Best Cars for the Drive-ins
NOSTALGIC CINEMA EXPERIENCE
In recent months, a rather nostalgic feeling Pacific Northwest has seen a surge in popularity of the pinnacle of 50’s date-nights, the drive-in movie theater. Here in Kitsap County we’re fortunate enough to play host to one of the most popular and classically designed of these locations, The Rodeo Drive-In Theater. One of my fondest memories growing up comes from my Dad lending me his 1998 Dodge Ram, stuffing the 6ft bed to the brim with pillows, friends and snacks, and enjoying a double feature under the stars. (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Age of Extinction.) How lucky we were to grow up near such a place.
MOVIE WATCHING IN A NEW CAR
My employment with Liberty Bay Auto, a highly rated used car dealership, surrounds me with tons of quality pre-owned late-model cars, trucks, and SUVs and it got me wondering which of these shiny new things would be best to drive to and enjoy time-tested and recently-revived activity known as the drive in theater. This curiosity set in motion my writing this article. I’ve compiled and cross-referenced lists for both sound system quality, seat comfort, and forward visibility in late-model consumer cars, and came up with four great options, as well as one honorable mention.
Let’s start with Car and Driver Magazine’s 2019 Editor’s Choice Award recipient: the Nissan Altima. Bose, an obvious giant in the audio industry, has provided sound systems for factory-model Nissans for quite some time now; the result has been a satisfying and rich audio experience available in an affordable consumer car. The 2019 Nissan Altima, a model you’re liable to find on the Liberty Bay Auto lot, is no exception – it’s 9 speaker system and the well balanced sound it produces is great for the Altima’s price point.
Like the average modern sedan, the Altima seats up to five people in two rows – of course, for our purposes the two front seats matter the most. These feature cloth upholstery as well as an eight-way-power-adjustable driver’s seat. Nissan’s ‘Zero Gravity’ seats are highly rated, seen as some of the best in the size class. With plenty of leg room to stretch out.
A quick search online will turn up hundreds of reviews of the Nissan Altima which praise it’s large window size. It’s heightened visibility for it’s class makes it a safe choice on the road, but also an all around good pick for a trip to the modern-movies. All things considered, the 2019 Altima is not a bad choice for this list at all.
Like Nissan, Toyota has also held a partnership with a sound hardware company for some time, that partnership lies with a company formerly known as James B. Lansing Sound, also known as JBL. JBL is one of the longest standing audio-hardware companies around – their invention of the L100 Century loudspeaker in 1970 cemented them in the annals of big sound. The company lives on and produces a range of speakers for all sorts of uses, including the well designed hardware found in the 2019 Toyota Avalon. The Avalon does boast an additional five speakers over the Altima’s nine, making for a 14 speaker system powered by a 1200-watt amp, achieving a clean and enveloping 7.1 channel surround sound.
The Toyota Avalon’s interior rates highly among consumers, mainly for it’s plush seats and notable roominess. It’s seats come in two upholstery options; an easily cleanable material Toyota names SofTex, and a more luxurious two-tone Cognac Leather option. These comfortable seats reside in a cabin that provides plenty of leg and head room – 42.1 and 37.4 inches, respectively. With available real wood and real aluminum interior options, it’s hard not to root for this affordably classy viewing experience.
The 2019 Avalon is big for its size class – not ridiculously so, and holds a good rating for front visibility. Of course, as mentioned with the 2019 Altima, this benefit for stationary movie-watching is great for our purposes, but also doubles as a benefit for keeping your family safe on the road.
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER
If you’re privy to high quality audio, the name Meridian should sound pretty familiar. Range Rover’s own website boasts a concert-like experience from the Meridian sound systems built into the Range-Rover platform. This is achieved by a technology-packed sound system, advanced software t’boot. The surround sound is delivered clearly and precisely through a studding of mini-speakers throughout the cabin, including in the headliner. It’s worth mentioning that luxury brands such as Jaguar and McClaren also use Meridian brand technology for their sound systems.
Range Rovers have long held status with celebrities and leaders alike as their SUV of choice – names on that list including NBA star Michael Jordan, actor Sylvester Stallone, prize-fighter Mike Tyson, and even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. With celebrity endorsement like that, it’s hard to poke holes in the comfort and luxury of the Land Rover Range Rover.
We might have mentioned that the first two vehicles on our list, sedans, were of fairly considerable size for their class – make no mistake, the Land Rover Range Rover is pretty big, too. Luckily for the purposes of our list, that usually coincides with high front visibility. While the lower-sitting vehicles behind you may hold disdain for your vehicle’s dominating stature – you simply won’t hear their irate cries over the full rich sound of the Meridian-made sound system we mentioned before.
MERCEDES BENZ E-CLASS
Although a lesser known sound-hardware company, Burmester, the provider for sound-systems in the Mercedes Benz E-Class, has been heralded as providing a “better than live” sound quality, according to Financial Times magazine. Four years in the making prior to it’s initial release in 2013, the Burmester automotive surround sound system is unparalleled in craftsmanship and quality. Every idea, part, and process was developed in house, and each speaker crafted by hand. This care and quality shines through in the presentation of high quality music, which is full and real.
The Mercedes Benz E-Class ranks well in general visibility, which can only bode well for the purposes of our list. Sure, you don’t need to see the big-screen out of your side-windows, but driving home safely is important too, and the E-Class’ visibility means this is assured.
Mercedes Benz has always held a high reputation for luxurious comfort – it’s obviously a large part of what gives them their long standing reputation as a luxury consumer car brand. The seats in the E-Class are amply cushioned, regarded as some of the most comfortable in the luxury midsize class. The front seats also feature plenty of electronic adjustments. Sure, you can lean back in your car – but can you lean back in this classy comfort?
HONORABLE MENTION: HONDA FIT
In it’s base model, the Honda Fit includes a four-speaker sound system, powered by a 160 watt amp. Upgrading to the Sport Model, however, will grant an additional two speakers, twenty watts more from the amp, and a host of connectivity features. The six-speaker upgraded system certainly sounds better than the four speaker system, but won’t deliver the same high quality audio of some of our other featured vehicles in this article.
The Fit has one of the roomiest cabins in the class. While comfy for a time, the seats don’t boast any specifically stellar qualities, and only the driver’s seat features a height adjustment, but the room in the cabin means passing around snacks and finding a place to set your fountain drink won’t be a problem. For the roominess of it’s interior, however, the Fit is an excellent compact car choice, especially for commuters, as it boasts excellent gas mileage.
The Honda fit holds excellent ratings in visibility as well – and for our purposes, the large windshield and non-prolific hood make for a clean viewing experience at the movies. It may not have overly-impressed us in any one specific category, but the 2019 Honda Fit’s surprisingly roomy interior and available six-speaker sound system made it a good choice for an affordable runner up.