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway and you might have the best budget road trip car in the world.
Volkswagen Westfalia Camper
Hate hotel rooms? Why not bring one with you?
From the 1950s to the early 2000s, a German company called Westfalia carved its name into the automotive history books by outfitting Volkswagen vans with improvised living quarters and pop-top campers. Various configurations were offered over the years, including those with sinks, folding tables, foldout seats, side tents, portable chemical toilets, stoves, and even refrigerators. Westfalia’s conversion division was purchased by DaimlerChrysler in 1999, sadly ending its partnership with VW.
Ford Crown Victoria
The Ford Crown Victoria was, is, and will always be everywhere. A favorite among police officers and cabbies, the Crown Vic is stubbornly reliable and cheap, and will probably outlive the Twinkie as the last remnant of humanity. If we include other vehicles built on the Ford Panther platform like the Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis, some 9.6 million of these beauties were built between 1978 and 2011.
Even though the car is the butt of many jokes, its floaty ride and smooth V8 make for a stress-free experience behind the wheel, and there’s plenty of cargo room if you’re not hauling baddies off to the slammer. Speaking of that, there’s also the side benefit of other motorists thinking you’re a cop, which should cut down on the rude road behavior we’ve sadly become accustomed to. A smooth car that actually makes people nice to you? What could be better than that?
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