Ask TFL: Help! I Need A Road Trip Car To Drive From Denver To Chicago — What Should I Buy?

You can't go wrong with a wagon, but there are plenty of alternatives

2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE Manual - TFL Long-term

We receive tons of e-mails from readers and viewers every day on car purchases, and we’d like to thank you all for asking our opinion and supporting TFL. One reader, Nemo, reached out to us today with a great question we all ask every now and then: “What’s the perfect road trip car?”

Specifically, which is the best road trip car for a 1,000 mile excursion? Here’s the dilemma in our reader’s own words:

“Hello! I’m looking for your expert opinion on something that I’ve been struggling with for a while now.

I live right outside Denver up in the foothills and most of my family is back in Chicago. I make annual road trips back to Chicago around the holidays and I’ve yet to find the perfect road trip car for such a journey. I own a 2019 Ram 1500 and while it is very comfortable the MPG does sting for such a long drive. I also own a 2015 Subaru Forester and while the MPG is great, those seats ache my back after a few hours…

I was thinking of replacing the Forester with an AWD VW Golf [Sportwagen or Alltrack]. What are your opinions on the AWD VW Golf for three things:

  • 1. Icy road conditions in the Rockies?
  • 2. Long road trips in regards to comfort and mpg?
  • 3. Would you have a better recommendation for something that gets decent MPG, is pretty comfortable for a long journey and does well in the snow?

Thank you!”Nemo S.

2018 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SE Manual - TFL Long-term
The Volkswagen Alltrack is a comfortable and practical choice, and it’s not terribly priced, either.

The all-wheel drive wagon variant of the Volkswagen Golf is a solid choice for a road trip car. Over TFL’s long-term loan driving hundreds of miles through the Rocky Mountains, I found the manual transmission a bit annoying, but you can get around that by going for the DSG automatic instead. The seats are comfortable, all the controls are straightforward and you get that extra bit of practicality. During my time with it, I consistently averaged between 28 and 30 mpg with that 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system performs well in a wide range of conditions, including in winter conditions. We actually had the chance to test the Alltrack in the snow on Loveland Pass awhile back, and it gripped well enough to keep everything under control:

I’d give a firm stamp of approval on the Volkswagen Alltrack, and you can shoot for the AWD SportWagen as well if you don’t need the extra ground clearance. Although, if you’re needing to drive in snow and ice, a bit of extra clearance doesn’t hurt.

A couple more items Nemo gave me after following up. The overall budget is about $35,000 (including $12,000 – $15,000 for trading in the Forester), and he’s looking for a car with some fun factor on a road trip.

[Photo: Kia]

My alternative suggestion: 2020 Kia Stinger GT-Line (~$36,325)

Look, there are plenty of perfectly reasonable all-wheel drive cars and crossovers out there for that budget. Sticking with wagons, I wouldn’t mind actually owning a Buick Regal TourX (and that’s within the budget). The Mazda CX-5 is a good, fun crossover that’s good on a road trip. But, as much as I like those two, I’d really recommend checking out the Kia Stinger if you want a fun all-wheel drive car that is still efficient and comfortable for long trips.

For 2020, the base model Kia Stinger — the GT-Line — comes in at just over $36,000 with all-wheel drive. This isn’t the full-on, much-quicker-than-you’d-expect GT with the 365 horsepower 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6. Instead, you get a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 255 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That’s actually a pretty healthy amount of power, and you can still manage 29 mpg on the highway according to EPA figures. What’s more, even the base model comes as well equipped as you’d need on a long road trip.

For your money, you get a 7.0-inch touchscreen display (getting more expensive models only adds an inch anyway). You still get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated power-folding mirrors, wireless phone charging, and an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a fun car to toss around, but it’s also a comfortable cruiser. It has a liftback design so you still get some practicality, and it’s a much better-looking car than the Forester and the Golf.

What’s more, Kia has been on a roll when it comes to build quality and overall dependability. You also get a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which is great peace of mind if anything should happen on a long trip.

Leave a comment below with your suggestions!

Let us know which fun, capable all-wheel drive car you’d suggest taking on a cross-country road trip in the comments below! If you have a question of your own, reach out to us at We’ll either post it here in an Ask TFL article, or feature it in our live show, “What Car or Truck Should I Buy”, on our TFLnow YouTube channel on Mondays at noon PST.