With more than 80 percent of dog owners taking their canine companions along in their vehicles on errands, leisure rides and day trips, many drivers are taking the safety and comfort of man's best friend into consideration when shopping for vehicles. To aid in motorists quest to find a vehicle that meets both their needs, as well as their dogs, AAA has released a list of its top vehicle picks for dog owners.
"More than 45 million households in the U.S. have a dog, and many are taking Fido along for the ride on a regular basis," said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair and Buying Services. "There several vehicles with features that can help keep pets safe, comfortable and easy to clean-up after while also addressing other driver desires such as sportiness, adventure or luxury."
AAA Auto Buying's team of experts, who test drove and reviewed hundreds of vehicles for AAA , have compiled a list of their top vehicles picks for dog owners based upon a wide variety of factors such as crash test ratings, safety features, fuel economy, ease of animal ingress and egress, cargo area size, availability of tie-down hooks and easy-to-clean interiors.
The list is divided in six categories to help motorists with a variety of lifestyles identify a vehicle that best meets their needs.
BMW 3 Series Wagon – This wagon offers handling and agility that rival some sports cars along with a comfortable, if firm, ride and quiet cruising. Owners will find a wide range of accessories available to make the car more suitable for pet transport including rubber mats for the cargo area and sturdy dividers that can keep a dog comfortably confined to the cargo area and away from distracting the driver. Some available dividers even have an added division to transport two dogs while keeping them apart. The interior is cozy, so the BMW 3 Series wagons may be a better choice for medium to smaller breeds.
Volvo XC60 – In addition to refined and well-performing engines, this is the first vehicle in the U.S. with "City Safe," a safety feature that will compensate for driver inattention by automatically applying the brakes in traffic situations at speeds up to nearly 20 mph in an effort to eliminate or mitigate a rear-end collision. The Volvo XC60 has a roomy cargo area ideal for transporting most canines in comfort and a nicely finished interior. Accessories include rubber mats for the cargo area and a pet barrier that fastens securely above the raised rear seats to keep pets from distracting the driver.
Subaru Forester – This Forester offers roomy, comfortable accommodations for people and their pets. The ride is stable and comfortable, the handling is predictable, and the all-wheel drive delivers reassuring traction under all conditions. This wagon is even up for mild off-roading treks that can get the dogs into the country. The Forester's cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is an impressive and inviting (for pets) 68 cubic feet. The floor, at just over 27 inches off the ground, also is lower than many sports utility vehicles making it easier for many dogs to get in and out. There are ample tie-down points to secure a kennel.
Hyundai Santa Fe – This SUV features a nicely finished interior, a choice of new engines for 2010 and competence both on and off road. The third row seat option is no longer available, but the cargo space is good for even some larger breed dogs. Buyers will find that both Hyundai and aftermarket suppliers offer many accessories to make rides with the family pet easier and more comfortable. These range from sturdy rubber mats for the cargo area to beds and pet dividers that will keep the dog in place. As an added the bonus, the ride and handling should be agreeable to both people and their canine passengers.
Kids, Dogs & Everything Else
Honda Element – Originally designed for males in their late teens and early 20s, the Element seems ready to handle anything. The interior features surfaces and upholstery that can be hosed out, if necessary. The clamshell side doors also can make getting pets in and out easier. The Element offers a pet lovers' accessory group that includes a ramp, which is ideal for helping older dogs get in and out, second row seat covers that are even easier to clean than the standard upholstery and a soft-sided kennel that can be secured to the vehicle. It features a spill-resistant water dish and an electric ventilating fan. Debits include a busy, choppy ride and higher than average noise levels. Handling is good, however, and the utility factor, including the height of the cargo area, makes this relatively small car suitable for larger breeds, even those dogs that like to get muddy while romping in the wild.
Toyota Venza – Somewhere on the team that developed the Venza is at least one pet lover. Consider the long list of pet accessories that Toyota offers for this cross between a station wagon and a crossover utility vehicle. Among the items are a ramp to ease getting in and out through the rear tailgate, waterproof seat covers, an adjustable harness/booster seat pet restraint system, an adjustable pet barrier and a dog tether to keep canines from jumping into the passenger area.
For the driver, Toyota offers a choice of V-6 or 4-cylinder power and front- or all-wheel drive. Handling is predictable and cruising is quiet, though the ride can turn busy in the V-6 model with its 20-inch tires. Also, styling takes a toll on rear visibility. A backup camera is available and recommended.
Efficient and Fun
Mazda3 5-Door: Among compacts, the Mazda3 is a standout. Handling is sharp, the ride is very good and the interior, if on the small side, is very nicely done. The hatchback is exceptionally flexible, though its suitability for larger breeds is in doubt. Still, the wide opening rear doors, tailgate and robust interior makes this yet another vehicle that would be attractive to many pet owners. These buyers, however, will have to go to aftermarket suppliers for many pet accessories. Fortunately, there they will find a wide range of mats and kennels that both fit and enhance the Mazda3's utility. The 2.0-liter engine is peppy and the 2.5-liter engine is even more powerful. The Mazdaspeed3, with its turbocharged motor, could well be a match for the fastest hound around, though the ride in this performance version is abrupt and noise levels are higher than average.
Mini Clubman – Consider this the Maxi of Minis, at least until the Countryman arrives. The longer body structure, foldable rear seat and rear barn doors all contribute to making it easy to get even a larger breed in and out of the vehicle. And once in, dogs will find more than 33 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded. Most kennels will fit with ease and, once in, can be secured using the factory-installed tie-down points. As for the driver, this maxi Mini is great fun to drive. Its handling is crisp and immediate, acceleration is brisk and braking secure.
Ford Escape Hybrid – The large and squared-off SUV cargo area is perfect for dogs of nearly all sizes, while the hybrid drivetrain delivers fuel efficiency that few SUVs are able to approach. Ford actually promotes the cargo area as being ideal for "…a big, wet dog…" and offer photographic evidence that even the largest canines fit here comfortably. The company goes on to note that the hybrid's battery pack is completely sealed, so there is no need to worry about wet pets or wet cargo causing a problem. Accessories are available from many sources, including Ford. Floor mats and a pet divider head the list of items that make the Escape more "pet friendly." The ride is a little choppy but, for overall practicality, the Escape Hybrid is hard to beat.
Kia Soul – It's roomier than its exterior dimensions suggest, which makes the Soul a good choice for transporting smaller and mid-size breeds. Aftermarket accessories to make the trip easier on both the pet and its owner are also easily acquired. These include thick, heavy-duty mats and pet-resistant seat covers. Some owners also have gone for vehicle-specific pet cages and dividers, often imported from Europe. The ride is decidedly firm, but the handling is good and the engine is both reasonably responsive and economical. Noise levels are higher than average, but the larger than expected windows make for a good view to the sides.
Nissan Cube – This vehicle casts a small shadow at noon, but its height and boxy design more than compensate. The interior is surprisingly roomy and should be good, with the back seats down, for even larger breeds. Note, however, that when folded, the rear seat does not form a flat load floor, so owner supplied padding to level the cargo area would probably be necessary. Buyers will find many aftermarket accessories that can be used to enhance this car's utility as a pet hauler. These range from cargo area mats to hair-shedding seat covers. As you would expect from an entry level vehicle, the ride and handling won't equal true sports and luxury cars but, its ride is comfortable and secure.
As North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.