Almost everyone I know is going stir crazy from pandemic-induced cabin fever. But even small—and safe—getaways can help restore some semblance of sanity. At least they have for me. I’ve taken a few jaunts in test vehicles this year. The three rides below were comfortable and powered by fairly fuel-efficient engines, which meant I could breeze past congested rest areas instead of stressing out about stopping for gas.
Mpg: 22 city/30 highway
0 to 60 mph: 9 seconds
More a weekend knockabout than a long-trek hauler, the Jeep Renegade is an adult-sized Tonka toy. There’s plenty of personality here, starting with the Wrangler-like grille and headlights. Whimsical styling includes square taillamps with an “X” on the reflectors, a paintball splotch to highlight the redline on the tachometer, all-weather floor mats with the profile of a vintage Jeep, and text encircling the ignition switch that reads: “To New Adventures!” The rugged cabin includes lots of hard plastic surfaces, which are easy to wipe clean in this age of coronavirus. Legroom and headroom are decent, though cargo space is limited. And while the suspension is somewhat stiff and the engine less than zesty, Jeeps are all about being tough—and playful. Of the four main trim levels, the Trailhawk is built for off-road thrills: underbody skid plates, raised suspension, hill-descent control, and 17-inch wheels with all-terrain tires. There’s even a full-size spare (a rarity these days). While a power sunroof is available, the removable My Sky roof panels were a way to expose the heavens even more. During my time exploring the Maryland and Virginia countryside for a few days, the Renegade was a fun way to escape reality.
Mpg: 18 city/26 highway
0 to 60 mph: 5.4 seconds
The Lincoln Aviator, first launched in 2003 and rebadged as the MKX a few years later, has flown under the radar of most car buyers. I was expecting a similar meh experience with the all-new Aviator for 2020. But then this Cinderella crossover landed in my driveway, and I was hooked: dazzling design, exciting features and competitive price. That’s not to say there aren’t a few quibbles, such as the clunky push-button gearshift (groan, a shifter in the center console is so much easier to use). But overall, this full-size ride performs gracefully and is outfitted with a mighty 400-hp V6 engine. There’s also a clever adaptive-suspension system, which uses a dozen sensors to scan the road then instantly make adjustments so the Aviator can glide smoothly over potholes. With so many luxury features, it’s hard to keep track of them all: soft-close doors, heated windshield wipers, 28-speaker stereo, 30-way power/massaging seats and more. Thanks to the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10-1-inch infotainment screen, you might assume the dashboard was designed with the cockpit of a private jet in mind. Other elegant crossovers, such as the Audi Q7 or BMW X7, offer sportier handling and European cachet. But those Teutonic rides have become rather ubiquitous and usually cost more. After all these years, this is one Aviator that finally stands out.
Mpg: 17 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 6.7 seconds
COVID-19 was just starting to hit the country early this year when I needed to travel to the Midwest for a funeral. Instead of taking a risky 90-minute flight, I opted for the nine-hour drive. The Ford Expedition was my test vehicle that week, and it turned out to be the perfect ride to lift my spirits. Completely redesigned a few years ago, this ginormous hauler handles like it’s floating on air. Power running boards automatically deploy when climbing in and out of the vehicle. And the restrained styling, slimmed-down aluminum body and stunning suspension are all reminiscent of Ford’s previous stable mate: Range Rover. While the Expedition doesn’t have the same level of refinement inside, it certainly has plenty of room. Fold down the second- and third-row seats, and cargo space seems to stretch for miles. For even more capacity, an extended Max body style is nine inches longer. Depending on trim level, there are massaging seats, power-adjustable pedals, motion-activated liftgate and captain’s chairs instead of a bench seat in the second row. An optional rear-seat entertainment system features dual displays, DVD player, live-TV streaming and gaming capability. Perhaps most practical were the 15 cupholders, which were perfect for bottles of water—and hand sanitizer.