I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Raphael Orlove

Justin’s son will be heading off to college soon. He is not looking to buy his kid a college car but rather get himself something big and fast that can comfortably handle the five-hour round trip. It needs to seat four and accommodate a dog crate. What car should he buy?

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(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario -

My son will be heading off to college in the Fall. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive there almost exclusively on the highway. No, I don’t want a car for him. I would like The Ultimate Road Trip Vehicle for me to use when I visit him.

It has to be comfortable for me and three adults plus my dog crate. I may regularly be traveling 20 mph over the speed limit. I’m imagining something subtle that can fly under the radar. Maybe a sleeper! It needs to be big enough to carry my son’s crap to school. It should be reliable enough to get it through 8 years of college trips in a wide variety of weather conditions. I would also like it to be able to get out of its own way. Extra credit for 400+ hp. I’m imagining getting up in the morning. driving to visit my son, taking him out to lunch, and turning around and driving home - all in one day.

I have up to $60,000 to spend.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $60,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Wants: Comfy, fast, spacious

Doesn’t want: Anything that’s been tainted by Elon Musk.

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Perfect For The Autobahn In The…Midwest?

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Image: Autotrader.com

Justin, while we certainly can’t condone exceeding the speed limit by 20 miles an hour, that doesn’t mean we can’t suggest the right car to accomplish that. If you are going to be driving something fast for long highway stretches you need a brand that engineers cars for Germany’s autobahn. If you are traveling with up to three additional adults and a decent-size dog, you probably need a van or SUV of some sort.

This brings me to the Mercedes-Benz GLS 63 AMG. The GLS-Class is a “limousine” that sits a bit higher and has all-wheel-drive. It will seat seven, or in your case four, and have plenty of room for the pooch and luggage with the third row folded. By stepping up to the 63 AMG trim you get a 5.5 liter twin-turbo V8 cranking out 577 horsepower. It is fast, but it is also thirsty, though you don’t seem too concerned about multiple fuel stops along the journey.

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There aren’t many GLS 63s at this price point but this one at a regional Ford dealer looks the part of a sleeper. If you don’t want to an AMG Mercedes with 60,000 miles and no warranty, the GLS 550 would be plenty quick, and you can find those with lower miles and some CPO coverage as well.

Expert 2: Adam Ismail - Mmmmm, Lunch

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Autotrader.com
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Justin, upon reading your scenario, I initially kept shouting “wagon” into my computer monitor, in customary Jalop fashion. At first, I thought I found the perfect solution: A 2018 Jaguar XF S Sportbrake, going for $49,900. Trouble is, I soon realized the XF probably wouldn’t comfortably accommodate the four humans and one dog.

So, I went back to the drawing board (in this case, Autotrader). And what I found was a 2017 BMW X5 M, priced a hair under your budget with about 37,000 miles clocked. You’ll see it qualifies for the extra credit you offered to vehicles with more than 400 horsepower — and by quite a margin. You’re looking at a 567 HP twin-turbocharged V8 routed to all four wheels through an eight-speed auto. Considering you didn’t broach the topic of fuel efficiency in your writing, I’m going to assume you’re prepared to pay the price for all that muscle.

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As it happens, there’s a number of one-owner, no-accident 2017 X5 M examples around Chicago going between $50,000 and $60,000, with the differentiating factor appearing to be down to mileage. Personally, I’m in love with the white exterior/red-leather interior of the one linked above, but take a gander for yourself. Any of them would be a solid choice for a five-hour round trip plus lunch.

Expert 3: José Rodríguez Jr. - The King Of The Road

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Volvo
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Why, yes, Adam. The customary Jalop “wagon” attack is the right answer here! Justin mentioned The Ultimate Road Trip Vehicle, which conjures the wagon. There can only be one ultimate road tripper and it’s the Volvo V90 for sure. Justin also mentioned that he’ll need something that can be driven in different weather conditions, so I’m going to recommend the AWD Volvo V90 Cross Country. It starts at $54,900 for a 2021 model, so it should slot within budget.

The V90CC is like the beloved XC70 of yore but better. It’s a roomy longroof with ample space for passengers and a rear compartment for the doggo to come along in its own comfortably sheltered space.

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Best of all, the V90CC avoids the pitfalls of SUVs which trade size and height for road comfort. A well-appointed wagon is the ultimate road trip car because it’s better-planted and sits low and cuts through headwinds without ruckus. It’s also more fuel-efficient than an SUV. Volvo claims up to 30 miles per gallon. And while it may not be as fast as the performance SUVs, the T6 engine’s 316 horses will propel the V90CC at a good clip.

Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky - Be The Master Of The Road

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Hemmings
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Oh, Justin. Boy are you in luck. You’re in luck because you’ve asked a question that, rarely for questions, has an obvious, clear and wonderful answer. You want the Ultimate Road Trip Car? That exists, and it was called the Buick Roadmaster Wagon.

It’s almost uncanny how well this 1995 Roadmaster Wagon meets your every need. You need to sit four adults in comfort for hours? No problem, even if a couple of them bring friends. This wonderful, glorious land-whale is like a living room on wheels, and even better, this one is like a living room with a skylight, because this Roadmaster has the coveted “Vista Roof” option.

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Room for a dog crate in the back? Hell yeah, there is, for multiple dog crates if you decide to take up dog collecting. And if you feel like shoving humans back there, there’s even a flip-up third row seat.

Illustration for article titled I'm Looking For An Ultimate Road-Trip Car To Visit My Kid At College. What Should I Buy?
Photo: Hemmings
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You want a sleeper? Honk-shoo, motherlover, because this thing is a wood-paneled station wagon. Pretty much the antithesis of the cop-eye-bait red sports car.

Even better, though, this Master of Roads has a 5.7-liter V8 under the hood — an LT1 engine — and it made around 300 horsepower from the factory. But if you want 400 or more, much more, the LT1 may be one of the easiest and most accessible platforms in America to get crazy power from.

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Look, this Buick here is clean and shockingly perfect-looking and under $15 grand. You have $60 large to play with, so why not set aside, oh, $10,000 and take it to almost any performance shop in the Midwest and just tell them how much power you want it to have when you drive it away? I have a feeling 400+ would be the absolute minimum, here.

Sure, gas mileage is fairly prehistoric, but I didn’t get the sense that matters too much to you.

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You want sofa-grade comfort, speed, under-the-radar looks, gobs of room inside? This is it, brother. So much cooler than any boring-ass SUV no matter what badge it carries.

Embrace your dadhood. Take that kid of yours to college in an oak-colored blur of speed and La-Z-Boy-level ease.

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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

DISCUSSION

anecdataislife
Fe2O3 is character

As I was reading the request, I think my expression slowly changed to this:

Wants to buy a car specifically for repeatedly visiting his kid who is away at college. I love my dad and my family and I also love lunch.. but I really loved having my independence and SPACE when I went away to college. Eight years of college trips?! Cut the cord man.

regularly be traveling 20 mph over the speed limit... 400+ hp... anything that’s been tainted by Elon Musk. Just oof.

If we have to pick a car for this person, the Roadmaster and the Volvo (in that order) seem like great picks. Nice job Jason and Jose!