NEWS

10 Best Cars for Road-Tripping on a Budget

Over-the-river-spring_line Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

Memorial Day kickstarts the summer travel season, and despite record-high gas prices, drivers aren’t willing to sacrifice their annual road trips. According to a Cars.com survey, 82% of Americans traveling over the holiday are planning to drive. But rising fuel prices aren’t the only hurdle for shoppers in the market for a vehicle to accommodate their summer travel plans — higher average prices at the dealership can be just as problematic.

Related: What’s the Best New-Car Deal for May 2022?

The median price of a new vehicle among Cars.com dealers was $39,083 in April, up from $36,370 one year prior. At the same time, the typical manufacturer incentives offered over Memorial Day weekend are significantly scaled back due to inventory constraints. According to a J.D. Power sales report, incentives on new cars shrunk to $1,034 in April — down 66% from April 2021.

Despite these challenges, shoppers looking for an affordable road-trip vehicle that minimizes sticker shock at the pump still have options. We compiled the most affordable and fuel-efficient or fuel-free model-year 2022 cars, SUVs, trucks and electric vehicles for summer adventures (and beyond). To make our list, each vehicle’s starting price is in the top 10 most affordable category for its class. Also, gas-powered options get an EPA-rated combined rating of 30 mpg or more and EVs must get at least 200 miles of EPA-estimated range.

Cars

Sedans and hatchbacks make excellent road-trip vehicles for small families and light packers. They are also among the most affordable options on the market and offer generous efficiency even without a hybrid or electric powertrain.

Chevrolet Spark

chevrolet-spark-2020-oem.jpg Chevrolet Spark | Manufacturer image

Topping the list of budget-friendly road-trip vehicles is the most affordable car on the market. Shoppers interested in the Spark need to act fast, however, since GM plans to end the hatchback’s production in August, according to Automotive News. While it may not be long for this world, traveling long distances in the Spark comes with one big perk: a 33 mpg combined EPA-rating. A word of caution, however. Although the Spark can carry up to four occupants, it’ll be a tight fit for those in the backseat. The 2022 Spark LS with an optional continuously variable automatic transmission starts at $15,695 (all prices include destination charge).

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New
2022 Chevrolet Spark LS
$16,870
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Mitsubishi Mirage

The 2022 Mitsubishi Mirage carries a small price premium over the Spark, but it also brings improved fuel efficiency: With an available CVT, the Mirage offers an EPA-rated 39 mpg combined. The Mirage also adds one additional seat in the rear to fit a total of five occupants. Although it can handle a trip to the lake or a staycation around town, the Mirage’s 78-horsepower, 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine paired with the CVT isn’t made for the track — but its handling offers a relatively fun driving experience. The ES hatchback starts at $16,990 and the G4 sedan at $17,990.

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New
2022 Mitsubishi Mirage SE
$22,095 MSRP $22,095
New
2022 Mitsubishi Mirage SE
$22,195 MSRP $22,195

Kia Rio LX

If your summer road-trip goals boil down to avoiding jarring road noise and anxiety at the pump, the 2022 Kia Rio delivers on both. Like the Mirage, the Rio seats five and comes in hatchback or sedan variants. The 120-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with a CVT gets an EPA-rated 36 mpg combined. Quiet on the highway and with stable handling, the base LX trim comes with an affordable starting price of $17,275. An added bonus is that the Rio gets wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration.

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Used
2022 Kia Rio S
866 mi.
$20,999 $3,000 price drop
Great Deal | $489 under
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New
2022 Kia Rio LX
$19,960 MSRP $17,460

SUVs

SUVs may come with notably higher starting prices than their car counterparts, but they also carry the added benefits of flexible cargo space and a higher ride height for long summer drives. Choosing from the list of the most affordable SUVs with the highest mpg may check all the boxes in the “practical” category of your shopping list.

Hyundai Kona

hyundai-kona-2022-05-blue-exterior-rear-angle-suv 2022 Hyundai Kona | Cars.com photo by Jennifer Geiger

For being the most affordable SUV on the market, the Hyundai Kona isn’t short on road-trip-friendly features that include standard automatic emergency braking, hands-on lane centering, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with wireless connectivity on the base model’s 8-inch touchscreen. In our review of the 2022 model, we also found it engaging to drive — a rarity for the subcompact SUV class. Plus, the Kona’s 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and front-wheel drive offer an EPA-rated 32 mpg combined, making it a solid choice for weekend getaways. The gas-powered Kona SE starts at $22,395, while an electric variant is sold in select states with a $35,245 starting price.

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Used
2022 Hyundai Kona SE
26,054 mi.
$24,791 $100 price drop
Great Deal | $822 under
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Used
2022 Hyundai Kona N Line
5,679 mi.
$29,573
Great Deal | $886 under
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Chevrolet Trailblazer

The subcompact Trailblazer was introduced in 2021 and offers a surprisingly fun driving experience despite modest power from the base 137-hp, 1.2-liter three-cylinder. It also brings standard wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity and active-safety features like automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning with steering assist. To make it more adventure-friendly, a trailering package and roof rack crossbars are available factory accessories. The Trailblazer is competitive both in fuel economy and price: It gets an EPA-rated 30 mpg combined with standard FWD and starts at $22,795 for the base LS trim.

