USA TODAY - What are the coolest road-trip vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year? Step aside, regular SUVs and passenger cars. Here are my favorites:
1) The Ford Transit Connect Wagon: Coming out later this year, the passenger version of the popular small cargo van may not be the sexiest vehicle on the road. But it is so useful. Its long version seats seven. The rear seats fold down to make such a flat, wide surface that you could either put a sleeping bag in the back at bedtime or tote luggage for 20 Boy Scouts. It promises to be reasonably priced, can tow up to 2,000 pounds and gets up to 30 m.p.g. Call me crazy, but I like its humble vibe.
2) Mercedes GL450 SUV: OK, so its base price is about $64,000, plus options. Forget about that for a minute. This gorgeous SUV has optional, huge video screens embedded in the seats so each rear passenger has his own, sort of like on an airplane, but far plusher. Perfect for boring rides of 1,000 miles or more -- you'll never notice the world outside your Mercedes cocoon.
3) The Greenbrier van: It looks like a vehicle for Scooby-Doo -- and wait, it could be! It dates from 1963. It's easy to imagine this creaky Corvair-based van rattling down the highway, windows open, driver's hair flying, radio blasting. This Greenbrier's interior has been modified to a photo booth at the Chevrolet exhibit, tucked away near the back of the auto show. Take a picture of it, not just yourself in it.
4) Hyundai Veloster C3 Rolltop concept car: The hip road-trip vehicle on display at the Hyundai exhibit is white with turquoise wheel covers, with a white-and-turquoise bike sticking out the back of its odd-shaped hatchback. This concept car has a fold-down tailgate and a canvas roof that slides forward or backward to retract, depending on what you are carrying. It has three doors -- two on the left and one on the right. I can see a lot of good ideas here for a future road-trip-friendly production car.
5) Subaru Outback: Compared to all the flash and dash at this glittering show, this vehicle actually is pretty boring. So what? Its brand is so strong that it screams of being a fit, outdoorsy traveler, even if you're only driving it to church with your poodle.
6) Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition: True, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a more practical road-trip vehicle for 99% of travelers, especially families (and I'm happy to hear that Jeep also is bringing back a seven-passenger Grand Wagoneer in 2014). But nobody will forget you in Yellowstone if you show up in this glowy orange Wrangler, with its chunky hardware and flashy good looks. It also comes in handy for towing pretty girls' cars out of ditches.
7) Toyota FJ Cruiser: Again, this will never replace the more luxurious Land Cruiser for long family trips. It also has small rear doors and a tiny backseat. But it has interesting optional dials on the dashboard, including a floating-ball "inclinometer" that tells you how far over you're tipped. Wow! Your mother will be so pleased. Fun for driving west through the Rockies, and then into a giant mud puddle.