Chicago—September 5, 2008—It's time to dig out the camping chairs and foam fingers -- football season is here, and that means it's time to tailgate. Veteran tailgaters can make do in whatever wheels are available, but having a car that's particularly suited for the event could make the difference between a good tailgate party and a great one.
Cars.com checked out dozens of SUVs, pickups, hatchbacks and minivans and determined which ones had enough tailgate-friendly features -- from pivoting rear speakers to built-in coolers -- to merit consideration. Finally, the number of features per car and the importance of each feature was factored in, and each car was assigned a score. Ranked accordingly, here are Cars.com's top 10 tailgaters:
1. 2008 Chrysler Town & Country
The Town & Country has one fantastic feature after another -- large storage compartments under the floor in the second row, a third-row seat that flips backward to face outside, and cargo space galore. Available swiveling second-row chairs with a prop-up table allow thin-skinned revelers to convene where it's warm, and a 1,200-song hard drive should keep them occupied until game time. Add to that stain-resistant seats, multiple power outlets -- including a 115-volt one -- and dual rear DVD screens, and this is one minivan a tailgater can be proud to own.
2. 2008 Honda Element
Its composite bumpers should resist dings from any parking-lot football games, and the stain-resistant seats and washable floor make for easy cleanup. Like the Lexus LX 570, the Element has a liftgate/tailgate combo; here it's rated to hold 440 pounds. The best feature, though, is probably the rear seats, which have enough clearance to recline completely flat.
3. 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
It makes a fine warm-weather option; you can leave the convertible roof at home and blast music through the overhead speakers. With the Wrangler's available 4,500-song hard drive, you shouldn't have any issues finding a track to suit your team. Should the pre-gaming turn messy, don't sweat it: Stain-resistant seats and drainable, hose-down floors make cleanup easy.
4. 2008 Dodge Caliber
The Caliber ranks so highly thanks in large part to Dodge's MusicGate system, which is available on the Caliber and its Jeep siblings, the Compass and Patriot. Part of an optional 458-watt stereo, the system has two flip-down liftgate speakers so you can blare your tunes for all to hear. Add to that a removable, washable cargo floor, stain-resistant upholstery and a 115-volt power outlet, and the Caliber is a sleeper in this group.
5. (tie) 2008 Honda Ridgeline
No one has been able to replicate the Ridgeline's in-bed magic. This pickup's bed has a lockable trunk with 8.5 cubic feet of space, which is about two-thirds the size of a typical compact car's trunk. With a heavy-duty composite liner and a drain plug at the bottom, it's built for ice, drinks and food. If you need to throw a grill inside the cab, the rear seats fold up to reveal a long aisle. That's typical pickup fare, but it's still useful.
5. (tie) 2009 Dodge Journey
The Journey's cargo area lacks Honda's ingenious bed-mounted trunk, but Dodge has a few tricks Honda doesn't. There's hidden storage under the passenger seat where you can stash any game-time grub. There are also covered compartments with removable liners in the second row that can each hold 12 cans, plus ice. That's a nice feature if you're short on cooler space. Stain-resistant fabric, a hard drive to store songs and five power outlets -- including a 115-volt one -- round things out handily.
7. 2008 Dodge Nitro
Dodge's Load N' Go floor earns the Nitro a return spot on this year's team. Load N' Go carries a lot of weight -- 400 pounds, to be exact -- and extends it 18 inches rearward for a makeshift buffet table. Stain-resistant fabric means even major spills aren't a big deal, while the Nitro's 1,600-song hard drive will keep audiophiles happy. Should the need arise, two 12-volt outlets and a 115-volt outlet can power a modest number of electronics, too.
8. 2008 GMC Acadia
The Acadia makes its return to the tailgating list this year thanks to its available cargo-area stereo controls. With four 12-volt outlets plus a 115-volt outlet on board, you shouldn't have any problems plugging in.
9. 2008 Ford Expedition EL
The lengthened version of Ford's already-huge Expedition allows you to bring up to eight friends to the game. In back, there's 42.6 cubic feet of cargo space -- that's as much space as three Honda Accord trunks -- and the standard heavy-duty cargo organizer can function as a shelf or a vertical partition.
10. 2008 Lexus LX 570
Believe it or not, Lexus' rolling mansion offers a surprising number of tailgate-friendly features. For starters, there's an actual flip-down tailgate: It's rated to carry 400 pounds and has a power-operated soft-close feature. The split third row powers up to each side -- guaranteed to impress whoever's helping load the car -- and there's also a 115-volt household outlet in the cargo area to power any on-the-spot appliances
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