The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond. ~Edward McDonagh
June 2, 2009 3:05 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have a longstanding dream of driving cross country on the small highways and byways of America. As we inch closer to this reality (we're now fairly firmly looking at doing this in five years, when our son is old enough to remember the trip), we've started doing the financial planning for it. My question to you: What is the best car (type or brand) for a very tall family of three to drive across America in?

We do want to take gas milage into account, but can't imagine that doing the trip in a Prius (for example) would be comfortable in the long run. But, on the flip side, we don't want a huge van or RV either.

Help us plan! What's your pick?
posted by anastasiav to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I'd go with something like a Eurovan or even a Toyota Sienna/Previa.
posted by nitsuj at 3:09 PM on June 2, 2009

I would suggest a class C motor home. Easy to maneuver yet all the comforts needed for a long trip.
posted by Lindalou at 3:16 PM on June 2, 2009

Perhaps a Mazda 5? You could call it a mini-mini van. My family of three has been happy with ours.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:19 PM on June 2, 2009

Honda Element.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:19 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Subaru Outback sounds like a pretty good fit.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:20 PM on June 2, 2009

A 1987 Buick Electra Station Wagon, white with wood paneling. God, I loved that car.
posted by Oktober at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 6', so is my wife, my daughter is 5'11" and my son -- who knows, but at this rate he'll be 6' tall by the time he is 15. So our shopping routine for a new station wagon was basically to drive to a dealership, have my daughter sit in the back seat, and move on. The Subaru Outback and Forester didn't do it, and neither did the wagony Mazda. We ended up with a VW Passat wagon. Comfortable for a tall person in the back seat, and with a manual transmission we average over 30mpg on trips fully loaded with a roof rack full of camping gear. How long it is going to last is an open question (nowhere near as long as the Toyota wagon it replaced is my guess), so that might factor into your cost considerations. We took a long look at the Toyota Matrix -- very comfortable for a tall person front or back. But not a lot of room for the stuff you'll want to bring.
posted by Killick at 3:36 PM on June 2, 2009

Yes the station wagon............
posted by patnok at 3:47 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely look at the Toyota Matrix. It's got amazing head- and legroom, it gets 35mpg, has enough cargo space for 4 large suitcases and then some, and it's quite a bit cheaper than the Passat (if that's a concern).
posted by Rock Steady at 3:49 PM on June 2, 2009

2nd on the Honda Element. I'm 6'1", and I have enormous headroom in my Element. The seats are extremely roomy, the rear seats sit slightly higher than the front (so the folks in the back can still see out the huge windshield).

Also, the Element can hold just about anything, the seats recline and are very comfy to sleep in, and it gets decent gas mileage (I get about ~26mpg on the highway).
posted by doh ray mii at 3:56 PM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

VW has a diesel Jetta "SportWagen". Not sure what the $/mile is on diesel these days, but the raw mileage numbers are way, way better than gas. I have the older Jetta wagon (gas) and as a 6'4" driver, it's fine. Backseat is merely OK. Not sure how much has changed in the new sport version.

I took a family of 4 ~6,000 km cross-country in the Jetta Wagon and it was pretty great, although we were camping so we had a roof rack carrier as well. If you want to have 3 people camp and pack a week's worth of clothes you'll need a minivan-sized unit or a roof rack. We had a Yakima box, a 16 or 18 cu ft I believe. The silver box matches the VW silver paint very well if you're into that sort of thing.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on June 2, 2009

Oh - the other advantage of buying a normal car/station wagon and a roof rack is that once you're done, you can take the box off and go back to having a car. If you buy a minivan or whatever it's always that big regardless of what you're doing.
posted by GuyZero at 4:01 PM on June 2, 2009

We do want to take gas milage into account, but can't imagine that doing the trip in a Prius (for example) would be comfortable in the long run.

