Tailgating is awesome; every August Jimmy Buffett comes to our local stadium about five minutes from my house to perform. Tickets sell out instantaneously, though not solely because people go to see Jimmy sing about girls and booze; people want to tailgate.
People dress up their cars, show up the night before, and party for hours on end. Some miss Buffett’s performance entirely. It’s a huge event on the south shore of Long Island. I have never been, but it came up in my feed the other day, and it got me thinking about tailgate parties. Are they worth the time and effort? Are they even that fun? While speculating and humming “Margaritaville” to myself, I was thinking, what are the best in-car features for tailgating?
Every tailgate party needs somewhere to house all the dogs and burgers, right? Here are some good options for that.
Honda CR-V Table
Enter my dining room and you’ll see… a table from the second-generation Honda CR-V. Every Honda CR-V included this fold-out picnic table. It acted as the cargo floor piece to hide the under-storage compartment. To access the table, you had to remove everything from the cargo area, lift the table out, and the thing magically reveals itself to be a fully functional picnic table. It’s even cleverly designed to be aligned with the rear bumper of the CR-V, allowing tailgaters to eat on their table at a comfortable height. There’s plenty of room to lay out some hotdogs and hamburgers! As long as our food spread isn’t larger than 33.5 cubic inches, we’ll be okay.
Dodge Grand Caravan/Chrysler T&C Table
If you grew up in the 2000s like I did, you knew at least five families with a MOPAR minivan. My family was an Odyssey family, but I had plenty of friends with the Caravan, and one friend even had one of my favorite features: a built-in table. While you could not remove the table and use it outside the van, the second row swiveled and faced the rear third row. This was a great “indoor” tailgate solution for grandma or grandpa or someone who wants to enjoy the party but stay out of the sun.
You’ve cooked your food for the tailgaters. Do they sit on the cement? Absolutely not! They need to be pampered. No one should sit in one of those awful sports chairs from Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Range Rover Tailgate Event Seating
What happened to the good-ole days of throwing down some lawn chairs? If you prefer to drink your Coors Light and eat your hotdog in elegance, luckily the full-size Range Rover has you covered with its “Tailgate Event Seating” package which integrates into the vehicle’s rear tailgate and sets you back over $800.
Rolls Royce Cullinan “Viewing Suite”
In case the Range Rover’s seating is too cheap and hard on your arse, Rolls Royce has you covered in the Cullinan SUV. The “Viewing Suite” (yes that’s actually what it’s called) electronically slides out, providing two rather measly-looking seats to let you sit and watch men ride around on horses. Oh, and this option costs $40,000.
Honda Odyssey Magic Seats
In case you don’t have $350,000 to spend on a Cullinan, and then another $40,000 for the seats, you can buy a used Honda Odyssey for a few grand and fold the third row like this. Honda is known for making buttery smooth and comfortable leather seats in the early 2000s, so this would be a swell place to hang out. Trust me, I know from experience.
If there’s one thing all Jimmy Buffett fans need, it’s to hear his voice over and over again before seeing him actually perform. Need a car speaker? I’ve got you covered.
Every good tailgate party has to have some nice fun music, right? Thankfully the Rivian R1T comes with a built-in speaker that you can take out of the truck’s center console and use while you’re “adventuring,” or in this case, standing around in a parking lot. If you opt for the Adventure Package on the R1T and the R1S, Rivian includes the “immersive Rivian Elevation audio system by Meridian with removable Bluetooth speaker.”
Toyota 4Runner “Party Mode”
A personal favorite of mine, as a 4Runner owner, is the “Party Mode” button found next to the steering wheel. Party Mode does not unleash a strand of balloons or confetti from the ceiling of your 4Runner. Instead, it diverts sound to the tailgate-mounted speakers. This feature makes for a great setup if you’d plan to hook a TV into the back of your 4Runner, as the vehicles come with a household-style outlet. Just make sure your battery is in good health, and don’t forget to run the engine here and there! Sadly, Toyota ditched Party Mode for 2020 and is now using the button for the heated steering wheel found on Limited trims. Boo.
Jeep Patriot/Compass Flip-Down Speakers
While we are still on the topic of rear speakers, how could I fail to mention the Jeep Patriot/Compass flip-down tailgate speakers? It looks like a little face with a mouth open or an old-school boombox. While they seem to be disappearing from the roads altogether, next time you’re at a pick-and-pull, find one of these little Jeeps and swipe those speakers!
Food and Beverage
Pontiac Aztek Cooler
Although I am technically under 21, who doesn’t enjoy a beer, seltzer, or soda at a tailgate party? The Pontiac Aztek’s got us covered.
