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From efficient to exotic, these are the best road trip cars for exploring the country

Pack up and hit the road! Make your travels memorable this year with these amazing road trip cars

Woman leaning out of passenger window in a moving car.
averie woodard/Unsplash

When embarking on your next great road trip adventure, camping, or even a vacation, for that matter, the car you take is nearly as important as the route. Some drivers consider a 1-hour drive to get a leftover Christmas tree as a legit “road trip,” but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The cars on this list are unique vehicles that you’ll want to drive cross-country on an adventure to find some of the best routes in America.

The vehicles you see here range from classic icons to exotic supercars. Most are relatively affordable; some aren’t. Of course, we didn’t forget about SUVs that have enough room for the entire family (and Fido, too!). Choosing a car to take on a road trip is a highly personal decision. But at the end of the day, these are the best cars for road trips, hands down.

Yellow Lamborghini Urus driving in the middle of the desert.

Lamborghini Urus

Let’s not bury our lede. Two words: Lamborghini. SUV. If you’re not worried about money and you’re a fan of very, very, very fast road trips, you can stop reading now. The latest Lamborghini Urus is most likely the only road trip car on your wish list. The company’s (pretty much) first foray into the SUV market is a dramatic one. The angular Urus highlights a steeply raked roofline, sleek LED lighting, and huge 22- or 23-inch wheels stuffed inside jagged hexagonal wheel wells.

This is an SUV that will not be mistaken for any other. It’s neither practical nor affordable for most mortal men, but who really cares with a twin-turbo, 4-liter V8 under the hood? The 641 horsepower pushes the Urus to a top speed of 190 miles per hour, making it the fastest production SUV on the planet. If you’ve ever wanted to take a 36-hour, coast-to-coast road trip, your ride is ready.

Red Jeep Cherokee XJ parked on a desert in front of a blue sky.

Jeep Cherokee XJ

Over the years, most SUVs — even hardcore models — have softened as manufacturers realize their customers rarely choose to venture off-road. Case in point: The latest generation of the Jeep Cherokee shares its platform with the previous generation Dodge Dart. However, the older Jeep Cherokee XJ is the SUV for purists who plan to spend as much (maybe a little more) time off the pavement as on.

Don’t let the fact that it’s dated dissuade you. That just means you can find an older model for a song. Additionally, replacement and aftermarket parts are readily available, it has plenty of room for your friends and your best outdoor gear, and the bulletproof 4.0-liter engine will probably outlast you.

White Porsche 911 front end from the ground on asphalt in sunset.

Porsche 911

Which 911?” you may be asking. Fair question. We’re not picky as long as it’s a Carrera 4S Cabriolet. Hardcore enthusiasts will tsk-tsk anything but a hardtop, but for pure road trip fun, it’s either a convertible or nothing. Honestly, almost any model of the modern Porsche 911 will do, as it’s still among the best sports cars to balance performance, handling, convenience, and comfort.

It even seats four, although we’d recommend using the cafeteria-tray-sized rears for storage or “friends” you’re not particularly fond of. For a legit sports car, it’s a damn-near-perfect everyday driver, which is what also makes it one of the best cars for road trips.

Ford Bronco driving on a dusty backcountry road with sun glinting in the background.

Ford Bronco

The all-new Ford Bronco might be the coolest and most highly anticipated SUV to land in the last century. It’s true to the beloved original at its core: Rugged, utilitarian, and ready to go anywhere you point it. The latest version is available as a two- or four-door variety in a handful of trim levels, each tailored for different degrees of on- or off-road use.

If you’re serious about the “go anywhere” factor, we highly recommend springing for the Sasquatch package, which upgrades the already capable Bronco with 35-inch tires, electronic-locking front and rear axles, and Bilstein position-sensitive dampers. Translation: Even without pavement, there’s almost no road trip this thing can’t take.

White Ferrari GTC4Lusso driving on a curvy road with trees blurred in the back.

