With the long-weekend fast approaching, the Consumer Reports’ Cars team has been talking about the joys of the open road and what is the best car to experience it. With the Auto Test Center overflowing with dozens of vehicles in various stages of testing, this is a very real, and common, discussion for us. We’ve gathered up our personal picks for the best road-trip car in hopes that their considerations and selections point you in the right direction when choosing a car with true vacationing potential.
Because this topic elicited so many responses from our staff, we will present the picks in two parts. (See “Best road-trip car, part 2.”) We hope that you’ll share your picks, tips, and stories in the comments below.
Jeff Bartlett: Having driven coast-to-coast and border-to-border more than 20 times in a wide range of vehicles, from a Mini Cooper to a trailer-laden U-Haul, I’ve learned a thing or two about cross-country drives. When it comes to road trips, comfort is king. A car that makes for a great commuter can be a rolling torture chamber in 12-hour stints. My preference is for wide, well-bolstered seats, a quiet cabin, crisp stereo with satellite radio, good outward visibility, and hatchback or wagon design for versatility. Fuel economy is important these days, of course, but pain in the back trumps pain at the pump. I’d also add favor a car without run-flat tires or exotic fitments, as you never know where a flat tire may happen. And a plain exterior helps avoid falling victim to small-town speed traps, with the local constable on lookout for high-speed hooligans. That all said, a Volvo XC70 would be a top choice, conceding fuel economy for comfort and adding AWD. Believe me, on the open road, stuff happens, and it is best to have options. A Subaru Outback could accomplish much of those goals, compromising some luxury and visibility. For a more modest budget, I have found the affordable Mazda5 to be a wise road trip and everyday choice.
David Champion: This one’s easy: I’d take an EcoBoost-powered Ford Flex. I find this most-versatile vehicle to be comfortable and fast, plus it has plenty of room inside for people and/or stuff. It also offers good visibility and it’s quiet. Perfect for a long haul.
Eric Evarts: Long road trips make great memories. But they can also burn through months worth of your gas budget. As this publication’s alternative fuels writer, I’ve found that long trips are one area where gasoline may be needed for an awfully long time to come—no easy electric alternative. So to me, it’s important to find a car for long trips that’s as fuel efficient as possible. Yet it still needs to be roomy and quiet, with plenty of storage for all the inevitable electronics, snacks, drinks, jackets, and trash that accumulate during any road trip. Since road trips invariably involve boatloads of luggage, and being able to reach it from inside is key, only hatchbacks need apply; sedans are out. Beyond that, I prefer something with a little (not too much) extra seat height to better see and anticipate traffic. Good handling is plus, but not as important on long, steady highways.
All that said, the best road trip car I’ve driven recently was the Subaru Outback I took to Niagara Falls two years ago that returned 29 mpg fully loaded and with four comfortable passengers. For my small family, the Mazda5 I recently drove to St. Louis also worked great (with only three passengers aboard). It handles better but is a little noisier, has less storage space up front, and couldn’t quite match the fuel economy. So on a road trip, I’d have to give the nod to the larger, quieter, and more-efficient Outback.
Mike Leung: Of all the cars we’ve tested in my time here at CR, the one I said then, and still repeat now, as my cross-country car of choice is the Mercedes-Benz SL550. It’s so smooth, luxurious, and comfortable. It quite simply is the best convertible I’ve ever driven, and the only thing that could make me love it more is more time in it. Well, that and a better reputation for reliability.
Gabe Shenhar: This past summer I covered some serious miles with our Volkswagen Touareg diesel test car. I averaged 29 mpg with a cruising range of over 600 miles, minimizing fuel stops. I appreciated the extremely comfortable seats, chair-high driving position, quiet cabin, and steady highway ride that kept fatigue at bay. Sharp steering boosted confidence when the road curved, too. The touch-screen navigation system, satellite radio and an iPod connection completed the experience.