This strange center console can be used to carry CDs and cassettes or apple juice boxes for your precious backseat cherubs. Our very own David Tracy managed to squeeze some of the beers into his, making this the perfect tailgate cooler ever known to exist.
Mercedes R-Class Bottle Opener
But wait! Before drinking beer, you have to open it somehow, right? Good thing the Mercedes R-Class came with a removable bottle opener. That’s right, you were provided a bottle opener on the holy grail of minivans, the R63 AMG.
The center console cupholders had a piece of removable plastic between them that was removable. Upon further inspection, you’d discover that it was in fact, a bottle opener. Sure, it’s a bottle opener and not a wine opener but cut me some slack. I’m still under 21!
Honda Ridgeline In-Bed Trunk
The Honda Ridgeline is a great family pickup that can do just about anything. Honda cleverly designed an in-bed trunk that has a conveniently located drain plug, allowing it to be the perfect beverage holder. If the Aztek’s cooler is too small, it might be easier to spend $40,000 on a Ridgeline rather than hunting down one of these coveted coolers.
Editor’s Note: Don’t forget the speakers!-DT:
Volvo XC90 Excellence Crystal Glasses
If you prefer your tailgate parties to be “classy,” Volvo’s got you covered. The Volvo XC90 Excellence is an inconspicuous Swedish Maybach, offering “two crystal glasses for when you don’t want to sip directly from a bottle” as our Thomas Hundal writes.
The champagne flutes found in the Mercedes-Maybach are too showy. We’re balling on a budget here, folks. The XC90’s crystal glasses are handmade in Sweden and if are crafted anything like the 240 Swedish brick, these glasses will never break.
There are a bunch of other fun tailgate features built into automobiles, so feel free to mention those in the comments, because I know I’ve forgotten some great ones.
DT knows what’s up: the in-bed speakers on the Ridgeline are great! And the in-bed outlet is a nice touch to make it a tailgating machine.
My wee mind has just been blown by that Odyssey’s “magic seat.” We’ve owned a 2011 Odyssey for about five years now, and I never even dreamed the seats could do that. I just ran out and checked, and, sonofabitch! They do. I used to think they would sometimes get stuck halfway while stowing them if you released tension on the stowing strap too early. I had no idea that that was an intentional choice that you could actually sit on!
Don’t fret. It took me four years to work out my Toyota Tercel 4wd had an engine as the thing was so slow and used hardly any petrol.
So fun story – My friends parents had a gen 1 CR-V and when they wrecked it one of the things they took was the table. We’ve used it on every off-road trip we go on. He even made a little slot in his bed rack for it. It has a hole in the middle so he puts a screw through it to hold it on.
This was last Friday.
No mention of the Rambox, which can hold some absurd number of cans and has a built-in drain so you can safely pack it with ice?
Volvo XC90 (first generation) has the same split-fold tailgate design as the Culinan and Range Rover. Volvo offers a tailgate seat for it, but I don’t think they’re easily obtainable. Get some furniture parts from Ikea and make your own Swedish tailgate kit.
We had a 2002 CRV for 14 years from new. It was a fantastic car and really underrated.
First two gens of the Taurus/Sable wagon had a flip out “picnic table” when you didn’t order the rear-facing third row seat. But more like a buffet or serving tray.
We had a 3rd Gen CRV and the other great option for tailgating was under that table was a big plastic tub with a drain plug. So you could fit a couple of cases of BarleyPops on ice and pull the drain plug when you were done. That plus the table and you can get that generation with the K24 with manual transmission. Win!
I love that 2nd gen Honda CR-V folding table. A cool feature that more cars should have.
An annual Jimmy Buffet extravaganza is very Long Island. I assume this is Jones Beach we’re taking about?
Of course it is!
That Aztek cooler. That specific Aztek cooler. Is it David Tracy’s personal specimen? Because I can smell that thing through my computer and I’m in GMT+3h.
A month or two ago I was on a run, on an on-again/off-again rainy day. As I neared my end point I saw a little cooler on the sidewalk and had a hunch it was an Aztek one – and sure enough as I passed it it had the Pontiac arrowhead.
I very briefly considered grabbing it, but it was wet out and in the dirt, and also the vibe (ba-dum-tiss) just seemed off – why was an Aztek cooler tossed on the side of the road like that? But the specific example pictured looks like someone else grabbed it.
These types of coolers all somehow develop a smell like someone figured out how to turn plastic into milk and then let it spoil.
You missed the best one of all – crew cab pickup trucks. Holds everything you need in the back, plus 5 people in the cab.
Being decidedly antisocial and caring not one lick about sports, the thing I need most from my vehicle at a tailgating event is the ability to get me the hell out of there and find some fun curvy roads to enjoy while all of the idiots are getting ready for the game.
