Archive for the ‘Vehicle Reviews’ Category

2011 Toyota RAV4

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Vehicle Reviews
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When my Impreza was totaled this past summer, it moved my vehicle buying plans up about 6 months. I had been leaning toward the Kia Sorento, but didn’t want to assume that it was the best fit without test driving a few other vehicles. I hadn’t looked at Toyotas in person for several years, so I made the trip to the local dealership to put my hands on a few models, primarily with the idea of “ruling out” the RAV4 – I was sure it would be too small. Well, my visit ended up ruling it IN instead, and after lots of research, I ended up purchasing a 2011 RAV4 as my next vehicle!

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The RAV4 is one of the most versatile smaller SUVs I’ve run into, and one of the VERY few small and midsize SUVs I’ve looked at that have enough space to fit two 36″ SUV crates side by side in the back while still allowing a second row seat to be left in place. It’s a Toyota, so reliability should be good, and while I have the base model, there are still lots of nice features included. Let’s look a bit more deeply, though:

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 43″

Width at folded second row (widest part of the vehicle): 49″

Cargo depth with both rows up: 43″ on the floor, 36″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back/hatch 26″ above floor level) both with second row moved forward but still functional.

Cargo depth with the second row down: 71″

Interior Height: 38.5″ at second row (max) to 35″ at the seatbelt “bump” in the cargo area (min)

Hatch dimensions: 35-38″ tall, 41-44.5″ wide.

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MPG city: 21 mpg (4WD model, 4 cyl engine)

MPG highway: 27 mpg (4WD model, 4 cyl engine)

Note: With mixed driving, I’m averaging 25-26 mpg on a daily basis.

In addition to the nice dimensions and decent gas mileage for a 4WD vehicle, the RAV4 also boasts two *very* nice features:

  • Newer models are designed to accommodate an optional 3rd row of seating, which means the crumple zone in the rear of the vehicle is designed to protect potential passengers in the “cargo” area behind the second row. Great news for those of us who must crate our dogs in the back!
  • The second row actually slides forward about 5″ and the recline of the rear seats is adjustable! These extra inches of “wiggle room” are what allows us to fit two 36″ SUV crates side by side in the back without folding seats down. When moved fully forward and adjusted almost straight, the rear seat isn’t the most comfortable ride for adult humans, but it *is* useable for short trips and the rear seat will act as a barrier to stop crates from sliding in a sudden stop situation.

    With a custom crate or Variocage that has a slanted back, you can move the seats back to a more comfortable position and yet still retain enough floor space for even large crates.

The two features above are what really started to sway me toward this vehicle over the Sorento, but the 4 tie down points, an extra power outlet in the back, remote lowering rear seats, an easily accessible spare (mounted on the rear hatch), and lighting in the hatch itself, are additional icing on the RAV4 cake.

The RAV4 is not without its faults however: Unlike several SUVs in the same size range, the RAV4 does *not* have an independently opening rear hatch window and the rear hatch opens to the side instead of overhead. The rear glass isn’t a huge issue to me, but the rear hatch opening did give me pause.

In practice, the side opening hatch doesn’t seem to cause many issues, but you do lose the overhead protection from rain/sun that regular hatches provide and you have to be more careful about leaving your hatch open while parked at a trial – I pull forward a bit more to allow the hatch to remain open without jutting into the lane of travel. On a slope, the hatch does need to be firmly pushed open, but the mechanism that holds it open generally keeps it where I want it once it’s in place.

Overall, the RAV4 stands out among other small to mid-size SUVs on almost all counts, especially interior dimensions and fuel efficiency. It’s a great vehicle for people with multiple medium-sized dogs and can accommodate larger crates than one might expect, all while providing some unique and much appreciated features.

 

While my Impreza was in the shop after my accident in August, I had to get a rental. I knew it was going to be challenging to find one in my price range that would accommodate dog crates, but one of my friends told me that they had had good luck with the Versa, so I went ahead and asked for one since it was listed in the “Budget” category.

When I went to pick it up, I immediately thought my friend had made a mistake. There was no way I was going to fit two 36″ crates in this teeny car, but it’s all they had, so I figured I’d just make it work.

When I got it home and tried the crates, the car seemed to expand. It took a little finagling and a side door crate, but sure enough, I fit two 36″ crates in this tiny vehicle! Amazing!

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Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 39.5″

Width at the widest point: 48.5″, across the back seat

Cargo depth with all rows up: 29″ at the floor, 9″ at 25″ up.

