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Kelley Blue Book: The 10 best cars for beach lovers

Who doesn’t love a fun day at the beach? Planning a trip to the beach is easy, but choosing the right car for driving through sand can pose its challenges. Do you want to bring some jet skis or a boat with you? Are you taking your kids and their friends on a beach day? Or maybe you and your partner want to cruise the boulevard.

For every adventure, ranging from taking the family to your local state beach to tackling sand, here are our picks for the best vehicles to take to the beach.

What to look for in a beach car

When looking for the best beach car, it’s important to find one that can handle all your needs. For example, you may need a vehicle that can handle going off-road but want one that also looks good while doing it. You’ll also need a vehicle with decent towing capacity and torque if you plan on bringing a personal watercraft or boat.

2021 Ford Bronco Sport

KBB rating: 4.6
Starting price: $26,660
Max. cargo space: 65.2 cu ft

The Ford Bronco Sport

Ford

If you’re looking for an SUV that can do it all, then you’re in luck. The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is designed to look good and work hard. It offers impressive off-road capabilities thanks to its standard five G.O.A.T modes. The G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Terrain) modes can be activated whenever you want. This system allows you to go over any terrain you can think of, including — you guessed it — sand. It also comes standard with 4-wheel drive.

Outside of playing in the sand, the Ford
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Bronco Sport offers decent cargo space with a maximum of 65.2 cubic feet with the seats down, enabling you to fit two upright mountain bikes back there and a cooler full of food and drinks. Speaking of a cooler, the vehicle comes with a built-in bottle opener, perfect for beverages at the beach. In addition, the Bronco Sport comes standard with a peppy turbocharged 3-cylinder engine or an optional turbocharged 4-cylinder.

2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (4-Door)

KBB rating: 3.9
Starting price: $31,795
Max. cargo space: 72.4 cu ft

The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is another all-terrain vehicle that can tackle the shifting sand on the beach. Off-road capability aside, the Jeep is still one of the best beach-friendly vehicles out there. Its removable doors and roof allow you to soak up every ounce of sunshine you could possibly want.

When it comes to driving off-road, the Wrangler Unlimited can get you in and out of any beach corner you desire. Once there, the standard 4WD and V6 engine will have little issue managing any sandy surface. When you combine the freedom you have inside the vehicle and the Jeep’s capabilities, the Wrangler is among the best for a day at the beach.

2021 Ford F-150 Raptor

KBB rating: Not yet rated
Starting price: $64,145
Max. cargo space: 52.8 cubic feet

The Ford F-150 Raptor is an absolute animal. It’s a high-power, high-speed pickup truck that brings off-road capabilities.

Ford gave this F-150 model a 450-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine that also packs 510 lb-ft of torque, making it great for hauling your equipment to the beach in the truest sense of the word. The Raptor has a max towing capacity of 8,200 pounds, meaning hooking up a trailer with a small camper or a pair of personal watercraft would be no problem for this truck.

When it comes to its off-roading abilities, the Raptor also stands out. It comes standard with 4WD and seven different terrain management settings that you can turn on depending on the terrain. If you want to arrive in style while bringing all of your gear, the Raptor definitely gets the job done.

2021 Mercedes Benz GLS

KBB rating: 4.3
Starting price: $76,900
Max. cargo space: 48.7 cu ft

The Mercedes-Benz GLS

Look, we know what you’re thinking. Who in their right mind drives a Mercedes-Benz GLS on the beach? Anyone who wants a sophisticated ride and wants to look prestigious while doing so, while also being pampered. The GLS is a great vehicle for family trips to the beach. This roomy 3-row SUV comes standard with room for seven passengers and opulent amenities such as ventilated and massaging seats. This makes taking the whole family out for some fun in the sun a hassle-free and luxurious experience.

And here’s a surprise: This GLS can actually tow almost anything you need to the beach, even a boat. It brings up to 7,700 pounds of towing capacity partnered with a standard V6 engine, but you can bump it up to a V8 if you want even more of a wallop. Still, the V6 produces plenty of power: 369 lb-ft of torque and 362 horsepower.

Also see: Why a minivan is the best car ever

When it’s time to drive in the sand, there’s a cool bounce mode that helps this Mercedes get unstuck when in sand. This luxury model can do it all and makes a perfect day at the beach even better.

2021 Land Rover Defender 110

KBB rating: 4.0
Starting price: $50,500
Max. cargo space: 78.8 cu ft

The Land Rover Defender comes standard with four-wheel drive.

The Land Rover Defender 110 can take you from the mountains to the beach with ease. The British manufacturer built this SUV with off-road enthusiasts in mind. It has standard features that include terrain modes — including sand — and a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that good for 296 horsepower. An available turbo 6-cylinder engine brings even more punch, The Defender also comes standard with 4WD to make getting around in the sand that much easier.

The Defender makes it easy to transport the whole family. It has 7-person seating in the 4-door model, while the 2-door Defender 90 can seat five or — uniquely — up to six thanks to an available 3-person front bench. It also comes with lots of cool things that make driving one that much better, like the ladder that helps you reach the roof and available thick, deep-sided rubber mats to protect the interior floor. This makes cleaning after a day at the beach that much easier.

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata

KBB rating: 4.8
Starting price: $26,830
Max. cargo space: 4.6 cu ft

The Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda

The Mazda
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MX-5 Miata might be the perfect couple’s car at the beach. And of all the cars on this list, the Miata may be the most fun to drive. First and foremost, it’s a roadster, the perfect car for a sunny day.