You and me both…
Some honorable mentions should be the Subaru BRAT in bed seats, all you need is a cooler that doubles as a table. The Range Rover Autobiography fitted bar cabinet, like Jeremy Clarkson has, and the myriad of JDM vans with a fridge, plus the Toyota HiAce Cruising Cabin with a full kitchen.
I had included the Brat seats originally but took them out
You covered the Mopar flip-down speakers, but I just need to include that they were also available on the Dodge Caliber, including the suitably hooligan SRT-4. I don’t know if anyone ever ordered an SRT-4 accordingly, and it just seems like a good way to get your tall boys all shaken up, but at least it was possible.
Wow! I did not know that they were available with the Caliber, let alone the SRT-4. Time to search for one…
My lowly PT cruiser has a 3-position back shelf — stowed on the trunk floor, halfway up in the trunk as a table/shelf, and up near the top of the seatback to hide all the goodies stored below.
The rear speakers swing up with the liftgate — but the raised hatch is just about the right height to induce ouchy lacerations in the heads of the careless.
I can’t believe it wasn’t mentioned! One of my favorite features back when I owned my 5 speed GT. It came in handy as a workbench when I took my RC cars to the local track.
I grew up in a PT Cruiser-less society, can’t blame me for never seeing one! Had no idea that was a thing, pretty neat feature
I’ve set my laptop up on mine and used it as an outdoor standing desk when it’s nice outside.
I can’t think of any specifically-Aussie examples to add to the list right now, we usually just load up the ute with all our supplies and go from there.
One thing to learn as you get to drinking age, Rob, is that anything can be a bottle opener, and cars come with some already built-in!
Seatbelt clips, some door or even bonnet latches, tow bars and bullbars make for some good impromptu-openers.
Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals make great bottle openers, of course you do need to be biking for them to be available.
So that’s your pop top I stepped on after I blew out my flip flop. Not cool.
I cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.
Most Yakima rack components have one built-in somewhere.
No mention of the F150 Lightning frunk with built in drain for all the ice you need to fill it out with a frunk full of shrimp? (Probably a good idea to not to do it with a personal vehicle). I waiting for someone to add a food warmer accessory to that frunk.
Don’t forget to bring the “Car-B-Cue” for those tasty in car hot dogs.
Magic seats…… I call it, “that’s where the magic happens!” But usually, in my case, in the back of a Suburban or a Mustang, Trans Am and my latest, my Civic Si. Hell, even in an M113A2.
I had a second gen CRV and I didn’t know about the table for a long time haha
I had a second gen CRV. I took the table out once and set it up so I could take a look and marvel at what a wonderful feature it was. Then I put it away and never had a good reason to take it out again.
You need to get out more often!
TIL tailgating and partying in your car is a much bigger thing than I ever imagined.
Honorable mention to the 2010 Dodge Journey “Chill Zone” dashboard beverage cooler. Not really a tailgate feature, more of a “open liquor in the vehicle”.
Town and Country also had it! I can only include so much!
All of these have nice features but even added all together do not make an awesome tailgate rig.
1. Haul a decent sized grill that can be removed and set on some what uneven ground to cook, should have at least one gas burner for a side and yes have a bun toaster rack. What are we animals.
2. A tailgate the name says it all. It should fold down for access as a shelf or seating. Those stadium chairs latch on real well. Any glass should be fully retractionable.
3. Room for a mega cooler or two. One for adult beverages and ice the other for food and kiddie drinks. Place these well apart so even later in the evening teens approaching the adult cooler are easily caught.
4. Kick ass jams, multiple speakers i am think wireless bluetooth for dance floor access.
5. BIG, NO BIGGER, NO EVEN BIGGER. It aint no party if there aren’t plenty of friends. So seat transport for a carload. Benches, coolers, tree stumps, chairs, towels etc.
You don’t tailgate in a vehicle you transport the party to the people.
I have to second part 2 of this comment. A true fold down tailgate is key. I prefer a tailgate with flip up glass to retractable glass.
I would 25/75 on that 50/50 if it was guaranteed not to fall closed and smack the back of your head or break.
At my first ever tailgate party (as an immigrant in my mid-20s) my roommate brought the biggest gas burner I’ve ever seen in my life and DEEP-FRIED a massive turkey (college football games around thanksgiving are a big deal apparently). It was epic. I think he was still waiting for the oil to cool when the game finished.
See, that’s too much. That’s why I only fry game hens.
The clean up is easier and the act of cooking and eating them is so literal.
I feel like this has to do with Abbott Elementary, which I have yet to watch.