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The cars that a real Mad Max would drive

Check out these durable, fuel-efficient choices for a dystopian future

Published: May 15, 2015 09:00 AM
Mad Max: Fury Road

Gigahorse

In a dystopian future where oil is a rare, precious commodity and roads are constant war zones, a real Mad Max would turn to dependable, fuel-efficient cars, rather than a ratted-out Ford XB Falcon with a supercharged V8.

The fourth installment in the film series, “Mad Max: Fury Road” promises exhilarating visuals, with wild machines seemingly born from the “Twisted Metal” PlayStation games. But access to such machinery untold years from now would depend on raiding museums, for the various hot rods and monster trucks depicted in the latest sequel. As such, they’d be buried, decayed dinosaurs. An extreme example is the gregarious Gigahorse (shown), made from two 1959 Cadillacs and powered by twin V8s. That’s a fierce combination. But finding a ’59 Cadillac in a dismal, dusty future without the benefit of a Barrett-Jackson auction is downright fanciful.

There is appeal in the simplicity of carbureted cars featured in these films, as they are better suited to wilderness repairs than today’s delicate, computer-intense models. But a real-life road warrior would be selecting rides from among the most popular cars, focusing on those with excellent fuel economy, reliability, and parts availability. Automotive exotica need not apply.

In other words, rather than seek a mechanical unicorn, like a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, a Max Rockatansky would more likely grab a Toyota Camry, finished with a patina of rust, dust, and desperation. For a performance advantage, perhaps an SE model with a V6 would be the smart renegade’s choice to outrun marauders. Or go for the best cruising range: the Camry Hybrid goes for 650 miles on a tankful of the precious petroleum (or "guzzoline" as the inhabitants of this dismal future call it).

To identify cars most likely to survive until oil-maggedon or some other apocalyptic event causing the world as we know it to go catawampus, we scoured the 1.1 million vehicles represented in our Annual Reader Survey to find the models that reached 200,000 miles or more the most often. (Learn how to get your car to 200,000 miles.)

These cars are smart buys today, and they promise to be great rides tomorrow, with all but the Honda Pilot meeting the stringent criteria to be Consumer Reports recommended, factoring overall road test score, reliability, and safety. Of course, as any model crosses the 200,000-mile line or lies dormant in the desert for decades, concerns about the overall structural integrity and general wear to components can arise. There comes a time when trading in for a newer model is wise. (Read “Do You Really Need a New Car?”)

Click through the model names for complete road tests, reliability, owner cost, and other key information. And print this article to add to your go bag, in case you need buying advice after an EMP destroys the Internet.

Also read “Zombie Apocalypse Now: Best Car for Surviving World War Z.”

Jeff Bartlett with Jim Travers

Photo: Honda

Honda Accord sedan (4-cyl.)

Base MSRP price range: $22,105 - $35,055

A smooth, reliable powertrain and good fuel economy are good qualities in a car you’re going to keep for a while, and the Accord checks in with both. Add to that a relatively spacious, quiet interior and responsive handling, and it adds up to a winning formula for going the distance.

Honda Civic (non-hybrid)

Base MSRP price range: $18,290 - $29,390

Like a good citizen, the compact Civic sedan goes about its business without complaint, rolling up the miles and staying out of trouble. A reliability champ, the Civic is also easy on gas and more fun to drive than some competitors. Stick with the basic gas four-cylinder for better reliability than the hybrid which had high incidence of hybrid battery problems with some model years.

Honda CR-V

Base MSRP price range: $23,445 - $32,895

Combining compact exterior dimensions with a spacious interior, all-wheel-drive, decent fuel economy and an aversion to spending time in the shop or by the side of the road, the CR-V comes close to universal appeal. Lots of our readers like them enough to really rack up the miles.

Photo: Honda

Honda Odyssey

Base MSRP price range: $28,975 - $44,600

If you’ve got a crowd with places to go, there’s no better bet than the Odyssey. The cavernous and versatile interior has room for up to eight passengers and a whole lot of gear, several storage cubbies, and is very child seat friendly. Comfortable on the highway, the Odyssey gets bonus points for more responsive handling than you’d expect from a minivan.

Honda Pilot

Base MSRP price range: $29,870 - $41,620

Another family favorite, the Pilot offers a spacious interior with room for eight, and the security of all-wheel drive. Second- and third-row seats fold into the floor for more cargo room, and the powertrain is as smooth as it is reliable. A redesigned Pilot arrives soon. If its track record is any indication, the new one should be up for going the distance.

Toyota Camry

Base MSRP price range: $22,970 - $31,370

Spacious, quiet, and comfortable, the Camry is one of the most reliable sedans you can buy. It may not pack a lot of excitement, but it makes a nice place to be while the miles roll up. All powertrain choices are pretty bullet proof, but the four-cylinder Camry is the one most often past 200K, combining reliability with being the biggest selling car in America.

Toyota Corolla

Base MSRP price range: $16,950 - $22,955

One of the longest-running nameplates in the business, the Corolla also makes an excellent choice for the long run. Its compact dimensions and good fuel economy make it an excellent choice for commuting, running errands, or road trips, and ironclad reliability means you won’t be seeing much of your mechanic.     

Toyota Prius

Base MSRP price range: $24,200 - $34,905

With seating for five, hatchback versatility, rock-solid reliability, and an amazing 44-mpg overall in our tests, there’s a lot to like about the Prius. That’s why it’s a top-scorer in our Ratings, and a perennial favorite in our owner satisfaction surveys. And those owners like to drive them, with more examples on the far side of 200K than any other model in our survey.

Toyota Sienna

Base MSRP price range: $28,600 - $46,150

A traveling companion you can really rely on, the Sienna has plenty of room for families and cargo, and the ride is comfortable and composed. The engine is strong and smooth, and fuel economy is decent for its size. The Sienna is also the only minivan available with all-wheel-drive.

Toyota Highlander (V6)

Base MSRP price range: $29,665 - $50,240

Another popular choice with families, the Highlander offers a comfortable ride, quiet, roomy, and well-finished cabin, and a smooth powertrain that’s good for many miles of hassle-free driving. With virtues like that, it’s no wonder the Highlander has long been one of our top-Rated midsized SUVs. The Hybrid version gets you even further on a tank of gas.

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