On top of that, it has amazing handling made to hug corners. It is quick, and its rear-wheel-drive architecture helps give it that extra kick when accelerating. That makes the driving experience in the Miata refreshing and fun. But you’ll need to pack lightly when taking this vehicle to the beach since trunk space is limited.

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The Miata provides a great driving experience thanks to its athletic chassis and what’s under the hood. It comes stocked with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that allows you to enjoy the ride in this small, sporty car. It puts out 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, making it a vehicle with some power to keep you happy when driving with the top down.

All in all, the Miata is a great choice for driving to the beach on a great, sun-filled day.

2021 Jeep Gladiator

KBB rating: 4.0
Starting price: $ 33,545
Max. cargo space: 52.8 cu ft

The Jeep Gladiator

Jeep

The Jeep Gladiator can handle just about anything that you throw at it. It will get you, a few friends, and a boat to the beach without much of a hassle. Combined with the towing ability, the Gladiator has a 5-foot bed that can accommodate various beach toys and gear. To make this an even better beach vehicle than it already is, you can remove the doors just like with the Wrangler, allowing you to get all of that good Vitamin D from the sun. If you want a memorable beach experience, you can opt for a more expensive package and get a hard or soft-top convertible.

Jeep gave this pickup truck a standard V6 engine with standard 4WD. This helps to produce 285 horsepower and 260 feet-pounds of torque. While these numbers might not sound high, this translates to 4,000 pounds of towing capability. So, if you need a beach vehicle that can tow a boat directly to the water, this will get the job done. Plus, just like the Wrangler, the Jeep Gladiator is ready for the sand.

2021 Subaru Outback

KBB rating: 4.6
Starting price: $27,845
Max. cargo space: 75.7 cu ft

The Outback

Subaru

When not driving on asphalt, the Subaru Outback has no problem tackling whatever ground is beneath it. The Outback comes with standard all-wheel drive, as well as 8.7 inches of ground clearance. There’s no question why the Outback is one of Subaru’s
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best-selling vehicles. This Subaru is somewhat of a mutt — half wagon and half SUV — and offers qualities of both. Its roomy cargo space and easy-to-use roof rack make bringing beach umbrellas, kayaks, or anything else you might need to haul to the beach quick and easy. It’s a vehicle built for adventures.

The standard AWD allows power to go to every wheel, making driving over sand a reality. As for its performance, it comes with a 2.5-liter flat-4 engine, but this can be upgraded to a turbocharged engine if you want more punch. However, the standard engine can hold its own with 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. It has great off-roading capabilities, so if you have to go through a forest or travel an unconventional path to the beach, the Outback can get you there.

2021 Toyota Sienna

KBB rating: 4.7
Starting price: $34,460
Max. cargo space: 101 cu ft

The all-new Toyota
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Sienna is the ultimate beach-going minivan. For starters, this is one of the sportiest and sleekest minivans on the market. If you truly want the entire family to relax all the way to the beach, this can help make that happen. It seats eight passengers comfortably, and because it’s a hybrid, you won’t have to stop as often for gas on the way.

Available features like an HD rear entertainment center, 4-zone climate control, and seven USB ports can keep everyone on board happy. The Sienna’s optional 1500-watt power outlet will let you power a slow cooker, use small appliances, or inflate an air mattress. Now that’s handy for a beach trip.

The Sienna offers a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 243 horsepower, plus it nets fuel economy of 36 mpg combined. You’ll also be impressed with this hybrid’s quick response off the line thanks to its electric motor.

Also see: Onyx, nightfall, midnight—call it what you want, black is the new black in cars

This minivan wouldn’t be the best choice for actual beach driving, even if you opted for all-wheel drive. It’s not for off-roading either. However, getting to the beach and bringing your family and friends along will be much easier in the Sienna, with its spacious cargo space for beach chairs, toys, an umbrella, and a cooler.

2021 Porsche Cayenne

KBB rating: 3.7
Starting price: $67,500
Max. cargo space: 60.3 cu ft

The Porsche Cayenne

Porsche

If you’re looking for some luxury at the beach, the Porsche
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Cayenne can give you just that. While the Cayenne might not be top of mind when you think about driving off-road, the luxury SUV does have real off-pavement capabilities. It has standard AWD, which will help you to maneuver through the sand. It also has different off-roading modes so you can enhance your drive.

The Cayenne can tow an impressive 7,700 pounds. For reference, a pontoon boat weighs around 3,000 pounds. This means that you can look good while towing your boat with you.

When it comes to Porsche’s performance, you probably already know that it packs a punch. The luxury SUV has some serious power with 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. When taking this SUV to the beach, the only worry you have is making sure you get it washed afterward to get it back to its original shine.

Roundup: Best beach cars

1. Ford Bronco Sport
2. Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
3. Ford F-150 Raptor
4. Mercedes Benz GLS
5. Land Rover Defender
6. Mazda MX-5 Miata
7. Jeep Gladiator
8. Subaru Outback
9. Toyota Sienna
10. Porsche Cayenne

FAQ

Can you use AWD on the beach?

Yes. AWD vehicles can handle driving on the sand at the beach.

What kind of car can drive on the beach?

There are many types of vehicles that can drive on the beach. However, the best options would be trucks and SUVs because they tend to have either 4WD or AWD.

Can a car drive on sand?

Yes, but it depends on the kind of vehicle. Sand can be tricky to drive on. Many SUVs and trucks have built-in terrain modes which allow the vehicle to drive on the sand. Even without those modes, take precautions. Some measures, such as airing down tire pressure, are required to prevent getting stuck. It’s also better to drive on packed-down sand and where you see other cars driving on the beach.

This story originally ran on KBB.com.

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