While the football season has just ended, the season to pack a grill, a couple of folding chairs, a TV, a water cooler, and foam fingers has not; the basketball season is still going strong, and let’s not forget, baseball is about to start.
What people do at tailgate parties is nothing new. The entire concept of drinking on the parking lot (or anywhere outside, but just not in an enclosed building), eating food, chatting about how you would’ve caught the ball missed by the actual professional player had you been there and discussing news about your favorite players and team goes back to how the Romans and Greeks used to celebrate their own activities during their times.
Things have changed since then, including the medium in which we do it, but the concept stays the same.
I have to say, picking the best vehicles was easy. You look at the specs of some of these and you know outright you’d include them in the list. It was the “to avoid” vehicles that were difficult. Of course, I could list 10 mid-size sedans, and say, “Don’t bring these.” But you probably already know that. So, I tried to find some vehicles that had the potential of being a good tailgate vehicle but didn’t make the cut because of some features that just brought them down. Just because it looks capable doesn’t mean it is capable.
20 Bentley Bentayga
I intentionally put this car at the very top of the article, at #20, because it’s expensive. Were it a purely luxury event, things would've been more favorable for the Bentayga, but not here. It’s an awesome tailgate party car—if you can afford the $200K-plus price tag. But even then, it made it on the list, as opposed to, say, the RR Ghost, because it can offer some things that are relevant to this article. The standard Wi-Fi and blasting audio system will keep you entertained in the car for sure, but if you opt for the optional slide-out leather “Event Seat,” you could get the ball rolling for the party. Since you’re deciding options, consider the Mulliner Hamper also, which includes a small refrigerator.
19 Dodge Grand Caravan
This minivan has been manufactured since 1984 under Chrysler with assembly plants in several countries. The current generation, the fifth generation, has been running since 2008. While there have been three model updates so far, I think it’s time for Dodge to churn out a new generation. Besides the looks, the minivan has a lot going for it to make it a tailgate party vehicle. The Wi-Fi, mobile hotspot, auxiliary ports, etc. make it a very pregame-friendly minivan. The beauty of the vehicle lies in the folding of the seats, such that the third-row seats flip and face the lot. That does wonders now. You sit there, inside of the vehicle, with your food and beverage, facing out, chatting and talking to friends about the imminent event. That’s unique.
18 Honda Odyssey
Not that I’m the most experienced automotive writer, but I must say I’m impressed with the new Honda Odyssey. The change in design is nothing radical, but it manages to look distinct and stern; compared to the previous generation, this one looks sterner. You won’t be able to pass by it in your Mustang without paying it due respect after you look at the authoritarian-styled exterior. The interior allows you to seat plenty of people, including minions of yours if you decide to take them to tailgate parties. Just don’t give them alcoholic beverages. There's a very mini refrigerator in the cabin, which can hold and keep cool a few of your bottled waters. The cargo area is also roomy, with 38.4 cubic feet of space available behind the third row.
17 Ram 1500
These full-size pickup trucks are exceptional. Whether you’re the administrative gentleman who suits up every day for work or the individual who handles the dangerous construction sites, this pickup truck has been the choice of many folks. And that’s because it’s versatile, offering at least three cab styles and three bed lengths. The base engine is also respectable with the V6 that generates horses and torque in the mid-200s range. It has various features that make it particularly desirable. To begin with, there's a Uconnect Wi-Fi that provides a hotspot for various devices. And then, there’s the waterproof gear storage system, which you’ll be tempted to use as a cooler; you can easily drain the water. The suspension system lowers the frame, and that makes loading and unloading significantly easier on your back.
16 Ford Flex
This boxlike car made an appearance on the road in 2008. In my opinion, the car looks so-so. Of course, the box-shaped appearance for such a big car is relatively novel. You won’t give it a 5/5 on the exterior, but neither would you dismiss it with a rating of 1/5—the front and lines on the side are some highlights of the car. It’s a 3/5, personally speaking—hence, so-so. That shouldn’t matter too much when it comes to tailgating, though. There’s a small fridge-like compartment in the cabin for beverages and food. It also seats up to seven people. The best part about this car is the ability of the third-row seats to become lot-facing seats. And because of the boxy dimensions, that means plenty of space for you.
15 Ford F-150
Of course, the best-selling marque of Ford was going to find its way to this list. The F-Series has evolved into a beast now. With so many engine options and so many trims, it’s truly becoming the go-to option for Americans. The legendary status offers a reliability seen in no other truck. In addition to the basic tailgating necessities, the pickup is also an off-road beast. So, if you had to go through some rough terrains with all the materials loaded, this would be your best bet. Ford also offers a deployable step hidden in the rear that makes things go a lot smoother. If the F-150 didn’t satisfy your needs, then consider the F-350, as this has a 110-volt/150-watt power inverter to get your flat screen running.
