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Published September 27, 2022
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Tree-covered peaks, burbling streams, roadside waterfalls, and oh, that fall foliage bursting with color . . . What’s not to love about a great drive through the mountains of western North Carolina? Even better when it’s in a car built for performance or outdoor adventures.
Want to put your car’s handling to the test? The twists and turns will challenge your driving skills on N.C. 28, also known for good reason as Hellbender 28, or Moonshiner 28, as it was once a major smuggling route for the illegal liquor. A couple of pull-offs will give you great views of Fontana Lake. If you head north on Highway 28, it eventually dead ends at U.S. 129.
Turn right at the intersection of U.S. 129, and you’ll find yourself on the Tail of the Dragon, bordered by the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest. The Tail of the Dragon whips through 318 curves in 11 miles and is considered a destination road for motorcyclists and sports-car enthusiasts. It even has its own website and Instagram accounts, and guarantees “the ride of your life.”
Also in WNC is the Blue Ridge Parkway, billed as “America’s Favorite Drive.” Along the parkway, you’ll encounter Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain peak in the eastern U.S., at 6,684 feet and Linville Gorge, the deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon. The parkway stretches 469 miles from Rockfish Gap, VA, to Cherokee, NC, and there are so many great towns and cities and breathtaking views to explore along the way.
Now, what’s your car of choice when taking a mountain road trip? We’ve selected five we think drivers will love when tackling mountainous roads, ranging from a luxury coupe to an electric vehicle to a rugged SUV. They may vary in make, model, and body style, but have one thing in common—the fun factor, that thing that’ll make you say “wow” as you take the wheel and navigate those twisty mountain highways.
So who’s ready to hit the road for apple picking or leaf peeping? Let the Carolina road trip begin. May we suggest these rides . . .
Precise steering and brisk acceleration make the 4-door BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe (with the convenience of a hatchback) a great mountain travel companion with all the luxuries you’d expect from the German automaker.
Two turbocharged powertrains are available: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the 430i model that makes 255 horsepower and a 382-hp 3.0-liter inline-six that is augmented by a 48-volt hybrid system and comes standard with all-wheel drive. The latter is capable of 0–60 in 3.9 seconds and while you likely won’t be hurtling down a twisty mountain road, the athletic handling will make for “endless entertainment,” according to Car and Driver.
The base 430i comes standard with day-trip comforts, including power front seats, a sunroof, in-dash navigation, dual-zone automatic climate control, parking sensors, a 12.3-inch infotainment display, and a suite of driver-assistance features. Add-ons include heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, perfect for those for crisp high-altitude mornings.
Its interior space is on the small side, and it’s pricey for a subcompact car, but who cares when the Mini Cooper is so fun to drive? U.S. News puts it right out there in front: The Mini Cooper is “a blast to pilot on winding roads, thanks to its poised handling, playful steering and lineup of zippy turbocharged engines.” Sounds like a great mountain mobile to us.
Choices range from a 134-horsepower three-cylinder to a trio of 189- and 228-horsepower four-cylinders, plus the 301-horsepower John Cooper Works GP model. All are turbocharged and will get you to those scenic overlooks with ease. An upscale cabin enhances the scenery inside the Mini, while a user-friendly infotainment system will make it easy to keep your attention where it belongs: on the gorgeous landscape.
Its acceleration is described as lightning quick, its handling, lithe. The Tesla Model 3 price tag puts owning a luxury electric vehicle within reach, along with all the high-tech features, great safety scores, large cargo area, and long driving range that go with it.
Got range anxiety? No worries with the Model 3. According to the EPA, the all-electric range is 263 miles for the Standard Range Plus model, 315 miles for the Model 3 Performance, and 353 miles for the Long Range. If you feel the need to recharge, it’s a good excuse to take a detour to one of the artsy and eclectic towns in WNC, like Asheville or Brevard. Love outdoor adventures? Your hiking poles, backpacking gear, and even your bike can fit in the Model 3’s cargo hold with the rear seats folded down.
For 2021 models, the Model 3’s center console was redesigned to accommodate two wireless smartphone charging pads, so if you’re doing it for the (Insta)gram, you’ll never miss a snap-worthy sunset because of a dead phone battery.
When talking about the mountains of western North Carolina, we couldn’t not include a great camping and all-terrain vehicle, right? Taking family, friends, and the dog on adventures? Opt for the convenience of the 4-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.
Spend a day exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, then take a drive to Brown Mountain OHV Trail System, where you can challenge the Jeep’s champion off-road chops and do some tent camping. The Wrangler’s cargo hold is big enough for all of your outdoor gear for some serious decompression in the woods. And when properly equipped, the Wrangler is capable of towing 2,000–3,500 pounds, so ditch the tent and pull a light camper. Or haul the boat for a picturesque day on Lake Fontana.
For the 2021 model year, the all-new Wrangler 4xe, a plug-in hybrid, debuted, along with a 470-horsepower Hemi V8 engine option.
OK, maybe it’s not as luxurious as a BMW, but the Honda Accord holds its own when it comes to performance, and it’s a capable and affordable choice for your mountain chariot.
The Honda Accord Sport model’s turbocharged 2.0-liter, 252-horsepower engine is zesty enough to handle steep ascents to the best mountain views, and poised handling will make for a lot of fun around twists and turns. Open the moonroof to let in that crisp air and take in those gorgeous fall colors and Carolina blue sky.
Though not as spacious as an SUV, the Accord is a sedan made for road-tripping. The front seats are as comfortable for an all-day drive as your couch cushions are for an all-day Netflix binge. Backseat passengers will also have plenty of headroom and legroom—some of the highest totals for its class. Booked a mountain-view room at a B&B? The Accord has 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space, which is one of the largest cargo areas for a midsize car, so pack those bags.
Shop for your road trip companion at EchoPark. We have thousands of used cars, trucks, and SUVs that’ll make hitting those mountain roads even more fun.