The 4th of July has passed once more, and if you’re anything like us, you spent a good portion of the holiday grilling, swimming, and taking care not to lose a finger while shooting off those Roman candles. Then, waking the next day in a foggy state, you climbed into your car and began thinking about all the features that would make your sweltering drive back home a bit more pleasant. Some ice-cold A/C for sure, but also maybe some sunshades or, if you’re anything like one of our test drivers, ventilated seats.
Decades ago, an exciting new car was one that offered a big engine or all-wheel drive or maybe a stereo capable of playing MP3 CDs. Today, the auto market has become so competitive that manufacturers find themselves competing for the upper hand through more and more specialized features. Outside of the ever-more-all-encompassing infotainment screen, the features that most capture our attention are, perhaps coincidentally, the ones most useful during summer. From multi-zone air conditioning to refrigerated cupholders, here are some of our favorite features for the hot summer months.
When it comes to summertime comfort features, it’s easy to say that Ventilated Seats are a CarGurus favorite. Once you experience the relief air-conditioned seats can bring you, it’s hard to go back. They are one of the key features our reviewer Chris Wardlaw looks for in his Test Drive Reviews–such is their importance, in fact, that their presence or absence can make or break the review. For example, in the recent 2016 Ford Edge Test Drive Review, he notes that although the Edge’s seats aren’t very good at holding him still, “They sure are comfortable in all other aspects. Plus I love that they’ve got synthetic suede inserts, yet they still have seat ventilation for hot sweaty summer days.” But who can’t see the appeal of having air conditioning reach every inch of your body? It’s guaranteed to be one of the quickest ways to cool off in the summer and a must-have for anyone driving in hot and humid conditions.
We chose the Jeep Wrangler as one of this summer’s American All-Stars, and a big reason was its removable top, which allows you to use it as one big outdoor speaker system (and, you know, the off-roading stuff, too). However, while the Jeep is capable of providing some outdoor tunes, certain sacrifices need to be made in order to do so. Primarily, you have to commit to driving around without a roof. The Jeep Patriot offers its own set of Exterior Speakers built into the liftgate, and in the 2017 Honda Ridgeline, a set of six “exciters”—basically cone-less speakers—provides outdoor tunes in any weather. Traditional speakers wouldn’t have stood up to the abuses typical of a truck bed, but the Ridgeline’s system is waterproof and durable. Plug a television into the bed’s 400-watt power inverter and you can turn the new Ridgeline into a veritable moving movie theater.
Regardless of which summer activities you prefer, spending time in the hot outdoors will make you thirsty. A number of automakers have offered refrigerated storage, but if you’ve got a crew of hot, thirsty folks, you’ll want to pack a vehicle that has Drainable Storage with ice and frosty beverages. After all, you don’t want your cooler to have to fight for room in your pickup bed with your summer toys–so two very different automakers have developed solutions. These automakers are Ram and Honda; Ram’s offers its RamBox, while Honda hides a trunk under the Ridgeline’s bed. The Ridgeline and its lockable in-bed trunk arrived for the 2006 model year, offering secure stowage under the bed floor. The RamBox arrived as a storage feature built into each side of the 2009 Ram pickup’s bed, shortly before Ram became its own brand, and it’s now available on the Ram 1500, as well as Ram’s heavier-duty pickup trucks.
We love top-down summer driving so much we already published a list of our favorite new convertibles. But folks who like to feel wind in their hair have other options, thanks to the recent resurgence of Targa Tops. Porsche trademarked the term when it debuted a new trim of its legendary 911 in 1966 with a removable roof panel and rear window and a protective Targa roof bar (named after the Targa Florio, a Sicilian endurance race). Porsche’s 1996 911 Targa got a retractable glass top, but the 2014 version returned to classic form with a push-button motorized system that hides a fabric roof panel below the wraparound rear window. And if the 911’s too much, Mazda introduced the 2017 MX-5 RF at this year’s New York Auto Show, which features a retractable hardtop that hides a roof panel under the rear windshield in Targa fashion and looks even better than the convertible.
