Some people are happy with vehicles that get you from point A to point B. We wish it were that simple for us car campers; however, we always have point C, D, and E lined up. To get to C, we must brave a dirt road with potholes. At D, we’re prepping dinner in our backseat. When we get to point E, we’re droopy-eyed while we give our vehicle a makeover from car to personal sleep palace. In other words, we’re out looking for more than a hunk of metal on wheels to hold our camping air mattress.
Since vehicles will make or break car-camping experiences, we came up with five of our favorites. Each one has its own style and personality, but you can be sure all of them will be a home away from home.
1. Subaru Outback
Highlights: Spacious, Comfortable, Family-Friendly
U.S. News called the Subaru Outback “the official car of outdoor adventures,” and it’s no surprise why. The sport utility vehicle comes standard with all-wheel drive and has an interior of more than 35 cubic feet behind the rear seats and about 73 cubic feet with the seats down. You’ll be able to stuff the cargo area with outdoor gear, and come nighttime, you’ll have more than enough room to stretch out on your Luno Signature Air Mattress.
With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and hill descent control, the Outback will also make offroading feel breezy so your adventure won’t end when the road does. The standard 4-cylinder engine will give you all the power you need with an impressive fuel economy of up to 32 mpg. Forget splitting gas 14 ways with friends. Tell them you’ve got it covered, and get one of them to buy you tacos later.
The new Subarus also include a STARLINK multimedia system so you can seamlessly connect your smartphone and access navigation on a high-resolution, LCD touch-screen display. Now you can lose yourself to Eminem AND remember to make that sneaky left turn!
If you’re still not sold on the Subaru, the vehicle has a few more perks: retractable roof cross-bars that you can tuck away; a boatload of safety features like pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection, and lane-keep assist; front and rear-seat heaters with the all-weather package; and, in the newest model, LED steering-responsive headlights. That’s right, the headlights will rotate as you turn the steering wheel. It’ll make windy, mountainous driving much safer in the nighttime!
In the end, the Outback has it all. It has the smoothness of a sedan, with the spaciousness and toughness of an SUV. It’s the crossover of the century.
2. Toyota Prius
Highlights: Fuel Economy (Duh!), Climate Control
Say "hybrid car" and people think Prius. It’s hard-wired in our brains. The Prius is the most fuel-efficient hybrid out there with its 2018 Eco trim getting a combined 56 mpg. Combine that with its 11.3 fuel tank capacity and you’ll be able to sprint 632.8 miles without a hiccup. This might be bad news for social butterflies; you’ll be making fewer friends with less gas-station pit stops!
On top of outstanding fuel efficiency, a Prius with the rear seats down will offer you a 24.6 or 27.4 cubic-foot cargo hold (depending on the trim). That’s more cargo space than any other compact car on the market. Small can be big too!
Another huge plus is the vehicle’s climate control system, which will run off the battery through the night, making it comfortable and safe to sleep in your car. You can set the heat and air conditioning, hit the sack, and the engine will kick on intermittently through the night to keep the battery charging. You can finally tackle frosty adventures without becoming the real-life abominable snowman.
If you want to shrink your carbon footprint and make every gas dollar count, the Prius is your best bet.
3. Toyota Rav4
Highlights: Spacious, Family-Friendly, High Towing Capacity
The Rav4 is another crossover SUV that will support all your good decisions to tackle the outdoors. Like the Subaru Outback, the Rav4 has a roomy 73 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seats down. You’ll be able to slide a Luno Signature Air Mattress in without any WWE mattress-wrestling theatrics.
Even though you might not get a 6-cylinder engine, the Rav4 Adventure trim’s all-wheel drive can pull up to 3,500 pounds, which tops all competitors in its class. It also gets an impressive 30 mpg on highways. It’s not a Prius, but will a Prius haul your jet ski?
When it comes to offroading, the Rav4 also has your back. It’s got 6.1 inches of ground clearance (6.5 with the Adventure trim) and the available all-wheel drive will have you laughing in the face of stubborn dirt roads. If you’re braving icy weather, you can also upgrade to a cold weather package that gives you heated front seats, a heated leather steering wheel, and a wiper de-icer.
If you’re an adventurous family, then the Rav4 will let you chase your thrills without sacrificing your peace of mind. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a 2018 Top Safety Pick and it has an overall five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Rav4 is good all around. It’s a compact SUV that’ll keep you safe and comfortable on any road you venture down.
4. Nissan Rogue
Highlights: Upscale Interior, Fuel Economy, Autonomous-Driver System
The Nissan Rogue is another compact SUV that’ll get you itching for adventure. It’s got an impressive cargo capacity with a top-tier fuel economy of 33 mpg on highways. Okay, you might want to move to full electric, but your wallet won’t be begging you to.
One of the perks that separate the Rogue from its competitors is its swanky interior. For one, its sporty D-shaped steering wheel makes you feel like you’re on the race track. That plus the leather-wrapped shift knob and black trim interior with metallic accents will make it feel like you’re sleeping in a five-star hotel. You might want to rinse off those muddy boots before climbing in.
If you’re looking for a more intimate cabin experience, the Rogue will do right by you. It’s not a log cabin, but the Rogue’s interior does have thick windows, thick carpeting, and absorptive materials in the front fenders to insulate your sleep sessions from wind and ambient noise. Light sleepers will snooze harder than ever!
The Rogue is also the only car in its class with a semi-autonomous driver-assistance system. The vehicle’s ProPILOT Assist combines a suite of technologies that can autonomously steer, accelerate, and brake the Rogue under certain conditions.
If you’re looking to camp in style and have your mind boggled by a car driving itself, the Rogue has your name on it (not literally of course — but we can excuse it for being narcissistic since it drives itself!).
5. Jeep Grand Cherokee
Highlights: Killer Off-roading, Engine Options, Upscale Interior
This one's for the car campers that spy a dirt road and see a challenge. The Cherokee comes with your standard V6 engine, but also has powerful V8 options which give the off-road monster a 7,200-pound towing capacity. That’s inhuman. Actually.
The most powerful engine option is the 6.2-liter, 707-horsepower supercharged V8 in the newer Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. The Trackhawk has a full-time all-wheel drive system, with 4x4 action will allow 100% of the drive torque to be sent to one rear wheel. In other words, you’re not driving a car; you’re jet skiing on concrete.
If you’re looking for better mileage over horsepower, then the EcoDiesel engine with its 30 mpg on highways is the way to go. The EcoDiesel engine combined with the SUV’s monster 24.6-gallon fuel tank lets you push 700 miles with one fill-up. The Cherokee with this trim can feel odd; it’s a marathon runner with the muscle of an Olympic weightlifter.
If you’re going to spend a lot of time hanging out in your vehicle, the Cherokee also has a great upscale cabin interior, with a 7-inch touch-screen infotainment display. Metal accents available around the air vents, door handles, bezels add to the comfy cabin, and if you’re looking to go the whole nine yards, you can even get ambient lighting in the door handles and footwells. Your night visibility will approach cat-like levels.
If you’re afraid of the Cherokee becoming one giant icebox, you can also get heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel. Not a fan of saunas? The ventilated seats will keep you cool during hot and dry stretches on the road.
If nothing makes you more excited than horsepower, the Cherokee will be your best buddy. You’ll get performance, comfort, and all the offroading action you can dream of.
. . .
Behind the Batmobile, these are the best adventure vehicles out on the market. Now that you’ve got mad vehicle knowledge, it’s time to get your hands around a steering wheel and take that unforgettable trip. Remember, point A is just the beginning.