As the leaves start to change colors, students head back to school, and the days get cooler, our thoughts naturally turn to tailgating. You can almost smell the exhaust, burning brats, and cheap beer already. Start icing down the cooler, pack the grill, and dig out your favorite university apparel. We'll handle the transportation.
Perhaps the ultimate tailgating rig is a pickup truck your buddy happens to own and drive (allowing you to concentrate more on the festivities and less on the traffic). For those looking to upgrade to something new and exciting, we've rounded up eight of the best new cars, trucks, and SUVs on the market that can elevate your tailgating experience. Whether you're looking for a faster way to leave the parking lot, a more luxurious base, or simply better options to connect with the outside world after you park and set up the buffet, we've got a ride that fits the bill.
If you need some upgraded tailgating gear, head over to facebook.com/automobilemag, "Like" our page, and post up to five photos of your tailgating style on our wall. We're giving away some great tailgating gear from Cabela's Coleman, and Wild Sales. For the full rules of the contest, click this link.
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
By far the sexiest vehicle on this list, the CTS-V Sport Wagon is powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 producing 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque. Though most of the power won't be usable in heavy game day traffic, it's satisfying to know you could theoretically sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under four seconds. The massive amount of power is transferred to rear 19-inch wheels through either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. When you're ready to slow down to find a parking spot, you'll appreciate Brembo-sourced 15-inch rotors gripped by six-piston calipers up front, while four-piston calipers grab 14.7 rotors in back.
Once you've claimed your spot, open up the power tailgate and you're ready to go. Pre-game reports can be pumped through the ten-speaker Bose 5.1 surround-sound speaker system. The onboard 40 GB hard drive offers plenty of room to store your entire Jock Rock collection or use satellite radio to keep your friends updated on scores across the country. If you realize you've forgotten to lock the doors after you head into the stadium, a new feature from OnStar will allow you to lock doors via an application from your smartphone. The application's ability to remotely start the car will definitely come in handy at the end of the season so you can pre-heat those leather seats.
The luxury of a Cadillac, speed of a Corvette, and cargo space of a wagon combine to make the CTS-V Sport Wagon a top contender for tailgating.
2010 Dodge Caravan
The Dodge Grand Caravan has been the ultimate family hauler since its debut back in 1984. In its 27 years of existence, the iconic minivan has come a long way. When it launched, the van featured a single sliding door and was powered by one of two available I-4 engines. Although designed to mimic the space of a cargo van and comfort of a sedan, the Caravan was rather simple compared to today's standards. The Caravan has received a long list of upgrades over the years and remains a favorite for frequent tailgaters.
Possibly the number one selling point for the Dodge Grand Caravan is the extensive seating flexibility. Dodge's Swivel 'n Go seating offers second-row occupants the option to spin their seats around so they can face the rear to make conversation much more personable. An included removable table mounted between the two rows makes for a convenient dining setup or game table. Third-row seats can be turned around making for a fun tailgate atmosphere. All seating behind the front row has the ability to fold into the floor, creating a completely flat cargo area for increased storage area and ease of loading, though customers have to choose between the swivel and stowing abilities.
Not only are the seating options plentiful, but so are the entertainment and comfort. Available nine-inch LCD monitors for second and third-row seating offer live television, DVD playback, and game console hookup. The monitors can show the same program or display from independent sources. A 506-watt, nine-speaker stereo system has plenty of power, but the available wireless headphones should come in handy when passengers can't agree on a show. Its optional UConnect router turns the car into a WiFi hotspot and so you can follow your fantasy team from the parking lot. An available 115-volt power outlet means you won't need a generator to run your electronic devices.
Tri-zone automatic climate control is available in the SXT model and should help to offer plenty of comfort for all passengers. A reasonable 32.3 cubic-feet of cargo space behind third-row seating should hold all your gear. With a reasonable price tag and long list of features, the Grand Caravan makes perfect sense as a family hauler and tailgate vehicle.
2011 Ford Explorer
Like the Dodge Caravan, Ford's Explorer has been a staple on American roads for nearly 20 years. Launching back in 1991, the Explorer was one of the first SUVs to become a mainstream fixture with American drivers. Now entering its fifth generation, the Explorer is chock full of equipment and features every tailgater desires.
Standard convenience features include four 12-volt power outlets, a 4.2-inch infotainment screen, and Ford's proprietary MyKey system. Stepping up to the top-of-the-line Limited model adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, power-folding mirrors, a rear-view camera, 110-volt outlet, and MyFord Touch infotainment system. The option to make the SUV a WiFi hotspot is sure to please technology buffs. Ford's premium 12-speaker Sony audio system offers plenty of power to expand the party outside the vehicle.
The standard engine found in the 2011 Ford Explorer is a 3.5-liter V-6, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Output is 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, while increasing fuel economy 20 percent over the 2010 model's 14/20 mpg city/highway ratings. Soon, Ford will offer its 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, aimed at the most fuel conscious consumers. For 2011, Ford switched to a front-wheel-drive architecture but all-wheel-drive remains an option on all trim levels.
2010 Honda Ridgeline
Honda's Ridgeline is based on the same chassis that underpins its Pilot SUV, but we find the pickup to be a bit more versatile. With four doors, seating for five, and respectable fuel economy, the Ridgeline is one of the more comfortable offerings in the segment.
On the inside, available dual-zone climate control makes the drive much more comfortable. Optional navigation and Bluetooth keep the driver headed in the right direction and focused on the road. Three 12-volt power outlets come standard, and a 115-volt outlet offers power for small electronics. However the attribute most helpful for tailgating is the truck's bed and its features. Underneath the five-foot composite bed liner, lies the first lockable trunk under a truck bed. The 8.5-cubic feet trunk can carry tools or other equipment, but is best used to carry ice and beverages, acting as a cooler. Drain plugs allow the trunk to be cleaned easily. The Ridgeline's tailgate swings down or to the side, offering multiple ways to get at the bed's contents.
2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
For Sports fans who like to get the party started as soon as they leave for the game, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited may be the vehicle of choice. With seating for five real adults and the option for an open-top journey, the Wrangler Unlimited is a great option for tailgaters. Even better, Jeep is upgrading the interior for 2011.
Although ideal for warm climates, the Wrangler has the option of either hard or soft-top coverings. Should occupants get a little too excited and spill beverages inside the car, it can be washed out with a hose, like previous Wranglers. All doors have working glass windows, but can be removed for added excitement. A 46.4 cubic-foot cargo capacity allows for plenty of equipment, certainly a lot more than you'll get with an old CJ-7.
A 368-watt, six-speaker Infinity sound system is available, giving and we'd recommend it if you like to drive without a top. Also available is Chrysler's UConnect multimedia interface, packaged into a 6.5-inch navigation screen. Voice commands allow the driver to stay focused on the road ahead, and the iPod hookup controls the MP3 player through the stereo interface.
For serious tailgaters, Jeep recently launched a pair of off-road camper trailers designed to match the functionality and styling of its Wrangler offerings. The Trail version offers conveniences for casual weekend camping trips. With accommodations for up to four, a power inverter, and plenty of cabinetry, the new Jeep trailers make for a great addition to any serious tailgater's setup.
2010 Kia Soul
Aimed toward youthful buyers, the Soul's widespread features and budget friendly price may be just the ticket for many tailgaters. With a sub-$14,000 price tag, the Soul fits into just about anybody's budget. A low sticker price doesn't mean Kia's skimping in terms of the audio system and connectivity. USB and auxiliary inputs offer convenient ways to channel music to the optional 315-watt eight-speaker stereo. Illuminated speaker enclosures that dance to the beat of the music are an interesting touch, although not everyone enjoys the feature. Bluetooth connectivity comes as standard equipment on all but the base trim.
The Soul's styling won't let you blend into the crowd and 18-inch wheels on the top two models further distinguish the look. With seating for five and 19.3-cubic feet of rear cargo space, the Soul should be able to handle enough tailgate equipment. An external temperature display helps you decide exactly how many layers of clothing will be needed for those late season games.
The Soul won't break any land speed records, but its 1.6 and 2.0-liter engines offer fuel economy ratings of 26/31 city/highway and 24/30 respectively. With moderate pricing and reasonable fuel economy, the Soul should make the list of any budget-minded tailgater.
2010 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon TDI
For those die-hard fans that attend all home games and follow the team around to every away game, the Jetta TDI Sport Wagon is a great choice. With ample room, German engineering, and frugal fuel economy, the Jetta TDI Sport Wagon is all that a road-tripping tailgater could ask for.
The Jetta TDI comes with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel I-4. The wagon returns 42 mpg highway -- when equipped with an automatic transmission -- and 41 mpg with the manual, though many owners consistently report fuel economy in the high 40s. Seating for five and 32.8-cubic feet of cargo space means plenty of room for equipment.
On the inside, sport wagon customers get a slight bump in standard equipment over the sedan, including a 115-volt power outlet and leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Bluetooth comes standard and can be used to wirelessly stream music in addition to standard calling features. An available 6.5-inch navigation system offers 30GB of storage, 20GB of which is devoted to music, and plays DVD videos. The ten-speaker audio system will come in handy for listening to pre-game commentary or music. Overall, the TDI Sport Wagon's refined interior, excellent fuel economy, and plentiful cargo space makes the hatchback a top contender for travelling fans in our book. With a starting price in the mid-$20,000s and great mileage, we suggest the TDI Sport Wagon for anyone serious about committing to both home and away games.
2011 Infiniti QX56
If you're looking to show up to a sporting event with one of the largest, most comfortable vehicles on the road that also happens to be filled with the latest and greatest in gadgetry, it's time to consider the 2011 Infiniti QX56.
The 13-speaker optional sound system is sourced from Bose, and features a pair of subwoofers for increased bass performance. An available theater package comes with two seven-inch monitors, two sets of wireless headphones, and a 120-volt outlet. Audio/video input jacks allow gamers to bring along a PS3 and play some virtual football from the parking lot. Four 12-volt power outlets offer plenty of power for charging small gadgets. Three-zone automatic climate control means everyone will be comfortable in a variety of weather conditions. An eight-inch infotainment screen is plenty large enough, and Infiniti's Around View monitoring system offers visibility when backing into a tricky parking spot.
Second-row captain's chairs come standard and are optionally heated. Seating capacity is seven passengers, but moves to eight with an optional bench seat in the second row. High-grade leather hides grace the seating surfaces and Tuscan or mocha burl wood finished interior accents.
The QX56 is powered by a 5.6-liter V-8, making 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. The standard seven-speed automatic transmission helps the SUV achieve 14/20 mpg city/highway in both rear and all-wheel-drive trim.