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Active Cars for the New Active You

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author photo by Autotrader May 2008

Have you ever passed a car with a surfboard on the roof or a mountain bike on the back? For at least a second, it's difficult to not envy that driver. You imagine that while you're headed to work, that person is about to go snowboarding or heli-skiing. The truth is they're probably going to work also.

With the spread of crossovers and SUVs, a growing number of people are asking their vehicles to multitask. In the morning they're loyal commuting vehicles, and after work, the chariots to an off-the-beaten-path adventure. And manufacturers have responded by making it easier to pursue active lifestyles with a variety of new vehicles.

So what's stopping you? It's probably less than you think. In this article, we'll introduce you to great vehicle options and give you suggestions on ways to use each.


The Vehicles

A few years ago, Nissan took a bold step into an arena previously dominated in large part by Jeep with the introduction of the X-terra. But since its release, a number of vehicles have been created to cater to that segment of the industry. Here is a brief selection organized for casual fans to off-road enthusiasts:


Dodge Magnum
Although not as obvious as some other active vehicles, the Magnum delivers an exciting experience. The key is the performance balance created by pairing a Hemi engine with the space generosity of a station wagon. The Magnum is a great choice for an American-made car designed for active living.

Suggestion: Big on size, the Magnum makes no claims about anything but the paved road. Think road biking, rollerblading and other activities you might do in the city.


Honda Element
This vehicle features 64 different space options, a durable utility floor, water-resistant seat fabric and countless features that virtually beg you to go outside. Although not attempting to upstage the Jeep in terms of off-road ruggedness, the Element is making a play for the title of "most versatile vehicle."

Suggestion: It might not climb Everest, but the Element is built for fun. You can clean the interior floor with a hose, which is very convenient. And a real-time four-wheel drive system keeps you moving smoothly. It's perfect for camping.


Subaru Baja
Although no longer made, a used Baja is fairly easy to find. What's nice is that it avoids going overboard in either the car or the truck department. While there's ample room for passengers, there's also a short bed that will hold a mountain bike or other gear. If you want a light introduction into outdoor activities, the Baja is a good choice.

Suggestion: With all-wheel drive and the Subaru rally car legacy, the Baja is suited for some dirt and grime. Try mountain biking, hiking and other activities that tend to be available in places like state parks.


Toyota FJ Cruiser
A newcomer, the FJ is a throwback to a classic design that helped make the name Toyota stand for durability. It can climb 20-degree grades, ford 3-foot deep rapids and as Toyota claims "drive over boulders the size of refrigerators." Hopefully, you'll never need that, but if you go camping, it's nice to know your vehicle can handle a little mud.

Suggestion: Watching the FJ tear through the Baja 1000, a race in Mexico's Baja Peninsula, leaves little doubt that Toyota is gunning for off-road fans. With the FJ, you don't need another sport — the vehicle is the sport, opening up off-roading as all the activity you need.


Jeep
The king of active lifestyle vehicles, Jeep has turned a good idea into an empire, with the introduction of a whole family of options. From the full-size Commander to the popular four-door Wrangler Unlimited, chances are you can find a Jeep that fits your plans.

Suggestion: Suggesting ways you can use a Jeep to pursue an active lifestyle is similar to suggesting ways a boat can help you explore water. Our best suggestion is to simply open your front door. Chances are, everything you see can be explored with a Jeep.


Hummer H3
Even when Hummer goes small, they go big. Although it's the most compact member of the family, the H3 is still huge on outdoor fun. From classic Hummer cues to the skid plate and large tires, the H3 can take you deep into off-road adventures.

Suggestion: The nice thing about the H3 is that it seamlessly switches from off-road vehicle to luxury vehicle. Designed to climb the fiercest slopes or pull up gracefully to a valet, there are few activities the H3 won't be able to handle.


Pickup trucks
In the last few years, pickup trucks have become more playful. From the Chevy Avalanche to the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, manufacturers have stretched the definition of "truck" and "car." Although we can't possibly list every truck that fits within this category, we can say you should never ignore a pickup truck as an option.

Suggestion: When it comes to choosing a pickup truck for activities, it comes down to the bed. Do you go full bed or extended cab or maybe a hybrid of both? Answer that, and you'll know whether it will be easy to load a kayak or just a skateboard.

Above all, make sure you assess your lifestyle. Snowboard before you let that sport impact your decision. See if your schedule is going to fit a new love of mudding. And, make sure you test drive on the highway. Occasionally, vehicles that excel off-road fail to offer the utmost in on-road driving comfort. If you're commuting most of the week, make sure your car handles well in real-life situations.

A great way to assess what type of vehicle your lifestyle demands is to research your options online. At AutoTrader.com you can build and price a car, compare models side by side and learn more about what might be perfect for you in the Work & Play lifestyle center. Best of all, when you know what you want, you can quickly search through more than 3 million vehicle listings.

Start exploring today and before you know it, you just might be the one driving the SUV with the surfboard on the roof rack. 

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Active Cars for the New Active You - Autotrader