Product Review: Double XXL Variocage

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Product Reviews, Safety
Tags: , , ,

I recently acquired the newest model of the Variocage, one of the very few, if not the only, crash tested dog transportation options available. Until just about a year or so ago, Variocages had to be imported from Europe, but now they are available through several online retailers in the US: 4×4 North America, Clean Run, and Mighty Mite Dog Gear.

The Variocage has been crash tested in Europe at 50km/h with a 45kg canine “dummy”. It is designed to absorb forces in a rear-end accident through the use of telescoping panels and bars that form the Variocage’s own “crumple zone” while still maintaining structural integrity. Crash test video can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9uPeMliuxbY

I purchased my Variocage from 4×4 North America (4x4northamerica.com). And, just for my readers and facebook fans, you can receive a 10% discount by using the code Menapode (including the capital M) at checkout on the 4×4 North America site.

Now, onto the details!

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The photo above is of the Double XX Large Variocage in my 2011 RAV4. This is the largest size they make and the dimensions as it is currently assembled are: 41.73″ wide, 37″ deep, and 28.14″ tall. The width and height are fixed, but the depth is adjustable from 31.89″ to 40.55″. This size weighs approximately 85lbs.

With the current length and the slope of the back side of the Variocage, I can still use my back seats comfortably, unlike with the 36″ SUV crates I was using previously that required the seat backs to be set at an uncomfortable position. I have about an inch of clearance on each side of the Variocage currently, so there is some shifting after moving the vehicle, but that could be easily remedied with the tie down straps included with the Variocage.

I’m not 100% sure that I could slide the Variocage out of my vehicle fully assembled, but I was able to do so when it was half-assembled during the initial install. The primary issue for my vehicle is the hatch itself, NOT the hatch opening. The Variocage is also quite heavy, so I installed it knowing that I would not be taking it in and out of my vehicle frequently.

I have also installed the provided divider for my Variocage as I need to transport multiple dogs. This divider is solid and installed with several screws – it does not just slide in and out as some dog box dividers I’ve seen in the past. There is a small lip on the bottom of the divider that would not be comfortable for a dog to step on, but a bathmat in the Variocage makes that a non-issue. With the divider installed, each side is approximately 19″ wide, with the depth dependent on the overall Variocage’s adjustment.

I received the Variocage partially unassembled.  Assembly was mostly a matter of putting larger pieces together – you don’t just get a box full of bars and metal, but rather full sides and doors that need to be mounted to a frame. I decided to assemble the Variocage in my vehicle since I was unsure whether it would fit past the hatch fully assembled. The manufacturer warns against this, but my 5’1″ self was able to do it alone and with a minimum of annoyance in about 2 hours, including the complete removal of the half assembled Variocage *twice* when I thought I had it in backward, corrected it, and then realized that it had been sitting correctly the first time!

The most frustrating part of the whole assembly process was keeping everything aligned while I screwed things together – a second person would have been VERY helpful at that point. All parts and tools were provided with the Variocage itself. The instructions are visual, which was a bit confusing at times, but the assembly video on the 4×4 North America website proved useful for clarification.

The Variocage did also come with a rubber mat cut to fit the bottom that I chose not to use since one of my dogs is a crate digger and I wanted her half of the Variocage empty. We use bathmats on one side and a towel on her half now.

After using the Variocage for about 2 months, I can say that I’m VERY happy with the design, durability, and overall ease of use in addition to knowing that my dogs are in the safest crate option available.

Design
The crate has a slight slant to the front and a more extensive one in the back to accommodate seat backs. This makes fitting it in a vehicle much more pleasant that square crates.

The Variocage is NOT designed to be free floating in a vehicle – having it resting behind a seat is integral to the safety features, and the crate will not deform the back of a seat it rests against at tested speeds.

The slant does make the Variocage look much smaller than it actually is – my 40lb dogs both fit with plenty of room to spare and I can comfortably crate my two smaller dogs (33lbs and 24lbs) together in one side.

IMG_5540

The bar spacing on the front and sides depends on the size of Variocage purchased. On mine, the spacing is wide, but none of my dogs are at risk of getting a head stuck as the spacing is not that wide.

The back panel is a grid instead of bars now and includes an “escape hatch” in case the rear door is unusable after an accident. This escape hatch is not designed for regular use as a door – it is a bit unwieldy to open and a whole panel is removed to function as the “door”.

The bottom tray is two pieces of metal that slide to adjust for the desired depth of the Variocage. They sit flush to each other and I have no worries about toes or fur being caught while in use. The edges of the tray slope up, containing hair, spilled water from bowls, sand, etc. nicely.

During use, the Variocage does occasionally have some rattle, but less than the SUV crates did, and certainly much less than the airline or wire crates I’ve set on my back seat before.

Durability
The Variocage is made up of metal panels and bars with metal screws. The only plastic is on the end caps for the bars and the knobs for the escape hatch and adjustment points. This is a substantial crate and I know I will have it for many, many years to come.

