Posts Tagged ‘midsize’

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.


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.

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.

The Mazda5 really does look just like a small minivan, though technically it’s a crossover. I saw it on the lot at CarMax and had to give it a look – would it be a good smaller option with the flexibility of a van’s cargo space?!

Not exactly. The interior is quite small, and the second row appears to only slide forward, vs. folding or being removable as in most actual minivans.  It is a nifty crossover, however, and it might be a good option for smaller or fewer dogs.

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 40.25″

Cargo depth with all rows up: negligible

Cargo depth with the third row down: 37″ on the floor, 28.5″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back, 18″ above floor level)

It started to sprinkle, so I did miss a few dimensions unfortunately. Visually, it would appear that the hatch is about 38-40″ wide at the widest point.

MPG city: 21 mpg

MPG highway: 28 mpg

The captain’s chairs for the second row seems to be unique – I haven’t seen this layout in other third row vehicles, *except* for minivans – and while it does cut down seating when the third row is folded, it may provide a better riding experience for passengers in the second row. The downside to this layout is that items can slide from the cargo area, between the second row of seats, and into the driver’s row, so you may need to do some creative packing to prevent that.

There is an additional outlet in the cargo area and extra vents for AC/heat on the back of the console, providing better airflow to the back. There’s also an extra cargo light next to the fuse panel at the rear of the vehicle, which is handy for finding things in the way back at night.

The Mazda5 does lack flexibility in cargo arrangement due to the absence of removable or foldable second row seating.  Gas mileage is nice, and there are some nice add ons to make working in the cargo area easier, but it’s certainly not the best option in this category.

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!