My wife and I have a 170-pound Great Dane. True to his breed, he is a gentle giant – but he is very big. We’ve had large (and extra-large) dogs for decades, so we lean toward CUVs and SUVs. Typically, the dog goes in the cargo area for short drives, while our stuff goes in the back seat. For longer trips, we’ll load the dog into the back seat (on a suitably sized back seat dog hammock) and put gear in the cargo area. We even drove across Canada four years ago on our move from Ontario to Vancouver Island with a Great Dane in the back seat of our Nissan Murano.
I prefer to buy a reputable brand in a high trim level as opposed to getting a luxury brand and skimping on features to be able to afford it. We love heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheels, leather interiors, and panoramic moonroofs. All-wheel or four-wheel drive is preferred, although now that we live in Victoria, AWD is plenty. But also, there has to be a “look” to the vehicle – without necessarily needing to be a luxury badge. Over the years, we’ve owned Nissans, Hondas, Mazdas, a Mini, and now a Jeep.
Since our cross-country trip in the Platinum-trim Murano (the third that we’d owned) we downsized to a Mazda CX-5 in Signature trim (fun to drive, but way too small) and quickly from that to a 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee. I love the Jeep – it works for both back-road adventures, cottage runs and for pulling up to a luxury hotel in Vancouver. It’s a comfortable ride on long trips – though nothing is as comfortable as the Muranos were.
Here’s the specific problem we’re looking to solve. While he loves going in the car, our big dog thinks he can’t jump into it. We struggle to load him into the Jeep. He’s now three years old, so it would seem he’s past learning how. Because he’s so big, it’s hard to lift his back end in – and he doesn’t make it easy, either. We looked at getting a ramp, but the ones sized for our vehicle and dog are so large, they eat up a lot of space in our car for our bags and coolers. So we need a vehicle that allows easy in and out for a massive lazy dog, with a bit of cache and comfort for his chauffeurs.
We need a big cargo area for the dog – and for our tendency to overpack for every trip. I’d rather walk than drive a minivan, or we’d be in one already (is there a sexy minivan out there?) Our comfort level for price is about $70,000, but that doesn’t seem to go all that far these days. My wife would prefer a lower price tag, but she also wants the features and comfort of a solid vehicle.
Do you have any recommendations? Or am I condemned to either leave the dog at home or give up my soul and get into a minivan? – Marshal
Mark Richardson: We both have big dogs. Nothing the size of a Great Dane, though. Elvis, my Clumber Spaniel, is 80 pounds and he’s a handful to lift.
Petrina Gentile: Moon, my Labrador-cross, is a hefty 91 pounds, but thankfully she’s only four years old and can jump inside a vehicle with no issues. I can’t even imagine lifting a 170-pound Great Dane.
Richardson: You know what I’m going to recommend, don’t you? Even though Marshal says he’d rather walk.
Gentile: A minivan, of course. You sound like a broken record, Mark. But I’m with Marshal, I’d rather walk than drive a minivan.
Richardson: His dog will appreciate it. The point is, SUVs are generally high to access because they need to clear all the rocks and boulders that their off-roading owners drive over every day. This also makes them easier to access for older drivers with creaky knees. Crossovers, sedans and minivans are lower because they only need to drive on asphalt. Minivans have loads of space for a large dog, and it’s an easy step up through the side doors.
Gentile: Marshal’s ruled out a minivan, though.
Richardson: But he should at least consider it if his primary concern is to carry a large dog who doesn’t use a ramp and is too heavy to lift. Get a Chrysler Grand Caravan or Pacifica with Stow’n’Go, drop the second row into the floor so the only seats are in the third row, and then the dog can step inside easily through the side. Or a Toyota, Honda or Kia minivan and remove the second row of seats. There’ll be all the space the dog needs to sit and stretch out, and all the comforts for humans up front. Problem solved. But if Marshal is adamant…
Gentile: Which he seems to be.
Richardson: Then whatever else he buys, he’ll need a ramp if he can’t lift the dog. A friend of mine has a Tibetan Mastiff and just bought a ramp from Costco that’s rated for 200 pounds, and he says it folds up easily and “is a dream.” It cost less than $100.
Gentile: That’s affordable. And there are companies such as Land Rover that offer optional customized pet products including ramps and carriers. But I don’t think Marshal wants to pay a premium price for a luxury vehicle to get those options.
Richardson: Pretty much any item that a carmaker sells as a pet product can be bought for half the price from a pet store without the branded logo. I have a $100 ramp for my dog Elvis and he distrusts it – our Toyota RAV4 is high enough that it’s a steep climb, so I lift him in each time. If he was heavier, I’d have trained him better to use the ramp.
Gentile: So let’s move on. What are you thinking as far as vehicles?
Richardson: The lowest vehicles with space are station wagons, but they’ll be too low to let a Dane stand inside, or move around comfortably. Even so, I’d suggest he look at the Subaru Outback or Forester.
Gentile: Good options. I prefer the Outback because it’s a great blend of a wagon and SUV. It’s versatile and the low lift gate would make it easier for their dog to get inside. The 2024 model starts around $34,000 before freight, delivery and other taxes. The 2023 model starts around $32,000 before the extra fees.
Richardson: Marshal says he likes to load up a mainstream brand, and a fully loaded Subaru Outback is about $55,000 after taxes.
Gentile: Another option Marshal should consider is the Mazda CX-50. It’s a small crossover SUV that’s not as tall as the Outback, but it’s still pretty spacious inside.
Richardson: Sure, it’s roomy, but not for a full-sized Great Dane. Certainly not for carrying the dog for any distance. I know it will lie down for most of the travel, but it’ll be a squeeze.
Gentile: Cargo space is a bit smaller than some competitors, but I think it could still work. What do you recommend instead?
Richardson: Well, I’m wondering why Marshal isn’t just going back to another Nissan Murano. He needs a ramp for anything that’s not a minivan, and he acknowledges that he downsized to a vehicle that was too small. The Murano is comfortable and powerful and well-proven.
Gentile: The Murano might work – it’s spacious and has nice styling, but it does have a sloping roofline at the rear, which reduces rearward visibility. It might be an issue in terms of cargo space for his dog.
Richardson: I think Marshal is familiar with the Murano, so perhaps that’s why he went with the Jeep Grand Cherokee he currently drives. My friend with the Tibetan Mastiff also drives a Grand Cherokee and he’s quite happy with it – with the ramp from Costco to compensate for the lift height.
Gentile: Marshal needs to buy a ramp with any option (besides a minivan, of course, Mark). It’ll save him a lot of aches and pains in the future.
Richardson: There is the option of a small cargo van, like the Ram ProMaster City or the Ford Transit Connect, but they’re commercial vehicles that lack the driver comforts Marshal would like. I’m curious to hear from our readers, though. Is there something we’re missing here?
Gentile: I wouldn’t go the cargo van route – that’s as bad as a minivan. Marshal should buy a good quality ramp and go for the Subaru Outback.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.