Summer is right around the corner and, if you’re like a majority of Americans, you’re thinking about taking some sort of road trip. Maybe it’s to the seashore for a long weekend or a rental cabin for an extended time away.
Trip destinations are personal choices, just as the cars Americans choose to drive getting there. Kelley Blue Book, in its annual selection of the best cars for these types of journeys, has just come out with its Top 10 Road Trip Cars of 2011.
This year’s list features a new twist. Kelley Blue Book identified 10 life stages for today’s American drivers – and then picked out new cars that fit best for each. A quick poll conducted on the kbb.com site revealed that 72 percent of Americans say they’re planning a road trip this summer. Of that number, 60 percent say that two or more people will be in the car for the trip (31 percent say two people; 16 percent say three or four; and 13 percent five or more). Only 12 percent plan to go alone.
The 10 life stages KBB editors identified include: student years, on the prowl, first real paycheck, dating years, young family, full-on family mode, midlife crisis, cougar years, golden years and the last ride.
Interesting choice of titles, but we’ll go with it. Editors also kept key road trip criteria in mind as they made their selections: comfortable cabin, good fuel economy, “utter” reliability and “superior” over-the-road driving dynamics. In addition, they had fun considering the car’s overall image and desirability as they narrowed down the field. Here are the Top 10 Road Trip Cars of 2011 that KBB editors picked, along with some comments of our own.
2012 Ford Focus
Student years: 2012 Ford Focus
Economical, fun-to-drive, good-looking, roomy, and cool – what’s not to like for a student looking for a car for getting out on the open road this summer? KBB editors favor Focus over some other “boring cars and it costs about the same, so why not choose something with a bit more flair? Five-door version offers greater cargo room, and don’t forget 38 mpg highway (40 mpg in sedan with SFE package). The 2012 Ford Focus is available in seven models with starting prices ranging from $17,295 to $23,495.
2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
On the prowl: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible
Young, cool, ready to roll – does it get any better than the drop-top version of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro? Choices include LT and SS models, powered by 312-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 and 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8, respectively. Plan to plunk down starting prices of $29,275 (1LT) up to $39,775 for (2SS). Fuel economy is respectable, considering the power: 29 mpg highway in the V-6 and 24 mpg highway in the V-8.
2011 Buick Regal
First real paycheck: 2011 Buick Regal Turbo
Those joining the ranks of the now gainfully employed may feel like they’re working to afford the weekend – at least that’s what KBB editors say, tongue in cheek. A car sure to impress both employer and driver is the 2011 Buick Regal Turbo, powered by a 220-horsepower 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder turbocharged direct injection engine. You’ll save on gas with the estimated 32 mpg highway fuel economy. Looking ahead to fall, the 2012 Buick Regal with eAssist promises 26 mpg city/37 mpg highway – the most fuel-efficient luxury sedan ever from Buick. The 2011 Buick Regal Turbo starts at $28,860.
2011 Audi A5 Cabriolet
The dating years: 2011 Audi A5 Cabriolet
“Spend it while you got it.” That’s what KBB editors say about this choice for the dating years. Classy, comfortable, drop-top style for soaking up the sun with your sweetie – all before diapers and mortgages bring along a new reality. Starting prices for the 2011 Audi A5 Cabriolet range from $42,000 to $50,700, but, hey, you’re making bucks, so why not reward yourself?
2011 Honda CR-V
Young family: 2011 Honda CR-V
Providing a fun-to-drive, economical and practical car choice for the budding family, the 2011 Honda CR-V is more than just adequate for the 2+1 household. CR-V rides high enough so that it’s easy to buckle in baby, and its 180-horsepower 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 28 mpg highway (two-wheel drive). CR-V is easy on the wallet as well, with starting prices ranging from $21,895 (2WD LX) to $29,895 (4WD EX-L with navigation system).
2011 Honda Odyssey Touring
Full-on family mode: 2011 Honda Odyssey
Remember that 13 percent that said five or more people would go along for the ride this summer? The 2011 Honda Odyssey provides comfort and luxury for up to eight passengers – along with available features such as cool box for snacks, rear-view camera to see what’s behind you, 16.2-inch rear entertainment system, and fuel economy better than some SUVs (28 mpg in Odyssey LX). Starting prices for the 2011 Honda Odyssey range from $27,800 for LX to $43,250 for Touring Elite.
2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Midlife crisis: 2011 Chevrolet Corvette
We didn’t make up this one – and don’t think a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette should just be limited to such a descriptor. Nevertheless, Corvette – almost any Corvette – is an excellent choice for an awesome summer road trip. This American icon has been going strong for 58 years (since its intro in 1953), and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Base Corvette delivers 430 horsepower and up to 26 mpg highway. Choose your performance version, anywhere from the $49,045 starting price for the base coupe, all the way up to the fire-breathing ZR1’s $110,300.
2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabrio
The cougar years: 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet
Again, we didn’t coin this category, but we sure do like the car choice of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet. KBB says any recently-divorced “liberated lady” with money in hand and who’s ready to hit the open road can have fun and enjoy the drive in this ‘Benz. Available in E350 and E550 with starting prices ranging from $56,850 to $64,800, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet is a true four-seat convertible with incomparable safety, comfort and style.
2011 Toyota Avalon
The golden years: 2011 Toyota Avalon
Ride in comfort and carry three adults in the back in the affordable 2011 Toyota Avalon. KBB editors say Avalon is easy to get in and out of, has a massive trunk and “floats along the road.” But Avalon is no slouch when it comes to amenities, providing standard leather-trimmed, eight-way power driver and passenger seats, reclining rear seats, backup camera and moonroof even in base Avalon. Starting prices range from $33,195 (base) to $36,435 for Limited.
2011 Cadillac DTS
The last ride: 2011 Cadillac DTS Hearse
Okay, we would have left this category out, to be sure, but KBB editors were just having fun here – we guess. We’ll just leave it at that. Note: This photo isn't the Caddy Hearse, just the regular 2011 Cadillac DTS -- a fine vehicle in its own right.
You can read more in-depth about each of these vehicles (excepting the Caddy Hearse) on TheCarConnection, like this review of the 2011 Toyota Avalon.