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Best Car Features for Tailgating in 2022

202209-tailgate-trucks Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

With autumn’s onset comes the return of football and all it entails: Monday morning watercooler debriefs, adults in wildly oversized jerseys, meditations on the meaning of pigskin and, maybe most important, tailgating. Perhaps you’re in the market for a new vehicle and considering tailgating capabilities as much as your team’s strength of schedule; while we can’t help with the latter, below are a few features we’ve noted recently to aid with the former.

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Stashing Your Supplies

The proper form for tailgating requires more than mere rabid fandom. You need chairs and tents, food to cook, drinks to drink, things to cook and drink with … you get the idea. But there’s more you can do for storage than merely buying a vehicle with the most cargo space.

GM’s full-size pickup trucks have been offering the MultiPro (for GMC’s Sierra 1500) or Multi-Flex Tailgate (Chevrolet’s Silverado 1500) for a few model years now. They’re configurable tailgates with six separate functions, a couple of which can allow you to safely carry longer items like your tent in the bed. Bonus: A factory-installed accessory specific to these tailgates is a weatherproof two-channel, 100-watt Bluetooth sound system to help make your truck the envy (or eyeroll) of the parking lot.

chevrolet-silverado-1500-high-country-2022-09-exterior-tailgate 2022 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The rival Ram 1500 takes a slightly different approach with the Multifunction Tailgate: Open it up part of the way like a swing door via a 60/40 split to avoid sliding out the grill as you unload, or simply drop it down like a normal tailgate if you’re looking to leg-dangle off the back. Pair that with Ram’s venerable RamBox cargo management system, which features drainable storage bins, an adjustable bed divider and rails with sliding, adjustable cleats, and you’re set for gameday.

Electric trucks can also make your tailgate more pleasant. Rivian’s Camp Kitchen x Snow Peak Package isn’t yet available for the R1T, but once you can get your hands on it, the package — which will include a 30-piece kitchen set, modular kitchen and two-burner induction stovetop — handily protrudes from the R1T’s behind-cabin pass-through “gear tunnel,” which Rivian reckons is worth 11.7 cubic feet of storage space. And like the R1T, Ford’s F-150 Lightning features a drainable “frunk” (front trunk) where you’d normally find an internal-combustion engine; in the R1T’s case, that amounts to 11 cubic feet of space, in the Lightning 14.1 cubic feet.

ford-f150-lightning-2022-19-interior-front-cargo 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning | Cars.com photo by Jonathan Earley

And if confines are tight and working with a full-size pickup isn’t an option, might we recommend small trucks for the big game? Honda’s mid-size Ridgeline features built-in bed speakers and a rear tub, and the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick — upon which we continue to heap praise — might be the smallest tailgates in the industry.

Where to Put Your Plugs

Having a bunch of grilling supplies or the largest TV in the stadium area this side of the Jumbotron won’t do much good if you don’t have a way to power them. Luckily, there are vehicles up to the task — perhaps none more so than the Ford F-150 Lightning and its F-150 hybrid brethren, both of which come packing Pro Power Onboard electrical generator systems. In the Lightning, the system is the most powerful Ford has yet offered at 9.6 kilowatts, available via 10 120-volt outlets and one 240-volt outlet; the hybrid F-150 features standard 2.4-kW or optional 7.2-kW systems. The Lightning also features outlets in its frunk (though we don’t recommend using them if you’re also using the frunk as a cooler).

ford-f-150-hybrid-supercrew-limited-2021-08-welder 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid Limited | Cars.com photo by Mike Hanley

Related automakers Hyundai (with its luxury Genesis sub-brand) and Kia feature vehicle-to-load technology in Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and forthcoming Ioniq 6, Genesis’ GV70 and Kia’s EV6. A V2L system allows owners to plug in and charge electric devices similarly to Pro Power Onboard, but it’s less powerful and doesn’t feature a 240-volt option.

Standard on the Woodland Edition and optional on all but the base LE, the 2022 Toyota Sienna’s 1,500-watt inverter and 120-volt AC outlet is also worth calling out, as it offers far more than the typical 400 watts most family haulers feature.

toyota-sienna-hybrid-platinum-awd-2021-58-interior--rear-cargo.jpg 2021 Toyota Sienna | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

And as with supplies, the Ford Maverick has do-it-yourself 3D-printing options for accessories and features if you’re in the mood for advance prep, including one we added to our long-term test truck: a 12-volt accessory outlet in the bed.

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Placing Your People

Tailgating alone is a thing you certainly can do, but it’s not really in keeping with the platonic ideal of the thing — so you want to make sure you have space for at least a few friends (or strangers) to literally hang out with. Leaving aside pickup trucks with standard tailgates, there are a few other features of note from less obvious corners of the car market.

Two such examples come from the luxe end of the spectrum. The Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain wagon features relief for anyone who needs back support but still wants to be facing the tailgating group: a rear-facing, two-seat third row. Similarly, Land Rover features a Tailgate Event Seating accessory for model-year 2014 or newer Range Rover Sport and model-year 2017 or newer Discovery SUVs.

21_mercedes-benz_e450_all_terrain_hatch_oem 2021 Mercedes-Benz E450 All-Terrain third row | Manufacturer image

The logistics of tailgating are as complex as you want to make them, but regardless of how deep your squad rolls or how demanding they can be to entertain, choosing the right vehicle for the occasion can mean the difference between a successful Sunday enjoying a game with friends and, well, tailgating alone in the lot next time out.

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Patrick Masterson is Chief Copy Editor at Cars.com. He joined the automotive industry in 2016 as a lifelong car enthusiast and has achieved the rare feat of applying his journalism and media arts degrees as a writer, fact-checker, proofreader and editor his entire professional career. He lives by an in-house version of the AP stylebook and knows where semicolons can go. Email Patrick Masterson

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