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5 American Cars for 5 American Road Trips

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author photo by Jessica Shea Choksey April 2016

Since the advent of the automobile, great road trips have been quintessential to the fabric of American culture. For many, there is no greater pastime than getting behind the wheel of a car and driving off in search of adventure on the open road. Often, the only question that remains is "Which direction to go?" We picked five American routes to embark on and five American cars with which to go exploring. The rest is up to you.

The Car: 2016 Ford Mustang Convertible

If there's ever been an example of a classic American muscle with the top off, this is it. Starting at $29,645, the Mustang Convertible offers a choice of robust engines -- including the efficient EcoBoost powertrain -- and a very capable handling experience. Pair that with a well-crafted, open-air interior featuring the new SYNC 3 system. Clearly the GT model with the California Special package is our favorite.

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The Drive: Pacific Coast Highway

As one of the most scenic and breathtaking drives on the planet, this legendary highway spans nearly the full length of the West Coast of America, but its most prolific section stretches from Santa Barbara to Monterey. Enjoy this storied ribbon of cliffside roadway as it twists and turns along the shores of the Pacific. Stop in San Simeon for a tour of Hearst Castle, then up to Big Sur, where forests and beaches magically converge. A few clicks north, and you're on Steinbeck's Cannery Row in Monterey -- a poetic end to a perfect day (or two) of driving.

The Car: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica is almost here and is sure to make the minivan segment a whole lot more interesting. The only thing the original Pacifica shares with the resurrected one is the very catchy name. Everything else has been completely reimagined from the ground up. With its menacing front end and sleek profile, the Pacifica may be the most eye-catching minivan you've ever seen. Ample power comes from a 287-horsepower V6 tied to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Inside, the 8-passenger Pacifica offers a boatload of creature comforts, safety features and tech options. And the innovative Stow 'n Go seats are a must-have. Clever integration of the "License Plate Game" and an "Are We There Yet?" app will help make the Pacifica the ultimate family road tripper. The base MSRP for the Pacifica is $28,595.

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The Drive: U.S. Route 1 (Washington, D.C. to Boston)

This historic road runs the full length of America's Eastern Seaboard, but the section between D.C and Boston in particular captures the birth of our nation. Parents and kids alike will not only enjoy the wide mix of roads and scenery but will also get to learn all about our first 200 years of independence. Start in the nation's capital and make your way up to Baltimore's harbor, where "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written. Continuing north takes you through bucolic Amish country and leads you to Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell. New York City is the next stop, followed by the historic shoreline towns of Rhode Island. The journey ends at Boston Harbor, site of the famous Tea Party and the symbolic beginning of the American Revolution.

The Car: 2016 Jeep Cherokee

This American SUV embodies the spirit of adventure with its unmistakable styling and ruggedly civilized demeanor -- meaning it's just as comfortable in the wild as it is on city streets. A well-powered V6 and a smooth ride combine to make the Cherokee a joy to drive. There's ample passenger room and lots of tech, such as Siri Eyes Free compatibility with the Uconnect system.  The Cherokee has an affordable base price of $23,495.

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The Drive: Route 66

This nostalgic 2,400-mile east-west highway connects Chicago with Santa Monica, tracking through the forgotten realms of a bygone era. Expect to find diners, dives and drive-ins as you make your way across the "Main Street of America." Route 66 has enjoyed celebrity status since its opening 90 years ago and has inspired scores of stories, soundtracks and studio flicks (the most prominent in recent history being Pixar's "Cars"). To properly experience this road and all its folklore, you'll need two solid weeks, but a piecemeal approach works too, if you don't have the time. Either way, you're in for the ride of your life.

The Car: 2016 Buick Cascada

Our other convertible on this list is a much lesser-known offering among American cars. Starting at $33,065, the Buick Cascada is an excellent choice for sun chasers looking for a good-looking, well-built drop-top without a lot of frills. On the outside, the Cascada is sculpted and stylish with an athletic presence. Within, passengers will appreciate the craftsmanship and sophistication of this open-air cabin. And performance is just right thanks to a compact 1.6-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine tied to a 6-speed automatic. Output is an even-keeled 200 hp.

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The Drive: Florida State Road A1A (the Florida coast)

This coastal byway runs from Key West at the southern tip of Florida all the way up the Atlantic side of the Sunshine State. Known for its subtropical scenery and white sandy beaches, the A1A boasts a natural beauty as it runs along East Florida's Barrier Islands. Popular destinations on this route include Miami's South Beach, Kennedy Space Center and Daytona International Speedway. The A1A has also served as the backbone of Florida's spring break culture for over 50 years.

The Car: 2016 Chevrolet Equinox

For many reasons, the affordable 2-row Chevrolet Equinox is a popular contender in the compact-crossover segment. First and foremost, it offers a nice, smooth ride, ideal for long road trips. Inside, the passenger compartment is comfortable, quiet and spacious with a number of thoughtful features such as an adjustable back seat. Under the hood, we suggest the V6 engine (over the 4-cylinder) for its strong performance, especially during highway passing. For 2016, the Equinox receives a restyling to the front and rear fascias and a number of refinements to the interior, plus an attractive entry price at $22,600.

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The Drive: The Great River Road (Minnesota to Louisiana)

If Mark Twain were to take a road trip, this would be it. With over 2,000 miles of asphalt along the Mississippi River, the Great River Road passes through 10 states, starting in Minnesota and winding down through the Heartland and the Deep South until hitting the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Big towns on this route include Minneapolis, St. Louis and New Orleans, each with its own distinct music, culture and food, making this roadway one of the most interesting cross sections of America. Laden with landmarks, attractions and historical sites, this epic road trip includes the Gateway Arch of St. Louis, the French Quarter of New Orleans, Memphis blues and more classic riverboats than you can imagine.

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5 American Cars for 5 American Road Trips - Autotrader