10 Cars You Should Not Bring on a Road Trip

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana's Glacier National Park
This country is built for exploring, but the bad cars for road trips take some of the fun away | iStock.com

America is built for road trips. You can travel thousands of scenic miles without having to change currency, worry about gas stations, or run into scary police checkpoints. You just need the right car to do it.

By “right,” we mean the sort of vehicle that offers a comfortable ride, decent handling, plenty of cargo space, and fuel economy that keeps you on the road as opposed to stuck in gas stations. For four people looking for a civilized getaway, the Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE fits the bill. If throwing a few clunky items in the back and going off-road occasionally is on the schedule, the Subaru Outback is a great call.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Every car on the market was created to fulfill a purpose, but there are several that don’t work when you hit the road for an extended journey. Here are 10 cars you should not take on a road trip.

1. Nissan Juke

2016 Nissan Juke
The Juke’s compact frame is built for the city, not the open road | Nissan

Looking at the sales stats for September, American auto consumers are on board with SUVs of all sizes, including those in the subcompact segment. But these vehicles have their drawbacks. Among them, poor nighttime visibility from subpar headlights and cramped cabin space are the ones that scream “bad cars for road trips.” The Nissan Juke is one that suffers from its seating limitations. It could work if you pushed the front seats all the way back, but then you’d have to ask your friends to stay home because the back row would be totally unusable. 

2. Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-MiEV
If you have a 32-inch waist and hate using gasoline, Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the car for the city. Road trips are another story | Mitsubishi

Every electric vehicle has its limitations on road trips. Even Tesla’s P100D with its 300 miles of range needs to refuel more often than a compact car running on gas. But the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the bottom of the barrel on several levels, starting (and probably ending) with its 62-mile EV range. It takes more than 13 seconds to accelerate to 60 miles per hour, so highway driving is basically out of the question. Besides, you can’t fast-charge the i-MiEV either, making it work only on “road trips” of about 20 miles in one direction.

3. Dodge Journey

2016 Dodge Journey
Interior comfort is not the Dodge Journey’s strong suit | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Was naming it “Journey” a bit of false advertising? Only consumers can decide. However, no one can dispute the V6 model’s worst-in-class fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon. If you like touring our nation’s gas stations, you’ll get to visit plenty when taking Journey on a road trip. Furthermore, if you travel with more than four people, your company will feel trapped at some point: Consumer Reports referred to the interior as “confining,” and that description applies even to the second row of seating.

4. Smart Fortwo

Smart ForTwo
Smart ForTwo is called a “city car” for a reason | Daimler

We considered not including any words in this description. Anyone who can see the Smart ForTwo knows it’s the last car to take on a road trip. However, we”ll mention a few points for consistency’s sake. There is almost no cargo space, the drive character is beyond frustrating, and you will be the loser in any collision with any other vehicle. Smart ForTwo has its place in stop-start city driving and that’s about it. Naturally, this verdict applies 100-fold to the Smart electric coupe, which can cover only 68 miles before needing to charge.

5. Mercedes-Benz CLA250

Mercedes C250 CLA
Though power and style are accounted for in the Mercedes-Benz CLA250, interior space is another story | Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz CLA250, the brand’s most affordable model at $32,400, gives you reasonable pop (208 horsepower) but comes up short in the way of interior space, especially in the back seat. Maybe that’s why Mercedes describes it as a “four-door coupe.” Small children would be the ideal passengers in the back seats, which would immediately make it problematic as a road-tripper. CLA250 is more of a car for couples without children who do a lot of city driving.

6. Jeep Wrangler

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
While it is the king of off-roading, the Wrangler is not the car for your road trip | Jeep

Want to tear through the woods on a Saturday afternoon with some buddies? The Jeep Wrangler is the go-to ride for the job. Heading on a road trip with a significant other, some friends, and a few suitcases? Definitely not the ride to take. The Wrangler is known for its noisiness on the highway, its terrible fuel economy, and bone-rattling character for passengers, especially at high speeds. Then there are the safety issues, including its alarming rollover rate and poor headlights. It’s built for the trail, and it should probably stay there.

7. Mitsubishi Mirage

Mitsubishi Mirage
The 2017 Mirage continued its tradition of low power and unexceptional fuel economy | Mitsubishi

Imagine getting out onto the open road and feeling the surge of … 78 horsepower. Sounds like a cruel joke, right? It’s not a joke: Mitsubishi Mirage’s three-cylinder maxes out below 80 horses. Meanwhile, it’s tiny and its fuel economy ratings (39 miles per gallon) aren’t very impressive. So you might not want to take this car anywhere, let alone on a road trip with friends when you intend to have a good time.

8. Toyota Prius C

Source: Toyota
Toyota Prius C is the worst of the hybrid family on road trips | Toyota

You might think the Toyota Prius C is a great road-tripper because of its exceptional fuel economy, and at 46 highway miles per gallon, that’s a decent selling point. However, as the most compact edition of the hybrid family, Prius C has a lot to be desired in ride comfort. Meanwhile, its 99 horsepower makes even the regular Prius (134 horses) seem like a stallion. But maybe the worst kick of all is the other Prius models have better economy and more space. Among hybrids, the Honda Accord Hybrid’s total package is much better, but you’ll pay for it.

9. Mazda Miata

Mazda Miata GT
Mazda Miata does the country drive like few others, but road trips are a tough assignment | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Who doesn’t love the look, feel, and drive of a roadster? These cars represent everything that’s cool about cars and weekend afternoons speeding through the countryside. However, their small proportions and rejection of the entire notion of cargo space make them bad cars for road trips. Everyone has a few good uses for something like the Mazda Miata, Fiat 124 Spider, or any Porsche with the top down. We doubt driving one from Boulder to Los Angeles is near the top of the list.

10. Chevrolet Camaro

American Muscle Car, Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Camaro is good at everything except visibility, back seats, and cargo space | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

What is better than tearing down the highway in a muscle car? We highly recommend the trip from Miami to Key West for its inviting straightaway along the route. But when you’re in a Camaro, you have to pack light and leave everyone else (including the kids) at home. Camaro’s tiny back seat and stingy cargo space make it less than ideal for road trips. Ford Mustang convertibles have this issue as well. If you want to go long distances on American muscle, the Dodge Challenger is the call.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY.