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Searching for a small-ish car that will hold a large-ish dog

Jeremy and Michael, my girlfriend and I have no kids, but do have a large-ish dog we haul around. We both much prefer small cars: yes, environmentally, but really for the fun of driving them. We're also quite active, and need something that would easily take a roof rack for bikes and other fun gear. Our current car is a 2006 Audi A4 Avant 2.0. It's a great car. We particularly like the fact that it's manual transmission and the quattro. Plus, the fit and finish from Audi are superlative, and it's just plain fun to drive. It's probably a bit big for our taste – my last car was a 2002 Mini Cooper S. If I think about what I might want next, it'd have to be manual, and it would have to have a hatch, and hopefully not be too big. It should be a real treat to drive. I'd much prefer RWD or AWD; FWD – while it was great on the Mini – is just not as exciting, with torque steer and all that. The Subaru WRX STI would be a great option, but I'm drawing a blank for others. I wish BMW would bring over the 135 hatch from Europe – that'd be a perfect car – or that Audi would offer the A3 with manual and quattro. But alas... Any ideas? – Raymond in Toronto

Vaughan: Well it's fine what Raymond wants, but what about the dog? He "hauls around" a "large-ish dog" and apparently has done so in a tiny Mini. The poor dog must be stressed out and severely cramped. Get a minivan, Ray, and give the dog some room.

Cato: I'm trying to collar Vaughan here. But few things get him barking like canine care. While Vaughan pants, let me round up a kennel full of options for you, Raymond. And one is not a minivan. Too big.

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One option is the Mercedes-Benz B-Class wagon. You'll need to wait, though. Mercedes Canada hasn't offered the 2012 B and the all-new 2013 won't race into dealerships until late this year. Too bad; it's a good, manual transmission option. Might be worth the wait, Ray; this is a rig fits the bill.

Vaughan: Yeah, fine, but Raymond, keep the windows open a bit to create good air circulation and outfit it with shade tarps, awnings and mosquito nets to keep the dog comfortable.

Cato: Vaughan is not going to roll over on this. He does yap about the care and safety of dogs; it's a passion.

Look, Ray, I want you to rethink the Audi A4 Avant wagon. A loyal owner like you should qualify for at least $1,500 in factory credits on a $42,800 Avant with quattro all-wheel-drive. The 2012 model is quick and very modern – 211 horsepower from its turbocharged, direct-injection engine and mated to an eight-speed automatic. Plenty of room in there for Fido and his tarps, awnings and mosquito nets.

2012 Audi A4 AvantAudiAudi 

Vaughan: Make sure a small kennel or crate fits into the back of the thing. That's the best way to transport a dog. The majority of dogs tend to settle down much faster when confined in a smaller area. It makes them feel secure. And in the event of a sudden stop or an accident, a loose dog becomes a missile hurtling through your car.

Cato: Woof, woof, woof. Vaughan is still howling about canine care.

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But if you want room for a small kennel, BMW does have something that should interest you, though it's a Mini, not a BMW: the Mini Cooper Countryman S with its six-speed manual, all-wheel-drive and spirited, 181-hp turbocharged motor.

Mini Countryman Cooper SBMWDavid ShepherdBMW

I'm throwing a bone to BMW here, even though the 1-Series you covet is not in BMW Group Canada's lineup. And it should be. At $32,400, the Countryman easily fits your budget, yet it will do the job on the Fido front, too.

Vaughan: Well, more important than 181 horsepower is a ramp. Your dog's not getting any younger, Ray, and isn't going to be able to jump into the back forever. Don't make the ramp too narrow or an elderly dog might refuse to go up for fear of falling off.

2012 Subaru WRX STI five-doorSubaruSubaru 

Cato: I can't seem to muzzle Vaughan today; not that I ever can. Vaughan just keeps gnawing on a pet peeve. I, though, like your idea of a WRX STI. Go all out and get the Sport-Tech package ($42,695): 305 turbocharged horses and handling to match. You'll love this puppy.

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Vaughan: And don't let your dog hang his head out the window or sit in the front seat. Strong wind in a dog's face is not good for their ears and eyes and that front seat has an air bag that could explode in his face.

Cato: Vaughan, as you can see, just can't help growling about canine health and safety. Yet I'm sure he wants you to get your paws on a new ride.


2012 Subaru WRX STI five-door Sport-tech

2012 Mini Cooper S Countryman

2012 Audi A4 Avant 2.0T quattro

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)



Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



2.5-litre four-cylinder, intercooled turbo1.6-litre four-cylinder, intercooled turbo2.0-litre four-cylinder, intercooled turbo

Output (horsepower/torque)

305/290 lb-ft181/177 lb-ft211/258 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel driveAll-wheel drive


Six-speed manualSix-speed manualEight-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

12.6 city/8.8 highway8.0 city/6.3 highway10.0 city/7.0 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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