NEW YORK (MainStreet) - Tailgating NFL fans who are already shelling out for tickets and parking may as well have a comfortable place to put their Sunday pregame spread.
This season, NFL fans are paying an average $84 for tickets to the game and $31.50 for parking, according to Team Marketing Report. If you're cramming four friends into a midsized sedan, struggling to get the grill out of the trunk and leaving only enough cargo space left over for a few burgers and dogs and maybe a six-pack of cans, you're just cooking the fun right out of the experience. If you want to get the most out of your pregame, a host of amenities, a whole lot of cargo space and a decent tailgate should be your bare-minimum requirements.
The folks at automotive pricing and buying sites Cars.com, Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book seem to agree. Each has compiled lists of the cars they believe to be the best to take to a Sunday tailgate, but the following represent the best all three had to offer:
10. 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan
When tailgating competes with warm mornings home, DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket, the scoring-plays-only Red Zone Channel and fantasy football leagues, it takes a lot more than seven-layer dip to drag everyone out to the stadium. The folks at Chrysler seemed to realize how hard it is to dislodge football fans from the living room and brought it to them instead.
Their latest take on the classic minivan includes more than 83 cubic feet of cargo space with the third-row seats down, a flip-back option for that third row that turns it into a lot-facing couch, a Blu-ray/DVD system with second- and third-row screens for pre-game entertainment, and USB and aux ports for hooking up audio and computers. Best of all, the Caravan's available Wi-Fi option not only allows folks with Sunday Ticket to stream other games through laptops, tablets and smartphones, but it makes the minivan a mobile hotspot with a 150-foot radius for all your friends following their fantasy team more closely than the teams they're paying to see.
9. 2015 Ford Flex
All of the little cube-shaped party boxes that were released a few years ago to entice young people into the road trips of yesteryear all failed spectacularly for one big reason: They didn't have enough room to appeal to families, older buyers and other folks who actually spend money on new cars.
The Flex has no such issue. Basically a minivan in a crossover's body, the Flex has room for seven, 44 inches of legroom in the second row and a power folding mechanism for getting into the third row. A surprising amount of headroom makes it easy to transport a large crew or throw some gear in the back and take a long trip, all while giving them enough room to maneuver regardless of height.
Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats, Microsoft Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems in the MyFord Touch screen, a DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof and second-row fridge console for road sodas compensate somewhat for its roughly 20 combined miles per gallon. It used to look like a giant Mini Cooper, but standout frame, spacious 80 cubic feet of cargo room make it as close as you'll get to a locker room on wheels.
8. 2015 Honda Fit
One of the subcompacts that started the class' renaissance, the colorful and convenient Fit got by on a whole lot of flexibility and user friendliness. This year, it gets a complete revamp that makes it an incredibly worthy tailgate vehicle despite its size.
Cargo space shrinks from 57.3 cubic feet with the seats down to 52.7, but the seats get a little more modular — to the point that the front passenger seat folds back to serve as a footrest for a passenger in the back who wants to sleep for a leg of the trip. Blind-spot cameras, a multi-angle rearview camera, touchscreen audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, an app suite, leather-trimmed and heated seats, a moonroof and satellite navigation all make for a pleasant, comfortable ride for driver and passenger.
That 97 cubic feet of passenger space is just big enough to store a grill and cooler, and the under-seat storage comes in handy for tucking away any extras.
7. 2014 Honda Ridgeline
Sadly, this is the last buyers are going to see of the Ridgeline for a while. It goes out of commission after 2014 and doesn't have a 2015 model in the works. There have been rumors of a ground-up redesign of the Ridgeline for 2016, but there's been only vague photographic evidence to back that up.
The Ridgeline has always been a compromise for drivers who couldn't decide between a pickup and SUV. Its 1,500 pounds of payload capacity is great for tailgating, but about half that of the Ford F-150 and other, more popular pickups. Honda may fix that by 2016, but in the meantime this is an American-made truck with few of the features American truck owners beyond the stadium parking lot want.