14 Toyota 4Runner
The mid-size body-on-frame SUV can hold up to seven people. The latest generation looks bold with its truck-like built and sharp creases. It looks all masculine and lengthy. Sales of these bad boys have gone up consistently since 2011. There are various features that are tailgate-party friendly. In the Party Mode, the stereo’s bass will redistribute the intensity to favor the rear speakers. And then, there’s the power outlet—yes, no power outlet, my friend and random visitor. Find an extension, and you've got whatever you need for that TV or laptop. And then comes the roomy cabin. I don’t know if it looks roomy to you, but it sure can accommodate serious space: 90 cubic feet. With these features, it’s not too difficult to say the 4Runner was built with tailgate events in mind.
13 Honda Ridgeline
This is probably one of the best tailgating beasts out there. To make things easier, the tailgate can also open sideways, in addition to opening down like any other normal tailgate. That can really help when reaching for items way in the front, as the flat tailgate itself won’t occupy space. And then, you come to the bed itself. The truck is smaller than the Ram 1500, but that’s made up for by the hidden space under the bed. More than made up, I’d say, as that can store things that you wouldn’t want to get wet in your daily use of the truck. You can take out the spare to increase the space even more. That would be the perfect space to store cooler, water bottles, etc., and the remaining items would go on the actual bed.
12 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic Wagon
You didn't that a Mercedes would make it on the list, did you? At least a station wagon. Sure, the big ones can make it, but how about something of the size of a wagon? That looks pretty bizarre in a parking lot full of SUVs, pickups, and minivans, doesn’t it? I think these were more popular way, way back in the days (the 1950s?) as SUVs hadn’t saturated the market to the extent they have now. So, this was the best bet, and it was a good bet. And the fact that it’s a Mercedes helps some—obviously, not just because of the name but because of the associated luxuries. Add the fact that it has a row of rear-facing seats, and you’re golden for tailgate parties.
11 Honda Fit
This beats the trend that we’ve had so far. All the cars listed so far are big and bro-like. And then, out of nowhere comes the Honda Fit, a subcompact car. A subcompact car. For tailgating. Has this guy gone crazy? Hey, I heard that! No, for real—this is as real as it gets. Just look at the picture. There's room for five passengers in this car, but with the innovative design, you can lay all those seats flat (minus the driver, of course) to make room for anything you’d like. The seats can be configured in various ways, much like the six-membered carbon rings in the cells of your body. Chemistry references aside, it’s hard to find a car as malleable as this. This is the perfect tailgate vehicle.
10 Mazda CX-5
I think this dances around the border of “to have” and “to avoid.” The compact SUV was launched in 2012. It was outfitted with a few new features from Mazda, such as the new “KODO – Soul of Motion Design,” which is the most complex way of saying a new design, and the “Skyactiv Technology” suite that reiterated the motto of KODO in concrete terms, meaning, a rigid and lightweight platform, efficient sets of engines and transmission, etc. All this is to say the rear seats can be up, and you’d have space in the back for a compact grill and cooler. If not bringing friends or children, you could fold the rear seats and increase the room for a larger cooler and grill, with some chairs, I guess, but that’s pretty much the scope of it.
9 Subaru Forester
This is similar to the Mazda CX-5. It has some basic things that could make the trip to a tailgate party doable but wouldn’t necessarily make it worthwhile—unless, of course, you care more about hanging out with other people rather than the car, which is reasonable. However, in that case, I’d be forced to say by reasoning that you could grab just about any other SUV or even a sedan and go to the party—hey, you said you didn’t care about the car. It matches the Mazda in terms of space and cargo area. The only difference with this one is that you have some storage space underneath the rear floor that's capable of storing small items like foam fingers and blankets—but nothing close to what the Honda Ridgeline can accommodate.
8 Mitsubishi Outlander
This compact crossover will near the adult legal age in about a year, having undergone three generations since inception, with the current generation spanning six years. At 10 cubic feet, the rear cargo area is punishingly small for a tailgating event. Of course, the seats can be pulled down to accommodate more space, but that won’t compensate for the small cargo area. The cabin is posh, but at the end of the day, you’re having to choose between people and space. You can create more room as long as you remove the seats, or you could have more people coming along with you. But then, you won’t be able to accommodate all the party accessories: tables, chairs, grill, cooler, etc. You might as well have gotten the Honda Fit. Same deal, but cheaper.
