True, 2020 should have been the year I bought a new car, but that honour goes to 2019 when my faithful KIA Soul finally packed it in after 320,000 km of dog-friendly car trips across North America
Likely, not a lot of people are looking at new cars right now (though financing is great), but I did attend the (not dog-friendly) International Canadian Auto Show in Toronto, Ontario last February with one goal in mind: find the best ‘dog-friendly’ travel car.
That’s right, several people have asked me, why what’s the best car for dog people?
And yes, people like me select autos based on pet accessibility. Why not? My fur babies factor into every other decision.
What better place to survey the transportation landscape than a huge 2020 auto show? At the time, I had no idea a pandemic lockdown was a month away … little did I know I was participating in some potentially dangerous shoulder-to-shoulder front lines dog blog journalism.
But here are the results of my International 2020 Auto Show dog-friendly car research:
2020 KIA Telluride
New this year: the 2020 Kia Telluride SUV gives you a little more room than my favourite Soul, and for a little more money too. But dog comfortable it is. Kia is promoting high-end technology (wireless phone charger and 6 USB ports) in this 3.8L V6 engine car – yet dog-lovers know it’s all about room (for the pup) and ease of four-legged entry.
There’s a roomy cabin in the Kia Telluride, and the backseat folds down even with the back bumper making for a room ride for Fido. Back hatch lets him jump in easily. However, it’s a little pricey ($45,000 CA) than some models and uses more gas than the smaller Soul.
Model: 2020 KIA Telluride
Price: $45,000 CA (base price)
Dog overview: Good for all sized dogs, easy for dogs to get in, but fancy interior might need covering from dog paws, especially more than one dog.
2020 KIA Soul
Back by popular demand is the car I’ve bought twice – because it works well as an economical dog carrier. My little pup has traveled miles with me in the Soul because one back seat folds down even with the back cargo area, while one seat remains up, holding my dog’s Solvit Car Cuddler (affiliate link).
The hatchback opens easily, my cocker-cross dog was able to jump in when he was younger, and there is no drop from bumper to back. However, because of the hatchback, the dog shares space with a suitcase during our road trips. The 2.0 L, 4-cylinder engine is great on gas and economical. (Side note: I traded in my 10-year old Soul, with 320,000 km on it).
The fully electric model is available in 2020, but for a higher price.
Model: 2020 KIA Soul
Price: $25,000 – 30,000 CA (2020 Kia Soul EV – $42,000 – 52,000)
Hatchback: Yes, but not as wide as others.
Dog overview: good for little and mid-sized dogs, city and highway road trips, but fabric floor in hatch gets muddy easily.
2020 Jeep Compass Compact SUV
Need something more powerful than the Soul (which isn’t powerful)? The 2020 Jeep Compass is for those with durable dogs (big or little) who like to take the back route, maybe even off road, and need the power to do it. According to Jeep, with 180 Horsepower and 175 lb-ft of Torque, this car is engineered to perform. But what about the dog?
The hatch opens to room in the back, especially with one or both back seats folded down, and the Jeep Compass has more height for bigger pooches to stand. A large dog can easily jump into the back, but there is a bit of a drop behind the bumper to watch for. The rubber lined back tolerates muddy paws.
Model: 2020 Jeep Compass
Price: $26,000 CA (starting price)
Hatchback: yes, with a drop into the back
Dog overview: Durable, rubber-lined back floor, good for big dogs and backroads, but might be challenging for dogs to jump in the back.
2020 Subaru Forester
At the Auto Show, Subaru was doing some great ‘good outdoors’ marketing by aligning their vehicles with those who love mountains, trees, cycling and getting out of the city – yet many are circling city streets, especially the Subaru Forester.
Had I not repurchased a Kia in a hurry, I would have serious considered the Forester. Considered a ‘compact crossover’ it has small car advantages but boxy SUV design, which barks canine comfort. Apparently, four-wheel drive is standard on all models, so the ‘off road’ associations have some credibility. Ground clearance is a little higher than similar crossovers, so the hatchback is a slightly higher jump for your pup, but cargo room is comfortable, especially with one or two of the back seats down. Most dogs should be able to stand and turn around – or plenty of room for a crate, if that’s how you roll.
Model: 2020 Subaru Forester
Price: $29,000 CA (starting price)
Hatchback: yes, wide opening but slightly higher jump or lift
Dog overview: Good dog car especially for journeys to conservation areas, campgrounds and city dog parks. Elements of useful city and rural, spacious cargo and wide opening of the hatchback allows for small to mid-sized dog crates – or room for most dogs to lay, stand and turn around.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Another cross-over, with some benefits of a compact car and the look of an SUV, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV looks more powerful than its four-cylinder engine suggests. Apparently, there’s some Nissan technology there too. This isn’t the most popular crossover among car critics, but it does offer third row seating and has a hybrid plug-in powertrain placing it in the ‘environmentally-friendly’ category.
With dogs, I’m not sure how useful the third-row seating is with dogs – likely I’d be driving this configured for maximum backseat cargo capacity, with it has. But you can put the third row down, have room for a small to mid-sized dog and still have a back seat to carry people (if you really want to). The back seat provides a divider between dog and driver, with other cars don’t have when the backseats are down. A crate might be a tight fit.
Model: Mitsubishi Outlander Phev – Plug-in Hybrid
Price: $44,000 CA (starting price)
Hatchback: Yes, with a slight drop into the back but not an obstacle.
Dog overview: A dog (or two small ones) can jump (or be lifted) easily into the cargo area and the extra row of seats makes it possible to have both dog room and backseat people room (so maybe a car for dog families). Measure your crate – not all will fit.
Clearly, more dog-friendly car options are out there especially in the crossover space.
But here are key things to consider when selecting a good dog car:
- A hatchback is mandatory (in my experience), preferably one without a drop into the back and wide opening if you crate.
- Measure your crates then measure the car at the dealership if you crate when you travel. Oddly, not all car sellers know what size dog crates fit in the cargo area.
- Durable, easy-to-clean car seat fabric is essential. Even with covers, leather or plush is not a great idea.
- Back seats that fold down individually and lay even with the ‘trunk’.
- A boxy shape allows for more space inside – dogs should be able to lay, stand, and turn around easily (when the car isn’t in motion) for maximum road trip comfort.
A friend recently said to me, “I like to go to the auto show to see what car I’ll be driving in five years.” Good point. Even if you aren’t buying this year, keep your eye on what’s evolving. Plug-in Hybrid versions of existing gas models were all the rage at the 2020 International Auto Show in Toronto. And dogs appeared sporadically on marketing materials.