Planning a road trip? Here’s everything you might need to plot a cross-country journey, a family vacation, or a solo trek.
Aside from which way the toilet paper should dispense from the roll (it’s over the top by the way), few life decisions are as important or as personal as one’s choice of road tripping vehicle. To be clear, we’re not talking about a jolly, two-hour jaunt to the beach. This list is about the vehicles you’d want to go the distance — maybe even cross-country — in. From the practical to the drool-worthy, from family-friendly SUVs to classic automotive icons, here are the best road trips cars of all time.
Let’s not bury our lede. Two words: Lamborghini. SUV. If money is no object and you’re a fan of very, very, very fast road trips, you can stop reading now. The 2019 Lamborghini Urus is likely the only road trip car on your wish list. The company’s (pretty much) first foray into the SUV market is a dramatic one. The angular Urus boasts a steeply raked roofline, sleek LED lighting, and huge 22- or 23-inch wheels stuffed inside jagged hexagonal wheel wells. This is an SUV that will not be mistaken for any other. It’s neither practical nor affordable for most mortal men, but who really cares with a twin-turbo, 4-liter V8 under the hood? The 641 horsepower push the Urus to a top speed of 190 miles per hour, making it the fastest production SUV on the planet. If you’ve ever wanted to take a 36-hour, coast-to-coast road trip, your ride is ready.
Jeep Cherokee XJ
Over the years, most SUVs — even hardcore models — have softened as manufacturers realize their customers rarely choose to venture off-road. Case in point: The latest generation of the Jeep Cherokee shares its platform with the previous generation Dodge Dart. (Let the horror of that statement really sink in …) But the older Jeep Cherokee XJ is the SUV for purists who plan to spend as much — maybe a little more — time off the pavement as on. Don’t let the fact that it’s dated dissuade you. That just means you can find an older model for a song. Plus, replacement and aftermarket parts are readily available, it has plenty of room for your gear and friends, and the bulletproof 4.0-liter engine will probably outlast you.
“Which 911?” you may be asking. Fair question. We’re not picky as long as it’s a Carrera 4S Cabriolet. Hardcore enthusiasts will tsk tsk anything but a hardtop but, for pure road trip fun, it’s either a convertible or nothing. Honestly, almost any model of the modern Porsche 911 will do as it’s still among the best sports cars to balance performance, handling, convenience, and comfort. It even seats four, although we’d recommend using the cafeteria-tray-sized rears for storage or “friends” you don’t like much. For a legit sports car, it’s a damn-near-perfect everyday driver which is what also makes it a fantastic road tripper.
A $300,000 road tripper? Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. If a 911 isn’t disco enough for you, the curiously named Ferrari GTC4Lusso may do the trick. At more than 4,233 pounds, it’s heavy by any standard. It gets abysmal gas mileage (11/17 mpg city/highway). And did we mention it costs as much as a vacation condo in the Florida Keys? In short: It’s almost completely impractical for driving to Pottery Barn, let alone long distance. Almost. What it does have is four mostly usable seats — perfect for bringing along three friends or one friend and a reasonable amount of luggage for two humans — on a high-performance, cross-country road trip. That the 6.3-liter V-12 engine boasts 680 hp and 514 lb-ft capable of pushing this 4WD beast past 200 miles per hour is, to put it mildly, a bonus.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Of course, for most mortal men, six-figure sports cars are rarely attainable. Enter the Mazda MX-5. For less savvy car folk, the Miata may seem a better fit for fast-talking, middle-aged realtors with bleach-blonde perms, but the latest Miata generation has vastly outgrown that image. Recent iterations of the MX-5 are excitedly fast and a blast to drive thanks to a short-throw shifter and rock-solid handling. The seats are more comfortable than most other sports cars, and it also boasts decent fuel economy (if you’re shopping for sports cars in this stratum, we’ll assume gas mileage matters to you). Its biggest selling point is the convertible top — either a soft or power retractable hardtop. Sure, the trunk is barely big enough for a duffel bag. Just drop the top and don’t think about it too much.
If you’re incredulous as to how anyone could place the Honda Element and Porsche 911 on the same list of greatest road tripping cars of all time, stay with me. The now-discontinued (as of 2011) Element never gained mass appeal, due in large part to its love-it-or-hate-it delivery-van-inspired design. But, that’s precisely what makes it a great road tripping vehicle. By “great,” we mean “practical.” The rear cargo space is dead flat with an industrial floor liner that can be hosed down when needed. That means you can pack a lot more than you’d expect inside the deceptively roomy cargo space, especially with the two rear seats removed. Plus, it tackles sand, mud, dirt, and any other caked-on bits of nature with ease. The four seats can also be configured into a single — albeit bumpy — bed of sorts, which is ideal for car camping couples. Spring for the AWD model for better traction and a standard rear sunroof for campsite stargazing.
