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Personal picks: Best road-trip car, part 2

Consumer Reports News: October 07, 2011 03:08 PM

In such a large, diverse country as America, long-distance road trips feel like a birthright. But going the distance coast-to-coast isn’t for just any jalopy. It requires a good, safe, reliable car that excels in comfort and other factors. In anticipation of the long weekend, the Consumer Reports’ Cars team has been debating which model is the best road trip car, and below we present our picks.

Because this topic elicited so many responses from our staff, we will present the picks in two parts. (See “Best road-trip car, part 1.”) We hope that you’ll share your picks, tips, and stories in the comments below.

Tom Mutchler:
My wife and I enjoy the stops along the way as much as the journey. We’ve (literally) been down this road before, towing a T@B teardrop trailer cross-country with our first Honda Odyssey. We learned from that trip that a bigger trailer would be nice - let’s say a 23-foot Airstream International Serenity. So what to tow it with? I’d go with a new Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. Too bad there isn’t a turbodiesel version…yet.

Mike Quincy: The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen turbodiesel is just the right size for a road trip for two. It’s comfortable, quiet and has among the most impressive cruising ranges of any car we’ve tested (595 miles before you have to stop for a tank of diesel fuel). But I have two young kids who like to travel, and they voted for the Toyota Sienna. They love the second-row captain's chairs—especially with the "lounge seating" feature that comes with a built-in leg rest. The Sienna’s available rear DVD player doesn’t hurt, but there’s something messed up about spending a road trip staring at a screen when there’s so much else to see. So they only get to watch a movie when my wife and I are tired of breaking up the arguments about who has stolen which Lego. Parents out there, know what I mean…

Rick Small: The other day we were talking about this and I suggested that the Toyota Avalon would be nice pick. Funny thing is, several staffers agreed. The Avalon is very quiet, relaxing, and relatively economical, plus it has a large back seat and trunk. This all make it a good cross-country choice. But I would probably fall asleep before I got too far.

Hence, I’d choose the Kia Sorento. I don’t like to drive the larger SUVs; I think they’re too big and clumsy and fuel economy is usually poor. For me, the Sorento rides and handles well for an SUV, and it sits high enough with a comfortable seat and driving position for my taller-than-average height. It has a decent-sized backseat and cargo area. Plus, you can get a third-row seat and modest towing capability, if needed.

I like the Ford Flex, too, for many of the same reasons, but the Sorento still is more comfortable and has a better driving position for me.

Jim Travers: Having recently returned from spending a week and 1,000 miles touring parts of the southwest by rented motor home, I’d have to say I’ve got your road trip vehicle right here. I wouldn’t say I’m ready to join the patio light and pull-through site crowd just yet, but our 27-foot Tioga was just about the right size for my wife and I. It was nice not having to pack and repack during the week, and it was good fun to whip up a few meals on board. Easy to drive on the highway, it is a bit challenging to parallel park. And trips into town or even gas stops require a certain amount more planning than in a car. If you plan to give motorhoming a try, plan on making some gas stops.

Cliff Weathers: There is only one reason why I would travel cross country by car and that would to be to revisit Route 66, where I would assume the role of Tod Stiles and find myself witness to the heartland drama along the way. And what better car to take on such a trip than a Chevrolet Corvette convertible, right? (Cue the crickets.)

OK, you may think that I’m demented by some quixotic fantasy, but let me convince you that a drop-top Vette is indeed the perfect car for any pan-American passage. First off, the trunk is not as limited as you may think; it has plenty of room for two travelers’ gear. Moreover, a wide cabin with well-bolstered, multi-adjustable, and ample seats would give my large frame enough room to settle in nicely.

If I ventured from the freeway and onto twisting state routes (which I assure you I would), I’d be quite happy with the Vette’s grippy tires and extremely high cornering limits. And that phenomenal muscle to accelerate out of turns would be appreciated by the pleasure seeker in me. If I’ve run though my entire MP3 collection along the way, I might find the growl from the base, yet still brawny 430-hp, 6.2-liter V8 engine to be music enough.

And what about a harsh ride, you may ask while you daydream of your Lexus’ plush confines? With that kind of power under the hood and the stars as my ceiling, a little thump here and a little jerk there will make the voyage just a tad more like a long carnival ride. Besides, if my bum gets numb, I can always switch the suspension back to “Tour” mode.

Still impractical, you say? How’s about 20 mpg overall grab you? Or how about those blazing xenon headlights or powerful brakes for those dark back roads? Try to beat that!

And when you’re making that side trip to an old timey drive-in theater in Carthage, Missouri, you couldn’t find a more fitting car to arrive in than this one.

Jeff Bartlett

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