Home, Home on the Road

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

1999 Family Vacation Guide, Backseat Bliss

Home, Home on the Road

People are plugging so many electronic gizmos into their cars, you have to wonder whether they should install a surge protector just to start the engine. Vehicles can be equipped with TVs, VCRs, PlayStations, Nintendos, and computer outlets, opening up a world of tens of thousands of game titles. Certainly, the backseat passengers are distracted (my neighbor's two boys once refused to get out of the car while their parents were unpacking from a road trip because the TV was on). At this point the journey itself becomes incidental; car travel is really no different from sitting in your own home.

Bring on the Arcade
While some of us are still mired in the past, preferring sightseeing and conversation to the exploding bombs and motorcycle crashes of high-octane, multimedia heaven, this Brave New World of Road Tripping is at least a democratic one. Since these electronic devices aren't factory-installed by the manufacturer, just about any family vehicle can be rigged for the millennium. For instance, take the Chevy Suburban, the SUV that redefined family travel; the Dodge Caravan, one of the best-selling minivans on the planet; or the gas-stingy Subaru Forester, the pet car of coin-conscious families. These models are wonderful in their unplugged forms; however, a call to Audiovox (516-231-7750; www.audiovox. com) transforms them into rolling game rooms. Audiovox has TVs and VCRs (which can be adapted for PlayStation and Nintendo) to fit virtually any car on the road. Our favorite is the LCD monitor, which flips down from the ceiling like a windshield visor with a VCR that can be stowed in the back cargo area. The unit retails for $1,500 uninstalled.

Rolling Living Rooms
Manufacturers are also jam-packing their vehicles with so many luxury appointments that they only need a few pieces of original art to make them nicer than most living rooms. A good barometer of increasing road comfort is the number of chi-chi car manufacturers that are now in the family way. Case in point: Lexus's RX 300, voted Motor Trend's 1999 Sport Utility of the Year, was cited for its affordability, beefy engine, pampered ride, leather seats, walnut trim, two power outlets (bring on the laptops), cup holders, and pinch protection on windows (they retreat when obstructions, such as tiny fingers, are sensed). On the heels of the Mercedes-Benz ML320, Cadillac has come up with a five-star SUV, the new Escalade, with an interior nicer than the Harvard Club library, a whopping five auxiliary power outlets, and a special Night Vision feature for the headlights.

Auto Accoutrements
Popes and English royalty have been ferried about in Land Rovers, whose maker has epitomized luxury off-road travel for the past 51 years. Now there is the recently overhauled Discovery Series II. With its stadium seating (the rear seats are slightly elevated above the front, giving kid passengers the feeling that they haven't been relegated to backseat hell), cathedral ceilings, and plethora of window glass, this is indeed the ultimate family touring car. Mercury also takes the SUV class to new heights of luxury with its two-year-old Mountaineer model. The brawny engine is completely muffled by generous cabin insulation. Included are a digital audio memo recorder (no need to do anything so pedestrian as to write yourself a note) and second-row reading lamps. What a wonderfully retro idea — reading a book in the car!

Then there's Saab, getting family-friendly this spring with its sporty 9-5 wagon. Understanding that drivers on a long trip crave entertainment, too, Saab provides kid-haulers with its traditional and sporty cockpit dash design; a throaty, all-turbo engine; and superior road-hugging performance at high speeds. Inside, the digs are Saab-swank.

Realizing that road cheery, not weary, is the family-market hot button, Nissan introduced its new Quest minivan with more interior space, different doors (including side sliders on both sides), plus a Smart Shelf cargo-space-optimizing system. Hard to beat, however, is the radio that allows earphoned kids in back to rock out to a Bare Naked Ladies CD while adults in the front catch Dr. Laura on the radio. This radio can also be programmed to interrupt carwide CD or tape play for traffic bulletins. But only, of course, if you choose to let the outside world in.
— Lisa Twyman Bessone

Copyright 1999, Outside magazine

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web