The Right Car For Your Dog

Has your family vehicle gone to the dogs? Take comfort in our handy, breeder-approved, consumer guide.

By | Posted: Mon Feb 28 00:00:00 PST 2005

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Sport Utility Vehicles
Plus: This breed of vehicle has become such a hot item that manufacturers are producing them in small, mid-sized, and large versions, giving consumers a wide choice. Virtually every manufacturer has at least one SUV on the market, and prices range from modest to wildly extravagant.

Minus: As the name suggests, SUVs are meant to be versatile conveyances, both utilitarian and sporty. Comfort and cargo space may suffer. And do you really need a vehicle that can clamber over boulders to reach mountain peaks?

Rather than listing the many SUVs and their features, let's focus on the ones recommended by Consumer Reports. In the small SUVs, CR ranks the four-door Subaru Forester as its top choice for handling, braking, comfort level, dependability, and crash-test results. A choice of four cylinder engines provide either 165 hp or 210 hp in the turbo-charged version. Base-priced from $21,000 to $26,000, the square cargo space is termed "very usable." AWD is standard.

The Toyota RAV4 also earned a hearty recommendation. Access and loading are reportedly "very easy" in this four-door, four-cylinder vehicle, and the rear seat can be folded and removed in halves. Choose from front or AWD, at 24 mpg and base-price range from $18,500 to $20,000.

The Honda CR-V has a rear cargo floor that can fold out to be used as a picnic (or grooming) table. Standard items include side air bags, ABS, and stability control in the 2005 model. Front or AWD is available in this four-cylinder SUV, base-priced from $20 to $25K. The Honda Element also received a CR commendation. It's another four-cylinder with optional front or AWD. Points of interest for dog owners: there's no central pillar between the front and rear-hinged door, providing a wide space for loading. There's an easily washable, plastic-covered floor; and all four seats fold flat to become a bed. It's base-priced in the $16 to $20K range.

The six-cylinder Hyundai Santa Fe is another recommended SUV, though average gas mileage is only 18 mpg. At $18 to $25K, it boasts a quiet ride and long warranty. Next is the Mitsubishi Outlander (also $18 to $25K), a four-door, four-cylinder SUV similar to the others but rated lower due to its lesser handling qualities and rather small cargo space. The truck-based Suzuki Vitara/XL-7 ($18 to $28K) and Kia Sorento ($19 to $25.5K), as well as the Jeep Liberty ($19 to $25K) earned the "good" rating from CR.

In the mid-sized SUVs, the top three are the Lexus RX330, the Honda Pilot, and the Toyota Highlander. The V6-powered, four-door Lexus rides and handles well in quiet comfort, while averaging 21 mpg. Cargo capacity is "modest." Base price is $36 to $39K.

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