The automotive world is currently in a state of flux. The business giants of Europe, Asia, and (perhaps most of all) Detroit may have made their billions off the internal combustion engine, but now, in order to stay relevant in a changing social and geologic climate, they are tasked with finding clean alternatives to petrol-powered products. Henry Ford may have put the world on wheels, but now automotive magnates are becoming responsible for helping keep the world healthy.
Today is Earth Day, and we encourage driving the most fuel-efficient vehicles or, at the very least, finding the cleanest automotive option for your lifestyle. In honor of this year’s Earth Day, however, we thought we’d take a slightly different tack. Although our breadth of experience with other planets is limited, Earth seems like a pretty remarkable place to live—and an even better place to explore. From the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to Vietnam’s Halong Bay, and from the fjords of Scandinavia to the salt flats of Bolivia, here are the six cars we’d pick to drive around the earth.
Traveling across the world is no easy task (even without the challenges presented by large bodies of water), so you’ll need a vehicle with a lot of versatility if you plan to deviate from paved roads at all. The Merecedes-Benz G-Class is one of the most versatile vehicles in production. The G-Class is simultaneously a downright opulent luxury SUV and a highly capable off-roading beast. It’s certainly the most comfortable you’ll be without pavement beneath your wheels. Your everyday G500 would be a great option for traversing through the wilderness, but if you’re looking for something to really get you over that mountain, you also have options like the ultra-capable G500 4×42 (four-by-four squared) and the G63 AMG 6×6 6-wheel monster useful in your endeavors.
My father celebrated getting his Ph.D. in a surprising way. He joined my mother, my almost-4-year-old self, and my younger brother into a Volkswagen “Squareback” (a Type 3, not sure which year) and started driving from my hometown in New York State’s Capital District to Albequerque, NM, to visit a couple my parents knew from college. On that long and educational trip, my favorite toy was a Matchbox MGB GT, the real version of which I was sure must be way faster and cooler than our car. A cross-country move 25 years later into an apartment up the street from a Volvo P1800 in solidly used condition somehow reminded me powerfully of that crazy trip and two completely different cars. I don’t know how or why that old Swedish coupe triggered such vivid memories, but it did, and for that I’m grateful. Knowing Irv Gordon’s 1966 (the year I was born) P1800S has covered more than 3,000,000 miles, I also think a P1800 might be the only car of those three able to complete a trip around the world.
Hummers have sort of become the icon of a foregone era: a time before people really cared about or could grasp the impact gas guzzlers had on the environment. The Hummer H1 and its more consumer-friendly sibling, the Hummer H2, went from luxurious and capable SUVs to symbols of excess, apathy, and egotism. There’s no doubt why its 205-hp V8 diesel engine, 42-gallon fuel tank, and fuel efficiency of 9 mpg city/12 highway became unsustainably unpopular when filling the tank started to cost upwards of $300 during Hummer’s twilight years. The Hummer H1 is certainly a bizarre suggestion for Earth Day, but its capability and driving ability over difficult terrain is unquestionable. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that everyone should go out and buy an H1 for your daily commute; but if you’re planning on driving in some of the more treacherous parts of the world, the H1 is a great option. It has a proven track record (and military record) of being a capable vehicle throughout a wide range of climates and terrains. Few vehicles can bring you to the farthest corners of the world like the H1.
I didn’t spend much time in trucks as a kid. I grew up in the city with a tiny yard, and while my parents had a small sailboat we hauled into and out of the water each year, it was tiny, and we consistently used a truck owned by the marina’s owner, usually with one of his employees driving. I get to spend lots more time in trucks these days, and some of my favorite truck time so far has been spent on the off-road course at the International Motor Press Association’s Test Days, designed to show off the capabilities of some of the most off-road-ready vehicles available to U.S. buyers. Getting into a vehicle that can easily and comfortably cope with boulders, pitted pathways, and foot-deep water feels great, but getting out after learning exactly how well the Jeep Renegade copes left me wondering if I might want to swap my hatchback for a more capable vehicle. The Renegade hasn’t been proven to the degree the Wrangler has, but it’s more efficient, less expensive, and rides an Italian platform, which offers aesthetic advantages, if not off-roading ones.
When searching for a car for some spirited overlanding, reliability and fuel efficiency matter as much as locking transfer cases and low-range 4-wheel drive. Luckily, the Suzuki Samurai includes all that and more. The Samurai entered the U.S. market in 1985, and by its departure in ‘95 it had established a cult following amongst off-roading enthusiasts. The little go-anywhere, do-anything machine’s light weight allowed it to maneuver more nimbly than the Jeep Wrangler but belied its toughness. CarGurus user reviews of the Samurai repeatedly praise its reliability, and while its 66-hp 1.3-liter inline 4-cylinder engine might not get you around the world quickly, the Samurai’s durability will make sure you keep moving forward.
A NOLS instructor once told me that no matter how bleak a situation looks, you always have options. The Suzuki Samurai and the first-generation Land Rover Discovery prove that, even in the world of off-roading, there’s always more than one answer to a problem. While the Samurai’s 2,125-pound curb weight and 4-cylinder engine will get you there and back again, Land Rover takes a completely different approach. At nearly 4,500 pounds, the Discovery relies on a 4.0-liter V8 for 188 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, and while the Samurai might seem like the smarter choice on paper—more fuel efficient, more reliable, cheaper—there is no arguing the Discovery’s legacy. A Discovery is just as at home sitting in the Serengeti as it is blazing a trail across the Australian Outback. I’d have no hesitation strapping a few gas cans to an iconic Camel Trophy Edition and hitting the trail.
What car would you choose to drive around the world?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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