When you think “ best road trip cars” what is the first thing that pops into your head? For me, it will probably always be the Family Truckster from the original National Lampoon’s Vacation movie. Big. Ugly. Green. Faux wood paneling. Probably smells like bologna. Yikes…
My wife and I have always enjoyed a good road trip. Even when it was just the two of us and airfare was much cheaper, there was always something about being on the road that just seemed ideal. I have owned about a dozen vehicles over the years. My wife has had about five. Some were decent road cruisers. Some were AWFUL (I am looking at you, Mister 2004 Subaru WRX with open exhaust).
I can honestly say our two current cars check all of the boxes for what make the best road trip cars. In the reviews below, I will highlight what makes these cars so capable at being our modern day “Family Trucksters.”
2019 Subaru Ascent
We bought this car to be my wife’s new daily driver after her 2010 Subaru Legacy was hit and totaled as she left work one day. We chose the Ascent primarily due to its size. Having the third row PLUS a decent amount of storage made so much sense. We now had two boys with the older boy already active in sports. Her parents live with us and would sometimes accompany us on our adventures. Having seating for up to seven (six comfortably) was the right call.
Subaru had attempted a third row seating vehicle in the past and it just never caught on. The B9 Tribeca was just a bit odd, which is saying a lot for an automaker that is known for being a bit quirky. Subaru paid attention to what went wrong with the Tribeca and made many improvements with the Ascent.
First off is safety. Subaru prides itself on vehicle safety. The Ascent is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Pick. See the review here. The Ascent nearly achieved a perfect score. Their only miss was Front Crash Prevention: vehicle-to-pedestrian (night) where it scored 2 out of 3. Every other category held a perfect score.
Second is room. We opted for the model that have captain chairs in the middle row as opposed to a bench. This allows a decent amount of mobility around the cabin when we are climbing in and out. In addition to the seating room, there is enough storage space behind the back row for groceries, baseball equipment, etc. All seats fold fairly flat if you need to haul something large. The largest thing we have in the car was a 9 foot Christmas tree. We forgot to bring twine to attach it to the roof, so decisions were made. The car did have a lovely pine smell for several weeks after.
Third is reliability. Subaru did have some issues with the 2.5L turbo motor in the WRX Sti’s for several years, but their other motors have been incredibly reliable. We have about 65,000 miles on the Ascent. All we have had to do so far is regularly scheduled maintenance. For those that like to do their own basic maintenance, the Ascent is a very easy car to do your own oil changes on.
Fourth is the vehicle’s capability. The Ascent comes with a 2.4L turbo engine that has good power. Passing is not an issue. The Ascent also has a 5000 pound towing capacity. Like nearly all Subarus, the Ascent comes with Subaru’s proven Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. It is great in rain, mud, snow, sand, etc.
Lastly, are the intangibles. Nineteen cup holders. Four USB charging ports placed around the rear passenger area. Built-in WiFi hotspot technology. Blind spot alerts. Back up alerts with automatic emergency braking.
We have taken this car to Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and of course all over Texas. The Ascent was an excellent choice.
2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness Edition
This car just entered our stable about two months ago, replacing my 2016 Subaru Forester XT. The Forester was a great car, but we just wanted something a little bigger as our second boy was now about to start playing baseball as well.
Safety on the Outback is exactly the same as the Ascent, therefore also earning the IIHS Top Pick Safety Award. The Outback Wilderness shares the same 2.4L turbo engine. That is pretty much where the similarities end.
The Outback Wilderness takes Subaru’s already capable off-road platform and adds some more ability to tackle some off-pavement excursions. You get about an extra inch of ground clearance, putting the Outback Wilderness at 9.5”. It comes equipped with Yokohama Geolandar tires, perfect for trails and off road use. The seats are made of Starplex material which is water resistant and easy to clean with mud and other messes.
The cabin area is spacious with plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room. The rear wagon area offers plenty of storage for sports equipment, groceries, suitcases…whatever you need. We have not tried to put a Christmas tree in it yet. YET…
We have put 7000 miles on her already. I can truly say this is THE MOST comfortable road trip car I have driven yet. The seats are comfortable but firm. The ride is quiet despite the off road tires. You do feel some of the bumps due to the suspension being a bit stiffer for off highway use. We have not taken her to any serious off road adventures yet, but we do have a Colorado trip planned for November and the Outback Wilderness has already been assigned to take us on this trip.
Summary Of Our Best Road Trip Cars
We may have some bias here, being long time Subaru owners (we are up to #6 with the Outback Wilderness). For us, safety and reliability are the most important. Just factoring those two categories alone, Subaru’s current line-up of vehicles checks off all of the marks. Whether you choose a CrossTrek, Impreza, Forester, Legacy, Outback, or Ascent, any of those family friendly vehicles will be sure to please! Check out their entire line of vehicles here.