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10 Best Cars for a Summer Road Trip — And How Much They Cost

·8 min read
©Subaru / Subaru
©Subaru / Subaru

The parts of America that aren’t yet open for business are almost there, and the word of the day is “vacation.” If your quintessential vacation is a road trip, you don’t want to start by driving off into the horizon with any old jalopy.

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Using reviews and insights from publications like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, Car and Driver and Motor Trend, GOBankingRates came up with a list of 10 vehicles that can make your journey, smoother, safer, faster and more fun.

The list, of course, includes a few SUVs. SUVs, after all, have emerged as America’s go-to road trip vehicle of choice — and it’s not hard to understand why. The best among them are roomy, comfy, affordable, reliable and capable on rough patches road — perfect for putting rotations on the odometer. For supersized families with excess stuff, there are also a couple of minivans — including one that’s trying hard to reset the bar for all those that will come after. There’s also a sedan, a wagon, a pickup, a luxury vehicle and another that’s so luxurious it’s out of reach for most.

While most people aren’t going to buy a car just for a road trip, the rental market is historically tight and turbulent right now. Beaters are going for $500 per day in some places and in others, entire airports are completely sold out. Since rentals prices are too volatile to peg with any accuracy, GOBankingRates instead included the MSRP for each model for context.

Last updated: May 4, 2021

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Limited
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Limited

Subaru Crosstrek

Smaller, more maneuverable and easier to park than the bigger Outback, the Subaru Crosstrek makes a good argument for the title of the best small and inexpensive SUV in a very crowded class of compacts.

One of the last truly great non-sports cars on the road available with a manual transmission, the Crosstrek is as safe and dependable as all Subarus are by now presumed to be. It’s also sporty, it handles well and it gets 34 highway miles. For more adventurous road-trippers, the Crosstrek is blessed with Subaru’s famous Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and ground clearance of 8.7 inches — just one inch less than the mighty Jeep Wrangler. All of that and much more is somehow packed into a $22,245 starting MSRP.

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2019 Chrysler Pacifica Limited
2019 Chrysler Pacifica Limited

Chrysler Pacifica

Boasting the impressive claim of “more standard safety features than any vehicle in the industry” — vehicle, not minivan — the Chrysler Pacifica is tough to beat if a three-row SUV isn’t enough for your family and its gear.

A perennial contender for the title of best minivan, it gets 28 highway miles despite its 287 horses. Are you pulling stuff or planning to leave the pavement? The Pacifica’s 3,600-pound towing capacity is best in class, as is its fully automatic all-wheel-drive system. It seats seven with enough room to really spread out and stay out of each other’s way over long miles. It starts at $35,495, but right now, Chrysler is running both financing and cash offers.

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2022 Carnival - 7 Passenger.
2022 Carnival - 7 Passenger.

Kia Carnival

Anyone who needs more proof that Kia is serious about establishing itself as a top-tier competitor across all categories needs only to ogle the replacement to the good-but-not-great Sedona minivan. It’s called the 2022 Kia Carnival, and it looks like nothing else in its class.

With the muscular profile and luxury amenities of a full-size SUV, it’s got all the room and versatility of a minivan with the brawn of a pickup. It’s slated for release in the second quarter of 2021, which is just about now — certainly in time for the big summer road trip. It’s more expensive than the Sedona, but not by much — the starting MSRP is $32,100 — and what you get for the upcharge is the minivan-not-minivan of the future.

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Volvo V90 R-Design Location.
Volvo V90 R-Design Location.

Volvo V90

Before there were compact SUVs and even before there were minivans, generations of road trippers packed their stuff and their families into station wagons. The Volvo V90’s sleek and athletic body bears only the slightest resemblance to the woodies of old. Wagon drivers from generations past also wouldn’t recognize its 316 horsepower, its 33 mpg fuel economy or its $51,800 starting MSRP. What you get for the money, however, is true luxury, lots of room, legendary Volvo safety and enough creature comforts for even the most demanding traveler to escape in elegance.

