My lady lives 650 miles away. Most of the time I fly to see her, but over the past 18 months I have put 40,000 miles on my Ford F-150 due to the odd weekends where it’s too expensive to fly, I can’t board my dog, or I want to do a detour and visit my parents in Arkansas.
What do you think is the best vehicle for frequent, long road trips? There has to be come kind of calculus that will help determine a balance between comfort, economy and longevity, but I keep coming back to my F-150. Also, breaking off the relationship with the lady is not an option.
Thanks for the formal greeting, Mr. Steve. Gosh, so many variables to consider, and less than a thousand words to do it in! Let’s get to it.
First of all, she sounds like quite a lady, so congratulations on that. Long-distance relationships are tough enough on the heart without having to be tough on your rear-end, too (God, that sounded like a Preparation H commercial). So what are some of the plushest rides that combine good fuel economy and reliability (and won’t break the bank)?
I don’t know what your budget is, but you sound like a man of at least modest means, so let’s start right in the middle of the pricing stratosphere.
The first car that comes immediately to mind is the Chevrolet Impala in either V6 LT or LTZ trim. I’ve easily coaxed 30-33 mpg out of one on the highway without any Gerdesian effort, and the ride is quite comfortable. You mentioned Arkansas, so it sounds like you’re doing some southern or midwestern hauls across some long, empty stretches. The Impala will eat those miles up a hundred at a time, and the hills and valleys won’t be much of a problem thanks to the 300+ horsepower the big antelope throws down. Plus, you’ll have plenty of room in the trunk for just about anything you need to bring with you, as well as sufficient seating for anybody you need to bring, too. I make no bones about my love for the Impala and its cousins, the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. But it’s the Impala that will do the job at the lowest price.
If you’re into big sedans, why not the Toyota Avalon? I don’t find them to be my cup of tea, but they’re well loved by many, along with its Lexus ES350 stablemate. The Avalon can be found lightly used as a CPO car for not much money, and the ability to cruise comfortably in one isn’t rivaled by many cars — not to mention, fuel economy is often reported to be better than the EPA estimate. I think it’s actually a little bit nicer inside than the ES, and the Toyota holds its value just as well. Naturally, you get the normal Toyota quality, which your author finds to be a tad overstated, but it’s still a consideration if you’re not super-excited about the GM triumvirate.
If you’re looking for something that’s a little bit outside the box, I’d suggest a Volkswagen Passat TDI. Not entirely surprisingly, the prices are dropping through the floor on these right now. A friend of mine (and a TTAC reader) just picked one up for a song, and he uses it to commute from Atlanta into the heart of Mississippi every week, all while getting over 40 mpg. He picked it up with the stated goal of driving it 50,000 miles a year, which isn’t too far off of your annual totals, and he’s very pleased with it so far. It won’t win many 0-60 sprints, but the highway power is what you really want. The TDI delivers that in spades. I’m sure that we’ll have a fair number of the B&B who are afraid of VW’s reliability, but maybe it’s not a bad bet when it’s tallied up with such deep discounts. Also, I don’t give a shit about the environment.
(DISCLAIMER: I did not accept any checks at all for my endorsement of the Volkswagen Passat TDI. In fact, I actually lost quite a bit of money the last time I drove one. Damn Horseshoe Casino.)
So there you have it: three options from three continents. If I had to rank them, I’d probably go Impala, Passat TDI, then Avalon. Not to sound like one of those “Hooray for Everything” auto writers, but the fact is that you’d get three very different, yet very satisfying driving experiences from each of the contenders, and all three are likely to last you well into your golden years with your fair maiden.
Remember, Bark M. is sitting by the phone, ready to give his guaranteed winners in the B1G tournament! Wait a second … whoops. Wrong read. Bark M. is sitting by his iPad, waiting to answer your emails! Fire him off a little somethin’-somethin’ to email@example.com or find him on Twitter @barkm302. You can even send him a picture of the car you’re considering to his Instagram DMs @barkm302st (how’s that for a non-sequitur?).