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Featured Article

Best cars for camping

Liane Yvkoff
(IAC) Whether car camping is your idea of a perfect vacation or a classic nightmare, it's a rite of passage for many families come summer. But not all cars and created equal when it comes to getting back to basics. We've scoured the market for some of the best features that make getting away a little easier and a lot more comfortable.

2008 Honda Element
It may not look like a rugged mountain car, but it's got some of the best features and accessories for getting cozy in the wild. The 2008 Honda Element is equipped with a 166-hp, 2.4-Liter engine and is available with 2WD or an adventure-ready Real Time 4WD that smartly applies more traction as needed. With its 77 cubic feet of cargo room, you'll have plenty of space to pack all the essentials for a short or extended camping trip. And who says you have to be in a tent to camp? Once you've unloaded all your gear, the Element's configurable rear seating folds up and away, revealing enough space to lay down a double mattress and comfortably sleep two adults. But if a night in the back of your car sounds a little claustrophobic, the removable skylight (only on 4WD models) will help you get a little fresh air, while the available Skylight Shade Screen keeps the bugs out. Communing with nature doesn't mean exposing yourself in the great outdoors--the optional Interior Privacy Curtain accessory affords seclusion from nosy campers with the added benefit of keeping out the early morning sun. To keep things civilized, the spare tire cover coverts into a durable table (with optional table legs). And when it's time to get back to reality, the scratch-resistant utility floor and water-resistant FXC upholstery makes it easy to pack up muddy gear and clean up after a long trip.

2008 Jeep Patriot: If you don't consider setting up a tent and grill in a KOA campground "getting back to nature," consider the Jeep Patriot. It's the vehicle designed for breaking away from the crowds and blazing a trail to a secluded camping spot while relaxing with the peace of mind that you'll be able to get out of it in the morning. The compact SUV is slightly smaller than the Liberty but bigger than a Wrangler, and it blends the right amount of storage, towing capacity, and creature comforts with its aggressive off-roading capability to satisfy the more adventurous car camper. The 2008 Jeep Patriot is available with a 2.0L 158-horsepower engine or 2.4L 172-horesepower engine, but what sets it apart from many vehicles in its class are its drivetrain packages. Die-hard campers will love the Trail Rated Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package (available on Sport and Limited models), which boasts a full-time, active 4x4, hill descent control, off-road break traction control, increased ground clearance, and tow hooks. Even though getting there is half the fun, the 77.2 cubic feet of cargo space means you can pack plenty of gear, equipment, and a few creature comforts to keep you entertained in the wild. But just because the vehicle is tough, you don't have to be--if the weather takes a turn for the worse, you can fold the rear seats flat to sleep in the car.

2008 Chrysler Town and Country: Carpooling isn't the only thing minivans are good for. The 2008 Chrysler Town and Country makes heading for the hills a breeze with its flexible seating configuration, ample interior space, and industry-leading entertainment system. You don't buy a Town and Country for its off-roading capability, but its powerful 3.8L and 4.0L engines with trailer tow prep package means that it can haul up to 3,600 lbs. of equipment. At the campground, take advantage of the vehicle's Swivel 'n Go feature that affords seating up to five people around a table for a family meal while on the road. The Stow 'n Go seats completely disappear to create a flat surface ideal for playing, sleeping, or storing up to an impressive 144.4 cubic feet of gear for your big trip. The Town and Country has several entertainment packages that will keep the entire family entertained, including up to three screens with optional streaming satellite television by SIRIUS. These optional packages also enable campers to hook up a Playstation or Xbox on one screen while adults settle in with a movie on another using the two two-channel wireless headphones. The optional MyGig entertainment system--a touch screen voice command that holds up to 20 gigs of music and pictures--will keep you grooving long after singing campfire songs gets old. Frequent outdoor types--or anyone who's ever had to camp with sweaty children or wet dogs--will appreciate that the Town and Country's interior fabric is stain and odor resistant.

2008 Subaru Outback:
Who says you need an SUV to go camping? This nimble wagon with 170 horsepower from its BOXER engine can go anywhere and handle almost any terrain with its standard all wheel drive and 8.4 inches of ground clearance more than some SUVs. The car was built with outdoor living in mind and includes a DC outlet in the rear, rubber mats for easy cleaning, and fold-flat rear seats that create a nice bunking area in a pinch. While the Outback can hold 65.4 cubic feet of cargo space, the sky's the limit--Subaru offers many optional racks for toting camping gear and sports equipment. Optional heavy-duty mats with drains are available for the frequent camper with lots of muddy gear.   The Outback's 28 MPG fuel-economy will help you go the distance and make getting to remote campsites cheaper. "Finding yourself" has gotten a lot easier with the navigation system included in the L.L. Bean edition. 

2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid:
With the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, you get all the utility and benefits of a full sized SUV with the fuel-economy of a mid-sized sedan thanks to its hybrid 6.0L V8 engine that achieves 20 city/20 highway MPG for 4x4 MPG, compared to the 14 city/19 highway for 4x4 models in the Tahoe LTZ with a 5.3L. Despite the advanced engine technology, there's no reason to handle this ride with kid gloves. The Hybrid Tahoe can still traverse difficult terrain, tow watercraft or other sporting equipment, and off-road with the best of them. But unlike non-hybrid SUVs, the Tahoe Hybrid can power your campsite. Using the 115 volt outlet, you can run small electronics without fear of draining your SUV's battery. When left in the "on" position, the Tahoe Hybrid engine automatically cycles on and off to maintain a constant charge in the battery. On a full tank of gas you can operate electronics, such as a TV, electric grill, or coffee maker for days. And unlike most hybrids, the Tahoe seats up to eight. Or remove the third row to open up 60.3 cubic feet of cargo space while still seating five.

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