Well, here we are in the peak months of summer. Believe it or not, we only have 9 weeks remaining where the days are longer than the nights. That’s not a ton time left. It might be time for you to grab your friends and family and spend your summer how it should be spent: hiking, fishing, boating, camping, swimming, relaxing, and, of course, driving. You’re going to want a vehicle for the season to accommodate all of your summer adventures.
Of course, not just any car will satisfy the hot-weather-induced craving for adventure, so you’ll have to choose your ride carefully. You’ll want a vehicle that can handle sand dunes, overgrown woods, and miles and miles of pavement. So we have compiled a list of cars to tow, haul, and cruise through your summer days. There’s a good amount of variety here, so we think you’ll be covered by the cars on this list no matter your adventure. The world is your oyster this time of year. Go out and do something fun today.
10. Summer has arrived. The sun is out, mercury is rising, and you can almost hear the great outdoors screaming to you, “time to head to Moab, bro!” All that’s left, however, is picking out your car of choice. If you need a tough, 4WD monster but can’t decide between an SUV or a pickup, the 1st-generation Toyota 4Runner is the car for you. This off-road-capable SUV is legendary for its incredible aftermarket options and enthusiast community, as well its (greatly missed) removable fiberglass canopy. We’d recommend a post-1986 model, as that’s when the front end upgraded from a solid axle to an independent suspension, but really any 4Runner will be enough to get you off the beaten path. Sure, the fuel-economy on these truck-based vehicles may not be excellent (or even tolerable), but look on the bright side: thanks to the 4Runner’s Tacoma-like mechanical longevity, you should save enough on repairs to keep the tank at least half-full.
9. Who needs a minivan nowadays? Ford’s Transit Connect Wagon brings the people-carrying capacity of a traditional minivan and blends with the utility and flexibility of the classic cargo van. The Transit Connect is sort of an abbreviated version of the E-Series, Ford’s line of typical cargo vans and passenger wagons, which the Transit models look to supplant soon. And it’s about time vans get pulled into the modern age and move away from overly bland, utilitarian look of the previous generation. No reason workmanship can have a sense of style. But if you need to move a large group of people around for your summer adventure, the Transit Connect Wagon is the way to go. Whether for a road trip, camping excursion, beach trip, or tailgating for a sporting event, the Transit Connect is the perfect vehicle to haul all the people and things you could want.
8. Pickup trucks are great vehicles for getting a wide range of things done, and although pickups are most commonly known as workhorses, they can still help you do a fair share of fun stuff. In the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 test drive review, Chris Wardlaw says that the Silverado 1500’s 6.2-liter V8 is worth the purchase “if you tow on a regular basis.” Good thing that’s exactly what you’ll be doing during the summer months. Whether towing your boat to the docks, your kayaks to the beach, or your trailer to the campsite, the Silverado 1500 will haul whatever you need for your fun summer adventures. Just check out Chris’ video review for everything else the Silverado brings to the table.
7. For many, summer is the only time a lengthy road trip sounds appealing. When it comes time to pack up the car and hit the road, make sure you’re in the driver’s seat of the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. With the TDI turbodiesel engine, you can expect up to 42 mpg highway, meaning you’ll be some 600 miles from home before your 14.6-gallon fuel tank empties. We wrote recently about the downward trend in diesel fuel prices, so if you need to head across the country this summer and have some time to kill, consider driving an oil-burner. At a national rate of roughly $2.80 per gallon, a drive from Boston to San Francisco will run you just over $200 in fuel. You won’t need to worry about lodging costs either—just pack a sleeping bag and stretch out in the Sportwagen’s 30.4 cubic feet of cargo room.
6. Are you recently retired and looking for the perfect summer driving car? Well we recommend that you give some serious consideration to the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class convertible roadster. There’s a reason convertibles are the cliché summer vehicle of choice for many. There’s just something comforting and exciting about being exposed to the elements—even in oppressive heat—and roadsters have long been the car to answer summer’s call. Mercedes’ 2-seater provides a fantastic combination of sportiness, performance, good-looks, and comfort, giving an edge over the likes of the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4 for your summer drive.
5. Alright, to be fair, this suggestion is a little out there. When you think of car-camping, images of Subaru Outbacks, Dodge Durangos, or—at the very least—Volvo V70s come to mind. Lengthy, spacious family cars seem to be the ideal fit for a camping trip, but none of them are particularly fun to drive. So this summer, try out a 2015 MINI Countryman ALL4. You won’t have room for all the niceties that will fit inside an Outback, as the Countryman’s 16.5 cubic feet of cargo space is less than half of what can fit in the Subaru, but at least you’ll be driving out to the wilderness in style. MINIs are renowned for being fun to drive and, with the capable ALL4 all-wheel-drive system, the maxi-est MINI will be sure to get you where you want to go this summer, paved roads or not.
4. The Jeep Wrangler is the quintessential summer vehicle. Perfect for the beach, camping, or just cruising around with the top down and the doors off, the Wrangler is a piece of Americana summer lore that has stuck around for years now. And it’s hard to imagine the rugged SUV going out style anytime soon. But enough about the Wrangler. We talk about it too much. Instead we’ll say that the perfect Jeep for your summer fun is probably the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. It’s the same car as the classic 2-door Wrangler, but, you know… bigger. It has a whopping 4 doors. And with those extra doors, comes extra length, extra legroom, extra cargo space, and extra towing capacity. All of which will make your summer adventures that much more enjoyable.
3. There’s a CarGuru in our office with a very cool dog named Taylor, who is taken virtually everywhere. It’s not so much that Taylor can’t be left alone, it’s that she hates missing out on the fun. A true weekend warrior, every summer Taylor loads into the car and heads off for another adventure. She goes hiking, she goes swimming, she goes camping… and every time, she returns to the car both happy and filthy. Taylor’s perfect summer adventure car, therefore, is the Honda Element. Anyone familiar with the Element raves about its usability in both cities and off the beaten path. Its available all-wheel-drive system is capable of tackling back roads, and a low-loading height means that Taylor will be able to hop in easily, no matter how tired she is. An easy-to-clean, textured urethane floor and literally dozens of seat configurations help distinguish the Honda Element as a clear choice for any dogged adventurers.
2. We know what your thinking. Yes Land Rover’s Range Rover may seem like a very odd choice for an excursion, mainly because it can cost more than a class A motorhome. The Range Rover is a tremendously unique vehicle in that it offers a wide variety of price points for consumers: from the modestly luxurious Base model to the hyper-luxurious Autobiography Black trim, the Range Rover’s spectrum of cost has a range of about $100,000. Now you may be thinking, “why would I take a 6-figure SUV out to the beach or through the woods for an adventure?” Just think of how comfortable you’d be! Your car would almost certainly offer a better camping experience than any large, multi-room, dome tent will. Of course with an SUV you may be thinking that you’ll fold the back seats down and just lay down in the cargo area. But the Range Rover only offers 71.7 cubic feet of total cargo space (82.8 in the long wheelbase), which is surprisingly small. Thankfully the higher end Range Rover offers rear Executive Class Seating, meaning you’ll likely never want to leave the seats. Who needs nature when you have a large, reclining, massaging leather seats with footrests, tray tables, and a screen right in front of you.
1. We get it. Summer is a great time for camping, hiking, fishing, boating, and generally getting outdoors and being active. But some days, you just have an itch to get driving. When the sun is high overhead and hundreds of miles of road lie before you, there’s really only one option: a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. Made famous in Vanishing Point, the Challenger is an icon of the long-haul road trip. We don’t recommend leading police chases, illegal highway races, or riding motorcycles in the nude, (all staples of the 1971 film), but we can’t deny that sitting behind the wheel of a white Challenger R/T would definitely succeed in scratching the driving itch. Of course, if you can’t find a 1970 that suits your needs (or if 390 hp out of the 440 cubic inch V8 isn’t enough for you), there’s always the current generation—including the top-of-the-line Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat; a 707 hp rear-wheel drive monster… available with a manual transmission.
What’s your summer ride of choice?
-John Harrington and Matt Smith
Shopping for your summer ride?
Bring along CarGurus’ mobile app to help check prices, find good deals, and research cars on your smartphone.
Used Toyota 4Runner
Used Ford Transit Connect
Used Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Used Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen
Used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
Used MINI Countryman
Used Jeep Wrangler
Used Honda Element
Used Land Rover Range Rover
Used Dodge Challenger