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Best car for road trips

What is an ideal car for road trips? Are there specific things to look for when shopping for a car you expect to do a lot of road trips in?

Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car. Reliable. Solid. Comfortable. Fantastic heater and air conditioner. Huge trunk. Smooth V8 power and 24-27 MPG…Drive 800 miles a day and arrive refreshed.

It depends on your priorities. How do you rate the following:

  • Fuel economy
  • Comfort vs. driving “fun” (as in soft ride vs. good handling in the corners)
  • Size/storage room, possibility to sleep in it
  • Off-road capability/high ground clearance, ruggedness
  • Reliability
  • Availabiliy of parts in remote parts of the country
  • Safety
  • “Style”
  • Family-friendliness
  • Budget

Depending on your priorities you’ll arrive at completely different answers.

From my own personal experience on many road trips the following observations:

  • When we were grad students we rented the cheapest car possible (Hyundai Accent) for a 2 week, 2000 mile California road trip. The lady at the car rental counter clearly pitied us when registering that she could not sell us an “upgrade”. The trip was great, the car served its purpose. And I learned: There is probably no car on sale in the US of A (not even a Hyundai Accent) that can’t handle a road trip.

  • Then we purchased our first car, a 1996 Toyota 4Runner. We thought it was cool to sit high up and not have to worry about using a forest road, a gravel road (or even some more challenging terrain) in a national park or so. The car was way too big for the 2 of us but before you know it we had a baby and on our first road trip were able to achieve an unheard of feat: Fill up that 4Runner from top to bottom with family gear. It was around that time that we noticed that going off-road was highly overrated. On the other hand, the crappy handling and harsh ride of an SUV started bothering us - not to mention the horrendous safety due to rollovers (those were the days when SUVs were not as safe as some of them are now).

  • In between we rented a Chevy Astro Van for 2 weeks because we had a lot of family come over. Space requirements pretty much dictated that choice (not many 8-seater vans out there). Terrible handling & gas mileage but a big, comfortable ride. The dog could sleep between the 2 front seats on the floor (instead of having to stay in the back all the time)

  • Then (after graduation, as you may imagine) we bought a BMW 5series station wagon. Talk about refinement! Absolutely smooth on the highway, quiet, leather, wood paneling, lots of cargo room for the family. But you guessed it: Forget about those forest roads! And 20 MPG is worse gas mileage than we’d like. And if you were stranded in the middle of nowhere it could be harder to find a mechanic than for an American or Japanese brand car. But oh the unsurpassed refinement! This is by far my favorite road trip vehicle.

  • Last year, we embarkeded on an adventure and crossed the US from LA to NY for 3 weeks with a toddler in the back seat. We wanted to do it in true Americana road trip style and purchased a used Crown Victoria (see Caddyman’s recommendation above --> I believe he even was the one who helped point us towards it on this very forum!!!). Not because it is refined (believe me, it is not!) or because of its gas mileage. No, because it’s a real “boat” and I always wanted to drive across America in a “boat” with a big V8 in it. We had a blast and sold the car afterwards. Its advantage: Even when the check engine light came on in rural Iowa we were able to find somebody to fix the car quickly and cheap. With the BMW we may have had more issues.

  • Friends of ours bought an Old 1970s VW microbus camper van. They value their independence and the “hippie” lifestyle. They obviously don’t care about ride quality, safety, engine power or reliability.

  • In a month or so a buddy of mine and I will rent a Mustang in Miami and drive along the gulf coast to Now Orleans. Wife and kid stay home, the guys need some American muscle - hence the Mustang.

But what do you care about my life story :wink:

As I said: I don’t think there is a car for sale in this country that cannot handle a road trip. It all depends on your priorities and what kind of road trips you are envisioning. If interested I can list a few cars that come to mind (They range from the Honda Fit to the Chevy Suburban) but this post has become too long-winded as it is. Let me know.

If you are thinking of buying a used car, then the ideal candidate for you would be one that has been maintained better than other cars that you may encounter. Once you find what type of car meets your other needs, only buy one that comes with both maintenance records and an Owner’s Manual.

Compare the maintenance records to the mfr’s maintenance schedule in the manual.
If it has been very well-maintained, then take the car to your own mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection.
If it passes the inspection with flying colors, then it is fit for a long road trip.

How many people are going along on these “road trips”? If is just you, any car you enjoy driving is great for a road trip. Just me, I take my Ford Thunderbird. If it is me, wife, 2 kids, and a dog then the T’bird is out and a mini van is the vehicle of choice. The van isn’t fun to drive but space for the kids, luggage, and DVD player to keep the kids quiet in the back makes for a good road trip with the family.

What is your situation? Just you, Corvette or Miata. The family, Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna. Lots of highway miles with 3 adults, VW TDI diesel.