Cargo depth with all rows down: 49″

Interior height (min): 28.5″

Interior height (max): 35.5″

Hatch dimensions: 30″ tall, 24.5″-40.75″ wide

Keep in mind that one crate just fits on the folded back seats, while the other squeezed into the cargo depression. The rear hatch was so snug to the crate that I had to pad the corners. The door on the crate in the cargo area was a “garage door” style so opened up instead of out – an outward opening door would’ve been unable to clear the rim of the hatch.

MPG city: 24-28 mpg

MPG highway: 31-34 mpg

The Versa is not a cargo vehicle, but it is pretty flexible and with a little creative thinking it can actually carry more larger crates than many other larger vehicles. It’s definitely worth a second look if you’re looking to find a vehicle with great gas mileage that will carry either small or medium breed dogs, but human passengers aren’t a concern!

Need tons of cargo room sans human passenger in a vehicle that’s easier to maneuver in traffic and on those narrow roads on the way to some obscure trial site? The Transit Connect might be for you!

The Transit Connect is a workhorse! It’s primarily marketed as a business vehicle and the interior and features certainly reflect that!

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 47.5″

Cargo depth with all rows up: NA – no passenger seating behind the driver and front passenger seats

Cargo depth: 71″

Interior height (min): 52″

Interior height (max): 54.5″

Hatch dimensions: 51″ tall, 50.5″ wide

MPG city: 21 mpg

MPG highway: 27 mpg

True to its service vehicle marketing, the Connect doesn’t come with a ton of additional bells and whistles. There are a few though: multiple lights throughout, including in the rear and in the middle of the cargo area ceiling, 12V outlet in the rear, multiple cargo tie down points, and optional second row seating or shelving is available.

Additional vents are added with second row seating, but the salesman was unable to tell me if those seats were at all easy to remove if needed.

The Connect does NOT have 4WD as an option, so it’s not suited for off roading, but otherwise it seems to be a very flexible option for those with multiple large dogs!

2008 Dodge Nitro SXT

Posted: August 23, 2012 in Vehicle Reviews
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The Dodge Nitro is a very boxy looking vehicle – does that make it more useful as a dog car than the more common curvy vehicles out there?

[not my picture – found via Google image search]

Yes! The Nitro seems much more suited to cargo than it’s more shapely vehicle cousins. The gas mileage leaves a lot to be desired, but if that’s not a concern for you or you are downsizing from a full-sized truck or other gas guzzler, the Nitro might be a good option.

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 43.25″

Cargo depth with all rows up: 34″ on the floor, 26.5″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back 16″ above floor level)

Cargo depth with the second row down: 58.5″

Interior height (max): 35″ at the rear of the second row

Interior Height (min): 30″ at the hatch for 6.5″

Hatch dimensions: 30″ tall, 34.5″ to 42.5″ wide.

MPG city: 15 mpg (this was a 4WD model)

MPG highway: 21 mpg (this was a 4WD model)

This Nitro also included a sliding cargo tray, possibly instead of a 3rd row (?), an extra light in the rear of the cargo area, and tons of tie down points. The seats almost fold flat (similar to the Edge), but unlike the Edge, the back of the seats is plastic coated so you have less risk of snagging or otherwise marring the upholstery.

The Nitro is fairly plastic heavy on the interior and certainly gives off more of a “truck” feel inside, but the dash is pretty flashy, so it’s not all boring!

The width between the wheel wells does preclude standard sized 36″ and larger wire crates from sitting side-by-side in the back, but is large enough to accommodate the corresponding “SUV-style” crates that are only 21″ wide.  The squared off interior also lends itself well to the boxy nature of crates.  The lack of a significant slant on the seat backs in the second row does mean that fitting 24″ long crates side-by-side in the cargo area without folding the seats down is also an option for those with smaller dogs, though it may leave them more vulnerable in a rear-end accident due to the location of the crumple zone.

The Nitro appears to be well designed to accommodate crates for canines, but the gas mileage does give me pause – serious competitors may want to look for a more fuel efficient vehicle for those long drives to trials.

2010 Ford Edge SEL

Posted: August 21, 2012 in Vehicle Reviews
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The Ford Edge seems like a pretty nifty looking crossover – is it as equally nifty when looked at through dog vehicle glasses?

[not my image – found via Google image search]

A typical small crossover, the Edge does not have a 3rd row seating option, but it does offer more interior space than other vehicles in the same category.

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 42″

Cargo depth with all rows up: 34.5″ on the floor, 27″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back 20.5″ above floor level)

Cargo depth with the second row down: 60″

Hatch dimensions: 31″ tall, 32″ to 48″ wide

MPG city: 18 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

MPG highway: 25 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

The Edge has extra lights in the cargo area and rear facing air vents on the console between the front two seats; both features appreciated when using a vehicle for dog toting!