Ferrari GTC4Lusso

A $300,000 road tripper? Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound. If a 911 isn’t disco enough for you, Ferrari’s curiously named GTC4Lusso may do the trick. At more than 4,233 pounds, it’s heavy by any standard. It gets abysmal gas mileage (11/17 mpg city/highway). And did we mention it costs as much as a vacation condo in the Florida Keys? In short: It’s almost completely impractical to drive to Pottery Barn, let alone long distances. Almost.

What it does have is four mostly usable seats — ideal for bringing along three friends or one friend and a reasonable amount of luggage for two humans on a high-performance, cross-country road trip. That the 6.3-liter V-12 engine boasts 680 hp and 514 lb-ft capable of pushing this 4WD beast past 200 mph is, to put it mildly, a bonus.

Red Mazda MX-5 Miata parked on the side of a gravel road in front of a hill.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Of course, for most mortal men, six-figure sports cars are rarely attainable. Enter the Mazda MX-5. For less savvy car folk, the Miata may seem a better fit for fast-talking, middle-aged realtors with bleach-blonde perms, but the latest Miata generation has vastly outgrown that image.

Recent iterations of the MX-5 are excitingly fast and a blast to drive, thanks to a short-throw shifter and rock-solid handling. The seats are more comfortable than most other sports cars, and it also boasts decent fuel economy (if you’re shopping for sports cars in this stratum, we’ll assume gas mileage matters to you). Its biggest selling point is the convertible top — available as either a soft or power retractable hardtop. Sure, the trunk is barely big enough for a duffel bag. Just pack light, drop the top, and don’t overthink it.

Red Honda Element parked with all its doors open on a beach during sunset.

Honda Element

If you’re incredulous as to how anyone could place the Honda Element and Porsche 911 on the same list of greatest road-tripping cars of all time, stay with us. The now-discontinued (as of 2011) Element never gained mass appeal due in large part to its love-it-or-hate-it delivery-van-inspired design. But that’s precisely what makes it a great road-tripping vehicle.

By “great,” we mean “practical.” The rear cargo space is dead flat with an industrial floor liner that can be hosed down when needed. That means you can pack a lot more than you’d expect inside the deceptively roomy cargo space, especially with the two rear seats removed. Plus, it tackles sand, mud, dirt, and any other caked-on bits of nature with ease. The four seats also can be configured into a single — albeit bumpy — bed of sorts, which is ideal for car camping couples. Spring for the AWD model for better traction and a standard rear sunroof for campsite stargazing.

Silver 2023 Toyota Prius driving against a blurred background.

Toyota Prius

If dad jokes are your jam, and you have never met a pair of pleated khaki shorts you didn’t like, it probably doesn’t get more perfect than the Toyota Prius. While previous models of the now-iconic hybrid lacked any semblance of style or fun, the latest generation is at least making an effort. But we’re including it on this list for one simple reason: Insane fuel economy.

The entry-level Eco model is the cheapest and greenest Prius in the lineup, promising nearly 60 mpg on the highway and a road-tripping range of over 600 miles. Imagine driving from Manhattan to San Francisco on the equivalent of just five tanks of gas.

Classic Land Rover Defender parked in between two trees with a lake in the background.

Land Rover Defender

If you want all the legendary badassery of the Land Rover brand without the frilly techno-gadgetry of the company’s newest models, it doesn’t get any better than the classic Land Rover Defender. This truck’s long history stretches back more than a century, and most enthusiasts regard it as the best, most off-road-capable truck ever built.

Whether trekking over mountains, on safari in Africa, or fording chest-high whitewater rapids, the Defender is designed to go anywhere you need it to go. If you’re planning to spend any significant time off-roading on your next road trip, look no further.

Lincoln Navigator Black Label front end from passenger's side in a shipyard.
Mike Richard/The Manual

Lincoln Navigator Black Label

The draw of driving an ultra-luxe RV cross-country is being able to take all the creature comforts of home with you. No matter where you overnight, you’ll always have your espresso maker, 24-setting washer, and favorite recliner with you. The Lincoln Navigator Black Label 4×4 doesn’t offer quite that level of convenience. But it is the closest approximation on four wheels, making it one of the cushiest road-tripping vehicles a couple of years’ salary can buy.

