Memorial Day is a time for remembrance and an opportunity to honor the men and women who lost their lives serving in the armed forces, but for many it’s also the symbolic start of summer. The upside: many Americans will be enjoying cookouts, baseball games, and getaways during the long memorial weekend. The downside: anyone residing in a major urban area will become all too familiar with the harsh realities of miles-long traffic jams that all started because that guy couldn’t be bothered to merge properly.
Whether you’re heading to Lake Superior, Champlain, or Tahoe, be prepared for a little bit of the old stop-and-go. Sitting in traffic on a beautiful day is never fun, but the right car can make all the difference, turning sweltering torture into something more akin to a high-end waiting room (complete with entertainment and massaging seats). Here are 10 great cars to spend some extremely slow-moving quality time in this Memorial Day weekend.
The Kia Sorento got a longer wheelbase, a significantly upgraded interior, and its first turbocharged engine for the 2016 model year. All those changes make it more comfortable and enjoyable, even in a traffic jam, and helped it earn a glowing review from Nicole Wakelin. The 2017 Sorento adds automatic emergency braking to the list of available safety features, with a lineup ranging from the $25,400 base L with a 185-hp 4-cylinder and front-wheel drive to the $43,900 SX Limited V6 with a 290-hp V6 and all-wheel drive. That SX Limited V6 would be the most comfy Sorento for a traffic jam, with heated and ventilated front seats, but a suite of driver-assistance features like smart cruise control, lane-departure and forward-collision warnings, and automatic emergency braking is available to any Sorento other than the base L.
Sure, it looks more like a cop car or a midlife crisis than a quiet cruiser, but despite the overly macho design, the 2016 Dodge Charger packs surprising refinement and comfort. Our very own Chris Wardlaw reviewed a one-step-from-the-bottom SXT trim and noted that the “power-operated, leather-wrapped front seats delivered outstanding comfort and support, the heating and ventilation functions applied to both cushions and backrests.” The Charger grabs attention thanks to an engine lineup ranging from just under 300 hp to a smidge over 700, so you’ll enjoy impressive performance regardless of your car’s trim. When you’re sitting in traffic, though, it will be the full-size sedan’s form and function that earn your admiration.
The Hyundai Elantra has been one of the roomiest, most comfortable compact cars on the market since its 2011 iteration was introduced. Hyundai continues that theme with the Elantra’s redesigned 2017 edition, bringing some welcome changes to its top seller and making the most of its small space with added tech, safety, efficiency, and, of course, comfort. The driver gets an immense amount of legroom (perhaps at the expense of some of the space in the back, but this is a compact sedan). And with the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Elantra’s infotainment potential is a cut above others’ in this segment. These changes are just enough to make sitting in the Elantra more enjoyable than in the likes of the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, or Honda Civic. Don’t get us wrong, these are all great cars in their own right—but when it comes to just sitting and waiting in a tight, compact space, the Elantra makes the most of it.
Toyota introduced the Highlander Hybrid in 2006 as the first 7-passenger hybrid SUV, a segment that has certainly grown crowded today. Automakers from Acura, with the upcoming MDX Sport Hybrid, to Volvo, with the XC90 T8, have their own models aimed at filling consumer demand for a comfortable, fuel-efficient, high-capacity vehicle. Now in its eleventh year on the market, the Highlander Hybrid continues to be one of the best crossovers, at least in terms of comfort. The back seats, often looked down upon by those in the front, are easily the best place to be in the Highlander Hybrid. With rear climate control, side window shades, and reclining seats, there’s little stopping you from napping through that pesky traffic.
Subaru’s trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system has earned some of its vehicles sturdy reputations as great choices for outdoor enthusiasts. But over the last few years, the Legacy sedan has become a strong seller amongst a more-sedate crowd. The Subaru Outback, which shares the Legacy’s platform, retains its off-road capabilities while offering better on-road manners, EyeSight and other safety technologies, and strong value. Chris Wardlaw enjoyed the 1,000 miles he covered in the new Outback, going so far as to call it “the Ultimate Thriving Machine, because that’s what you can do when you own one.” We agree a turbocharged engine might work better for folks driving at altitude, but we’d happily pack an Outback and its sturdy roof rack for a summer trip to the shore.
