Road-trip friendly cars that can go the distance

Consumer Reports News: May 20, 2013 09:08 AM

Memorial Day is fast approaching and that means millions of Americans will be hitting the road for a family trip. The roads will be crowded and you should expect lines at gas stations. A car bred for long-haul driving, with bladder-bursting range, can give a distinct advantage, especially on cross-country journeys. To aid travelers, we have compiled a list of the best road-trip friendly cars that can go the distance.

If you are in the market for a new car or looking to rent one for travel, these best-fuel economy vehicles with their lengthy cruising ranges will help you reduce stops for fill ups.

For the summer travel season, regular gasoline retail prices are projected to average $3.63 per gallon with it peaking in May at $3.69 per gallon and ending at $3.57 in September. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects prices to average $3.56 per gallon in 2013 compared with $3.63 in 2012, so there is some relief, but gas will continue to be a big part of the travel budget. Choosing a fuel-efficient model can provide dividends for years to come, no matter how gas prices fluctuate.

Find out how to maximize the gas mileage in your existing car, visit our guide to fuel economy.

The list below highlights the top three vehicles in a variety of categories that have the longest cruising range. Be aware, however, that not all cars that can go the distance have the best mileage. For example, in the large car category, the V6-powered Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger only get 22 miles per gallon overall and 32 highway in our tests, even though their range is over 420 miles. The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque has a range of 385, but it only gets 21 mpg overall and 29 mpg highway.

The vehicles that can travel far and return the best fuel economy are hybrids and diesels. The Volkswagen Passat TDI and Golf TDI have a 690- and 545-mile cruising range, respectively, with highway mileage around 50 mpg. The Toyota Camry Hybrid has a range of 650 and returns 43 mpg on the highway.

There's no question that hybrids and diesels are the fuel economy champs. However, they often cost more to buy. To save money, consider going for a simple four-cylinder model. For example, the Mazda6 returns 32 mpg on the highway, as well as having an impressive 525-mile cruising range. The four-cylinder Nissan Altima got 44 mpg on the highway in our tests and can go 560 miles between fill ups. Another worthy candidate is the four-cylinder Honda Accord- 40 mpg highway and a 510-mile cruising range.

All those cars free you from a fill up for quite a while!

Make/model Cruising range Overall mpg Highway mpg
Family car
Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 690 37 51
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 650 38 43
Nissan Altima 2.5 S (4-cyl.) 560 31 44
Large car
Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 620 36 43
Chrysler 300 Limited (V6) 425 22 32
Dodge Charger (V6) 420 22 32
Midsized SUV
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 465 27 29
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (V6) 430 18 25
Nissan Murano 420 19 26
Luxury SUV
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 535 20 28
Volkswagen Touareg TDI 540 24 31
Porsche Cayenne (V6) 510 19 26
Small SUV
Subaru XV Crosstrek 420 26 34
Mazda CX-5 385 25 32
Toyota RAV4 XLE 385 24 31
Small car
Volkswagen Golf TDI 545 38 49
Honda Civic Hybrid 525 40 50
Volkswagen Jetta TDI 500 34 45

Plenty of other vehicles have great gas mileage in our list of best cars for fuel economy, but small cars are limited by small tanks, even though many get over 40 mpg.

Buying a vehicle with good fuel economy is one way to save money, but also make sure the vehicle performs well in our tests and is reliable. You don't want the savings in fuel to go to repairs. For more on saving fuel and alternative fuel vehicles, see our special sections. Also, check out our summer road travel guide to help you prepare for your next driving vacation.

Liza Barth

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