Summer is here. School is out, the beaches are full, ice cream is being eaten by the gallon and road-trip vacations are in full swing.
While most of us still have to work, there is a spirit of fun and frivolity in the air often absent during long winter nights and rain-filled spring days. Summer equals fun.
For many, summer also means pulling the collector car or convertible out of storage and hitting the local cruise-ins. This writer grew up just north of Boston and fondly remembers seeing vintage cars on the road noisily stretching their legs on the winding streets lining the New England coast. Cinnamon brings Christmas to mind, and pumpkin pie summons memories of the Thanksgiving table. For some of us, the smell of fuel and exhaust mixing with aroma of freshly cut grass and blooming wildflowers is just as evocative, taking us back to the first day of summer vacation.
Cars and summer just go together. Some vehicle owners unleash muscle cars from winter hibernation, and others hit the interstate in SUVs loaded with family members and enough luggage for six months.
It’s time to celebrate the beloved cars of summer, and there are three types to consider: the weekend cruiser, the convertible and the family-friendly road-trip hauler.
The Weekend Cruiser
It isn’t hard to come up with a long list of viable weekend cruisers, and historic pony cars are certainly near the top of the list. Whether you fancy the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro or the Dodge Challenger and Charger, very few cars provide the curb appeal and fun factor of the celebrated American muscle cars.
Pony cars have been around since the 1960s, and thanks to their long production run, there are plenty of examples available for almost every budget and need. Collectors will want to investigate the early models with thorough restorations, but there are examples from almost every era that are attractive, operable and relatively affordable. If all you want is a fun car for occasional cruising, a 10-year-old pony car with relatively low miles can get you out to the local car shows for less than 10,000.
Japanese performance cars have long been held in high regard, and the Toyota Supra, Mazda RX-7 and Nissan Z are three occupying many wish lists. Prices for first-generation models are relatively inexpensive, even for clean vehicles that are mechanically sound, but expect to shell out some cash for the mid-’90s versions. A turbo Toyota Supra from this era can easily cost $50,000.
The Summer Convertible
We’re pretty sure the universal symbol for summer is the convertible car. Whether you envision a wood-clad 1946 Chrysler Town & Country or a late-model Mazda MX-5 Miata, the dog days of summer are all about retracting the soft top and rolling out to your favorite ice cream parlor. The beauty of a convertible is that all models provide the same roof when the top is down, regardless of price tag. Finding a drop top for any budget is often as simple as scouring the local want ads.
If you are in the market for a new convertible and luxury is a priority, consider premium vehicles from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The all-new 2016 Audi TT is a two-seat convertible that’s fun to drive, looks great and is conservatively priced. If you need a couple more seats, the 2016 BMW 428i convertible is easy on the eyes, fuel efficient and handles like “the ultimate driving machine” should.
For those with less to spend, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is tough to beat. The little roadster features a near-perfect blend of performance, fuel efficiency and styling for an affordable price. Other options with a low price tag include the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle and Mini Cooper, as well as the Mustang V6 and the Chevrolet Camaro with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine.
If you plan to buy used, there is an almost endless amount of convertible fun to be had. All of the aforementioned new convertibles have been around for many years, and the used marketplace is full of excellent cars. Check out the convertibles for sale in CARFAX Used Car Listings. With diligent research, bringing home a new-to-you convertible may not be as big of a splurge as you might think.
The Family-Friendly Road-Trip Hauler
While muscle and sports cars may get all the drooling adulation, the family-friendly road-trip vehicle is arguably the unsung summer hero. The best part is that almost any road-worthy vehicle can qualify for the role of trip-mobile, with a few caveats.
If you decide to use your daily driver as your cross-country wagon, take a few minutes and consult our summer maintenance tips before venturing off. The time spent preparing your car, truck or SUV for the trip can save you frustration on the road.
If you are in the market for a new road-trip vehicle, there are many excellent picks that will work wonderfully. If it’s just you and a friend, one of the pony cars or convertibles might fit the bill, but for families, you’ll want a spacious vehicle with plenty of cargo space.
For families of four (or five if three are little ones) the all-new 2016 Honda Civic sedan is an excellent choice. It offers a midsize interior and an impressive 15.1 cubic feet of cargo space. The nice-looking Civic also provides excellent fuel economy, delivering up to 42 mpg on the highway.
Larger families will want to investigate the redesigned 2016 Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9, as well as the GMC Acadia and Dodge Durango. All four offer a comfortable ride, excellent three-row seating and ample cargo space, even when all the seats are being used. When equipped with an optional rear-seat entertainment system, a nicely appointed three-row crossover is such a great travel vehicle. In fact, you might be able to count the drive time as vacation too, even if there are teenagers in the car.