With summer fully upon us, family road trips should be in full swing. Good road trip cars have the ability to balance passengers and their cargo, but some of the best summer cars have the ability to do so with a little more excitement. While not all of us are lucky enough to accrue vacation days or, even luckier, get the entire summer off, here's a quick look at some of the best road trip cars available whether you're looking to drive across town, across the state or even across the country.
Not only did we break down our list of the best road trip cars, we also checked out the estimated highway driving range (calculated by the fuel tank capacity and the EPA highway fuel economy figure) and an estimated average fuel cost to drive 500 miles (a pretty manageable summer road trip distance).
* at the time this article was published, the average price of regular gasoline across the country is $3.40 per gallon, diesel is a bit higher at $3.60 per gallon and premium gasoline sits at the top at $3.76 per gallon, according to AutoPacific's July Fuel Price Impact Study.
Small cars are great for city driving, but a growing number of cars priced under $20,000 are getting more interior room and cabin technology - both great for summer road trips - than ever before. Take, for example, the 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan that starts at just $10,990. With more interior space than some mid-size sedans, the new Nissan Versa is our pick for the best road trip car costing less than $20,000, and it can even be equipped with some of the latest in-car technologies - including navigation - while still staying under this price threshold. This small sedan has a massive interior that can easily accommodate five adult passengers, while the cargo area is more than enough for a few suitcases. Better yet, with its 1.6-liter inline-four producing 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque, the 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan has EPA-rated highway fuel economy estimates of 38 miles per gallon allowing it to drive around 410 miles on a tank of gas with a cost of just $44.74 to drive 500 miles. Other cars to consider as good road trip cars under $20,000 include the Hyundai Veloster, Chevrolet Sonic and Kia Rio.
Best Road Trip Cars - Family Sedan
Mid-size sedans are the bread-and-butter of the automotive industry, and it isn't surprising that these family-friendly vehicles also happen to be really great for summer road trips. Already one of our favorite family sedans, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat (especially in TDI form) is one of the best road trip cars in its segment. Newly developed for the North American market, the 2012 Volkswagen Passat is larger and more spacious than its predecessor, which means that it is larger and more spacious than Euro-spec Passat models. Making the new Volkswagen Passat a good road trip car, it can be equipped with VW's TDI clean diesel engine that delivers great fuel economy and performance. This 2.0-liter diesel inline-four puts out 140 horsepower along with 236 lb-ft of torque and still gets an EPA estimated 43 mpg highway when equipped with the manual transmission. This, along with the 18.5-gallon fuel tank, gives the Passat TDI a one-tank driving range of 795 highway miles which would cost $69.56 to fill up, but driving 500 miles would only cost $43.72. The Passat isn't the only spacious and fuel-efficient family sedan on the market, and the TDI's $25,995 starting price is on par with some hybrid competitors like the Kia Optima Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid and Chevrolet Malibu Eco.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat was also the top-rated mid-size car in the AutoPacific 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards.
Best Road Trip Cars - Station Wagon
Station wagons are probably the quintessential road trip cars, but these passenger- and cargo-friendly vehicles have come a long way in terms of luxury and comfort since their popularity peaked back in the 1970s. Out of all the station wagons currently available, the all-new 2013 Audi allroad quattro is our pick for the best road trip car of 2012 thanks to its big interior, crossover-like stance and its standard all-wheel drive. Starting at $39,600, the 2013 Audi allroad is essentially the station wagon version of the Audi A6, and it is a good road trip car due to its spacious five-passenger seating and a generous rear cargo capacity of 27.6 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four producing 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, the Audi allroad gets a respectable 27 mpg on the highway. Combined with its 16.9-gallon gas tank, the Audi allroad quattro has an expected driving range of 456 miles on a single tank, and running on premium gasoline, this all-wheel drive station wagon would cost about $66.67 on a 500-mile trip. While the station wagon market has declined over the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of new wagons to hit the market like the Acura TSX Sport Wagon or the BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon, but there are even a handful of high-performance station wagons on the market like the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon and the Mercedes-Benz E563 AMG Wagon.
