Earlier this year, I wrote about my first car: a used sports coupe with a souped-up engine. My mom bought me this sexy ride when I was a high-school band nerd. Yes, some moms are cool, even if they are living NASCAR dreams through their kids.
Before moving to California after college, I tossed aside my bad-ass cred and talked mom into selling me her Pontiac Bonneville station wagon. Driving across country in a gigantic land yacht—with its crushed-velour seats and faux wood siding—was more practical than a two-door hot rod.
Luckily, this woody was also a blast. My new West Coast friends loved tumbling into it to head to concerts and Dodgers games. And when I came out of the closet, my boyfriends were somehow attracted to a geeky 20-something who had a honkin’ family wagon. All I know is it helped me get dates.
The two haulers below—one a plucky Ford pickup and the other an all-terrain Jeep—may be more exciting than my Bonneville beast, but they’re just as sensible. I became wistful just test-driving them, wishing these vehicles could ferry family and friends to lively get-togethers. But at least my partner and I could fill them with plenty of groceries and other supplies, which meant fewer shopping trips and less time at the store during a pandemic.
We did take the time to just drive around town each day, breaking free of cabin fever and trying to keep our sanity. And we also spent time reminiscing about my mom, who passed away earlier this year and would have loved both of these rides.
After all, she’s the one who really had an eye for fun cars.
FORD RANGER SUPERCREW XLT
Mpg: 22 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7 seconds
The Ford Ranger has a split personality, with the functionality of a pickup and the smoothness of a crossover. As a midsizer, it’s easy to park this truck anywhere. And braking and cornering are impressive. This hauler that can tow up to 7,500 pounds, with a best-in-class payload capacity of 1,860 pounds. All Rangers come with Wi-Fi hotspot and forward-collision warning, which can automatically apply the brakes. Available in two- or four-door models, the mid-level XLT trim level is affordable yet offers gobs of amenities, including alloy wheels, keyless entry and smartphone integration. Various packages add power-folding mirrors, nav system, rear-parking sensors and other gear. I liked the acceleration of the XLT, though the base-model Ranger is lighter and scoots even faster.
JEEP WRANGLER UNLIMITED RUBICON
Mpg: 21 city/26 highway
0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds
Nothing says retro like a Jeep Wrangler. The base model doesn’t even have air conditioning, power windows or power door locks. Talk about spartan. But depending on trim level—there are more than a dozen—today’s Wranglers offer heated seats and steering wheel, automatic climate control, remote engine start, keyless entry, tinted windows and more. Passenger room is snug and the cabin isn’t exactly soundproof. But Jeep buyers aren’t looking for opulence: They want an adventure. And rugged Wranglers deliver, with removable doors, removable roof and a folding windshield. While all versions come with four-wheel drive, the Unlimited Rubicon—the most popular trim—comes with sportier styling and serious off-road traction. This Wrangler feels like a Tonka toy for adults, with optional hill-descent control, blind-spot monitor and premium Alpine stereo. For true grit, the Unlimited Rubicon 392—at a pricey $60,000—boasts a stunning 470-hp V8 Hemi engine, muscular cladding and four tailpipes pumping out a heady exhaust growl. Lucky for greener thrill-seekers, there’s now a Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid.