The process of choosing a toad turned out to be more complicated and time consuming than we expected. Some of the factors we included in our search were:
- Approved for flat towing
- Large, flat cargo area that comfortably fits two large dogs
- Comfortable enough for many long sightseeing trips
- Good fuel economy
- New vs. used models
- Automatic vs. manual
- All-wheel drive or two-wheel drive
To complicate things, a car that’s approved for flat towing during one model year might not be approved for the next year. The manual-transmission version of a car may be approved, but the automatic version of the same car might not be. The base trim-level might be OK but the upgraded model with a different engine might not. Add to that the normal changes in car features from year to year and things get difficult. We discovered that quite a few cars change the way their back seats fold down when the model year gets updated. One year the rear seats may fold completely flat (great for dogs!) and the next year they may fold only partly flat.
As with most research, a spreadsheet was quickly born. Starting with approved cars from 2009-2014 (we didn’t want to go too old), their weights, fuel economy, and cargo capacity, we were quickly able to narrow the field. We found 10 cars that weighed under 4,000 pounds, got 25 MPG or better (combined city/highway), had a trunk large enough for the dogs, and didn’t get summarily rejected because we knew we didn’t want one. I’m looking at you, Chevy HHR!
The cars that made the list were: Ford Escape (2009-2012, manual or automatic), Honda CR-V (2010-2013, automatic), Hyundai Tucson GLS/GL(2010-2011, manual), Kia Sportage (2011, manual), Subaru Forester (2009-2013, manual), Honda Fit (2009-2013, manual or automatic), Hyundai Elantra GT/Touring (2010-2013, manual), Kia Soul (2010-2011, manual), Scion xD (2009-2012, manual), and Scion xB (2009-2012, manual). The Escape was the only vehicle where the Hybrid version was approved, which was particularly appealing.
Next came lots of research on Edmunds.com, reading reviews and summaries of what changed from one year to the next on each car. To get a feel for whether the dogs would be comfortable in the back we looked at pictures from Google Image Search and owner videos on YouTube. Since manufacturer fuel economy numbers are often unrealistic, we looked at real-world numbers at Fuelly.com—a site where thousands of people track their fuel fill-ups and fuel economy.
By early October we’d narrowed our field to three cars:
- Honda Fit, 2009-2013, auto: 2,500 lbs., 28/35 MPG, 57 cu. ft.
- Honda CR-V, 2010-2011, auto: 3,400 lbs., 21/28 MPG, 72 cu. ft.
- Honda CR-V, 2012-2014, auto: 3,300 lbs., 23/31 MPG, 70 cu. ft.
Since all were Hondas (perhaps we were slightly influenced by our great experience with our 2005 Honda Pilot), we headed to our local dealer to check them out.
We really wanted the Fit to win, since it’s gotten great reviews, has great fuel economy, and looks very practical. Unfortunately, the cargo space was a bit too small for our two big dogs, and the very low ground clearance had us a little worried about towing through potholes and unpaved roads. We were optimistic about the previous-generation CR-V since its back seats fold completely flat whereas the current generation does not. However, the way the older CR-V’s seats fold forward towards the front of the car, instead of folding down, creates a cargo space that’s less suited for the dogs.
At the end of the day, the winner was clear: The 2012-2014 Honda CR-V! Thanks to some great deals during Black Friday, we traded in our 2012 Kia Optima SX for a 2014 CR-V LX AWD for minimal cost. We even made sure we picked a color that would match our selected RV paint job!