G. Chambers Williams III: Tops for summer trips
Web Posted: 06/10/2006 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
It's summer and time for the annual road trip.
Most of us have to make do with our everyday vehicle for the trip, whether it's well suited to a long highway jaunt or not. Some of us will rent a special vehicle just for the trip, and still others might go out and buy that new SUV, pickup, sports car or minivan that we've been wanting, just in time for the summer fun run.
I've made quite a few road trips myself, being both an explorer and a driving enthusiast, and I've had some fun vehicles over the years to make these trips. My first venture to the West from my then-home in Tennessee was with my older daughter, brother, sister and my sister's three kids in a 1975 Volkswagen Bus.
This was in the summer of '75, and the trip took us across the entire state of Texas, then New Mexico and on into Tucson, Ariz., on Interstates 20 and 10 to visit another sister and brother, both of whom were living there at the time. From there, we went up to the Grand Canyon, then back to Tennessee via Interstate 40.
The VW Bus proved to be a great vehicle, overall, for the June trip, but there were a couple of deficiencies: It had no air conditioning, and the boxy shape made it hard to handle on some stretches of interstate through West Texas where signs warn about high winds and their effect on high-profile vehicles.
The 2006 Range Rover Sport was the top choice of voters in the Top 10 Road Trip Vehicles poll this year from Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.
The Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500 is the ultimate road vehicle for Mustang fans. It offers 475 horsepower at a starting price of about $40,000.
The Toyota FJ Cruiser is meant to compete against the Jeep Wrangler and is perfect for a combination highway/off-road trip.
With its top down, the Pontiac Solstice has almost no trunk space. With the top up, the space grows to only 3.8 cubic feet.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster has a small trunk 5.3 cubic feet but it's not all taken up by the convertible top. It can hold a couple of small suitcases.
The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 has a 500-horsepower V-8 that can propel the car from zero to 60 mph in just under four seconds.
One of my most memorable road trips, also in June, was a run from Los Angeles up the West Coast to the Seattle area, then up through British Columbia to Dawson Creek, where I picked up the Alaska Highway for a run through moose and bear country.
That odyssey was made in 1992 in a new Range Rover, which was nearly the perfect vehicle for such a trip.
And that leads me to the point of this column: Kelley Blue Book's recent kbb.com Web site posting of the Top 10 Road Trip Vehicles for 2006.
The company said its road-test editors chose 10 vehicles they thought would be well suited for road trips, and it then asked visitors to the Web site to vote on which of those they would most like to take on a journey this summer.
Not surprising to me, the 2006 Range Rover Sport was the top choice of the voters.
While my list of Top 10 road-trip vehicles would differ a bit from Kelley's, I can't argue with putting the Range Rover on the list, and considering my penchant for off-road exploring, it probably would be near the top of my list, as well.
It's not cheap, though. The Sport begins at $57,000 for the normally aspirated version and $70,000 for the supercharged model. But it has an awesome full-time four-wheel-drive system that can take you just about anywhere you want to go.
So while touring the West, for instance, you could take some serious off-road jaunts in Colorado or Utah. How about Black Bear Road between Ouray and Telluride, Colo., after which you'll want to buy the T-shirt that reads, "You ain't a four-wheeler until you've done the Bear."
Here's the rest of the Kelley list, in order from No. 2 to No. 10 as chosen by the Web site's readers
: the Ford Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500; Honda Civic Hybrid sedan
; Chevrolet Corvette Z06; Porsche Cayman S; Volvo C70 convertible; Mercedes-Benz R-class crossover utility vehicle; Toyota FJ Cruiser SUV; Pontiac Solstice roadster; and Mazda MX5 Miata roadster.
While I generally agree that all the ones on Kelley's list are good vehicles, some have deficiencies that would preclude me from using them on a cross-country jaunt.
For instance, there is virtually no trunk space in the Solstice, the new little open-top two-seater sold in similar form as the Saturn Sky.
With the top up, the Solstice has a trunk that holds only 3.8 cubic feet of cargo. But with the top down, that space shrinks to almost nothing. Unless you're making the road trip by yourself (boring!) and can put your luggage in the passenger seat, there is no place for it. The Solstice has almost zero storage space in the passenger compartment as well.
The way the trunk lid has to open when you raise or lower the top pretty much precludes installing a luggage rack on top, the way those guys did with their Corvette on "Route 66," the ultimate road trip TV series from the early 1960s.
The Miata, which has been completely redesigned for 2006, still has a rather small trunk 5.3 cubic feet but it's not all taken up by the convertible top. It can hold a couple of small suitcases.
Two-seaters such as these, as well as the Corvette Z06 and Cayman S on the Kelley list, allow you to bring only one other person with you. That's great if you're planning to make the trip with just a spouse/significant other or friend. But if you have kids or grandkids (like I do), then two-seaters aren't for you.
Still, the 'Vette would be a fun choice for two people, and this one even has a roomy cargo area unlike the one on "Route 66."
Even the base Corvette, which was completely redesigned last year, would be fine for a long road trip for two. It comes in coupe and convertible forms. The coupe model has 22 cubic feet of cargo space. The convertible has 11 with the top up and 5 with the top down.
The Z06, available only in coupe form, probably would be great fun, as long as you didn't run afoul of the traffic police and find yourself in a country jail and your car in an impound lot.
Under the hood is a 500-horsepower V-8 that can propel the car from zero to 60 mph in just under four seconds. Top speed is about 195 mph.
I don't recommend trying that on any public highway not even the stretches of Interstates 10 and 20 in West Texas that carry the new 80 mph speed limit.
Porsche's new Cayman S is based on the chassis of the entry-level Boxster model and might be a fun trip vehicle. It's a hatchback with 14.1 cubic feet of cargo space. The price is about $60,000, though, and you're still limited to two people.
The better choice among the Porsche lineup for a serious road trip would be the Cayenne, Porsche's outstanding sport utility vehicle.
With prices ranging from $43,000 to just over $91,000, all of these come with one of the best four-wheel-drive systems you can buy.
On the highway, the Cayenne drives like a sports car, and off-road it's better than the average Jeep. Likewise for the Volkswagen Touareg, which is essentially the same vehicle underneath, but with VW rather than Porsche engines. The VW's prices begin at about $36,000 for a V-6 model.
What can one say about the Mustang Shelby Cobra GT500 except "Wow!" This would be the ultimate road vehicle for a Mustang fan. With a starting price of about $40,000, this car offers 475 horsepower and, of course, the possibility of a week in a country jail.
You can put a couple of kids in the back seat, though, and the trunk can hold a decent amount of luggage.
If economy is on your mind, as it probably will be for most of us on our summer trips this year with gasoline prices near $3 a gallon, then the compact Civic Hybrid, at about $23,000, is a good choice.
It's rated at 49 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. You can load it with two adults, three kids and some luggage.
But for about the same price, you can get the roomier Toyota Prius, with ample room for up to five adults and their luggage. Fuel economy ranges up to 60 mpg in the city and 50 on the highway.
Those of you wanting a hybrid for a family road trip, though, might be more comfortable with the new Saturn Vue Green Line. It also costs about $23,000, and it offers fuel economy up to 27 mpg on the highway and 32 around town. There is room for five people and lots of luggage.
One of my favorites of the new vehicles on the market this year is the FJ Cruiser. Toyota's new compact SUV is meant to compete against the Jeep Wrangler and is perfectly suited to a combination highway/off-road trip. Prices begin in the mid-$20,000s for FJs with four-wheel drive.
There are plenty of choices for your road trip, expensive or affordable, so find one and have some fun with it this summer.