CARS.COM — Summer is so close I can almost see my kids' sunscreen-coated fingerprint streaks on the car's windows and hear echoes of "Are we there yet?" from the third row. For those feeling the impending sense of wanderlust, it's just about time to hit the road. In fact, AAA estimates that more than one-third of Americans are planning to take a family vacation of 50 miles or more away from home this summer.
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If you're one of them, and you need a new ride, here's a list of Cars.com editors' favorites in alphabetical order that will help ease the drive, from comfy sedans and go-fast sporty cars to SUVs and minivans chock-full of creature comforts to rival even the most comfortable living room.
If you'd rather fly than drive, no other sedan rivals the amenities of first class like the BMW 7 Series.
"There may be road-trip cars that are as good, but I would be hard-pressed to conceive of one that's better than the 2016 BMW 7 Series," said News Editor Matt Schmitz. "From its powertrain to its posh interior, the 7 Series is like a lucky No. 7 for anyone who scores an opportunity to travel in this full-size luxury sedan. It's 320-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine produces smooth, swift acceleration from a stop, but more important for our purposes here, a delightfully robust launch at upper highway speeds — which comes in handy in negotiating heavy road-trip traffic at peak travel times. Some of your fellow motorists may visibly resent your assertive maneuvering, but you'll be too content in your quiet cocoon of comfort to care as the (surprisingly effective) massage seats reduce travel fatigue on your back and backside, the dual-zone climate control and heated seats ensure you're cool while your spouse (or whomever) is warm, and you can opt for a built-in fragrance dispenser to keep the cabin smelling fresh despite the gradually deteriorating state of your occupants' highway hygiene. To appropriate Ferris Bueller's quote about Cameron Frye's dad's Ferrari, 'If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.' "
Full disclosure: We bought Chevrolet's large sedan when it took home our Best of 2014 trophy, and a year's worth of road trips did not take the shine off of this full-size sedan. With an enormous trunk and composed ride, the Impala was long-trip pleasant, every time.
"The Chevrolet Impala is one of the most comfortable full-size sedans we've driven, both in terms of suspension tuning and passenger seating. Its cabin is also impressively quiet and refined. A long road trip can wear on driver and passengers alike, but the Impala is designed to make the journey as enjoyable as possible," said Senior Research Editor Mike Hanley.
A minivan is a no-brainer for a family road trip, easily swallowing a bunch of people and their gear, but Chrysler's new minivan has a few extra tricks behind its sliding doors, such as an innovative multimedia system.
As I wrote in my review, "Perhaps designers of the new Pacifica had the old adage 'Children should be seen and not heard' in mind when creating the new Pacifica. The optional second-row Uconnect Theater system features two seat-mounted touch-screens with plenty of capabilities, including built-in apps that will keep my kids happy — and quiet."
Road trips can get boring — no way that's happening if you're driving a Hellcat. Its power, style and thrilling engine note will keep things interesting for miles. Bonus — it'll turn heads on the highway.
"The Charger Hellcat's 204-mph top speed will certainly get you to your destination in a hurry," said Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek. "Surprisingly, however, the performance sedan is perfectly livable when you're not pedal-to-the-metal, and adjustable driving modes tame the suspension, throttle progression and steering to highway-cruiser status."
Ford's three-row SUV may look like a box, and that's a good thing in terms of packaging. With ample passenger and cargo room, the Flex is, well, flexible when it comes to stuffing it with people and bags.
"It offers big, well-situated seats (the stadium seating allows the folks in the third row to avoid car sickness), plenty of headroom and up-to-date entertainment technology. I've taken my entire family of five on three veeerry long trips with it, and it has never disappointed. It's not for those looking to save money on fuel, of course, but the lack of grousing made up for that," said Editor-in-Chief Patrick Olsen.
Kia's minivan earned its road-trip chops by acing the Cars.com Ultimate Minivan Challenge. Its blend of comfort, features and price wowed the judges — even after a couple hundred miles of driving.
"Minivans have people- and cargo-hauling figured out," said Managing Editor for News Jennifer Newman. "The Kia Sedona does both well with its roomy interior that includes long-sliding second-row captain's chairs for extra legroom and comfortable seats in all the rows. If the third row is in use, there's plenty of room for everyone's luggage in the deep cargo well that has 33.9 cubic feet of space. Or if you have a smaller family, you can fold the third row into the floor for a flat surface. If your kids are like mine, they'll likely want to split the difference with one kid in the second row and the other in the third. Whatever setup your family prefers, the Sedona can accommodate them easily."
There's no harm in looking good on your trip, and the S550 coupe nails the sophisticated vibe, oozing style and luxury, both inside and out.
"It's fast, it eats up highway miles like you wouldn't believe and the tech is thoughtfully done, whether it's the multimedia system or the driver assist features. Throw in a massive sunroof and pillarless glass and you have the most open-feeling car that you can have without buying a convertible. Plus it's gorgeous. Hands-down, money-no-object, it'd be my No. 1 choice for a long drive," said Assistant Managing Editor for Data Bill Jackson.
If off-the-beaten-path is your destination, you'll need a vehicle that can handle the road less traveled. The Outback's tall ground clearance, all-wheel-drive system and versatile wagon body style can handle it.
"Sometimes a 'road' trip involves things that are 'roads' in name only. So then I'd pick the Subaru Outback with the 3.6-liter six-cylinder," Jackson said. "When the weather sucks, this would be my go-to to get me there. It eliminates the whining sound of the four-cylinder and is a bit more fun to drive. Add to that the ability to carry things like — oh, I don't know — skis and bikes and it's a winner."
Pleasant highway manners, and excellent multimedia and phone connectivity options earned the Passat a spot on this list.
"The Passat has a smooth, quiet ride plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless phone and music conversation, which is a must on the long haul when you'll have to use your phone at least once," Bruzek said.
It's no secret, we like Volvo's redesigned three-row SUV; heck, we even bought an XC90 after naming it Cars.com's Best of 2016. Its many strengths, such as a luxurious interior and plenty of active safety features, make it a long-haul all-star.
"Volvo redesigned the XC90 for long-haul comfort," said Senior Consumer Affairs Editor Kelsey Mays. "It boasts a quiet cabin that, with its optional air suspension, turns ruts and bumps into afterthoughts. The comfort doesn't end up front: With dual climate zones for the second row and plenty of air vents for the third, the XC90 can accommodate the whole family for that weeklong road trip."