Anyone in a car in the summertime will likely appreciate having the option to raise Integrated Sunshades to provide a little relief from the midday sun. And anyone who puts small children or furry friends in their car in the summertime should think of sunshades as a safety precaution as well as a comfort feature. Sunshades will not make it safe to leave a child or a pet in a closed car in the sun, but they should help reduce the speed at which the interior heats up, and they should also reduce the risk of skin damage from ultraviolet light, some types of which do penetrate car glass. Sunshades are available as a built-in feature for many new cars these days, including Volvo’s flagship XC90 and a number of Audis and Mercedes-Benzes. Happily, auto accessory companies offer a huge range of sunshades that can be purchased independently, and many of them cost no more than $12 each.
Many car fans are sick of the Toyota Prius. Its distinctive look, its lack of any real power, and the self-righteousness of some owners can make the Prius a tough car to love. But the Prius family, which includes the c and v versions as well as the Plug-in, has sold 5.7 million units worldwide and won a number of awards around the world since its 1997 debut in Japan, so it must have something going on, right? The 2010 model year Prius introduced an optional Solar-Powered Ventilation system, which uses a small fan to pump air from the outdoors into the car to reduce the difference between the car’s interior temperature and that outside. Many find the size of the solar panel required to spin a small fan surprisingly large, but we appreciate how clearly that illustrates the power of an internal combustion engine, not to mention that it makes getting into a car that’s been sitting all day in a sunny parking lot much less hazardous. Why isn’t this feature available on more cars?
It’s three in the afternoon, you’re driving down the road, and the sun is beating down on the driver’s side of the car with the fury of 10,000 summer campfires. In times like this, there are a few options. You can sit idly and sweat it out. You can roll down your window, get a nice breeze, hang your elbow out, and risk a weirdly shaped sunburn. Or you could crank up the A/C and enjoy a refreshing blast of chilly air while your passengers freeze on the shady side of the car. Of course, if you had a vehicle with Multi-Zone Climate Control, you wouldn’t have to risk alienating your passengers just to keep cool. Multi-zone is becoming more and more popular, and now cars like the Volvo XC90 and Chrysler Pacifica offer it for the driver, front passenger, and all the kids in back. Multi-zone climate control isn’t a feature limited to summer use, either: While you’re comfortable sitting in a 65-degree driver’s seat this winter, your passenger can feel free to crank it up to 80.
Spray-Out Interiors are among the most useful features for a summertime car. Considering how active people tend to be during the summer, interior cleanliness is often overlooked. And whether you’re cycling, kayaking, or doing any other summertime sport or activity, wouldn’t you want to have an easy and convenient way to thoroughly clean your vehicle afterwards? The quintessential example of these easy-clean hose-out interiors is the urethane floors found in the Honda Element. The Element had perfected this feature before it was discontinued in 2011, but other activity-focused vehicles, like the Jeep Wrangler, have followed suit and even added drain plugs in the floor.
Is there anything better than a cool drink to find relief from the oppressive summer heat? Keeping your iced beverage cool can be quite a challenge when the thermometer rises. Now, with the addition of Cooled Cup Holders, you no longer have to let that iced beverage warm uncontrollably as you drive. For a while now, super-luxury executive cars and livery vehicles have come equipped with their own built-in refrigerated beverage coolers, like the Bentley Mulsanne’s $10,000 optional refrigerator, which keep the champagne cold. Cooled cupholders have become a more reasonable and affordable approach to this problem. At one point found in only the highest of high-end luxury vehicles, like the Cadillac Escalade Platinum Edition and Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this feature is slowly trickling down toward the more affordable end of the luxury world.
Last fall, we discovered a great car is more than just the sum of its parts. Sure, the features we’ve listed are wonderful to have on their own, but the best car for any day in any season is a True Driver’s Car. Targa tops, ventilated seats, and integrated sunshades are great options, but ask any true gearhead what he or she wants on a bright summer day, and the answer will be the same: an old-school driver’s car. In a couple of weeks, we’ll head out for the annual NEMPA Ragtop Ramble and Crustacean Crawl, where we’ve tested and enjoyed some of the best driver’s cars on the planet for the past few years. Whether it’s a Volkswagen GTI, a Ford Mustang, a Mazda Miata, or something completely different, we hope you’ll come by to find out which car we’d pick first for a summer drive.
What feature do you consider vital for summer driving?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
Shopping for a summer ride?
Bring along CarGurus’ mobile app to help check prices, find good deals, and research cars on your smartphone.