In my opinion, the best touring vehicle would be one of these

If only I could afford one!

I know, you asked for a CAR. Since I don’t have a Goldwing, I enjoy touring in my Honda Civic, but not many people would consider it a good touring vehicle.

Whitey, look on Craigslist at used Goldwings. Many older ones are in perfect condition at good prices. My 1989 Goldwing looks and runs like new. 1988-1999(?) wings all look similar and have the same 1500 cc engine.

If comfort and low noise level are important, a Crown Victoria or Chevy Impala would be great. Also lots of room.

I have crossed the country in the following: Buick Riviera, Olds Delta 88, Buick Regal, Chevrolet Caprice, Chvrolet Impala, and Pontiac LeMans. The Olds with the F-41 handling package and 350 rocket engine was the most satisfying.

But, as others say, any car will get you there. Noise level, ride comfort and steady handling are most important to me. These can be had in a compact car theses days. Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic are all good highway cars with nice handling and good seats.

Thanks for the advice, but there are other factors in play right now. The most important one is I want to wait until I am debt free again before I make one of these purchases.

If I’m traveling alone — my BMW 3 Series. If I was going with three friends, a Mercedes S Class sedan.


Personally I think Ferraris are ideal for road trips.

Mini vans have a lot of interior room for stuff. People can move around easily and stretch out to sleep. Take out or fold down some of the seats for even more room.

These were always my least favorite rental cars. They are uncomfortable and handle poorly.

A long wheelbase helps absorb the bumps due to poor road conditions. I think our 2003 Olds Silhouette does a great job of evening out the road. It also has 4 exceptionally comfortable captain’s chairs.

The best vehicle we have ever owned for road trips was a 26 foot class C motorhome (housecar) that could do things that were far beyond almost all of the capabilities of any car of any size and any price. If you can tolerate the lousy gas mileage such a motorhome has every comfort that you could want including a decent but not exceptional ride quality that is equal to most cars now. If you have two people along who can drive the motorhome, you can take a break to stretch and walk around, get a snack or a drink from the fridge, make some popcorn or whatever, take a catnap, use the toilet, sit at the table and read or look out of the window, watch TV, all while riding down the road at 65 mph. When all are tired, stop at a highway rest stop for a few hours, a WalMart parking lot, a campground if you want to pay to stop for longer or else use a truck stop, buy some gas as a courtesy, lock the doors and sleep for a few hours and if it is cold out you can run the gas furnace from the housecar battery to keep toasty warm. Turn on the stereo if you want a little music to nap by.

You can bring along almost anything within a reasonable size such as a musical instrument, a bicycle, BBQ grill or all three and more. There is room for your dog or dogs.

A motorhome can be used as a truck for hauling larger items home from a store if you can get them through the door.

A 26 or 27 footer is short enough to park outdoors where most cars can park. We would often back into parking places at a restaurant and let the rear overhang extend over a parking lot curb; otherwise used two spaces inline. Keep a little heat handy to have the confidence of knowing that you can handle any bad guys who might come along although we never had a problem during 40,000 miles and 10 years and in addition I have not heard of any invasion related problems from other motorhome owners.

Once you become accustomed to the location of the right side by using the outside rear view mirrors, a motorhome is very safe to drive in my opinion. Oncoming drivers give you wide berth on two lane roads. You have a good view ahead over the tops of cars that makes a motorhome a good excursion vehicle for a few people.

Sorry for not answering directly, I know that you said car but you also said ideal and so you got me started.

This is allot like asking “Whats the best oil for my car, Pennzoil or Quaker State?” You’ll get as many answers as there are people and manufactures and models. Personally, I prefer my full size crew cab truck. Economy sucks but it’s comfortable and lots of room for my wife to put all the extra crap she thinks we need for an overnight or week long trip. And when my kids get annoying? Shove them in the bed (not really…) Besides, then if I find a “project” along the way, I can get it home. :slight_smile:

I am wondering if the original poster is still lurking around here and what his/her thoughts are.

I have read all the posts. Lots of useful stuff, thanks. I value comfort, low noise level, a stable drive on the road, and fuel economy. I have no need for off roading so SUVs are out; room for sleeping is not necessary, I just need enough room to pack some stuff. I should say that I am looking for a car that, if you take care of, will give you many years of reliable driving. How does the Toyota Venza stack up? It has an added benefit of being elegant too.

I don’t like the open area in the back of a station wagon. It’s too tempting to a thief if they can see that items are in the back. If that doesn’t bother you, then it should be fine. If you don’t mind driving a sedan, consider a Camry; the car the Venza is based on. The Camry is also a lot less expensive.

My sentiments too…or an Accord. One is bias toward “driving” experience, the other toward “insulation”. For just two people, I’d like a new Mustang or Corvette.