Texans take their tailgating seriously.
Even from 5,000 miles away, Eric Davis manages to partake in the tailgating fun that accompanies every University of Texas at Austin football game. Though he has moved to London, Davis phones his buddies, who congregate in the stadium parking lot before each game, to do a chant and beer-chug - the Texas Sip.
He's passionate about tailgating and keeping alive a tradition the group has had for nine years. And he's not alone.
Across the country hundreds of thousands of people gather in stadium parking lots to hang out with friends and family before hitting the stadium to cheer on their favorite college and professional teams.
It's a party around a car - and choosing the right car can make all the difference between fun and frustration."I started doing this with my friends a long time ago and every year you'd find one new thing to add to the tailgate," says Davis, who began tailgating as a freshman and graduated from the University of Texas in 2002. For his last season of in-person tailgating in 2006, he added satellite television to the portable propane grille, tent, tables and chairs he would lug in the back of his Acura TSX. "It was just one more thing to entertain you," he says.
It was also one more thing that required extra gear, including a 20-inch television, receiver box, satellite dish, deep-cycle marine battery, cables and other stuff.
Although the Acura TSX isn't on our list of great vehicles for tailgating, it met Davis' needs thanks to the fold-down rear seats that make room for bulky cargo.
"I like to have a vehicle that's large enough to carry my gear, but small enough to fit in a parking space with my gear," says Joe Cahn, self-proclaimed "Commissioner of Tailgating" who runs www.tailgating.com. "It used to be you had to have a pickup or a big rig to bring a grill out to the game. Now you can just get a portable grill that will fold up and fit in the trunk of a car or in the back of an SUV."
Our list of great vehicles for tailgating is green-themed. We sought out models that balance practicality with good fuel economy. That's why you'll find the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid and Volkswagen Jetta TDI on the list. All get better-than-average mileage and all are roomy enough to fit five people plus all the trappings for a parking-lot party.
In Pictures: Tailgate-Friendly Vehicles
Style-conscious city dwellers will like the Mini Cooper Clubman and Scion xB - both gas sippers - on our list. They make the most of their diminutive dimensions and are a solid choice for tailgating urbanites or drivers just looking to downsize without crimping style or practicality.
Pickup trucks are always popular with the tailgating crowd, and for the ones that made our list - like the Dodge Ram and Honda Ridgeline, among others - we specify the most fuel-efficient engine and drivetrain combinations in keeping with our focus on environmentally friendly tailgating.
To that end, we also looked for models with special features that help tailgaters revel more conscientiously, like integrated power inverters that negate the need for loud and smelly generators.
Go to the accompanying slideshow to see the full list of great vehicles for tailgating.
In an effort to make their vehicles stand out from the competition, automakers are adding innovative features that are boon for tailgaters.
For instance, the Ford Flex is great for tailgating not just because of its spacious, well-laid-out interior that seats up to seven, but also because its third-row seats tip back so revelers can sit facing rearward, looking out the open tailgate where the action is. It also offers an optional refrigerator that can hold seven 12-ounce cans or four half-liter bottles.
The Chrysler Town & Country minivan can be order with second-row seats that swivel to face the rear. Add an optional table that mounts quickly in the floor and instantly the vehicle becomes a mobile picnic area.
Several vehicles on our list, including the Dodge Journey crossover utility vehicle, have power outlets for portable electronic devices and appliances. They're not only convenient, but also good for the environment.
"Look for a vehicle that comes with a built-in power inverter and 110-volt electrical plugs so you don't have to bring along a generator that wastes gas and pollutes the air to power a TV set or crock pot," says Jay DiEugenio, avid tailgater and host of the nationally syndicated radio program "The Tailgate Guy."
Removable, water-tight storage bin can be used as drink coolers, like those under the rear seats of the Dodge Journey, are also convenient and environmentally friendly.
"People have been trying for years to get refrigerators and freezers out to the tailgating site," DiEugenio says. "But there's nothing more efficient and economical for cooling your food and drinks than ice."
He suggests pickup-truck buyers choose a model like the Dodge Ram, which includes compartments built into the sides of the cargo bed that can be used as ice chests. The Honda Ridgeline pickup takes another approach, with a large compartment under the cargo bed.
Downsize Without Compromising
Tailgaters looking for a versatile vehicle that's small and fuel efficient should consider the Honda Element. It has rear doors that swing back instead of forward to create a large opening on the sides of the vehicle for easy access to the interior.
The front and back seats fold flat to make a bed. The back seats also fold up the sides of the vehicle to expand cargo capacity. A removable rear floor panel doubles as a picnic table, and the Element even offers an enclosed cabana that attaches to the rear of the vehicle and can be expanded to cover a table of food. That feature is available as an accessory sold at Honda dealerships.
Tailgaters who put a premium on style and want something even smaller and more efficient than the Element will like the Mini Cooper Clubman. It offers the go-cart performance and great fuel economy of the smaller Cooper hatchback, but is 9.4 inches longer with a larger interior to better accommodate occupants and cargo. It also has a third half-door on the passenger side - similar to the Honda Element - to ease access to the rear seats.Reveling Responsibly
For tailgaters serious about going green, there's more to it than driving a vehicle that consumes less fuel and emits less exhaust. Besides recycling bottles, cans and paper products, there are many little things tailgaters can do to be more responsible revelers.
"The most important way to reduce waste at the tailgate lot is to get a checklist together the day before the game of what you're going to bring and stick to it," DiEugenio says. "If your checklist normally has plastic food storage bags on it, put washable food containers on it instead. Don't bring paper plates or cups, and if you use plastic plates, cups or utensils, make sure they're the kind you can wash off at home and use again."
Other tips include serving finger foods that don't require plates or utensils. Pack food and other gear in fabric shopping sacks, or save and reuse paper or plastic bags.
Cloth napkins and towels cut down on waste, as does buying chips and condiments in bulk packaging rather than single servings. And instead of individual bottles or cans, washable plastic cups and large containers of beverages can also cut down on trash.
On-site chefs should consider using a propane grill instead of charcoal - propane gives off 60 percent to 70 percent fewer hydrocarbons, according to the National Propane Gas Association, and creates less waste. Better yet, try a solar-powered grill if it's sunny.
"Tailgating is the last great American neighborhood. It's a community where we get together with our friends and it's a fascinating way of meeting friends we didn't know we had," Cahn says. "And when we come together to cheer for our team we've got to be aware that the big team is Team Earth."