Unlike the Equinox, which is very similarly sized inside but is larger outside and has several features that make the interior harder to use for crated animals, the Edge provides a wider space between wheel wells and slightly longer interior cargo space with the second row folded. The second row is slightly angled when folded, but less angled than many other vehicles we’ve looked at.  The hatch opening *is* smaller than other similarly sized vehicles in some dimensions, but should still be functional given its size at the widest point. Folded crates are likely much easier to fit through the hatch than pre-assembled crates.

The wider space between the wheel wells does open up the possibility of larger crates sitting side-by-side, but you will need SUV-style crates if you hope to fit 36″ or 42″ long crates into the space.

Overall, the Edge is a decent option in this class, but I highly recommend trying your crates in the vehicle before jumping to conclusions as it does have some drawbacks that may make certain crating setups more difficult.

I keep seeing ads about the Chevy Equinox being more spacious inside than other mid-sized SUVs, but the curvy profile has always made me wonder if the interior design gets in the way of functionality as a dog vehicle.

A closer inspection identifies a vehicle with a surprisingly small interior for a vehicle that appears so much larger.  Unfortunately, it also reveals yet another vehicle with seats that do not fold flat, this time not with a slight angle but an actual “step up” between the back of the second row and the cargo area, complicating its use when crates are involved.

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 37.5″

Cargo depth with both rows up: 34″ on the floor, 23″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back 19″ above floor level)

Cargo depth with the second row down: 54.5″

Interior height (max): 35.25″ at the rear of the second row

Interior Height (min): 31.75″ at the hatch

Hatch dimensions: 31.75″ tall, 36.5″ to 43.5″ wide.

MPG city: 17 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

MPG highway: 24 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

The Equinox lacks any additional vents and outlets in the rear cargo area, but it does include two cargo anchor points and a light above the cargo area.

The interior of the Equinox did compare well with other vehicles in the same range, but the actual usability of the vehicle is impeded by several dimensions and the gas mileage is quite low for a with these dimensions. The width between the wheel wells (just 37.5″!) makes fitting crates larger than 18″ wide side by side impossible and the depth from the rear hatch to the back of the front seats with the second row down is actually a few inches shorter than what we measured in the Ford Escape! I was quite surprised by the measurements given all the hype.

The smaller rear cargo area width and depth puts the Equinox more into the small crossover/hatchback category as far as dog toting ability goes – the interior space will only allow for the use of small crates or larger crates set up perpendicular to the vehicle.

2006 Ford Escape

Posted: July 30, 2012 in Vehicle Reviews
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A number of people have mentioned the Ford Escape as a possible option as a good “dog car” for those people wanting 4wd as an option. I’m usually an import girl, but I couldn’t *not* check it out when I saw it on the lot. How does it compare to other small SUVs?

(not my photo, found via Google Image search)

Well, it has similar dimensions to most of the smaller SUVs out there, and the seats DO fold flat (yay!), but overall it seemed a lot lower quality inside when compared to similar imports. Lots of plastic, the carpeting in the back cargo area was very cheap feeling and not well secured, and the dash seemed very light on any bells and whistles. It struck me much more as a basic, no frills vehicle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking for something that can stand up to use as a dog hauler.

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 40.5″

Cargo depth with both rows up: 32.75″ on the floor, 23″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back 20″ above floor level)

Cargo depth with the second row down: 57.5″

Hatch dimensions: 34″ tall, 37.75″ to 47.75″ wide.

MPG city: 22 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

MPG highway: 26 mpg (this was a 2WD model)

The Escape, for all of its workhorse styling, does have some nice features. The glass in the hatch opens independently, allowing you to increase air circulation in the vehicle even with the hatch locked. There is a small light above the cargo area which is great for late night or early morning packing and unpacking. The seats did fold flat as I mentioned earlier *and* they were very easy to fold – no complicated series of handles and latches here!

The Escape definitely doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other similar vehicles, but it’ll certainly get the job done! With the second row of seats up, you should be able to fit smaller crates in the cargo area, and with that row down, the cargo space is quite flexible and generous for a small vehicle. The distance between the wheel wells does mean putting two larger crates side by side might not be possible (most 36″ crates are 24″ wide with SUV-style crates still being 21″ wide), however. Overall, this is a decent option for those with only a few larger dogs or a larger number of smaller dogs if you don’t need the more high-end interior styling found in some other small SUVs.