Top 10 Vehicles to Take to the Beach
Need the perfect companion for a trip to the beach this summer? Our editors put their heads together and came up with a list of vehicles suitable for anything from a day trip to a week-long adventure. Regardless of whether you want to soak up the sun, haul the whole family without draining your bank account or simply hose out the salt and sand at the end of the day, you're sure to find something here that inspires you to stock up the cooler and hit the road.
- Jeep Wrangler: Other vehicles may be newer and more refined, but few vehicles are as well suited for carefree adventures as the Wrangler. Time-tested underpinnings keep the price of admission low, and maximum sun exposure is all but assured in warm weather, thanks to a removable top and, if you choose, zip-out side windows. Should you find some dunes approved for use by off-highway vehicles, rest assured that the Wrangler is among the most capable SUVs money can buy. Backseat space is adequate in the regular-size Wrangler, but if you've got more than an extra passenger and a small cooler to carry, consider the stretched-wheelbase Unlimited model, which offers much more cargo capacity and better ride quality to boot.
- Honda Element: Designed specifically to fit the needs of young outdoor enthusiasts who spend plenty of time near the ocean, the Element's full urethane floor and water-resistant seats make quick cleanups of sandy beach days a cinch, while its 75 cubic feet of cargo capacity provides plenty of room for outdoor equipment. An abundance of headroom and legroom allows all four passengers to stretch out, whatever age they happen to be, while the Element's high roofline and rear privacy glass make it possible to stand up inside the vehicle (with your head poking through the sunroof) to change out of a wetsuit.
- Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe: If you're looking for a less specialized adventure vehicle, either the Toyota Matrix or its twin, the Pontiac Vibe, would be a great choice. Both the cargo floor and the rear seat backs are coated in hard plastic for easy cleaning, and a cargo track system with adjustable tie-downs makes it easy to secure beach equipment. What's more, a fold-flat front-passenger seat and a flip-up rear window allow you to carry longer cargo inside the car. Handy as they are for hauling stuff, the Matrix and Vibe are just as well suited for families on a budget, thanks to their spacious, comfortable backseats.
- Mazda MX-5 Miata: Long the definitive choice for sun-loving driving enthusiasts on a budget, the Miata would be our pick for a day trip to the beach with that special someone. A snug cockpit guarantees that you and your significant other will get up close and personal during the drive, while the car's lively chassis and tight-shifting gearbox will keep you both entertained on winding coastal highways. Those who need a performance boost over the standard Miata can opt for the turbocharged Mazdaspeed version this year. You can raise or lower the top in seconds without getting up from the driver seat, and if you pack sparingly, you'll be able to get all your beach essentials in the small trunk.
- Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible: If your family of four is ready for a top-down day trip, the PT Cruiser Convertible is a stylish, practical and affordable way to go. With more headroom and legroom than any other convertible in its price range, the topless PT assures that no one will be uncomfortable during the ride. There isn't a lot of trunk space, but you'll find room for towels, a cooler and a few beach toys, and the trunk lid's ingenious design allows it to open nearly 180 degrees to simplify the loading process. Although acceleration tends to be barely adequate on lower-line models, you can step up to a Touring model with a 180-horsepower turbocharged engine and still come away with a well-equipped convertible with a mid-$20Ks sticker price.
- Volkswagen Passat Wagon: The Passat Wagon has long impressed us with its upscale design, top-quality furnishings, refined yet entertaining driving demeanor and out-and-out practicality. It may look and feel like a luxury car, but its backseat is roomy and comfortable enough to handle two adults or three children, and its cargo hold can easily handle a cooler, beach chairs, towels and whatever else your family requires. In the past, we always recommended the spirited 1.8T four-cylinder engine to cost-conscious buyers, but for 2004 VW has added an even more frugal power plant to the lineup — a 2.0-liter diesel four (called TDI) that gets 27 mpg in the city and up to 38 mpg on the highway. Available for just $205 more than a comparably 1.8T-equipped model, the TDI Passat is the most fuel-efficient midsize wagon on the market.
- Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer: For families less worried about gas mileage and more concerned about being able to haul groups of five to seven in comfort, the midsize Ford Explorer and its twin, the Mercury Mountaineer, are solid bets. The seats are comfortable and roomy throughout either vehicle, and the optional fold-flat third-row seat can even accommodate a pair of adults on short trips. Cargo capacity is generous as well: With five passengers onboard, you should be able to carry enough supplies for a week at the beach. With a full seven, though, you'll probably need to mount a luggage carrier if you're staying more than a day. If you're taking along a couple of personal watercraft or a small trailer, that's no problem, as these SUVs are rated to tow about 7,000 pounds in V8 form.
- Honda Pilot: There's no question that SUVs are a practical yet stylish mode of beach transportation, but not everyone wants to live with a vehicle that can't break 20 mpg on the highway. The eight-passenger Pilot is a good choice for those who want a more fuel-efficient SUV that doesn't sacrifice passenger room. First and second-row seating is spacious, but the Pilot's third-row seat is smaller than the Explorer's and best left to children. It does, however, have a 60/40-split-folding design, which gives you a little more flexibility when loading up kids and beach supplies. Although the Honda can't tow as much as the Ford, it offers even more cargo capacity.
- Nissan Titan: If several surfboards and/or a travel trailer will be accompanying you to the shore, it would be hard to go wrong with the Nissan Titan. Useful utility features like a spray-in bedliner with a non-slip surface, adjustable tie-downs and a lighted tailgate area make it easy to secure your load in the bed. Meanwhile, a powerful 5.6-liter V8 and a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission ensure that you'll have no difficulty keeping up in highway traffic once the trailer's hitched up. And up in the cab, occupants are treated to spacious accommodations that should keep the whole crew happy.
- Toyota Sienna: Currently the best minivan on the market in our estimation, the Sienna is an excellent choice for families more concerned about convenience than style. An available second-row bench seat can accommodate a trio of child-safety seats and increases the van's capacity from seven to eight people. Additionally, the fold-flat third-row seat has a 60/40-split, allowing owners to load up a mix of passengers and beach equipment. You can add extras like a rear entertainment system and sunshades to keep the troops content, but every Sienna comes with a wide array of storage and cupholders so that you can travel with plenty of snacks and beverages.
Copyright Edmunds.com, Inc. All rights reserved. First published on www.edmunds.com and excerpted with permission.