If you want a vehicle that will ensure your comfort throughout a long drive with lots of company inside and out, a full-size SUV with a flagship “Inscription” trim, a sumptuous Scandinavian interior, and Thor’s hammer headlights sounds like it might be worth a look, no? The new Volvo XC90 has wowed just about everyone who has driven it, and while that wow factor doesn’t come cheap, its top trim does offer one of the most impressive packages of driver-assistance features available in a single vehicle, not to mention a 2-liter inline 4-cylinder that’s both turbocharged and supercharged to produce 400 hp. That top trim offers the most features, but every new version of the XC90 includes collision avoidance with pedestrian and vehicle detection, lane-departure warnings, and road-sign information.
Aside from the ability to literally drive itself on the highway, the Tesla Model S has been filled to the brim with luxury and comfort features that make this full-size electric sedan one of the best vehicles to drive—even at a standstill. It’s incredibly spacious on the inside, as the electric drivetrain allows for additional space where the transmission tunnel usually runs through the cockpit. The Model S also has the three most important features to minimize the suffering of sitting in traffic: comfort, entertainment, and low emissions. On top of all that, the Model S is probably the only fully electric car that wouldn’t be phased by massive amounts of traffic, with a battery life currently leagues above its competition’s. You won’t be sweating quite as hard as you would in, say, a Nissan Leaf or a BMW i3.
Midsize luxury sedans like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi A4 are better known for being driver’s cars than traffic champions, and the 2017 Jaguar XE should be no different. Locking a 340 hp 3.0-liter V6 in holiday traffic is a travesty, for sure, but if you do find yourself stuck in traffic this weekend, the XE will still take good care of you. A $2,600 Technology Package includes a widescreen 10.2-inch touchscreen display and WiFi hotspot capability, not to mention a magnificent 17-speaker Meridian sound system and real-time traffic updates to help keep you informed while you wait for the wheels to start rolling again.
Allegedly, everything is bigger in Texas. Barbecue, football stadiums, and livestock are certainly bigger, but so are the roads. Speed limits are higher (up to 85 mph in certain areas), streets are wider, and the freeways are longer. We weren’t surprised when Nissan announced that the 2016 Nissan Titan XD had won the 2015 Truck of Texas award. Sitting in a new Titan is akin to being in a luxurious, rolling office. Huge, quilted leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and a center console large enough for a 15-inch laptop will help you feel right at home, whether you’re cruising at a healthy 85 mph or crawling along at a snail’s pace.
Children can add a lot to a beautiful summer weekend away, but they’re often even less patient with backed-up traffic than their parents. The reborn Chrysler Pacifica minivan offers twin 10-inch HD touchscreens, one behind each front seat’s headrest, that will allow back-seat passengers to watch movies, play games, or plug in to the Internet through a mobile device. Because Chrysler also designed the new minivan to minimize NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness), the Pacifica should be a quiet, placid highway hauler at speed as well as at a standstill. Offering the first hybrid powertrain available in a minivan, the Pacifica will also get points from greenies, though fuel-economy figures haven’t been released. Following the Odyssey’s lead, Chrysler even put a vacuum in the back of the Pacifica to help keep its class-leading almost-200-cubic-foot interior spic and span, making this an eminently qualified cruiser for weekend getaways.
What car would you choose to drive into holiday-weekend traffic jams?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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Used Kia Sorento
Used Dodge Charger
Used Hyundai Elantra
Used Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Used Subaru Outback
Used Volvo XC90
Used Tesla Model S
Used Jaguar XE
Used Nissan Titan XD
Used Chrysler Pacifica