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Jeep Wrangler off roading
Jeep Wrangler off roading

Jeep Wrangler

The was a time when the mighty Jeep Wrangler would not have been a great choice for a long journey. The Wrangler’s power and go-anywhere off-road capabilities were never a question, but it was the on-road ride that was the problem. Jeeps were always bumpy, loud and drafty with spartan interiors and few creature comforts.

But if you climb into a modern Wrangler, you find the look, feel and ride you’d expect from a nice mid-size SUV. On the outside, however, Wranglers are still just oh-so-Jeep. Its ground clearance, articulation, water fording, maneuverability and traction are all best in class or close to it — and yes, you can still take off the doors and the roof. The American classic with World War II roots starts at $28,575.

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2020 Ram 1500 North Edition.
2020 Ram 1500 North Edition.

Ram 1500

The best car for a road trip might just be a truck. Cross-country adventures, after all, are all about going with the flow — and nothing can roll with the punches like a pickup. Decide to change plans and go skiing, buy a kayak or rent a boat? Whatever. There’s no shortage of great trucks to choose from and they all have their purpose and place, but as Car and Driver points out, the Ram 1500 delivers, luxury, comfort, refinement, tech and innovation that its competitors do not. These are important qualities for anyone driving into the horizon, particularly with a family in tow, and the Ram 1500 is as much of a workhorse as the rest. Its starting MSRP is $32,795.

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2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid

For only about $1,000 more than the cost of a standard gas-powered Toyota Rav4 with all-wheel drive, you can get the same AWD package plus a hybrid drivetrain that will save you $300 a year on gas. On a long trip, that allows you to move real money from the gas budget to something fun. Toyota brings undeniable hybrid authority to the table — you might have heard of a car called the Prius. The Rav4 is zippy, with swift acceleration, and comes with standard driver-assist tech. Best of all, the sleek and sloping Rav4 Hybrid starts under $30,000 — $28,800, to be exact.

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2020 Kia Cadenza
2020 Kia Cadenza

Kia Cadenza

Thanks to the SUV-ing of America’s highways, the family sedan is a dying breed, but for those who still prefer an old-fashioned car, the Kia Cadenza is a sedan worth spending time in during a marathon drive. It doesn’t have the clout of its high-end competitors with prestige badges, but it does have many of the same features, luxury and exotic materials — all without the prestige price tag. The Kia Cadenza starts at $37,850. A big, roomy, well-designed full-size sedan, it’s part of Kia’s migration toward the luxury market.

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2019 Mercedes Benz G-Class G550
2019 Mercedes Benz G-Class G550

Mercedes-Benz G-Class

If you have the means to rent, lease or buy a Mercedes-Benz G-Class — they start at $131,750 — be prepared to never want to leave your car again. Its boxy body is an homage to the G-Class’s legendary past but its interior is a temple dedicated to quality, comfort and materials that are so fine that they would be alien to the average driver. With all that luxury, it’s easy to forget that the G-Class built its rep as a workhorse, and that legacy endures today with 416 horses that can bring the ultra-luxe SUV from 0-60 in 5.6 seconds.

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High Performance Package adds Mustang GT brakes, and GT Performance Package aerodynamics and suspension components to make it the highest-performing production four-cylinder Mustang ever.
High Performance Package adds Mustang GT brakes, and GT Performance Package aerodynamics and suspension components to make it the highest-performing production four-cylinder Mustang ever.

Ford Mustang GT Convertible

If you’re taking a summer road trip, you have to at least consider a convertible, and if you’re considering a convertible, the Mustang GT has to be near the top of the list.

You can squeeze out 24 mpg on the highway despite the five-liter, 460-horsepower V8 that’s responsible for that famous Mustang roar. There are plenty of vehicles that do better on gas and plenty of others that can tow more weight, carry more people and tote more stuff — but will that practical minivan turn more heads on the highway or get more likes on Instagram? You know the answer.

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 10 Best Cars for a Summer Road Trip — And How Much They Cost