Best Road Trip Cars - Minivan
Like station wagons, minivans play a pivotal roll come road trip season, but in addition to cavernous interiors, most minivans now offer enough entertainment systems that rival some home living rooms. Redesigned for 2011, the Honda Odyssey is a good road trip car thanks to its spacious, versatile interior with the rear two rows of seats big enough for six passengers or easily folded out of the way to allow for plenty of cargo room. Starting at $28,375, the 2012 Honda Odyssey is one of the best road trip cars of 2012 not only because of its class-leading safety, entertainment, comfort and technology but also due to its unconventional, sporty(ish) styling. Opting for the Odyssey Touring adds plenty of standard features such as rear-seat entertainment, navigation and a moonroof, and it also gets a six-speed automatic transmission. With this transmission, the Honda Odyssey's 248-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 28 mpg on the highway which is good for a 588-mile driving range; driving 500 miles would cost $60.71. The minivan segment is always evolving, so the Honda Odyssey should always keep its eye on the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Grand Caravan, Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest.
The Honda Odyssey was also named the Autobytel 2012 Van/Minivan of the Year and it was the top-rated minivan in the AutoPacific 2012 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards.Best Road Trip Cars - Crossover
Somewhere between station wagons and minivans, crossovers are another growing vehicle segment, and they make some of the best road trip cars. New for 2013, the Infiniti JX already has what it takes to be one of the best road trip cars of 2012 due to its size, luxury and smooth ride. All good road trip cars deliver spacious seating for its passengers, but the 2013 Infiniti JX offers all of its seven passengers an opulent atmosphere with a great interior, massive panoramic sunroofs and the same high-quality navigation/infotainment system expected from Infiniti. Powered by a 265-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, the front-wheel drive version of the 2013 Infiniti JX35 gets an EPA-estimated 24 mpg on the highway. With its 19.5-gallon fuel tank filled up with premium gasoline, the new Infiniti JX has a highway driving range of around 468 miles, and it would cost around $75 to go on a 500-mile road trip. Other spacious, easy-to-drive crossovers include the Buick Enclave, Audi Q7 and the Ford Flex.
Best Road Trip Cars - Sporty Car
Sports cars can also make good road trip cars, too, and the 2012 Dodge Challenger is one of our favorites. With its classic designs and big interior, four adults should have no problem hitting the road in this modern muscle car. With three available engines, the Dodge Challenger can be equipped to meet just about any buyer's performance needs, but even the base Challenger delivers decent performance and fuel economy making it a great choice as one of the best road trip cars. Starting at $25,195, the 2012 Dodge Challenger comes standard with Chrysler's latest 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. This stock engine puts out 305 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque, but, more importantly, it is capable of getting up to 27 mpg on the highway. Combined with a 19.1-gallon gas tank, the Dodge Challenger can drive 515 miles on just one tank with a 500-mile trip costing $62.96. Some other sporty cars that double as good road trip cars include the popular new Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ as well as full-size sedans like the Ford Taurus SHO and Chrysler 300 SRT8.
Best Road Trip Cars - Convertible
Convertibles, by design, make great summer cars and are some of the best road trip cars since they allow for plenty of top-down action. For its roomy interior and spacious cargo area, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet landed on our list of the best road trip cars of 2012. Though its styling (and purpose) have been in question since its debut, it is hard to argue with the road trip worthiness of the 2012 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Starting at $44,540, there are plenty of other convertibles on the market, but the new Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet isn't cursed with the cramped rear seat or limited cargo space like most other convertibles. Based on the regular Nissan Murano crossover, the Murano CrossCabriolet uses a peppy 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 265 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, but its standard all-wheel drive system plays a limiting factor in fuel economy with the EPA estimating about 22 mpg on the highway. A large, 21.7 gallon fuel tank topped off with premium gas should get the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet around 477 highway miles while a 500-mile trip will cost $81.82 in gasoline. Other fun summer cars that allow top-down enjoyment include the Ford Mustang Convertible, Chrysler 200 Convertible and the Jeep Wrangler.
Best Road Trip Cars - Luxury Cars
Finally, who wouldn't want to head out on a long summer road trip in a big, luxury sedan? Fortunately, there are plenty of able land yachts with which to do so, but the Audi A8 might be the best road trip car for 2012. Redesigned for 2011, the Audi A8 delivers plenty of luxury, and it is even offered in two wheelbase lengths for when rear passengers demand even more space. Starting at $72,200, the price point for the 2013 Audi A8 is steep, but it delivers more than enough luxury and comfort to fit the bill for any road trip. Aside from the ample rear-seat room, the Audi A8 is also an amazing car to drive making it a good road trip car for passengers and drivers alike. The base 2013 Audi A8 now comes with a 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 that gets an EPA-estimated 28 mpg on the highway. A truck-like 23.8-gallon gas tank helps give the Audi A8 a driving range of 666 miles, and with premium gasoline required, it would cost approximately $64.29 on a 500-mile road trip. Other big luxury sedans that make good road trip cars include the Cadillac XTS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Hyundai Equus.