A road trip is a fantastic way to spend a vacation. Out on the open road, you can take time to appreciate and relish the journey, not just the destination. You have the freedom and flexibility to change your plans on the fly, and you don't have to deal with TSA security lines or three-ounce liquid restrictions. Sounds great, right? Now you just need to find a suitable vehicle that won't break the bank.
Whether it's a solo trip on winding backroads, a whimsical off-grid adventure with friends, or a family bonding session across state lines, there's an affordable option for any road trip you can think of. We came up with 10 of the best road-trip cars you can buy today, most of which are available for less than $33,486, which is the average vehicle transaction price in 2016.
If you're looking to hit the highway with a couple of friends and explore a new city or two, a compact hatchback is a smart pick. Compacts are inherently maneuverable and if you can find one with good outward visibility, generous interior space and great fuel economy, you're good to go. You won't find a better embodiment of these qualities than the 2016 Volkswagen Golf.
The Golf offers real space for four adults, or five in a pinch, with a handy 22.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seatbacks and an almost SUV-like 52.7 cubic feet with those seatbacks folded down. The large windows afford great sightlines in every direction, while the standard 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces enough power to slingshot you around an on-ramp without much effort. And yet, it gets 29 mpg combined in EPA testing (25 city/36 highway). This is sensible German engineering at its best.
If city touring is in your road-trip plans and you need more space than a compact vehicle can offer, check out the midsize 2016 Toyota Prius. It's a top pound-for-pound contender in passenger space and road comfort, not to mention its unbeatable fuel economy.
Go all-in with the Prius Eco model and you'll get ultra-low rolling-resistance tires along with a slight weight reduction, resulting in 56 mpg combined (58 city/53 highway). That extends fueling intervals to a bladder-challenging range somewhere north of 600 miles. Efficiency aside, this Prius is also more comfortable and rewarding to drive than any generation before it. And its midsize dimensions mean there's plenty of space for people and cargo.
Maybe you're someone who thinks a road trip — even one that takes weeks and a couple hundred miles a day — should not be a test of endurance. If so, a cushy luxury sedan like the 2016 Hyundai Genesis might suit you.
A base price of $39,700 might sound like it's stretching the definition of "affordable," but that's where this Hyundai's exceptional value comes into play. For the money, the Genesis simply can't be matched for feature content or interior quality, and it comes with industry-leading warranty coverage. The standard, smooth-revving 3.8-liter V6 is the smart choice (the optional V8 plays in a different league), and you can specify rear- or all-wheel drive.
Maybe you're tired of the city because you have to live in one for 350 days a year. In that case, the point of a road trip is to get as far away from cities — or even roads themselves — as possible. We're with you.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 is a winner here. On the pavement, it's downright sporty for a crossover, with impressive fuel economy to boot. But it can also be equipped with a capable all-wheel drive system for mild off-road exploration. While rock-crawling jaunts may be off the table, the versatile CX-5 should provide more overall satisfaction than a single-purpose off-road vehicle.
For the driver whose trip revolves around roads rather than destinations, a sublime connection between car and driver moves to the top of the priority list. Unfortunately, this kind of connection often comes with a monthly payment that looks more like a mortgage. But the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a notable exception.
The Miata provides a lightweight body, a feisty four-cylinder engine, a taut suspension and communicative steering, delivering endless driving fun in a package that's barely big enough to fit two. The cabin may be too cozy for certain body types, and the trunk is limited to 4.6 cubic feet of space, so plan on packing light. But spend just five minutes behind the wheel of the MX-5 and you'll completely understand the appeal.
Summer brings plenty of opportunities to soak up some rays. And if you live in a place that doesn't see sunshine on a regular basis, you'll definitely want to take full advantage of these months.
It's true that the Miata, the No. 5 pick, is a seriously good convertible, but it has real space constraints. So if your passenger and cargo needs are greater, the 2017 Ford Mustang Convertible is another great drop-top option. The Mustang may not be as spry as the Miata, but with double the seats, significantly more trunk capacity and nearly double the horsepower from even the base V6 engine, it compensates nicely in other areas. If you need more power, a turbo four-cylinder and V8 are also available. In any configuration, this is iconic American motoring.
This list would not be complete without today's quintessential road trip vehicle: the minivan. For years, the minivan has provided larger families with a maximally efficient means of traveling together, supplanting the thirsty and unwieldly station wagons.
As in other vehicle segments, there are minivans that stand out from the crowd. Offering seating for up to eight, the 2016 Honda Odyssey is one of our favorites, scoring top marks in interior space and comfort, everyday drivability and even composure around corners. Some high-end features available on the Odyssey include a 12-speaker surround-sound audio system and a 16.2-inch widescreen rear entertainment screen with HDMI connectivity, as well as the industry's first on-board vacuum system. Wrangling the kids could still be a challenge, but convincing them to climb aboard a rolling movie theatre will take far less effort.
So you need to haul a lot of people and cargo to faraway places, but you refuse to join the Minivan Alliance. No problem. The 2016 Chevrolet Traverse is a comfortable and unusually spacious three-row SUV that accommodates up to eight passengers and starts at around $30,000.
The Traverse can tow up to 5,200 pounds when properly equipped, which is impressive for a crossover. It also comes with a 288-horsepower V6 engine that can be paired with all-wheel drive. Even with all three seating rows in use, there's still a generous 24.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Folding the second- and third-row seats opens up a whopping 116.3 cubic feet, topping this segment by a wide margin. An all-new Traverse is waiting in the wings and will be substantially smaller, so if you like the road-trip possibilities opened up by that cavernous cabin, grab a current-generation Traverse while you still can.
If the Chevy Traverse's 5,200-pound towing capacity seems puny to you, perhaps the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel's 9,050-lb capacity is more like it. If your road trip involves pulling a trailer, a boat or even a camper, you'll want a truck with enough muscle to make quick work of any route.
The Ram 1500's EcoDiesel V6 provides outstanding fuel economy (20 mpg city/28 highway) along with a healthy 420 pound-feet of torque. The four-door crew cab can seat up to six and is surprisingly pleasant on long hauls thanks to its airy cabin, supportive seats and supple coil-spring rear suspension. Note that the EcoDiesel carries about a $5,000 premium, which nudges even the cheapest diesel-powered crew cab past our price cutoff. But this engine is certainly worth the extra money if towing and fuel economy (or simply extended driving range) are top priorities.
If you like the utility of a truck but prefer the refined driving character of a car, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline could be the road-trip champion you've been waiting for. Based on the Honda Pilot SUV, the Ridgeline is packed full of versatile features catering to an active lifestyle, so it's a great choice for trips with outdoorsy themes.
The bed of the Ridgeline is where most of the magic happens. A dual-hinged tailgate folds down or swings open from the side to reveal lockable underfloor storage. You can toss your gear in there, or else throw in some drinks and ice to convert it into a fully stocked cooler (the melted ice drains out via a removable plug at the bottom). Also available on top-line models is a 540-watt sound system, paired with the industry's first truck-bed audio system. It makes every stop on your itinerary a party waiting to happen.