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Used
2022 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS
4,323 mi.
$31,870
Great Deal | $2,595 under
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Used
2022 Chevrolet Trailblazer ACTIV
9,867 mi.
$33,000
Great Deal | $1,071 under
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Honda HR-V

One of the HR-V’s best features when it comes to road trips is its versatile and roomy interior: The second row offers more space than most subcompact SUVs, and the multiposition second-row Magic Seat can fold flat to offer competitive cargo space for standard luggage or fold up to accommodate taller items. A 141-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder provides power and gets an EPA-rated 30 mpg combined. The base HR-V starts at $23,115; unlike some of its competitors, however, the base model does not offer standard safety features like automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning or Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

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Used
2022 Honda HR-V EX
952 mi.
$30,691
Good Deal
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Used
2022 Honda HR-V Sport
739 mi.
$30,291
Good Deal
Home Delivery

Trucks

Ford Maverick

ford-maverick-lariat-2022-05-dynamic-exterior-front-angle-grey-truck 2022 Ford Maverick | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

All-new for 2022, the Ford Maverick is the only pickup truck to make the list of efficient road-trip vehicles with a combined rating of 30 mpg or more.

The base Ford Maverick’s standard gas-electric hybrid powertrain makes 191 hp and is paired with a CVT for an EPA-rated 37 mpg combined. Even though it doesn’t match the full-size F-150’s towing or payload capacity, the compact pickup can hold its own on the road thanks to a sizable cargo bed and towing capacity of up to 4,000 pounds with the optional turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. The Maverick has a $21,490 starting price and earned both our Best of the Year 2022 and Best Pickup Truck of 2022 awards.

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Used
2022 Ford Maverick XLT
1,750 mi.
$39,920 $240 price drop
Great Deal
Home Delivery
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Used
2022 Ford Maverick XLT
789 mi.
$44,986 $400 price drop
Great Deal
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Electric Vehicles

If avoiding gas stations entirely is your ideal plan, there are a handful of affordable EVs that can accommodate you. But while filling up at a gas station demands only a quick detour off the highway, road trips in a battery-powered vehicle involve more preparation. It’s important to consider the vehicle’s maximum range — most EVs with the longest range are luxury models that don’t overlap with the most affordable options.

This means mapping out public charging stations along the route will be required for longer trips. The top battery-powered vehicles for road trips offer an EPA-estimated range of 200 miles or more and are offered in all 50 states. Additionally, the Nissan Leaf and Kia Niro EV are still eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

Nissan Leaf

nissan-leaf-2023-009-compact-exterior-front-angle-sedan-white 2023 Nissan Leaf | Manufacturer image

The most affordable EV currently available doesn’t just eliminate the concern of rising gas prices, it also bucks the trend of rising vehicle prices. In fact, the 2022 Leaf sees a significant price cut and additional features: the ProPilot Assist safety suite, a 360-degree camera system and a portable Level 2 charging cable. Although the standard Leaf’s 40-kilowatt-hour battery and 147-hp electric motor offer just 149 miles of range per EPA-estimates, the extended-range Leaf Plus brings a more road-trip-worthy 226 miles of range from a 62-kWh battery and 214-hp motor. The standard range Nissan Leaf starts at $28,425, the Leaf Plus at $33,425.

Chevrolet Bolt EV, Bolt EUV

Like the Leaf, the Bolt EV hatchback also sees a price cut for 2022; its starting price is nearly $5,000 less compared to the outgoing model. The redesigned 2022 Bolt EV gets a new interior, more standard safety tech and an all-new and larger Bolt EUV SUV sibling. Both Bolts are powered by a 65-kWh battery and 200-hp single electric motor, but the hatch gets a range advantage with an EPA-estimated 259 miles, compared to the EUV’s 247-mile range. Despite a rocky start for the 2022s with multiple recalls and stop-sale orders, GM has offered a fix and resumed production. The 2022 Bolt EV starts at $32,495 and the 2022 Bolt EUV at $34,495.

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New
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV Premier
$33,785 $5,800 price drop
New
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV Premier
$35,085 $5,800 price drop
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Kia Niro EV

Sold alongside its hybrid and plug-in hybrid counterparts, the Niro EV also shares a powertrain with the related Hyundai Kona Electric; unlike the Kona Electric, however, the Niro EV is available in all 50 states. The Niro also carries advantages over the Kona that include a larger backseat and longer range (the Niro gets an EPA-estimated 239 miles). Although the Niro family sees a redesign for 2023, the outgoing model still has a lot to offer shoppers, including a competitive starting price of $41,205.

Shop the 2022 Kia Niro near you

Kia Certified
2022 Kia Niro EX Premium
4,954 mi.
$33,991
Great Deal | $767 under
Hot Car
CPO Warrantied
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Summer Road-Trip Maintenance and Tips

Whether you’re planning to get a new vehicle or take your trusty old one on a summer road trip, it’s a good idea to make sure the car is ready for the trip. AAA recommends checking the tires and tire pressure; testing the brakes and the battery; topping off oil and other fluids; checking belts and hoses; checking the air conditioning; and stocking the vehicle with an emergency supply kit.

The EV ownership experience differs from a gas-powered car, especially when planning a road trip. You’ll need to account for the vehicle’s range and map out charging stations along the route if the range is insufficient. Many EVs come with a smartphone app to check the vehicle’s mileage range and battery charge and help you find charging stations on the go; for example, Chevy offers EV Access through its OnStar Connected services for the Bolt EV and EUV, and a similar app is offered for the Nissan Leaf through NissanConnect EV Services.

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