As business and traveling opens up in 2021, there are more people on the roads trying to get away. The long, highway road trip is a staple of American culture in the summer. And having the right vehicle can make all the difference.
The right vehicle for road tripping, however, depends on the needs of the driver and everyone else in the car. There are cars, wagons, minivans, and SUVs that fit the bill for something that’s comfortable, efficient, and provides a pleasing atmosphere. Vehicles that master these attributes make covering hundreds of miles in a day all the better for everyone involved.
Here are 11 of the best road trip cars for 2021.
Once a competent, if homely, two-row crossover SUV, the 2021 Buick Envision has been reimagined as something more striking and upscale. It has a more adventurous front end and a sharper look on the exterior than before, also making it one of the more adventurously styled premium five-seat SUVs of the moment. The interior is less ambitious, but features a pleasing design and up-to-date technology, including wireless Apple CarPlay. There’s also reasonable space in the front and rear seats for up to five people, and cargo space is respectable for an SUV in this class.
A 227-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and nine-speed automatic are the only engine options, but both front and all-wheel-drive are available. Though Buick would like to compare the Envision to cars like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, it’s geared more toward mainstream buyers. That’s reflected in the price: an Envision starts from $33,490 and rises to just over $42,000.
Minivans have been a longtime favorite as a road trip vehicle, and the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica is an ideal minivan for a big family vacation. With seating for up to seven passengers and a highly flexible interior with the Stow ‘n Go folding second and third-row seats on most models for up to 140 cubic feet of room, the Pacifica is highly configurable and comfortable and stuffed with safety features for long-distance drives.
Revised with new exterior styling for 2021, the Pacifica now uses the UConnect 5 infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as the ability to connect two devices to Bluetooth at once, undoubtedly a plus when the car’s full of Bluetooth-enabled devices. People in the front can also see what the people in the back are doing through the screen, which might be a plus or minus for people of all ages. And the new top-grade Pinnacle trim throws in nearly every option and adds quilted leather upholstery and even a pair of pillows for the second-row captain’s chairs.
All-wheel-drive (AWD) is now available on all Pacifica models powered by the 287-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 and nine-speed automatic. It’s standard on the Limited and new Pinnacle models, optional on other grades. Chrysler is distinctive in this segment by offering the plug-in Pacifica Hybrid, with a 260-horsepower gas-electric hybrid powertrain that can be plugged into a charger and provide up to 32 miles of electric-only propulsion. Any of the Pacifica powertrains are good choices, though, and the Pacifica should be at the top of the list for road trip vehicles.
Prices for the 2021 Pacifica start from $36,690 and rise to $53,390.
While it may now share its name with an unrelated electric SUV, for more than 50 years the Ford Mustang sports car has been synonymous with American culture and, therefore, the road trip. Today’s Mustang merges classic looks and modern technology, but the concept still conjures up images of swift progress on straight and flat highway roads.
A 310-horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder is standard on both the coupe and convertible, and while it lacks the signature V8 noise, it can provide extremely brisk acceleration and even decent fuel economy. But for that classic sound, there’s a 460-horsepower, 5.0-liter V8 on the GT Fastback and Convertible. A six-speed manual is standard, while a 10-speed automatic is optional. There are various handling and appearance packages, as well as special Mach 1 and Porsche-rivaling Shelby GT500 versions of the hardtop, but the standard versions are best for long road trips. And every Mustang is available with modern niceties such as Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, digital instrumentation, and even plush leather upholstery.
Prices for the Mustang coupe starts from $28,350, while convertible pricing begins at $33,370.
As one of the top-selling new cars in the US last year, many Honda CR-V owners will likely submit them to road trips this year. But it’s a good choice for a long trip in the first place. As one of the larger compact SUVs, there isn’t a bad seat in the CR-V. There isn’t a bad place for odds and ends, either, as there are plenty of storage options around the cabin. And the cargo area itself is capacious with the split-folding rear seats up, cavernous with them folded down.
The gasoline-powered CR-V’s 190-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder should be adequate for most situations, while returning reasonably good fuel economy figures. But the CR-V Hybrid goes further with a gas-electric powertrain that achieves even better figures, and has 212 horsepower and impressive gas mileage at 38 mpg combined according to the Environmental Protection Agency. All-wheel-drive is optional on the conventional CR-V, standard on hybrids.
Prices for the 2021 CR-V line starts from $26,470 for the CR-V LX, going up to $37,470 for a CR-V Hybrid Touring.
Conversations about three-row SUVs can't get around the Kia Telluride. It's a force in this mammoth class of popular vehicles that include the eternally popular Ford Explorer and niche and sporty Mazda CX-9. The Telluride carves its own niche with a blend of striking exterior and interior design and uncompromised space for up to eight people.
Land Rover-esque styling disguises that the Telluride excels as a road tripper for paved surfaces. That is reinforced with an interior that's as high-grade as some Land Rovers. Second and even third-row passengers are treated to surprisingly generous legroom, too. And there are numerous convenience features for passengers, such as USB charging ports on nearly every surface, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity running through a large, 10.25-inch touchscreen, and even heating and ventilation elements for the second-row captain's chairs.
Every Telluride gets a 291-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission, with optional all-wheel-drive. This gutsy and smooth setup contributes to the overwhelming sense that this midsize SUV is punching above its class.
Telluride prices start from $33,160 and go up to $45,260.
