There may not be a more pure form of travel than the road trip. More than any other method of seeing the world, road trips allow us the freedom to go where we want, when we want, without the shackles of an itinerary and departure times. They allow us to truly experience places that those flying overhead or zooming by in a train will never know existed. Road trips allow us to visit towns, eat at restaurants and stay in accommodations we’d never find in a guidebook. And above all, road trips give us one thing, something I believe we all yearn for but rarely experience — a true sense of adventure.
Although a road trip can be taken in any car, I think the right car can not only turn a regular road trip into an incredible road trip, but the right car can also inspire a road trip. With that in mind, I give you my selections for the best road trip cars and where I want to drive them.
1) JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE – AMERICAN WEST
While all of the cars mentioned on this list are meant for once in a lifetime trips, I want the Jeep Grand Cherokee for my every day life. I live in California and not only do I consider the Grand Cherokee the perfect California car, I consider it the perfect adventure vehicle for exploring the American West. Within the span of a few minutes (and much more dramatically within 30 minutes to an hour) life in California can often take you through big cities (including my home city, the most image conscious place on Earth, Los Angeles), up mountains, through deserts and into the snow. For such a place, a car that’s equally as stylish as it is rugged is ideal — and that’s the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Although I’d take this car on a thousand road trips, one of the best would involve starting north of San Francisco to explore the redwood and sequoia forests. From there, I’d make stops in Napa and San Francisco, then open up the huge CommandView sunroof as I cruise down Highway 1, taking my time to stop, stay and camp in the small towns and beautiful parks along the way. Next up would be Los Angeles for a fancy dinner, then onwards through California’s, Nevada’s and Utah’s deserts. I’d then be met by the Rocky Mountains, which I’d follow to Park City for a few days of snowboarding. Then I’d continue north through Wyoming for a few more days of snowboarding in Jackson Hole, and end my trip in the most American place ever, Yellowstone National Park.
2) LAND ROVER DEFENDER – ICELAND
The Land Rover Defender is arguably the most storied (and badass) adventure vehicle of all time. Land Rover began production on the Defender in 1948 and has continuously made the SUV for the past 66 years. In that time, this military style car in its two door and four door forms has reached all corners of the globe. Sadly, this legacy will soon come to an end as Land Rover recently announced they will stop producing the Defender at the end of 2015. For those of us in America, this may not matter much as the Defender was only sold stateside from 1993-1997. So if you want a Defender, you’ll have to buy a refurbished one her in America, or import one from England before the 2015 deadline.
Luckily, my Defender dreams take place in Iceland, a nation with terrain so wild and diverse it’s like a Defender playground. Although I wouldn’t really follow a set route for this road trip, starting with a trip around Iceland’s Ring Road (with countless detours along the way of course) might be the way to get acquainted with the country. From there, I’d head further inland and off road to see what kind of sticky situations I could get in, and out of, with the Defender.
3) VOLKSWAGEN VAN – COSTA RICA & NICARAGUA
Sometimes I want to run away, leave the internet behind and drive through Central America in an old Volkswagen van. I’m probably the ten millionth person to have that fantasy, and for good reason. The idea of living simply and with limited possessions can be alluring in a world ruled by possessions and responsibilities. I envision cruising from the Atlantic to the Pacific and stopping in small towns along the way to eat, surf, drink, relax and sleep — with some yoga and mediation thrown in for good measure.
I’d start in the middle of Costa Rica to get a taste for jungle life, then slowly head up the coast. I’d cross into Nicaragua for secluded beach towns and more lazy siestas, then finish my journey with a trip cross country, ending on the Caribbean coast. From there, I’d leave the van behind and make my way to Little Corn Island.
4) ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH VOLANTE – FRANCE
The Aston Martin Vanquish Volante just might be the sexiest car ever made. It’s sophisticated, it’s stylish and it turns heads wherever it goes. And since a car like this deserves to be driven in a country equally as sophisticated and stylish, I’d take it on an whirlwind road trip through France. Imagine winding country roads, the wind in your hair and a supermodel in the passenger seat (come on, let a guy can dream for a minute).
For this summer journey, I’d start in Paris and head west to the country’s rugged Atlantic coast to tour the seaside villages of Brittany. From there, it would be onwards to the rolling vineyards of Bordeaux then through the countryside and into the French Alps. Next up, I’d head to a place the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante would feel most at home, the South of France, for stops in Saint-Tropez and Cannes. Finally, I’d end my trip in Monaco, where even the billionaires would look twice as I rolled through town.
5) PIECE OF CRAP (DOESN’T MATTER) – MONGOL RALLY
Drastically different from my number five road trip fantasy, I want to drive a total piece of crap in the Mongol Rally. Driving a piece of crap car isn’t just my preference, “The Rally’s rules have traditionally stipulated that a participating car must ‘generally be considered to be crap.‘” The most unconventional rally in the world, the Mongol Rally doesn’t award anything to the winner, it’s simply all about the adventure for the participants and raising funds for the participant’s charity of choice. When choosing a vehicle, two rally rules to follow are that it must be older than 10 years and have an engine displacement no greater than 1200 cc.
