With the coming of spring, the roads get drier and the driving conditions less precarious as long as you don’t count that 17 year old in the brand new VW Beetle convertible who’s texting and not watching the road. Or their lane. But despite all of that, Spring is a time of rebirth and revitalization so many people use the sunnier skies and Easter Holiday as excuses to drive and visit family.
As we like to road test cars for people who live in the real world and don’t have the last name Kardashian, we try and road test cars up to and around the $30,000 mark that are affordable to most new car buyers. Honestly, if we had our druthers we’d ditch anyone who was related to us and hop into a $300,000 Bentley Continental GT with the navigation system’s destination screen reading “Las Vegas.”
But you also need room for other people, their stuff, your stuff, an assortment of electronic entertainment options so the kids won’t try to kill each other and a soothing and quiet ride in case a miracle happens and everyone falls asleep for a little while. Sure, these cars are great for commutes by yourself but it can be hard going on a road trip with the whole clan being forced to listen to their music and not set the climate control to your preferred setting. What’s a good road trip without some resentful family compromises?
But the surprise here is that while none of the following cars we have road tested are sports cars, they are fun enough to drive that you can enjoy them on a challenging back road. Although that may wake up your sleeping passengers do consider that maybe half of the fun of your road trip will come from making everyone else in the car want to throw up. A just punishment for making you listen to Justin Bieber for half of the trip.
2012 VW Passat TDI
Built in North America at a state of the art manufacturing facility in Tennessee, the 2012 VW Passat was engineered to drive and feel like a German car but offer the room, giant cupholders and trunk space we expect from family sedans. It is also very affordable thanks to low labor costs and the ease of shipping 2012 Passats to dealers thanks to the three railroad lines that go directly by the assembly plant.
Otherwise, it’s fun to drive and gives you 42 miles per gallon highway without giving you any feeling like you are being penalized with sluggish acceleration. Even in a sedan this large, the 2.0 liter 140 horsepower/236 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder turbodiesel keeps you moving better than any Prius can. VW also gives buyers the first two years of maintenance for free and during a long drive through the winding hill country in Tennessee, we found this car to not only be relaxingly smooth riding but that it also offered tremendous steering feel on twisty, narrow back roads. It is the perfect family sedan for road trips.
2012 Honda CR-V
The hot selling Honda CR-V is all new for 2012 and even taking into account the competitive nature of the compact SUV market, it is a winner through and through. First off, models equipped with a revised version of Honda’s all-wheel drive system return 31 miles per gallon highway which is a class best. Also, thanks to one of the classiest exterior design jobs even seen on a vehicle like this the 2012 Honda CR-V has a very high desirability factor. Best of all? Prices for fully equipped models with all-wheel drive max out just around $30,000 making it a screaming deal.
2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv
We have tested lots of vehicles that claim 40 miles per gallon highway and never have we ever seen a vehicle get close to it. Well, this Mazda3 with SkyActiv engine and body lightening technology not only has made this Mazda the most fun compact car on the market but it also helped us snag 39 miles per gallon over a week. We didn’t just drive it on the highway and it was far better than the 21 miles per gallon we saw in a 2012 Elantra-it too was supposed to get 40 miles per gallon highway. Not so much
2012 Ford Flex
This is quite simple. Some people need vehiclers with three rows of seats and the Flex is roomy and cool because it simply is not a minivan. A 2012 Honda Odyssey may be more useful and nearly as fun to drive but many won’t buy it simply because they don’t want the stigma of minivan ownership. So you escape that in the Flex to a certain degree as you are moving from a minivan to a vehicle shaped like the box it was shipped in. Order with the Ecoboost engine and this puppy turns into a family hauling hot rod.
2012 Toyota Prius V
Admittedly, the all new Prius V isn’t going to get the tuner set all excited but it’s truly amazing how Toyota was able to squeeze so much cargo and passenger space into a vehicle that is so easy to maneuver and dare we say it? Fun to drive? Compared to the “regular” 2012 Prius, the V Wagon turns more precisely and handles tarmac irregularities in a much more sporting manner than its smaller sibling thanks to a number of changes to steering system and suspension tuning. It may the a big hybrid wagon but it’s more fun and roomier than most compact SUVs out there.