The 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander shares little to nothing with its predecessor, which was unremarkable at best. This new version is a much more compelling compact SUV, with a new 181-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and standard front-wheel-drive or optional all-wheel-drive with six presets for some light off-road driving. The exterior styling won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the interior is a nice place to be. Many soft-touch surfaces, storage spaces, and equipment like dual-zone automatic climate control make it comfortable for long periods of time.
Equipment levels are high, with features such as a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay capability (or wired Android Auto), and front and rear automatic emergency braking. Most models also get adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, while a head-up display, three-zone climate control, and a 12.3-inch configurable TFT instrument cluster are also offered. And the Outlander comes standard with seating for up to seven, although that third-row seat will likely be folded down to accommodate luggage.
One of the last Outlander’s only notable attributes was its low price. The new version continues to be extremely competitively priced, given its space and equipment list, but it’s a much better value because it’s a much better vehicle. Prices for the 2022 Outlander start from $26,990, rising to $37,640.
The Nissan Maxima hits its 40th Anniversary in 2021 and its maker has bestowed on it a 40th Anniversary Edition, which includes some exterior paint modifications, some red leather upholstery inside, and “40th Anniversary” embroidery. It isn’t a lot, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to celebrate about the Maxima. It may not be the freshest design out there, but it’s still distinctive.
As Nissan’s only remaining V6-powered sedan, the Maxima has the makings of a flagship. That V6 is also effortless, if a little rough around the edges. The 3.5-liter engine produces 300 horsepower and is mated exclusively to a continuously variable automatic transmission. That’s not the setup for a sports sedan, but it reinforces the Maxima as a comfortable cruiser. The front seats are superbly comfortable, the dashboard seemingly wraps around the passengers, and the low driving position at least feels sporty. Back seat space isn’t anything special for a car this large, but that just makes it a cozier place for two. All Maximas get leather upholstery and built-in navigation with a wi-fi hotspot, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto technology, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, and lane-departure warning.
The 2021 Maxima starts from $38,040 and goes up to $43,270.
One of the most versatile vehicles on the market, the Subaru Outback should be high on any list of cars suited for long distances. A spacious interior leaves plenty of room for five people to ride comfortably and bring plenty of items, thanks to a relatively large cargo area — made even larger with the rear seats folded down. Drivers can stay alert, thanks to Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver assistance technology, including an attention monitor to suggest taking a break once in a while.
The Outback is also capable in bad weather. Standard all-wheel-drive and plenty of ground clearance makes winter driving far more confidence-inspiring, and little things like integrated crossbars for the roof rack makes life easier. Stellar safety ratings sweeten the package, too.
Prices for the 2021 Outback start from $27,845 and go up to $40,995.
The full-size sedan used to be the ideal vehicle for the American road trip. But the full-size sedan is an endangered species these days. The Toyota Avalon, however, persists. And there’s an Avalon to suit every taste, from the luxurious XLE and Limited models, to the semi-sporty XSE, Touring, and TRD variants. But all of them are large cars with large interiors, easily enough space for five people, and offer the latest in connectivity features. Driver assistance tech like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking are offered across the board, too.
There are three Avalon configurations for 2021: a 301-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 with front-wheel-drive, a 205-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder with all-wheel-drive, and a 215-horsepower gas-electric hybrid with front-wheel-drive. Skip the all-wheel-drive model, and as powerful and smooth as the V6 is, the hybrid makes for a supremely quiet car that can cover long distances without stopping for fuel.
Pricing for the 2021 Avalon starts from $36,870 and rises to $44,295. A Camry might be less expensive, but an equally large Lexus is more money. Or think of the Kentucky-built Avalon of the last of the land yachts and, oddly, one of the most American road trip cars.
The Volkswagen Arteon might be an unfamiliar name to some people, but they’re likely to know about the Autobahn in Germany. The large, sleek Arteon was made for these kinds of roads and long distance, high-speed driving. While the Arteon can’t compete with the likes of the BMW 3 Series in sharp corners, it excels at covering lots of ground swiftly. Every Arteon is powered by a 268-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic. Front-wheel-drive is standard, with all-wheel-drive available on most versions.
While it’s slightly stark in a traditional German way, controls in the Arteon’s interior are readily accessible and it’s very well-equipped. Most models come with VW’s Digital Cockpit, which replaces physical gauges in the instrument panel with a configurable TFT screen and allows for that navigation map to be front and center. Other conveniences include a three-zone automatic climate control system, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and traffic sign recognition. On top of all of that, the Arteon is spacious and its hatchback configuration creates a vast cargo area even before the split-folding rear seats are lowered.
The 2021 Arteon starts from $38,190 and rises to $48,585.
For more in the way of luxury, the Volvo S60 sedan and V60 wagon offer a calm and comfortable environment set up for covering hundreds of miles in a day. Front-seat occupants get large, comfortable thrones, and there’s even respectable room for rear-seat passengers. The interior design is simple and lacks the in-your-face controls of some rivals. And road noise can be drowned out with the optional 19-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system and its Gothenburg Concert Hall setting. And Volvo’s optional Pilot Assist advanced driver assistance system not only includes adaptive cruise control, but can perform minor steering inputs at highway speeds.
While the S60 has a decent-sized trunk and split-folding rear seats, the V60 enjoys the greater practicality of a wagon body style to accommodate bulky items, or bulky pets. A 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic power both vehicles, with available all-wheel-drive on the sedan and V60 Cross Country wagon.
This year, the S60 is also available as a plug-in hybrid that starts at $48,695 before applicable incentives. With 400 horsepower and all-wheel-drive, the S60 Recharge can quickly cover highway miles, but also cover city miles on electric power alone. Prices for the base S60 start from $39,995, and the V60 from $42,045.