My malinois is a crate digger. She digs each time she’s put into the vehicle, so the tray has taken a lot of abuse from her – there are visible discolorations in the finish, but the surface of the tray is still smooth. In fact, because there is so little give in the metal tray, her digging has lessened because it’s not nearly as much fun as in a crate with a plastic tray!

IMG_5506

I’ve not had to adjust any parts of the Variocage since installation – everything has stayed just where I left it, despite many miles on the road and many hours containing dogs!

Ease of Use

Nothing is difficult about using the Variocage. The doors have latches that can’t be reached by dogs, the doors have hydraulic bars to hold them open and make closing super simple (I have closed them with an elbow several times!), and the lip on the bottom is low, so my dogs have never had an issue getting in or out, even at high speeds!

The Variocage even has individually locking doors, so that I can secure my dogs yet still leave my hatch open for ventilation and the side bars hold my crate water buckets perfectly!

Each door has a small space for paperwork that works marvelously for my In Case of Emergency packets, too!

I would highly recommend the Variocage for anyone looking for a safe way to carry dogs in the back of a vehicle. It is not designed to be used sideways or front facing, or against other crates, which does limit its use for some, but many dog people crate their dogs in cargo areas that may or may not be crumple zones, and it is certainly well designed for that application.

The initial price IS steep, but consider that this may be the last crate you need to buy for your vehicle and the price per mile or even per year, is much more palatable, especially given the safety you will be providing your animals while traveling.

Any questions? Need more photos? Leave me a note in the comments!

Comments
  1. Steffi says:

    So… would you recommend this for use in the back of a Subaru Outback? I’m assuming that this area would be in the crumple zone.

    • 4stardogs says:

      Assuming you measure your space and the width and height work and your depth is in the range for the Variocage you’re looking at, then YES, wholeheartedly. Outbacks do indeed designate their cargo area as a crumple zone since there is no third row seating option to worry about and, imo, the Variocage is the only type of crate I’d want to use in a crumple zone.

  2. jaggerpup says:

    How do you think a 60 lb Labrador Retriever would fit in there? (talking about Copper, obviously, as this is Alex!)

    • 4stardogs says:

      My only concern would be how difficult it might be for a larger dog to turn around in the 19″ wide space (assuming you’d be using the divider). The height and length would be no issue as both dimensions exceed that of a 36″ crate, but some dogs might find the tight width harder to maneuver in. Dogs that flop on their sides when relaxed might not like the narrowness, either, but my crew are all either back sleepers or curl up in a ball dogs so it’s a non issue for us!

  3. Kathleen Crislip says:

    Still trying to decide which size to order for a 2014 Ford Explorer. Need to fit 2 climbers comfortably.

    • 4stardogs says:

      Just seeing this, so apologies for the delay – if you haven’t already purchase a Variocage, can you give me the measurements of your back area? Perhaps I can still help.

  4. margaret says:

    I have a Subaru Outback. I have 2 dogs, a VERY long 50 lb. BC cross and a 35 pound English Shepherd. They currently travel in 36X22X23 and 30X19X21 crates, respectively. Do you think the double XXL would work for our 1000 mile treks?

    • 4stardogs says:

      I would check to see how long your rear cargo area is – I suspect that you’d need to adjust the double XXL fairly short (possibly even all the way to 32″) as the last time I checked, the Subaru Outback only accommodated 28-30″ long crates with the rear seats up because of the hatch slant. The Variocage will accommodate some hatch slant, but I’m not sure if it would allow you to use the full length of the Variocage. The 32″ length would be taller and longer than your smaller dog’s current crate, but your big guy would lose about 4″ in length and 2-3″ in width, while gaining 5″ in height if you used the double XXL with the divider in (each side is 19-20″ wide). If you could adjust the Variocage to 36″ long, then you’d only be asking your BC cross to adjust to a slightly narrower space, though.

  5. Lisa says:

    How do you access your spare wheel? Or do you carry a tire repair kit?

    • 4stardogs says:

      For the RAV4, I have a spare that is attached to the hatch, vs stored under the cargo area, so it’s a nonissue. From my research, for many of the new small vehicles, the spare has been replaced with an inflation kit (and/or a roadside assistance service in some cases!) and a number of the larger SUVs carry one *under* the vehicle. If my spare were stored under the cargo area, I would have to remove the variocage to get to it, however, and that could be rather tricky on the side of a highway.

  6. Kayla says:

    I am seriously considering getting this for my 1 year old, 85 lb bernese mountain dog. He currently is in a plastic travel crate in the cargo area of my 2012 Toyota Rav4. I am curious if you notice any noise issues with having this in your cargo area? I tried a wire crate initially with my pup, but all the rattling really freaked him out. So we switched to a plastic one, which makes virtually no noise while on the road. Also how is your visibility looking backwards in your rav4?