7 Jeep Wrangler
Jeeps are known for all sorts of things, but they’re the epitome of masculinity in this day and age. In fact, sales of the Wrangler have doubled since 2007, so it’s still a very popular choice amongst the general public. The popularity has a lot to do with the heritage of the Wrangler and how post-World War II veterans identified with them. The design authenticity and capability are just the icing on the cake. The capability of the Jeep Wrangler is seen off the pavement. It’s arguably one of the best off-road vehicles in the market, putting to shame some of the more advanced cars. However, I don’t think the Wrangler is what you’d want to take to a tailgate party. The sound of the engine and the limited space will give you trouble.
6 Audi A8
I had no intention of including a legitimate full-size or any size car—unless it had something spectacular that made it worthy of being on this list—until I realized some people’s reality of taking an Audi A8 to tailgate parties. I’m a bit confused about what the purpose of a luxury sedan would be. It’s not like the seats fold or anything; it's just a good-looking luxury car with no contiguous cargo area. I think some people might try to take it to a tailgate party to show off the Audi part. It looks beautiful, so it might grab attention. It’s a luxury car, so it has Wi-Fi hotspot and has a posh interior. But the most you can do is sit with four people and eat the party food and use the hotspot to brag about the party online.
5 Nissan Juke
Meaning to demonstrate agility in an SUV, the Juke hit the market in 2010. I won’t judge the exterior. It’s really up to you whether you like it or not. Into curvy, tadpole-like, cartoonish cars? This is probably the best reality you’ve seen. Not into that? Well, then it’s a nightmare. But regardless of the exterior, the interior is where it gets beaten up by other SUVs. It’s an SUV for the sake of it only—being a subcompact SUV, there are plenty of mid-size and, of course, full-size sedans that outdo this SUV in terms of storage area. You might be tempted to take it to a tailgate party because of an accessible and continuous rear, but space will be a limiting factor. I also realized how cheap and plastic-like the interior looks. You really need to like the exterior to buy this car.
4 Nissan Titan
Oh boy, another Nissan in the “avoid category.” Hopefully, Nissan has something more to offer than just the Godzilla and the 370z. The Titan hadn’t been popular with the public, as this pickup truck didn’t offer any extraordinary things. Besides, Ford and Chevy had dominated the market. Recently, though, things have become better for the Titan with a powerful V8 engine and a revamping in design. Three configurations are offered, and the beast has a decent towing capacity of 9,740 lb. The ride quality is decent, it looks good, and the bed has some handy tiedown hooks. You can use the tiedown hooks for other purposes when driving the pickup, but unfortunately, it won’t come in handy for tailgating. There’s no bed step, so have fun with loading your water cooler, too.
3 A Used Ambulance
I wanted to throw an oddball here. It has some serious tailgating features, as you can imagine would be the case with a capacious cargo area—it’s a used ambulance, meaning, there's room for a patient on a stretcher and a couple of EMS personnel. You’d have all the room for a TV, a water cooler, and what have you. The one you see here is from the University of Toledo. The only way this would be a great tailgating gig is if it was communal—imagine the cost of running, storing, and maintaining it if it wasn't. But if it’s communal, then you can’t personalize it, because hey, it’s not yours only. If you had the option of buying one of these, it would be up to you to make the difficult call.
2 Nissan Frontier
I was hoping it wouldn’t be another Nissan on the list, but I guess Nissan hasn’t fully understood how to captivate the pickup drivers. It’s still learning the ropes, while Ford and Chevy have mastered the pickup marque. Being the smallest truck offered by Nissan, it’s also the cheapest in the market. Naturally, the powertrain is mediocre—I shouldn’t say “naturally,” though, as the engines of some (small-size) vehicles defy the size and category expectation. You’ll like the affordable price, however. Besides that, the only reason you’d take this to a tailgate event is that you have it, as the bed is too small. Additionally, unlike some of the other vehicles here, the driver-assist safety features are lacking, and the interior seems to miss out on the advances in technology.
1 Pontiac Aztek
Look, this vehicle has all the props needed for a tailgate gig. It has a good stereo system with rear controls, a two-piece tailgate to accommodate cupholders, and a cargo tray that won’t break until it’s bombarded with something over 400 lbs. All in all, it knows how to get the job done. I would've gladly put it on the other side of this list had it not been for one reason.
What are you going to do after the tailgating event is done? Take the leftover fuel from the party and light it on fire? Hide it in the garage? Probably not. So, either you drive this car to all the other places you need to go, or you don’t even drive it to tailgate parties because you didn’t buy this because you knew you’d have to drive it everywhere else if you bought it.