Because not everyone wants a minivan, sport/utility vehicles have assumed the mantle of all-purpose family expeditor. There's a special breed of full-size SUV out there with three rows of seats, a truck-based ladder frame, V-8 power, a macho stance, and a tractor-beam tenacity to tow something really, really big. Oh, and don't forget four-wheel drive, even though most of these big rigs will go to their second owners without low range ever being engaged.
The point is, you would if you could, but you won't if you don't have the hardware for that life-defining remote rendezvous. We're talking battlestars here. Whether you define adventure as parasailing off El Capitan or visiting the jump house in Uncle Milt's driveway, a well-kitted utility wagon can come in handy. Three-hour fertilizer sale across town? Bring it on. Running cupcakes to the season finale peewee football game? Got it covered. Sunday family drive to Stuckey's for Moon Pies? What's in those things anyway?
Back in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when the only full-size utility wagons were the Chevy/GMC Suburban and the International Travelall, the emphasis was more Sears & Roebuck than Abercrombie & Fitch. Families sweated it out on prairie-flat bench seats, played Chinese Checkers, or sang "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." But today's buyers expect large SUVs to offer all the latest conveniences and sophistication cars do--perhaps even more so, considering the average $40K-plus price point.
We gathered three of the top-selling and two of the newest entries in this specialized segment for a road trip. Our two-week evaluation would take us over icy mountain passes, across sandy desert dunes, deadheading down mind-numbing Interstates, threading through freaky freeway gridlock, and parking in even scarier shopping-mall lots. Here's what we found.