Chevy Cruze, Toyota Prius among AAA's top road trip cars

(June 16, 2011) ORLANDO, Fla. (PRNewswire-USNewswire) — American drivers love to spend their vacations hitting the open road. AAA anticipated nine out of 10 travelers over the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend took a road trip as opposed to traveling by plane, train or other mode of transportation.

For those in the market for a new vehicle that they hope to log plenty of miles in while traveling, AAA has released its top vehicle picks for road trips.

"Since the invention of the automobile, Americans have enjoyed taking road trips. From wood-paneled station wagons to oversized conversion vans, most Americans have grown up taking road trips with their family and friends," said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair, Buying Services and Consumer Information.

"Today's American road trips come in many different forms: family vacations, man-cations, girlfriend getaways, romantic excursions and more. And the ideal vehicle for a road trip can come in as many different forms depending on where you want the road to take you and who will be joining you for the ride," said Nielsen.

To assist travelers seeking the ideal vehicle for their road trip, AAA Auto Buying experts developed a list of its top picks for road trips taking into consideration a wide variety of factors such as interior comfort, cargo size, passenger room and comfort, fuel economy, safety, vehicle performance and handling as well as other factors.

AAA's top vehicle picks for road trips highlight vehicles in six categories to offer options for a variety of consumers at every price point. The 2011 top vehicle picks for road trips include:

Small Cars

Chevrolet Cruze Eco — From the Cavalier to the Cobalt to the Cruze, each generation of compact Chevrolet vehicles has been an improvement from the previous, and the Cruze is no exception. AAA Auto Buying experts tested the "Eco" version with a six-speed manual transmission, which is the non-hybrid gasoline fuel economy leader in its size category.

It also received a five-star overall rating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA's) more stringent new crash test program. AAA found the Cruze Eco to be a good value with impressive fuel economy, making it a smart pick for road trip lovers on a budget. For those looking to take more than two on their road trip, the Cruze lacks rear cup holders and a center armrest, and the rear seat may be cramped for tall passengers. The TrueCar national average selling price of the Chevrolet Cruze "Eco" is $18,837, 1.8 percent (or $338) less than the MSRP.

Ford Focus — A definite improvement over the previous version, the new 2012 Ford Focus drives very nicely with above average ride and handling. Fuel economy and engine performance also are very good and highway cruising is impressively quiet for the small car field, making it a top pick for road trips. As with other cars in the category, it's ideal for two travelers as the backseat can be a bit cramped. The TrueCar national average selling price of the 2012 Ford Focus is $16,896, 2.3 percent (or $399) less than the MSRP. 

Kia Soul — For those looking to express themselves a bit more while on the road, AAA Auto Buying experts like the funky looks of the Kia Soul and its practicality, as well. Reviewers found little to fault with the Soul, which offers a 10-year/100,000 mile warranty, 30-mpg fuel economy and is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Soul also received a five-star crash test rating from NHTSA. The TrueCar national average selling price of the Kia Soul is $16,759, 2.5 percent (or $431) less than the MSRP.

Medium Cars

Ford Fusion — The Ford Fusion is a well-rounded vehicle. Its engine performance, ride and handling are all very good, and the hybrid version can produce exceptional fuel economy. As an added bonus, all-wheel drive is an option, which should make the car more appealing for those who enjoy winter-time road trips in certain parts of the country.

The downside found by AAA Auto Buying experts is the four-cylinder engine could be more refined. The TrueCar national average selling price of the Ford Fusion is $18,821, currently selling for 8.8 percent (or $1,824) less than the MSRP.

Toyota Prius — The Toyota Prius is a road trip top pick because it's roomy, comfortable and economical. The hatchback design makes for exceptional flexibility, as well. The hybrid drivetrain sips fuel, and with careful driving, it can push fuel economy well past 50 mpg.

However, for those who love engaging and sporty vehicles for their road trips, the Prius may not be the right choice. It's a secure and predictable ride, but not engaging to drive. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Toyota Prius is $24,876, which is 2.5 percent (or $596) above the MSRP. Increase demand due to higher gas prices and lowered supply of the Prius make it the only vehicle on AAA's list currently to be selling for more than its MSRP, according to TrueCar pricing information.

Hyundai Sonata — AAA Auto Buying experts found the Hyundai Sonata to be an excellent performer from any perspective. The ride is comfortable and controlled, the handling is highly predictable and the four-cylinder engine delivers both good performance and good fuel economy.

For those planning a road trip with taller passengers in the back seat, the swooping roof cuts into the rear seat head room as well as rear visibility. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Hyundai Sonata is $20,572, 2.7 percent (or $573) less than the MSRP.

Large Cars

Toyota Camry/Avalon — These cars share a platform and a V-6 engine. The Camry also offers four-cylinder power, which should be sufficient for most drivers. The cabins are roomy with the Avalon offering exceptional rear seat comfort, good for those taking multiple passengers on a road trip. Fuel economy with the V-6 when on the open road is surprisingly good.