6. 2014 Kia Soul
Outdoor fun is what this car was built for, but somewhere along the road this boxy neo surf wagon became a minivan substitute. That's why why Kia gave the Soul an overdue overhaul in 2012 that streamlined its front and rear body, kicked its output up to 138 horsepower and improved its efficiency to a combined 31 miles per gallon.
The nine-color palate, mix-and-match accent plates and audio and sunroof upgrades remain, but it's the Soul's versatile 60/40 rear seating, 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space (53.4 with the rear seats down) and eight-speaker sound system with party lighting that make it a great pick for game day.
5. 2015 Ram 1500
Ever wonder what's going on in the space between your pickup's cargo bed and its rear wheel fenders? Not much, which is why Ram fitted them with RamBox locking compartments with drain plugs that are advertised as mini trunks or toolboxes, but are clearly meant to be coolers.
Don't believe us? Ask Ram, which not only made RamBoxes waterproof and drainable, but says "both sides fit up to 240 cans of your favorite beverage in a 5'7 bed or 280 cans in a 6'4" bed configuration." Combine that with 74.7 cubic feet cargo capacity and 1,300 to 1,600 pounds of payload capacity and you've got yourself a party machine.
Oh, and the Ram 1500's available Uconnect Wi-Fi — $10 for single-day access — allows your tailgate buddies to set their fantasy football lineups through a private Internet network accessible within a 150-foot radius.
4. 2015 Subaru Forester
It's a great investment all around, but its high roof, hidden storage beneath the rear floor and upgraded tech features make the Forester a score for tailgating buyers.
A 10-year-old Forester still has more than 25% of its original value. The newer models have even reverted to the boxy wagon look of their predecessors, while retaining the standard all-wheel-drive for Bohemian Bourgeois parents trying to balance shuttle runs to lacrosse practice with trips to Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
The Forester's combined 28 miles per gallon aren't are a vast improvement over the 2013 model's 24 mpg, but its interior is bigger than the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape and includes 34 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up. Subaru's added Bluetooth connectivity to all its models, made rearview cameras standard and thrown in options including a power liftgate and voice-activated GPS. It's a school shuttle, but all that space and storage comes in handy in the stadium parking lot on a Sunday.
3. 2015 Toyota 4Runner
Another holdover from the SUV era, the 4Runner's sales have slumped steadily from more than 114,000 in 2004 to less than 52,000 last year. How do you try to reverse the slide if you're Toyota? By playing to your key tailgating demographic.
The 4Runner's stadium-friendly options include power outlets in the cargo space for hooking up a television or other electronic devices, nearly 90 square feet of cargo room and an optional sliding cargo deck. That last feature basically takes out the need for a folding table by providing counter space strong enough to hold 400 pounds of food and beverages. Go ahead, spring for the 6-foot sub. The 4Runner has you covered and is just happy you haven't left it for a crossover.
2. 2015 Ford F-150
The best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than three decades running is the tailgate wagon of choice for a whole lot of the nation's fans. After a big upgrade for 2015, however, it just got a lot better.
Throw a spray-in bed liner in the back and a cap on any F-150 and you get a fairly ideal tailgate vehicle. Throw in this year's electric outlets and under-seat storage in the cab and LED spotlights and tailgate step in the back and you have yourself a better seat in the parking lot than you will anywhere beyond the club seats and luxury boxes in the stadium itself.
1. 2014 Honda Odyssey
The Sienna and Odyssey have been slugging it out for families' affections for years, but the key difference for tailgaters is the Odyssey's slight space advantage. The Odyssey can carry up to eight fans with enough room behind them for a small grill. More importantly, it can carry five fans, collapse the third row and have 93.1 cubic feet for more storage. Those same fans get all the same perks, too, as the Honda's optional 16.2-inch split screen entertainment system still offers them something to stare at before kickoff.
Best of all, this family minivan comes with a whole lot of options basically built for a day at the game. The Odyssey's removable center console offers a useful flip-up trash-bag holder, and there's also a "cool box" beverage cooler to accommodate chilled refreshments. Meanwhile, an in-cabin vacuum is an available option for fans who just know that a healthy percentage of their tailgate's snacks are going to end up on the floor.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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