Whether you’re lucky enough to own a lakeside vacation home or are gearing up for the annual beach house rental vacation, the right car can mean the difference between your vacation sinking or swimming. We combed the proverbial beach of new cars and picked out the most beach-vacation-friendly of the lot. If you’re in the market before vacation season starts, check out the cars below to make a trip to the beach one of the easiest things you do this year. When you choose one of the vehicles listed below, your entire family can travel in style. From day trips to extended family vacations and cross-country road trips, these cars are up to the job.
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Step one in travel is simply getting there, and the Chrysler Pacifica with its Uconnect Theater system can distract — I mean, entertain — the family during the whole trip, with screens for streaming movies and interactive games. Bonus: The Pacifica has a phone app with remote start, so you can precondition the car’s interior minutes before packing up to avoid the scorching hot leather seats searing your sunburnt skin.
With a dedicated Mud and Sand terrain setting, you don’t need to get out of the Raptor to enjoy a day at the beach with the family, though people will likely want to get out of your way. The speed-demon off-road Raptor’s Mud and Sand mode optimizes the transfer case and stability settings for maximum traction in the loose stuff. With 450 horsepower, that lily pad should be strapped down tight.
If your beach is off the beaten path, the 4Runner has the off-road chops to get you there, but there’s another trick up its sleeve — or rather, in its back pocket: In five-passenger models, the cargo floor has an optional tray that slides out over the bumper to make gear like inflatable islands and coolers easier to grab. The cargo tray can hold the bro-iest of party rafts with a 440-pound capacity.
You may not like it, but a minivan is still the most family-friendly body style and the Odyssey is packed with suitable beach features, like an in-car vacuum.
Why a vacuum? Sandy kids. Sandy dog. Sandy beach toys. Sand everywhere. Starting in 2016, Honda made the vacuum standard on the less expensive SE model instead of only the priciest Touring Elite trim, as in earlier model years. The Pacifica also has an in-car vacuum, but that requires buying the most-expensive Limited trim. The vacuum will return to the Odyssey when a redesigned 2018 Odyssey goes on sale this year.
An in-car vacuum won’t help Jeep owners who, given an empty beach, could fill a Wrangler to the door handles with sand by playing in the dunes — well, if they had the doors attached. Even if you’re tracking a normal amount of sand into the car after a beach weekend, Wranglers have removable floor plugs for draining water after power washing (keep it aimed low) the interior.
You may own a truck 365 days a year, but chances are you only tow with it twice: Once to drop off the boat at the marina and again at the end of summer to retrieve that gasoline black hole (the boat, not the truck). The F-150 with Pro Trailer Backup Assist doesn’t care how much or little you tow and will help even the most novice of truck drivers point the trailer in the right direction while backing up. When activated, drivers use a control knob to direct the trailer toward a boat ramp or parking space by moving the control knob left or right and monitoring the trailer’s direction on the backup camera screen. The magic happens when the F-150 steers itself to match the intended trailer direction.
Where do we even start? First, there’s an enclosed, lockable tub in the truck bed that, after being filled with ice to keep food and beverages cool, is drainable. Then there’s the Truck Bed Audio System, which blasts sound from the truck bed with surprising volume and clarity to provide tunes for a beachside campfire. And then the advanced all-wheel-drive system works extremely well on loose, sandy surfaces.
What’s a Swedish luxury sedan doing on this list? The S90 is rated to tow up to an astonishing 4,600 pounds. That’s more than enough for a pair of Jet Skis or a small boat, and the S90 arrives in understated luxury; well, maybe not so understated with two neon green, supercharged Kawasaki Jet Skis in tow. Unhitch the goods and you’ve got your own supercharged, and turbocharged, engine that returns better fuel economy than many luxury SUVs — 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined with all-wheel drive.
The Expedition Max is the do-everything SUV. Want to carry people? It hauls up to eight. Need to tow? It can handle 9,000-plus pounds and has the F-150’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist. Need a lot of cargo room? There’s enough space even behind the third row to fit an entire beach worth of inflatable rafts, folding chairs and coolers in the back. It’s the ultimate overkill vehicle for the overkill family vacation.
Why tow a boat when your car can be your boat? The WaterCar Panther is an amphibious vehicle capable of 55-plus mph on the road and 44 mph on the water. It’s powered by a rear-mounted Honda V-6 engine, four-speed manual transmission and a water jet drive once you splash in from the boat ramp. This amphibious vehicle costs about as much as a truck and a boat at $155,000 for a complete vehicle, but the Panther’s cool needle is pegged.
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