While both have solid handling, neither car is engaging to drive for travelers seeking a little extra from their driving experience. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Toyota Camry is $20,668, 6.1 percent (or $1,337) less than the MSRP.

Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger — Much improved for 2011, the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger (built on the same platform) offer a surprising amount of room, a comfortable and well-controlled ride and good handling. Interior treatments are noticeably upgraded, as well. The new 3.6-liter V-6 engine provides adequate power and reasonable fuel economy.

However, AAA Auto Buying experts report rear visibility is still an issue though forward visibility for overhead traffic lights has been improved from previous model years. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Dodge Charger is $24,803, 5.4 percent (or $1,417) less than the MSRP.

Infiniti G37 — AAA Auto Buying Experts agree the Infinity G37 is one of the most engaging driving experiences with sharp handling and a powerful 328-horsepower V-6. It also comes loaded with standard features and excellent safety ratings. For road trippers, the interior is a bit snug and the ride might be too firm for some depending on their personal preference and road surface conditions. The TrueCar national average selling price of the Infiniti G37 is $33,894, which is 7.6 percent (or $2,801) less than the MSRP.


Honda Odyssey — The Honda Odyssey is big, but the driver does not have to put up with an unwieldy vehicle as its handling is surprisingly good. As for space, this minivan can carry a large family with ease. Optional split-screen entertainment also can keep rear seat passengers entertained during long trips. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Honda Odyssey is $30,777, three percent (or $953) less than MSRP.

Toyota Sienna — Big, comfortable and inviting, the Toyota Sienna has many features to put it on the top picks for road trips list. The ride is comfortable and quiet while the V-6 engine performs impressively. AAA Auto Buying experts reported that the Sienna's handling is not the best in the class and the interior is not as polished as some road trip fans may prefer. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Toyota Sienna is $24,209, 6.4 percent (or $1,661) less than MSRP.

Chrysler Town & Country — Much improved with a mid-cycle freshening, the Chrysler Town & Country comes with a standard array of useful safety features including a backup camera and cross traffic and blind spot alerts.

The Stow 'n' Go seats are unparalleled for convenience and the ride and handling are quite good in the new model. The Town & Country can be a great pick for those traveling with children, however the second row seats still are not very adult friendly. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Town & Country is $28,696, 7.7 percent (or $2,399) less than the MSRP.


Dodge Durango — The new platform for the Dodge Durango, which it shares with the Jeep Grand Cherokee, is very good. Its ride and handling are well above average, and the new 3.6-liter V-6 is more than capable of delivering power when needed.

Rear seat room is up to the challenge of handling six-foot passengers. The main drawback to the Durango is its below-class-average fuel economy. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Dodge Durango is $27,347, nine percent (or $2,698) less than MSRP.

Subaru Forester — Easy to drive, comfortable and budget friendly (at least in its basic, though still well-equipped trim levels) the Forester is ideal for longer trips. Its ride and handling are good, and the base engine performance is more than sufficient for family use. The only downside is its fuel economy is average for the vehicle category. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Subaru Forester is $21,513, 5.3 percent (or $1,207) less than MSRP.

Toyota RAV4 — Good ride, good handling and good room make the Toyota RAV4 an excellent extended drive vehicle. The V-6 is much more powerful than the four-cylinder motor, yet fuel economy seems not to suffer much with the upgrade.

One downside noted by AAA Auto Buying experts is the location of the rear door hinge at the side, rather than the top, which can complicate access to the cargo area. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Toyota RAV4 is $22,150, 4.9 percent (or $1,135) less than MSRP.

"Fun" Cars

Porsche Boxster/Cayman — There are few cars that offer a better blend of handling and engine performance. The Porsche Boxster and Cayman are not the fastest, but they are quick enough to be thoroughly entertaining on a road trip—especially those that might include some winding roads. As with most of the "fun" picks, there is only room for two, and the Porsches' split trunks limit packing options. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Porsche Boxster is $47,022, 4.1 percent (or $2,028) less than MSRP.

Chevrolet Corvette — Great handling and power are the highlights of the Chevrolet Corvette that can make it a fun car for a road trip. As with other sports cars, travelers will need to pack light and leave the kids at home for road trips in this American classic. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Chevrolet Corvette is $45,156, 9.7 percent (or $4,839) less than the MSRP.

Volkswagen GTI — The Volkswagen GTI may be the best overall compromise in the "fun-to-drive" category. It is roomy enough to be practical, while the ride is surprisingly supple considering its handling. The interior is nicely designed and put together. While a good compromise of room and fun, the back seat is still a tight fit for adults if taking a longer road trip. The TrueCar national average selling price for the Volkswagen GTI is $26,187, 5.3 percent (or $1,478) less than MSRP.

AAA's top picks are selected by its AAA Auto Buying experts who test drive and evaluate hundreds of vehicles each year.