Posts Tagged ‘4WD’

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!


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.



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.


The Saturn Outlook was discontinued when Saturn ceased manufacturing a few years ago, but they are still available used. I had looked at one almost 4 years ago at the very beginning of my car search and remembered finding the cargo area huge for the vehicle’s size, so when I saw one on the lot at CarMax, I knew I wanted to take a more thorough look at it!

Saturn Outlook at W-S Carmax

(image from the Winston-Salem Carmax website of the vehicle I looked at – I was unable to get the profile picture myself due to its location in a long line of vehicles)

And I was correct, the Outlook has an impressive cargo area behind the second row for a mid-size SUV!

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 48.25″

Tallest point: 34″ in the middle of the cargo area

Lowest point: 33″ for 10″ from the hatch

Cargo depth with all rows up: 19″ on the floor, 10″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back, 21.5″ above floor level)

Cargo depth with the third row down: 48.5″ on the floor, 41″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back, 18″ above floor level)

**Note**: The second row seats appeared to only slide forward vs. folding flat, but I would double check this – the salesperson I had was very unhelpful and couldn’t tell me if this was the case or if there was some other way to fold the second row down!

MPG city: 16 mpg

MPG highway: 22 mpg

The MPGs are a bit low for my taste, but certainly reasonable for the vehicle’s size and 4WD format.  There is an extra outlet in the rear cargo area, extra vents for AC/heat in the second row, and lots of dome lights, one over each row and lights on the tailgate itself – great for those late night unloading sessions at hotels or back at home!

The interior seemed nicely done – comfortable, nice looking, and the model I looked at had leather seats which are great for not trapping dog hair. 😉

The tire *is* stored beneath the cargo floor, so inaccessible with crates in place, but again, this is pretty normal for similarly sized SUVs.

As mid-size SUVs go, the Outlook is pretty nice, *unless* you just want it for cargo and not passenger use, then the apparent lack of a fold flat second row becomes problematic, as it reduces your crate capacity to the equivalent of a small SUV or hatchback!

For my needs, human passengers, plus 36″ crates in the rear it would serve admirably, and in a pinch I could fit smaller crates on the second row if I didn’t need room for humans, as I do with my current vehicle. The gas mileage is the main thing keeping the Outlook off of my short list currently.

2012 Kia Sorento

Posted: April 5, 2012 in Vehicle Reviews
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The Kia Sorento caught my eye last year when I was looking for more affordable 3rd row SUVs.  Initially I had put it far below the Toyota 4Runner I had in my top spot for my “next vehicle” because the rear window glass doesn’t open and the older models had poorer crash test results, but after my dealer visit today it’s giving the 4Runner a run for the top spot!

Top features that caught my eye: rear AC/heat vents on the columns behind the front row in all trim levels, additional vents on the columns behind the second row for models that include a third row of seating, 4WD that can be turned off when not in use, gas mileage *with* 4WD that is either 21/28 or 20/25 depending on the engine selected, and an optional panoramic sunroof that covers almost the entire roof!


Now for the details you’re all looking for!

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 44.5″

Width at widest point: 53.25″, just past wheel wells

Tallest point: 34″ measured in the center of the cargo area, but same from roughly the hatch forward!

Cargo depth with all rows up: negligible, less than 12″

Cargo depth with third row down: 41″ on the floor, 35.25″ at the top of the seat backs. The second row does recline so I measured the depth with them set at the second reclining position, which is comfortable for passengers, but not significantly reclined.

**note: the hatch of the Sorento curves outward, so there is a slight decrease in depth of the cargo area from the center of the hatch toward the sides. This is especially important to consider if your crates measure close to the length of the cargo area.**

Cargo depth with the second and third row down: 69″ – the second row does NOT fold flat, so crates would need to have something to rest on other than the seat backs to remain level.

Hatch measurements: 32-48″ wide, with the narrowest point at the top, 30.75″ tall

MPG city: 4 cylinder, fuel injected engine, 2WD: 21 mpg; 4 cylinder, gasoline direct injection engine, 2WD: 22 mpg; 4 cylinder, gasoline direct injection engine, 4WD: 21 mpg; V6 engine, 2WD: 20 mpg; V6 engine, 4WD: 19 mpg.

MPG highway: 4 cylinder, fuel injected engine, 2WD: 29 mpg; 4 cylinder, gasoline direct injection engine, 2WD: 32 mpg; 4 cylinder, gasoline direct injection engine, 4WD: 28 mpg; V6 engine, 2WD: 26 mpg; V6 engine, 4WD: 25 mpg.


In addition to the flexible cargo area, the Sorento also includes a number of features that the serious dog nut will find helpful, though some aren’t available in the base model.

  • Spare tire accessible even when the cargo area is full – the spare is located below the vehicle and is easily accessed by using a “port” in the rear cargo section that lowers the tire without crawling under the vehicle. All the necessary tools are also located in the storage section at the rear of the cargo area (behind where the third row of seats would sit), so removal of crates may not be necessary to reach them.
  • Due to the third row seating, the majority of crating space, even with the second row of seating fully upright, is located in the passenger compartment vs. a crumple zone; this is super important if you’re ever rear ended with dogs riding in the back of your vehicle.
  • All 4WD models allow you to turn off the 4WD function to save on gas mileage when road conditions do not necessitate its use.
  • Optional lights in the rear cargo area
  • Optional power outlets behind the front console (facing the second row of seating) and in the rear cargo area
  • Optional panoramic sunroof above the front row  and second row of seating; the section above the front row of seating opens completely, the section above the second row is fixed.


There were several disadvantages, some quite major, that anyone looking at the Sorento should consider.  The primary issue I saw was the lack of a fold flat second row of seating – this means that additional supports are necessitated to ensure comfortable crate positioning vs. allowing a quick “pop the crates in and go” set up. In addition, the rear window does NOT open independently, so locking the hatch cuts off all air flow from that direction.  Similarly, there are no regular windows flanking the third row seating area, further limiting airflow in the rear cargo compartment when the vehicle is stopped.  Finally, as with many vehicles, some of the nice comfort features that many dog people find useful require increasing the trim level or adding additional packages to the vehicle, increasing the purchase cost.

Overall, the Sorento appears to be a good mid-size SUV option, especially for those who would like to carry both crated dogs and have room for more than one human passenger and I can’t help but notice that the gas mileage will leave more money for trial entries or training classes than many similarly sized vehicles!