Melody Bond of Livonia, Mich., loved her 2014 Chevrolet Camaro muscle car so much she named it Esmeralda.
But Esmeralda had to go when Bond's all-white German Shepherd puppy, Jasper, grew up and got too big for the sports car.
"He weighs 100 pounds and when he sat in the Camaro, his head touched the ceiling and his feet were on the floor," Bond said. "It was ridiculous. Even just to go to the vet, it was just too much."
So last summer, Bond replaced Esmeralda with a 2017 Jeep Wrangler "Big Bear." It has a rear-seat net partition to keep Jasper safely in the back.
She named it Freedom. "I want to go to the U.P. aurora hunting and I want to take a big dog with me for protection," Bond said. "He's going to be my travel partner now."
With the Wrangler's water-resistant, easy-to-clean interior, safety hooks for a harness and a large cargo area to fit a crate, it's not surprising the Wrangler makes most top-10 lists of dog-friendly cars. But there are some cars on the lists that might surprise you: the Corvette, for example, and Tesla models, thanks to their innovative "Dog Mode" technology.
Canine consideration is a big factor among car buyers when they pick out their next ride, dealers, industry experts and consumers say.
'Along for the ride'
CarGurus, an online automotive buying and selling site, recruited several auto journalists to compile its first Best Cars for Dogs list earlier this spring, said Deputy Editor Mike Smith.
CarGurus has not done an official consumer-insight survey yet, "so the evidence I have is anecdotal, but pretty much anyone who's met a dog owner in their life knows their dog plays an incredible role in their life and in their decisions," Smith said.
No. 1 on the CarGurus list is the 2021 Chrysler Pacifica minivan, followed by the Honda CR-V SUV. But the list also included some not-so-obvious choices such as the Tesla Model Y compact crossover and, of all things, the Corvette super sports car.
"Not everyone has a large dog that loves adventure. Some of us have Pomeranians or Chihuahuas who need nothing more than a comfortable seat to curl up on. Or, maybe you have a larger older dog that simply looks forward to morning trips to the coffee shop with his tongue waving in the wind," CarGurus free-lancer Thom Blackett wrote of the Corvette. "Where you're going or what you drive doesn't matter as long as your four-legged friend gets to go along for the ride."
The group of auto journalists who devised the list test-drive 50 to 100 cars a year each and, of course, have dogs, Smith said.
And just because vehicles such as the Chevrolet Equinox or Ford Explorer were not on CarGuru's list doesn't mean it's an indictment of those vehicles. They are also dog-friendly, he said.
"We wanted our list to have a variety of vehicle types because there are a variety of shoppers," Smith said. "The Honda CR-V is there for someone who has a dog, but wants a compact crossover, the Kia Rio5 is a great choice for dog owners who are on a budget."
The Ram full-size pickup made it because of RamBox, the large, drainable storage pockets on each side of the truck's bed. They are lockable and easily accessible, providing space to keep leashes, food, bowls, and wet or dirty towels used on a dog.
The Chrysler Pacifica has an optional vacuum installed in it, "a necessity during shedding season," Smith said. The Jeep Wrangler, which is third on the list, is a good example of safety in transporting the dog because of the harness hooks, Smith said.
Then there is Tesla Model Y, No. 8 on the list, because of Dog Mode. Dog Mode lets the owner set the climate control system and puts a sign on the 15-inch touch screen that reads, "My owner will be back soon," noting the car's interior temperature.
The Land Rover Discovery made the list because "It offers lots of features: a spill-resistant water bowl, folding ramps, a quilted cargo liner," Smith said. "Then there is the portable rinse system. It's essentially a garden hose that you load up ahead of time and it gives you two minutes of water to rinse off your dog."
The dog factor matters in car sales. In fact, it's so important that Village Ford in Dearborn, Mich., set up a display of a 2021 Bronco Sport SUV with a stuffed dog in a safety harness and the dog safety screen in it to keep a dog in the backseat.
"We wanted to start doing more accessories and people love their dogs and will spend money on them. So we wanted to show what's available," said Jason MacDonald, operations sales manager at Village Ford.
Ford offers a variety of dog accessories such as safety harnesses, water bowl kits, partitions, a collapsible crate and waterproof cargo mats, MacDonald said.
"A lot of people take (dogs) into consideration and will get a bench seat in the back of an Explorer, for example, rather than bucket seats because bench sets are more comfortable for the dogs," MacDonald said.
Up high, clear view
Floyd Allen has toted around his German Shorthair Pointer dogs in Ford Explorer SUVs for more than two decades. He bought the vehicle with his dogs top of mind.
"It is probably the most significant factor because I would not want to have a vehicle that would not accommodate my dogs well," Allen said. "My dogs are a very, very significant part of my life. They are my best friend and we do a lot together, it's not just that I go hunting a few times a year. Every weekend we do something."
Allen, who is a corporate attorney with his office in Detroit's Fisher Building, said he got turned on to the Explorer in the mid-1990s.
"I was looking for a utility vehicle that allows me to do all the things I like to do: I bike, I golf, I ski, I hunt and fish so anything outdoors," Allen said. "I picked the Explorer because my German Shorthair dogs over the years enjoyed the vehicle as much as I enjoy it."
Allen, who usually has two dogs, currently has one: Broadway Shooter, 5. But he plans to get another dog in a couple of years.
He said his dogs have always liked the Explorer because they are up high and "can see around." Allen likes the vehicle because it's comfortable to drive long distances, he can hose it down if the dogs are muddy from hunting, the backseats fold down for the dogs to stretch and there is plenty of storage space.
Last week, he ordered a new Explorer to replace his current one when the lease expires in December.
On the town for custard
Margie Bauer has her priorities when she buys a car too and they're in this order: "One that my dogs can fit in and one that a lot of stuff can fit in and one that is easy to park and can fit in my garage," Bauer said.
Bauer of Harper Woods, Mich., was a muscle-car lover like Bond. Bauer's first car was a 1976 Camaro back before she got dogs. By 1988 she had Sandy, her first dog, a golden retriever. The Camaro "was out for practicality," she said.
Bauer has driven Chevrolet SUVs ever since, currently her 2015 Equinox.
"It's just the right size," Bauer said, for her two dogs, Liberty, a 60-pound golden retriever, and Layla, a 54-pound beagle-corgi mix. "They can fit in the backseat and jump up in it."
She said it has a lot of storage space for trips with the dogs up north. And it's easy to clean fur after short trips around town and those hot summer days when she takes them to a custard shop to get a cup of ice cream with a dog treat in it.
For her, having a dog-friendly car is non-negotiable.
"I'm always going to have some dogs and I want to be able to take them with me even if it's just for short little trips," Bauer said. "They're my buddies."
CarGurus' Best Cars for Dogs list
—2021 Chrysler Pacifica Minivan
—2021 Honda CR-V SUV
—2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
—2021 Kia Rio5 compact hatchback
—2021 Land Rover Discovery SUV
—2021 RAM 1500 pickup
—2021 Subaru Outback wagon
—2021 Tesla Model Y compact crossover
—2021 Volvo V60 wagon
—2021 Chevrolet Corvette sports car