Driving, across the country or merely a state line or two, is the quintessential sport. Our cars transport us to destinations like family reunions, vacations and honeymoons. You won't find it on the front page of the sports section, but driving, windows down, music blaring and sunshine hot on your face has become a tradition that's getting more popular every year.
Like lemonade stands and drive-in movies replaced by today's mega-theatres and air-conditioned malls, cruising has evolved to include not only today's safer convertibles, but other vehicles that lend themselves to the particular tastes of the driver.
They say getting there is half the fun, and if you're driving one of this year's newer vehicles to your vacation destination that really will be the case, says John Davis, host and executive producer of MotorWeek, a weekly automotive magazine show produced by Maryland Public Television.
Davis says you'll be seeing a lot of pickups, SUVs and convertibles out there; and unlike in past years when people might rent fun cars specifically to drive on vacation, the latest trend is for people to travel in their own vehicles. It's a comfort thing as well as being more economical, says Davis.
Besides, you can almost customize what you drive these days. People are buying vehicles that are good for more than just getting to and from work and running errands, they're buying cars that have a lot of storage space and are also fun to drive, says Davis, whose show tracks trends in the automotive industry.
So-called cross over vehicles, which combine the features of a car with those of a sedan, minivan or sport utility vehicle, are really gaining in popularity. They are the widest, most imaginative group of vehicles to enjoy in the history of the industry, says Davis.
Vehicles that fall into this category include the Pontiac Vibe, Subaru Baja, Honda Element, Scion xB, Chrysler Pacifica, Toyota Matrix, and Chevrolet Avalanche. They cover a broad range of prices from under $15,000 to well over $40,000.
They are very versatile, there's no doubt about that, says Davis. But like the traditional SUV, they tend to be tall, and taller vehicles by their very nature can roll over easier, so you still need to be extra careful when taking corners.
Rollovers can also be a worry for another popular summertime car: convertibles. They tend to be slower to respond to driver inputs because they are heavier than your average sedan, but Davis points out, they have come a long way. Convertibles used to be flimsily made and clumsy to drive, and really rattled over rough roads. Now they are better built, with better suspensions, and are much safer. Along with front airbags, many convertibles can be ordered with side impact airbags, while a few have pop-up roll-over bars that automatically provide extra protection for occupants. Most also offer electronic driving aids like anti-lock brakes and electronic stability systems.
Cruising still has the devotion of the American driver as it has for years, but with some 210 million registered drivers on the road, it does require us to be more conscious. Not just about safety, but other drivers, and local laws as they relate to aggressive driving and cell phone use. So, toss the cell phone in the glove compartment, strap on your seat belt and enjoy your next road trip.