Summer is here, and as the saying goes, the time is right for cramming the kids and the dog and grandma and the cooler full of sanity-saving beer into the family truckster. Yep, you guessed it: It's time to go on vacation. It's time for a road trip.
There are a lot of factors that go into a successful road trip (Did you remember the sandwiches? The maps? Did you leave grandma at that last gas station?), but the most important one is often the most overlooked. Yep, that's right--we're talking about the car. The wheels that you choose can make or break your good-time highway odyssey.
Herewith, we present to you Automobile Magazine's list of the six best road trip cars for 2008. The steeds here were chosen based on real-world criteria, not just cold and heartless intangibles. Enjoy, travel safe, and don't forget to write.
BEST SEATS: Volvo S80
Volvo seats are among the best in the business, and the chairs in the S80 are the best that Volvo has to offer: comfortable, friendly to sore backs, and supportive in the extreme. Long hours behind the wheel require seats that don't add to your fatigue, and the S80's thrones are essentially mattresses with recline adjustment. If you're looking for big side bolsters and infinite adjustability, look elsewhere, but if the idea of a comfort-filled thousand-mile day stokes your fires, then look no further.
MOST VERSATILE: Chrysler Town & Country
Ahh, the minivan. It's an American family staple. Trucking from sea to shining sea in your sliding-door sled is as much a stateside glory as baseball or apple pie. Chrysler's Town & Country minivan--all-new this year, along with its sibling, the Dodge Caravan--wins the prize for tradition and carry-all capability, but what seals the deal is the T&C's unparalleled versatility. What other minivan offers you swiveling second-row seats, a removable (full-size) center table, an under-floor storage compartment, and a power folding third row? That's right: none of 'em. And while a sedan (or Honda's Odyssey minivan) may be much more entertaining to drive, the T&C trumps everything else out there by simply being ready for anything.
MOST CARGO SPACE: Dodge Sprinter
OK, we give. Yes, this one is a little bit of a cop-out; it's not really something most people would buy if they were in the market for a road-trip car. Believe it or not, though, Dodge's service van for the people actually makes one heck of a nice long-distance runner. Sprinter? They should've named it the Kenyan Marathon Star. The Mercedes-Benz-designed Sprinter handles long distances with aplomb, and as such, it has a dedicated following among the small-motorhome set. The seats are comfortable, wind noise is surprisingly low, and visibility is excellent. Seating options verge on the infinite. At a whopping 247 cubic feet of cargo space, the Sprinter bests almost any other commercial vehicle on the market, but believe it or not, there's more. That figure, after all, is for the short-wheelbase Sprinter. The long-wheelbase model offers up a cavernous 473 cubic feet. Laugh if you must, but if we were moving to Alaska and had to drive our sorry, moose-loathing selves there, we'd pick a Sprinter before just about anything else.
BEST ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM: Infiniti M35/M45
Entertainment systems are a matter of personal taste, as one man's tech-laden DVD powerhouse is another man's complex electronic nightmare. With that in mind, the Infiniti M-series offers the best of both worlds: high audio/visual fidelity, feature-laden options packages, and a simple, intuitive interface. The optional premium-package stereo delivers some of the most nuanced and articulate digital surround sound and music playback that we've ever heard, and when you pair it with the rear-seat entertainment system (a pop-up screen and DVD player), you get one of the best in-car factory A/V systems on the market. Chrysler's Town & Country may offer more versatility (two screens that can simultaneously show different programs, for example), but its playback quality isn't anywhere near as impressive.
BEST FUEL ECONOMY: Toyota Corolla/Honda Civic Hybrid (tie)
Contrary to what you'd think, road-trip fuel economy isn't just about the numbers. It's also about the compromises that you make. If you go strictly by EPA ratings, then the Toyota Prius's 48-mpg highway rating wins the day. But not so fast--as pump-thrifty as the Prius is, more than a few hours behind its wheel will have any sane enthusiast screaming for mercy. The Toyota's floaty suspension, numb steering, tiny rear seat, and strung-out highway manners leave us wanting. With that in mind, we suggest two alternatives: the Toyota Corolla, and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Their EPA highway ratings (37 and 45 mpg, respectively) rival that of the Prius, but they're both much nicer to drive. The Corolla is a little less strained at high speed than the Civic is, which helps make up for its lower highway fuel economy. Tie.
Runner-up: Toyota's Camry Hybrid, for its combination of spacious interior, couch-comfy seats, and 34-mpg highway thirst.
BEST TO SLEEP IN WHILE MOVING: Lexus LS460L/LS600hL
What good is a road trip without a co-driver? And what good is a co-driver if they don't drive while you sleep? In long-wheelbase form, Lexus's LS luxury sedan trumps all road-snooze comers, and it turns every highway into a one-way road to Dreamsville. Sure, the Lexus's back seat offers up seemingly endless legroom, but that's not the cake-topper. What sells us is the LS's optional reclining rear seats--yes, you read that right--extendable rear footrests, and tomb-quiet interior. All four seats are comfortable for days, but the reclining rears are a gift from God. Couple them with the LS's famously serene interior, and you have a recipe for miles and miles of snooze.