Keeping that in mind, my clunker of a car and I would start in London and be tasked with driving 8,000-10,000 miles to Mongolia (depending on the route). There are a variety of different routes to take, some which take you south through Turkey and Iran, and some which take you north through Russia and a variety of central Asia’s “stan” countries. Whichever way I took, it’d be one hell of an unforgettable adventure.
6) ICON FJ40 – AUSTRALIA
For those unfamiliar with the world’s best SUVs, this may just look like an old Jeep Wrangler. That however, is certainly not the case. This is an Icon, both figuratively and literally — the Icon FJ40 to be exact. Icon makes the FJ in four configurations, all of which are made to order using genuine pre-1976 Toyota FJ frames. On top of that frame, Icon replaces the body, engine, drivetrain, wiring, seats, suspension and steering with modern components, retaining the vintage look and feel but seriously stepping up the performance. This car isn’t just built for off-roading, it’s build for super off-roading and comes with a Teflon-polyester powder coat paint job (which means you need to try really hard to scratch it). Icons don’t come cheap however, a new FJ40 will cost you over $120,000.
For my Icon FJ journey, I’d take on a cross-continent road trip of Australia. My trip would begin in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, not far from Darwin. From there I’d head south through the unforgiving Australian outback, making stops at Ayers Rock and perhaps #5 on this list, then I’d continue onwards through South Australia. Finally, I’d reach and hug the coast, pass through Adelaide and take the car ferry over to explore Kangaroo Island.
7) PORSHE SPEEDSTER – ITALY
Do I even need to explain this one? The most classic Porsche there is + touring the Italian country side = one of the best road tips ever. Also, what functioning human male doesn’t dream about driving a vintage sports car in Italy!
I’d start my trip by leisurely winding my way through the lakes of Northern Italy, then head south for stops in Bologna and an extended stay in Tuscany. From there, I’d stop over in Rome and continue my journey south. The real reason to take this road trip would be for the final leg. After passing through Naples, I’d ride along the roller coaster roads of the Amalfi Coast where sheer cliffs meet the sea and colorful villages cling to the mountains. To relax in style after a long drive, I’d stop in Positano for another stay at Il San Pietro. I would not set a return date.
8) MERCEDES G WAGEN – NAMIBIA/BOTSWANA/ZIMBABWE
When I talk about the Mercedes G Wagen (officially known at the G500 or G550), I’m not talking about the murdered out kind you see wannabe celebrities driving on the streets of LA that cost over $115,000. I’m talking about an old one, one that’s traveled thousands of miles and one that’s actually been used for the purpose for which it was built, traversing the world’s most intense terrain — not traversing the traffic on Sunset Boulevard.
The addition of the G Wagen to the list was inspired by Gunther Holtorf, a 75-year-old German who has been continuously driving his G Wagen all over the world since 1989 and has racked up over 500,000 miles (he ships it from island to island or continent to continent). Since Gunther and his wife set out on their jounrey with the intention of taking an 18-month trip through Africa, that’s where I’d like to start by my own G Wagen adventure. I’d begin my journey at Namibia’s arid Onguma Private Game Reserve (perhaps with a stay at The Lodge, #3 on this list). From there I’d make my way through the Namibian wilderness, through Botswana, into Zimbabwe and finally arrive at Victoria Falls for a dip in Devil’s Pool.
9) AEV JEEP WRANGLER BRUTE FILSON EDITION – MAINE & NOVA SCOTIA
This truck is awesome. There’s no better way to describe it. It’s also a double custom vehicle. Jeep does not make a pickup version of the Wrangler, but American Expedition Vehicles does by taking Wranglers and completely overhauling and customizing them. To make it even better, Filson (a company which has been making high quality, American made outdoor clothing and gear since 1897) has teamed up with AEV to create their own extra luxurious Filson edition of the Brute.
With its 475 horsepower and 6.4 liter Hemi V8, Filson says the vehicle is “built for off-the-Google-map conditions.” For my ride, I’d start by winding my way along the Maine coast, which National Geographic ranks as the number two most scenic costal drive in the world. But what ranks as number one? Where I’d head next. From Maine, I’d cross into Canada and make my way to Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, National Geographic’s number one most scenic costal drive in the world. Here I’d stop in small fishing villages, go fishing and just generally meander for days.
10) MERCEDES 2025 ENER-G-FORCE (CONCEPT) – ATACAMA TO PATAGONIA
Although Mercedes says that this concept vehicle is currently, “pure rendered science fiction,” the Enger-G-Force may be the type of car we explore the world in in the not too distant future. It also may one day replace the G Wagen (seen above in #8). The Ener-G-Force is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell (fed by recycled water stored in tanks on the roof) and four in-wheel electric motors. These clean power sources will give you a range of 500 miles, all without emitting a single emission. There’s even a camera mounted on the roof which monitors the approaching terrain and adjusts the suspension for maximum traction and comfort.
Although the vehicle is hypothetical, the route I’d take with it is not. After starting my trip by traversing Chile’s unforgiving Atamca Desert, I’d then head south and cross between Chile and Argentina to experience Patagonia in both countries. As some of the most unspoiled wilderness left on the planet, it would only be fitting to drive a car with zero emissions (well, that and there are no gas stations for hundreds of miles).