By David Thomas on October 5, 2011
Everyone knows we’re huge football fans here at Cars.com. We are an official sponsor of ESPN’s Saturday College Football, we’re just minutes from Soldier Field, and our staff has a long-running fantasy football league (with a certain editor taking the crown repeatedly.)
Tailgating is one of the best parts of going to a football game. You’re wearing your favorite team’s gear, grilling good food, talking to friends and probably throwing around a ball or bean bag.
But what about the cars that need to serve as more than transportation? They have to haul your tailgating gear and often do double duty as a place to sit. Here is our list of the top tailgating machines for the 2011-12 football season.
2012 Honda Ridgeline
There has never been another feature more tailored for tailgating than the watertight trunk under the bed of the Honda Ridgeline (above). Sure, the Ridgeline is an aging platform that hasn’t taken off with the traditional truck buyer, but it is a great tailgater. It can carry five people in comfort, and once you get to the parking lot and open that huge cooler, your neighbors will be struck in awe. Jaws will drop. You’ll be the king of the tailgaters.
2012 Nissan Quest
In the past we’ve raved about Chrysler’s minivans because their third-row seats can flip to face rearward. However, folding sling chairs may be more comfortable than Chrysler’s seats. Instead, the Nissan Quest is the only minivan with an easy-to-fold flat floor for an expansive cargo area — or a small one with seats in place — to serve as the perfect shelf or bench seat. The deep cargo well of traditional minivans doesn’t do much good on game day. The optional rear DVD entertainment system can accept video game inputs so you can play a few games of Madden before the real game kicks off.
2012 Mini Cooper Countryman S All4
If you want more breathing room in the cramped confines of a stadium parking lot, why not bring a car that’s nearly 6 feet shorter than a Ford F-150? The Mini Countryman is the first Mini with optional all-wheel drive, four traditional doors and a roomy backseat to boot. The Countryman’s 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space isn’t much next to a minivan, but it’s more than what most midsize sedans pack in a trunk. There’s also a 12-volt outlet in back for your electronic gear. If you can match one of the Mini’s funky color schemes to your home team’s color, there will likely be fewer glares from your neighbors, too.
2012 Mitsubishi Outlander
Nearly any compact SUV will make for a perfectly fine tailgate option. However, the Mitsubishi Outlander remains the only one with a clamshell tailgate that extends outward. The cargo floor and tailgate are relatively close to the ground, so you can sit comfortably or load a heavy cooler easily. The clamshell setup is terrific for impromptu seats that are still covered by the cargo door in case of rain or snow. Yes, folks tailgate in the snow.
2012 Ford F-150
Two pickups on our list of the best tailgating cars? Yep. Trucks are great for tailgating. Muddy items can be thrown in the back. You can set up seats in the truck bed. Plus, there’s an actual tailgate to sit on. The F-150 makes our list for all those reasons, as well as its innovative tailgate step. This makes it easier for family members to access items in the bed.
Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David