I'm not a Prius cheerleader, by any means, and I know it was just your "for example," but... the Prius has a pretty roomy interior. I've ridden in my friend's numerous times ( including a short road trip of about 2 hours in the back seat) and it was surprisingly roomy. I'm average height, but there was plenty of headroom to spare. It might be worth a look.
posted by The Deej at 4:02 PM on June 2, 2009

Having driven a Prius and having driven from Toronto to Vancouver north around the Great Lakes, I would not want to make that drive in that car. And for highway driving where it uses a lot more gas it doesn't have a really great range. The Prius is an in-town car primarily. Also, the back seat is fairly tight.
posted by GuyZero at 4:04 PM on June 2, 2009

A friend and I did an unlimited mileage rental of a mini-van and put about 15,000 km on it... Worst rental customers ever! Anyway, the minivan is what I'd recommend.
posted by glider at 4:40 PM on June 2, 2009

How much gear do you plan to take, and how long do you hope to be traveling? Will you be camping, or strictly staying in hotels?
posted by jon1270 at 5:08 PM on June 2, 2009

I recommend the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

Seriously though, station wagons and crossovers are seriously underrated. Better fuel economy than an SUV or minivan and tons of space. Try a Subaru Forester.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 5:37 PM on June 2, 2009

#1: big enough engine that it doesn't go into a frenzy going through long hilly stretches, but small enough engine that the gas cost doesn't kill you. That means small, light and overpowered.

#2: whatever you choose, rent one for a weekend journey, driving 10 hours a day for two days, to see how it does for your comfort; I've had expensive cars that started hurting an hour in and cheap cars that didn't hurt for six hours or more.

#3: satellite radio subscription and and iPod jack.

#4: consider the weather, and the time of year, to see if four-wheel-drive makes sense, but don't go overboard or the gas mileage and droning of the tires will annoy you on long stretches.

Having said all that: the forester is a pretty good bet.
posted by davejay at 6:10 PM on June 2, 2009

This is obvious. Get a convertible and let the sky be your headroom!
posted by sickinthehead at 6:14 PM on June 2, 2009

We've done a lot of major road trips in our Element and it's fantastic. The back seats are like an old Checker Cab and they recline fully. For the long boring stretches, the rear seat passengers can be really comfortable. If the Element isn't your cup of tea, try to find this feature. It's like having an RV without the absurd gas mileage.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 6:18 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Scion xB, maybe? But judging from this, you'll want to pick up a used version of the original rather than the 2nd generation.
posted by stargell at 6:25 PM on June 2, 2009

1965 VW microbus, of course.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:31 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

A friend and I did an unlimited mileage rental of a mini-van and put about 15,000 km on it

I did the same thing with an extended cab Ford F150, one of those ones with the whole backseat and doors and everything. If you get a model that has the cover for the bed, it's not at all bad for carrying a ton of stuff and it got decent mileage [20?]. Probably not what you're looking for, but it was fun and easy to drive and HUGE inside. I put 6800 miles on it in about 15 days. I think they've changed rental car laws specifically because people do these things. Other suggestions would be a Subaru Outback [nice to drive, nice to be able to reach all your stuff, okay for sleeping in in a pinch] or a Toyota Matric [more comfy than you'd think and great mileage]
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 PM on June 2, 2009

My husband is 6'6" and most models of Hondas and Volvos have enough leg and headroom for him.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:34 PM on June 2, 2009

I own a first gen Scion XB and I love it, but it's underpowered enough that I wouldn't recommend it for 3 big adults plus gear. It does have a phenomenal amount of room. But hell, in 5 years the whole automotive landscape is going to be very different. Gas will probably cost a lot more, may even be scarcer, and there will be many changes that we haven't even thought of yet. 5 years ago, would you have said GM would be bankrupt, Chrysler sold off to FIAT (Fix It Again, Tony!) and Toyota would be Numero Uno (even down 40%!). You might opt for staying home and buying the whole set of 3D viewmasters instead. Just like being there, heh, heh.
posted by davoid at 9:06 PM on June 2, 2009

Trekking in a VW camper of almost any generation is the way to go. The wife, the boy, our dog and I made it from NC to OR and back last summer in our '85 and the wife (then girlfriend) and I did something similar twenty years ago in a '78. Lots of friendly websites and other helpful owners out there for the vw crowd (,, and many others) including rescue lists like and mechanic reviews like

The camper is generally reliable (or relatively easy to fix), gets decent gas mileage, and you can cook and sleep in it too. Nothing like sitting over the front wheels driving across this country.
posted by pappy at 9:09 PM on June 2, 2009

Not clear if you're looking to get the car now or in five years. If the latter, should be some interesting choices available that aren't out now. No specific suggestions, lots of promising ones above, but one thought: try everything that has potential, you might be surprised for good or ill.