If dad jokes are your jam, and you never met a pair of pleated khaki shorts you didn’t like, it probably doesn’t get more perfect than the Toyota Prius. While previous models of the now iconic hybrid lacked any semblance of style or fun, the latest generation is at least making an effort. But, we’re including it on this list for one simple reason: Insane fuel economy. The entry-level Eco model is the cheapest and greenest Prius in the lineup, promising nearly 60 mpg on the highway and a road-tripping range of over 600 miles. Imagine driving from Manhattan to San Francisco on the equivalent of five tanks of gas.
Land Rover Defender
If you want all the legendary badassery of the Land Rover brand without the frilly techno-gadgetry of the company’s newest models, it doesn’t get any better than the classic Land Rover Defender. This truck’s long history stretches back more than a century, and most enthusiasts regard it as the best, most off-road-capable truck ever built. Whether trekking over mountains, on safari in Africa, or fording chest-high whitewater rapids, the Defender is designed to go literally almost anywhere you need it to go. If you’re planning to spend any significant time off-roading on your next road trip, look no further.
Lincoln Navigator Black Label
Part of the draw of RVing cross-country is taking all the creature comforts of home with you. No matter where you overnight, you’ll always have your espresso maker, 24-setting washer, and favorite recliner with you. While the Lincoln Navigator Black Label 4×4 doesn’t offer quite that level of convenience, it’s the closest approximation on four wheels, making it one of the cushiest road-tripping vehicles a couple years’ salary can buy. For nearly $100,000, Navigator owners have access to multiple infotainment screens, a ridiculous satellite audio system, 30-way adjustable heating and cooling leather massage seats, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and a sleek, sporty, notice-me design that no one will mistake for an Escalade.
Classic Volkswagen Camper Van
Frankly, there isn’t a vehicle more iconic of the classic American road trip than the Volkswagen Camper Van, so we’re required by law to include it on this list. It’s wholly unreliable and guaranteed to spend more time in the shop than on the road. But quirks aside, it’s beautiful, fun, nostalgic, and entirely practical when you consider that you’re driving your hotel room across the country. You can score one cheap on eBay. Just be sure to pack plenty of spare parts, a robust toolkit, and a current AAA membership.
Westfalia Sven Hedin CUV
If you want all the usability and a dash of the nostalgia of the classic VW Camper Van without the maintenance and reliability headaches, look to Westfalia. The company has built a brand on outfitting new VW Crafter vans to create the most practical, full-featured, and comfortable camper vans on the market. Westfalia’s swanky Sven Hedin is a CUV (caravaning utility vehicle) that crams the usefulness of a legit, full-sized RV into a vehicle not much larger than a minivan. There are multiple table/counter spaces, a comfortable bed, a half bathroom with a toilet and sink, a workable kitchen with a cooktop, sink, and dual-drawer fridge, and a surprising amount of storage space for your gear. Sure, the price tag is close to $70,000, but imagine all the money you’ll save on Motel 6 stays.
1966 Chevy Corvette
Of course, a classic American road trip deserves a classic — the classic — American pony car. Our money is on the original 1966 Corvette. The sleek, unmistakable silhouette is arguably one of the most beautiful and distinctive in automotive history. Add to that a throaty V8 with serious horsepower, and it promises one helluva drive no matter where in the country you’re headed.
1965 Ford Mustang Convertible
Not a Chevy guy? We get it. If you’re a communist who hates Corvettes, your best American-made road-trip-worthy alternative is a ‘65 Mustang Convertible. It’s difficult to imagine a car that would inspire more patriotic nostalgia on a long-haul road trip through Middle America than this classic ‘Stang. Regardless of which manufacturer’s camp you fall into, this first-generation pony car is an icon of sports car design. It screams: “I like fast things, Bob Seger, and cold domestic beer!” (Not necessarily in that order.) And, for that, we salute it.
Sure, the Morgan 3-Wheeler isn’t technically a car, but don’t get too hung up on semantics. If you don’t give a toss about practicality; if you don’t concern yourself with pesky things like rain, cargo space, or bugs in your teeth; if you value fun above all else, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is the road trip vehicle for you. Its unapologetic design has changed little in the more than 100 years since its world debut. It’s raw, mechanical, and just plain cool. Whether day-tripping through the White Mountains or cross-country solo-ing, it’s every bit as exhilarating and pure to drive. One soldier in Britain’s Royal Flying Corps described it as, “the nearest thing to flying without leaving the ground.”
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