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No need for an RV with these great camping cars

June 10, 2020

Consider this the summer in limbo, and not just because we have to bend over backwards to make any plans at all. With summer plans scrambled due to the coronavirus pandemic and more Americans wary of airline travel and hotel stays, it’s time to restore that timeless American adventure and hit the road.

It won’t take an RV or a vacation rental to explore America’s national treasures while still maintaining distance from other Americans. Camping requires some gear—glamping requires an excess—but our list of camper-ready vehicles come from the factory ready for adventure.   

2021 Chrysler Pacifica

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

2021 Chrysler Pacifica, 2020 Chicago Auto Show

The versatile family hauler can become a cabin on wheels if the weather becomes unbearable. Available now in all-wheel drive, the 2021 Pacifica comes with second- and third-row seats that fold into the floor (the hybrid model does not come with second-row Stow ‘N Go seats). Other vans have heavy, removable seats that become a pain in a pinch, such as during that surprise hail storm or when that shrill animal cry gets closer. And closer. With 140.5 cubic feet of space behind the front seats and room enough to fit four-by-eight sheets of plywood, the Pacifica could fit a full-sized inflatable mattress with just a little squeezing on the side. If that’s not enough space, it can tow up to 3,600 pounds (when a $995 towing package is equipped), good enough to tow everything from recreational toys to small travel trailers. 

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

2020 Subaru Outback

The poster child for the outdoorsman, the predecessor to the do-it-all SUV, the Swiss army knife of cars, the Sultan of Swat, the King of Crash, the Colossus of Clout—you get it, even if you’ve never seen “The Sandlot” or visited Colorado. The Outback is all grown up, and handles suburban outings with the same capability as back-country romps. The low, wide, flat floor, and wide door openings make loading and unloading gear a cinch, and dogs love jumping in and out. Collapsible roof racks with tie downs come standard, as does all-wheel drive and a slew of safety features. Available water-repellent interiors, skid plates, a trailer hitch with 3,500-pound towing capacity and so many aftermarket roof-top tent options make this classic as modern as ever. And it’s the only vehicle on our list that can answer the call of the wild with efficient urban driving.

2020 Honda Ridgeline

2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition

2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition

2018 Honda Ridgeline

2018 Honda Ridgeline

2018 Honda Ridgeline

2018 Honda Ridgeline

Any pickup truck could make our list, but since the Ridgeline shares a platform with the Honda Pilot crossover SUV, it’s the smoothest-riding pickup and our pick for an impromptu camper. The truck bed extends from 64 inches to 83 inches with the tailgate down, which is long enough to be a makeshift bed in a pinch. With 50 inches across, a twin mattress could fit, or a full-size could get squeezed by the wheel wells. If not being used as a pillow, the dual-action tailgate swings out to the left for easier bed access and a clever floor locker can double as a cooler. A truck-bed audio system on the RTL-E trim sweetens the deal, and an available bed extender or roof-mounted bike carrier means you can bring along the toys. There are some pretty sweet aftermarket tents that extend over the bed, as well. 

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator with Mopar accessories

2020 Jeep Gladiator with Mopar accessories

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Jeep’s mid-size pickup truck, or the Wrangler with a bed, offers all the capability of a Wrangler with the added versatility of a pickup that can tow up to 7,650 pounds. And you can take off the roof and doors for a night under the stars. For off-roaders, the long wheelbase limits its breakover angle compared to the Wrangler, though there are few places that would worry the Gladiator. The 5-foot steel cargo bed might not be the best for sleeping, but the available Trail Rail system with a 115-volt AC outlet and all the Mopar parts means you can equip the Gladiator in a way that tells others: “I’ll sleep when I die.”

2020 Dodge Durango SRT

2018 Dodge Durango SRT first drive

2018 Dodge Durango SRT first drive

2018 Dodge Durango SRT first drive

2018 Dodge Durango SRT first drive

2020 Dodge Durango SRT

2020 Dodge Durango SRT

As much as we love the performance from the 475-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 in the Durango SRT, we prize the three-row SUV here for its towing capacity of up to 8,700 pounds ($1,195 package required), which is the most for any SUV not based on a truck. That’s good enough to tow some 30-foot travel trailers, and when you unhitch it at the campsite you can cruise around the local sights with gusto. Or find a straight to hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Careful on arriving at the campground late or leaving early; the unabashed V-8 rumble might cause your neighbors to enact social distancing in a much more hostile way. It seats six, too, with comfy buckets in the first two rows, so if you had to sleep in the car, you could recline and cocoon yourself in blankets or catch a flick on the rear entertainment center ($1,995). That’s not really camping but at least you’re out of the house.   

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

It doesn’t matter that this three-row SUV is nearly old enough to get its own driver’s license, the Land Cruiser is beloved the world over for its rugged capability and SUV versatility. The 381-hp V-8 and truck frame give this heavy 4x4 the kind of off-road confidence expected in a truck but with a boxy body. It seats eight but no one will be happy about that. The third row can never get out of its own way, however, even if it’s split and swung out to rest against the wall. The off-road ready Heritage Edition deletes the third row to seat five, and comes with a mega roof rack coveted by posers and brozers alike. Options are limited but tow hooks, skid plates, mud-and-snow tires, a split liftgate/tailgate, and an integrated hitch capable of towing 8,100 pounds come standard. What it lacks in interior refinement and features, the Land Cruiser makes up for in bona fide go-anywhere capability. It’s not the roomiest if you need to crash in it overnight, but there are so many aftermarket accessories and roof-top tents you may never need to.

2020 Land Rover Defender

2020 Land Rover Defender

2020 Land Rover Defender

2020 Land Rover Defender, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Land Rover Defender, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Land Rover Defender, 2019 LA Auto Show

2020 Land Rover Defender, 2019 LA Auto Show

Land Rover might be the only brand with an off-road reputation on par with the Land Cruiser, and the return of the boxy Defender two- or four-door SUV puts the British brand firmly back in the bush. Thick bumpers, big wheels, heavy cladding, and a tailgate-mounted spare belie the blend of luxury and rugged finishes found inside, such as a touchscreen, alpine lights, and exposed rivets. The Defender X off-road model has locking center and rear differentials, and all Defenders come with four-wheel drive and 11.5-inches of ground clearance, which is nearly an inch more than a Wrangler. An available jump seat could let you sit three up front to get the best shots on safari, and other options such as a 1.7-gallon water reservoir for cleaning off muddy pets or shoes, an electric winch, or roof and side carriers let you customize your outback adventure. The various “packs” are almost as cool as the Defender itself; the Adventure Pack comes with a seat backpack and integrated air compressor. 

2022 Volkswagen Microbus

Volkswagen ID Buzz electric bus concept with 1964 VW Microbus

Volkswagen ID Buzz electric bus concept with 1964 VW Microbus

Like the Defender, the Bus is back. Almost. And when it arrives for 2022 as the ID Buzz or the Electric Bus or whatever it’s going to be called, it will be an all-electric van. Little is known about the reboot of the 60s counterculture icon except that it will be a key part of Volkswagen Group’s plans to build 27 different electric vehicles across all brands. Since most established campgrounds have electricity, finding one with EV chargers is getting easier. Ride on, plug in, drop out.

2020
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2020
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