I've a friend who's 6' 5" and he was astonished to see how well he fit in a two-seat sports car. Another friend 6' 3" went car shopping, found vast ability-to-fit differences among cars of the same size.
posted by ambient2 at 12:48 AM on June 3, 2009

One bit of advice from a fellow wicked tall person (6'4"): you need to go and sit in any car that you are considering and actually drive it around for awhile. I'm presently driving a 4 door VW rabbit rental car and when I first sat in it I was like "Well this is just too small and won't work at all." But, over the last few days I've really come to enjoy driving it. If you just read the measurements for leg room and head room on the computer for the different models in the specs on a website you aren't necessarily getting a good representation of what it will actually feel like to sit in one for extended periods of time -- sometimes the steering wheel sits somewhere weird and takes your space (get and adjustable steering wheel) and sometimes the seat doesn't seem to go back as far as it seems like it should or takes up all the rear passenger room anyways.

I'd recommend a minivan or wagon myself. I've driven all over in pickups before and if you are camping (especially on 4wd roads) then you would need a truck or SUV but otherwise you don't need that functionality and can get much better mileage in a van or wagon. Personally, I love wagons.
posted by fieldtrip at 4:12 AM on June 3, 2009

#1: big enough engine that it doesn't go into a frenzy going through long hilly stretches, but small enough engine that the gas cost doesn't kill you. That means small, light and overpowered.

Yes, this. I did the cross-country grand tour in a Chevy Tracker (read: little tiny engine). It was NOT happy crossing the Rockies and Sierras. Also, aerodynamics are actually important on a trip like this. When you're the only car out there on the plains and the winds are battering you, more streamlined is better. The Tracker, relatively high with a short wheelbase, was not a star at this.
posted by The Michael The at 4:17 AM on June 3, 2009

For me, this depends on how long you intend to be on the road. If you're talking about a month or summer-long road trip, I'd think that you'd want as much room as possible to be comfortable and have your own space.

I'll probably be the outsider here, but I were doing this today, I'd go for a Chevy Suburban half-ton, with 4 "captains" chairs. You'll scoff initially at the gas mileage, but really, at highway cruising speeds I'm betting its going to get similar mileage with four grownups and gear and A/C on than an overburdened / underpowered 4 or 6 cylinder engine. My family of 6 (6 grown-ups) routinely did 8 to 10 hour trips comfortably in ours, and still got about 650 miles to a 40 gallon tank -- again, not stellar, but the engine wasn't straining the whole way. They've got room galore, and space for your leggy kids in back. If I were doing an extended cross-country trip it would be my first choice. The tough choice is if you need to keep it as your daily driver after that.

If you're thinking of a summertime trip, you'll probably do a substantial number of hours with the A/C on, and trying to cross the rockies more than once with the load requirements I'm guessing you'll have and I'd be thinking 8 cyl all the way.

Suburbans are very roomy, comfortable and powerful, and still fit in every parking garage I've every tried to fit in.

I'm not sure if they are still offered, but it you can stand the smell and sound of a diesel, my Dad's Suburban gets 18/20+ hwy mpg, and has astonishing power for towing.
posted by chocolate_butch at 5:03 AM on June 3, 2009

I have a brother-in-law who is 6'8" and he can sit very comfortably in the back (or the front) seat of my sister's Toyota Avalon. It holds a deceptively large amount of stuff in the back seat and trunk and doesn't get the worst gas mileage, although it isn't great. Plus, it is super-comfy.
posted by Brody's chum at 4:03 PM on June 3, 2009

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