The chill of winter has finally passed, and the dreary days of spring are soon to follow; summer is nearly upon us, and with it, road trip season. Millions of people will take to the highway as the warm weather beckons, criss-crossing the nation for work and play alike. Which, of course, means spending a lot of time in the car.
But while pretty much any running automobile can pull off a road trip, some certainly make it more enjoyable than others. The right features can turn a boring drive into a relaxing one, or a stressful journey into something a little more tolerable. And figuring out which of those you need is harder than it used to be. Once upon a time, an air conditioner or radio would have been considered all it took to make a ride ideal for long journeys; as time has gone on, however, automakers have begun sticking more and more gizmos and gadgets into new vehicles. The sheer volume of different options you can add on today’s new cars and trucks is enough to knock one flat with a migraine.
So to help you figure out what might help make your next long drive feel shorter, we at Gear Patrol have pulled together a list of some of the features that make road trips a little better, along with the best examples of them found in today’s automotive marketplace.
The Best: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
A few hours in the saddle will leave anyone’s tush feeling worse for wear, no matter how comfy the seat beneath said tuchus is. But a little massage can go a long way to revitalize one’s body and spirit.
No automobile’s built-in seat massagers can come close to the human touch (or even the capabilities of a dedicated massage chair), but the active multicontour front seats in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class come close, offering six different programs — including more than one that replicates a hot stone massage. Given how good these are, we can’t wait to see what the ones in the next S-Class are like.
The Best: Chrysler Pacifica
Whether it’s due to dirt tracked in from hikes or food crumbs scattered haphazardly from high-speed snacking, any car’s interior is liable to wind up gross over the course of a road trip. Sure, you could clean it up at a sketchy truck stop…but wouldn’t it be way nicer to suck those crumblies up anywhere, anytime?
With its 11-foot hose, the Chrysler Pacifica‘s built-in Rigid-sourced Stow ‘N Vac vacuum lets you slurp up a mess anywhere in the cabin without worrying about finding a gas station. Just, y’know, remember to empty the receptacle once in a while.
The Best: Bentley Continental GT
Blasting great tunes is a crucial aspect of any road trip, so having a stereo that can cut through wind noise and deliver crystal-clear music is an easy way to boost the pleasure of a long drive.
High-end stereos are prevalent in options lists across the automotive world, but if money’s no object, there’s none better than the Naim Audio unit found in the Bentley Continental GT. With 2,200 watts of power feeding 18 speakers, it can transform the Conti’s cabin into a de facto concert hall at the push of a button. Plus, the three-way Rotating Display makes turning the radio on and off into a performance all its own.
Advanced Driver Assistance System (a.k.a self-driving tech, or close to it)
Best Example: Cadillac SuperCruise
Even the most die-hard driver sometimes just wants to sit back and let the car take over a little more of the work. Self-driving cars may be years away, but these days, adaptive cruise control systems that can detect vehicles ahead and automatically slow to match their speeds can be found in $20,000 economy cars; more advanced driver assistance systems like Tesla’s Autopilot can also help keep the car centered in its lane if the driver’s attention starts to wander.
But none can match Cadillac’s SuperCruise, which combines hyper-accurate road maps, radar and gaze-monitoring cameras that make sure the driver is watching the road to allow true hands-free driving on limited-access highways across America. It’s only available on the CT6 sedan for now, but later this year, it’ll make its way to more models, like the CT4, CT5 and Escalade.
The Best: Mazda MX-5 Miata
When the weather turns nice, there’s no better way to enjoy it than dropping the top and letting the wind rush in. Most convertibles these days offer power-folding roofs that can open or close in less than half a minute at the push of a button, but even the fanciest of them can’t match the Mazda MX-5 Miata for ease of use.
Not only is its one-handed manual operation quicker than any power top’s hydraulic mechanisms, but it also has zero risk of acting up due to some computer glitch or other unforeseen issue that leaves the roof half-cocked. And if it starts to rain? Well, just drive faster.
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