For nearly $100,000, flagship Navigator owners have access to multiple infotainment screens, a ridiculous satellite audio system, 30-way adjustable heating and cooling leather massage seats, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a sleek, sporty, notice-me design that no one will ever mistake for an Escalade.

Classic red and white Volkswagen Camper Van parked on a dirt road.

Classic Volkswagen Camper Van

Frankly, there isn’t a vehicle more iconic of the classic American road trip than the Volkswagen Camper Van, so we’re required by law to include it on this list. It’s wholly unreliable and guaranteed to spend more time in the shop than on the road.

But quirks aside, it’s beautiful, fun, nostalgic, and entirely practical when you consider that you’re driving your hotel room across the country. You can score one cheaply on eBay. Just be sure to pack plenty of snacks, spare parts, a robust toolkit, and a current AAA membership.

Westfalia Sven Hedin CUV driving on a windy road between canyons.

Westfalia Sven Hedin CUV

If you want all the usability and a dash of the nostalgia of the classic VW Camper Van without the maintenance and reliability headaches, look to Westfalia. The company has built a brand on outfitting new VW Crafter vans to create the most practical, full-featured, and comfortable camper vans on the market.

Westfalia’s swanky Sven Hedin, in particular, is a CUV (“caravaning utility vehicle”) that crams the usefulness of a legit, full-sized RV into a vehicle not much larger than a minivan. There are multiple table/counter spaces, a comfortable bed, a half bathroom with a toilet and sink, a workable kitchen with a cooktop, sink, and dual-drawer fridge, and a surprising amount of storage space for your gear. Sure, the price tag is close to $70,000, but imagine all the money you’ll save on Motel 6 stays.

Red classic Chevy Corvette sitting in a parking lot.
Berthold Werner/Wikimedia

1966 Chevy Corvette

Of course, a classic American road trip deserves a classic — the classic — American pony car. Our money is on the original 1966 Corvette. The sleek, unmistakable silhouette is arguably one of the most beautiful and distinctive in automotive history. Add to that a throaty V8 with serious horsepower, and it promises one helluva drive no matter where in the country you’re headed.

1965 Ford Mustang parked on the side of a road in Christchurch.

1965 Ford Mustang Convertible

Not a Chevy lover? We get it. If you’re a communist who hates Corvettes, your best American-made road-trip-worthy alternative is a 1965 Ford Mustang (ideally a convertible). It’s difficult to imagine a car that would inspire more patriotic nostalgia on a long-haul road trip through Middle America than this classic ‘Stang. Regardless of which manufacturer’s camp you fall into, this first-generation pony car is an icon of sports car design. It screams: “I like fast things, Bob Seger, and cold domestic beer!” (Not necessarily in that order.) And, for that, we salute it.

Two Morgan 3-Wheelers driving on a road during a cloudy day.

Morgan 3-Wheeler

Sure, the Morgan 3-Wheeler isn’t technically a car, but don’t get too hung up on semantics. If you don’t give a toss about practicality; if you don’t concern yourself with pesky things like rain, cargo space, or bugs in your teeth; if you value fun above all else, the Morgan 3-Wheeler is the road trip vehicle for you. Its unapologetic design has changed little in the more than 100 years since its world debut. It’s raw, mechanical, and just plain cool. Whether day-tripping through the White Mountains of New Hampshire or cross-country solo-ing, it’s every bit as exhilarating and pure to drive. One soldier in Britain’s Royal Flying Corps described it as “the nearest thing to flying without leaving the ground.”

You really can’t go wrong with any of these options. All are arguably the “best car for road trips.” Each vehicle on this list has its own strengths for a cross-country road trip across the USA. Some options may be more comfortable and larger than others, but undertaking a long road trip in any one of these 14 cars is guaranteed to result in a memorable journey.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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