    • 4stardogs says:

      There is some rattling on bumpy roads, but at highway speeds I don’t notice any, other than that of the metal buckets that I stash *next* to the variocage. At no point is it as noisy as a wire crate, though it’s probably comparable to a plastic crate. The divider will get a bit rattle-y if the screws loosen, but that is easily remedied.

      I can see completely unobstructed out of the back of my RAV over the variocage – only about 1-2″ of it even juts into the rear window’s area at all.

      • Kayla says:

        That is one really nice thing I didn’t realize about the rav4 before purchasing, is that it sits closer to the ground, so there’s much more of a rear view even with a crate sitting in the back. When the crate is in my bf’s Subaru forester, there is no rear view. That and it is much easier for my Berner to get in and out of the rav4 because of its low height, as opposed to the Subaru forester

  7. Alex says:

    How tall are your dogs? I see a Malinois in the photo. I have a subaru forester, and according to measurements I could fit the double xxl, but my dogs are 40lbs and a pup that will be 45lbs max when fully grown. I wonder if we would be OK with the double xl.

    • 4stardogs says:

      My malinois is small for the breed – she’s 22″ at the shoulder and 45lbs. The primary difference between the XL and the XXL is the width. My dogs likely wouldn’t have an issue with the approximately 17.5-18″ width of each side but it would be tight for less flexible dogs I think. If you have access to an SUV style crate (which is 20-21″ inside width), that might give you a chance to assess how well your dogs would handle a narrower set up.

      • Alex says:

        Thank you. I ended up getting the medium and they fit in turn around and even curl up sideways, and plenty of room to spare on the sides, thank you.

  8. Amy says:

    I am trying to get an idea of the depth on both the top and bottom of the crate since it is slanted to allow for the rear seats and back hatch. Could you tell me how deep the Variocage is on the floor, and then how deep the top (straight) part is?

    I am looking at either a Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota Highlander and want to see if it would fit with the 2nd row of seats up. Thanks!

    • 4stardogs says:

      It might depend on the model year of the vehicle you’re getting – when I was shopping in 2012, the Highlander was actually a bit narrower in the wheel well area than my RAV, but the Pathfinder was MUCH larger inside. The newer model of Patfinder has a more sloping rear hatch, which may cause more issues. The bottom panel is the one the max and min depth measurements are based on afaik. I have mine adjusted to be 37″ deep right now, but I’d have to measure the top.

      • Amy says:

        Thanks for the quick response. Since the Pathfinder has 3 rows of seating, I would guess it’d still be long enough with the 3rd row of seats down, but I’ll be bringing my measuring tape. I currently have a Murano and was surprised to see the height and width measurements of my car were actually a couple inches more than the Variocage, but there is nowhere near enough depth with my sloping hatch. I was actually kind of surprised to see you fit a Double XXL in a RAV4, but maybe it’s bigger than the one I remember!

      • Kate says:

        I just measured my 2011 Highlander Hybrid and it looks like the Double xxl will fit. I’m going to order it and let you know how that works out.

  9. Cynthia says:

    I am wondering if this will fit in the cargo space in a 2013 Prius V? My dog (rotty/boxer mix), on the small side: 43 lbs, 31″ from nose to base of tail, 21″ tall at withers, very compact/all muscle. Thanks for any information

    • 4stardogs says:

      I’m not sure that it will – you will need to measure the distance between the wheel wells and the depth behind your seats. The Prius V does have a lot of cargo room given its size, but it’s always best to check by measuring.

  10. Marsha Kingsley says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review of the Variocage. I am considering getting a small double for my 2012 Dodge Journey. Question for you on the measuring: When the measurements are given on the websites, they give a range for length. I assume these are the ranges for the bottom of the kennel since the front and rear are slanted?

    I am still a bit nervous about having my dogs in the back of my vehicle. I have always had minivans and taken all the seats out and the kennels have been behind the driver’s seat facing the passenger sliding door. With the Journey (a crossover), if I am taking two dogs I almost have to have them in the back of the vehicle. Right now, with one dog, I put a kennel on the second row of seats.

    • 4stardogs says:

      Yes, the measurements are for the longest point, which is at the floor. The top is shorter given the slant.

  11. Lisa says:

    I am looking into purchasing these crates and I am not sure what would be best cage set up for me. I have a 70# Dutch Shepherd and plan on having another one so need space for 2 large dogs. I am also about to get another large SUV so can vary my vehicle choices to have best set up for my dogs’ safety. Would I be looking to get one maximum double or 2 crates? thank you for your assistance!!

    • 4stardogs says:

      Personally, I prefer the doubles since they are one piece and fit perfectly in my vehicle, but I do wonder if you had a wider cargo area if you could fit two singles side by side to allow each dog more space. In your shoes, I’d probably contact 4×4 North America directly to see what their thoughts are.

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