Canine-Friendly Cars for the Dog Days of Summer

Nigel, Erik Ross's Dog

Nigel the terrier loves feeling the wind in his face

We may be CarGurus, first and foremost, but that doesn’t prevent us from being proud pet owners, too. From French Bulldogs and Miniature Pinschers to Labradors and Great Danes, the dogs of CarGurus are a widely varied bunch. My own dog, Taylor, looks enough like a Labrador to keep landlords and kennels at ease, but her mix of breeds puts her solidly in the “mutt” camp. Regardless of size or breed, however, dogs are always a hit at CarGurus. Maybe that’s because dogs have such a social history with the automobile. They chase them, they hang their heads out the windows, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog who didn’t get a case of the wiggles every time it hears, “Want to go for a ride in the car?”

So it’s settled: All dogs love cars. However, not all cars are great for dogs. There are two Great Dane owners at CarGurus, and neither will claim their car (a Fiat 500 and a Chevy Cobalt coupe) really suits their needs as a dog owner. Seeing as we’ve officially reached the dog days of summer, it seems like as good a time as ever to offer up some CarGurus picks for most dog-friendly cars. Just remember: never leave your dog in the car when the weather’s warm and the sun’s out!

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Andy's dog

Donkey, a French bulldog, likes to drive herself

Subaru Crosstrek
Of course we’re going to put a Subaru on the list. Subaru is a company that has staked much of its image on the “dog-friendly” motif. I can’t report this with 100% certainty, but I believe all property owners in the state of Vermont are actually given a Subaru, a pair of Birkenstocks, and a Golden Retriever upon taking up residence. The Subaru Crosstrek takes the livable practicality of a Subaru Impreza and adds 3 inches of ground clearance, transforming an economical hatchback into a car capable of taking you and your best friend off the beaten path. Beyond being a great car for an outdoorsy lifestyle—and let’s be honest, what dog doesn’t enjoy an outdoorsy lifestyle?—the Subaru Crosstrek also has the right balance of features to keep you and your dog safe on any adventure. Symmetrical all-wheel drive and the award-winning EyeSight driver-assistance package help earn this go-anywhere version of the Impreza a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS and a 5-star overall safety rating from NHTSA. Our own Mike Perkins tested the 2016 Crosstrek with his dog and was most impressed by the vehicle’s safety offerings. Whether you live in New England, the Rockies, the Pacific Northwest, or somewhere else, the Crosstrek is a safe bet for you and your pooch.

2013 Mazda5

Ben Seacrist's Dog

Keina the Wheaton Terrier prefers captain’s chairs to bench seats

Mazda5
The Crosstrek is basically a lifted Impreza, so it’s easy to park in the city, it’s safe, and it’s pretty fuel efficient, too. But here’s the thing about the Subaru Crosstrek and virtually all other crossovers: they’re compromised. We look at them and see new levels of adventure and capability, but when compared to a minivan, they’ll always be confined to the shallow end of the practicality swimming pool. The Mazda5 tips the scales at roughly 3,500 pounds—nearly a half-ton less than the Honda Odyssey. Likewise, the multi-purpose vehicle falls short of the Chrysler Pacifica‘s overall length by nearly 20 inches. Owning a dog is absolutely, 100% not equivalent to having children, so a full-size minivan isn’t really necessary. Instead, the Mazda5 gives you all the usefulness of sliding doors, 3-row seating, and a rear liftgate without committing you to a full-size minivan.

P90095009_highRes_bmw-m-coup-05-2012

Pat Ruster's Dog

Goldens like Colden will always question why they can’t ride shotgun

BMW Z3 M Coupe
Crossovers and multi-purpose vehicles are great, especially if you’re looking to transport a lot of things (or dogs). With a few notable exceptions (cough, Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG, cough) though, they’re rarely the most thrilling vehicles to drive. Almost all sports cars (cough, Pontiac Fiero, cough) are thrilling to drive, but they’re also almost always terribly equipped for pets. Luckily for us, a few German engineers got together in the late ’90s, threw sales projections out the window, and built the perfect car for practical speed demons: the BMW Z3 M Coupe. Dubbed the “clown shoe” for its curious proportions, the 2002 Z3 M Coupe produces 315 horsepower from the legendary S54 straight-6 engine, sends it all to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission, and, despite the misleading “Coupe” name, fits the whole package into a handy hatchback body. So buckle your seatbelt and put the dog carrier in the trunk. Its design may be an acquired taste, but 10 out of 10 dogs agree: the Z3 M Coupe is the most fun you can have in a hatchback.

2010 Dog Friendly Honda Element

Melissa Skerry's Dog

Rocko the Boxer completely understands “Jeep things”

Honda Element
We highlighted the Honda Element last summer in our quest for the perfect summer adventure car. All-wheel drive, a hugely configurable interior, and just enough power to get out of its own way made it a compelling option for getting out of town, but its appeal to us has always centered on its dog-friendly design. A low loading height means even older dogs shouldn’t struggle to get in, and a textured urethane floor is easy to clean. Honda incorporated a modular seating arrangement in the Element, meaning you’ll be able to configure your passengers’ space just about any way you want it. Plus, the Element is the only car I know of that offers a dog-friendly package. The dog bed and kennel for the trunk, a retractable loading ramp, a water bowl, and plenty of dog-bone-patterned accents will help keep your best friend happy on your next road trip.

How does your dog feel about going for rides in the car?

-Matt Smith

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Used Subaru Crosstrek
Used Mazda5
Used BMW Z3 M
Used Honda Element

1 Comment

  1. I smiled when I saw a miniature pin, which is what we have, and he loves taking rides in the car.

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