Small stationwagons there if you look
Mary emailed us the other week to ask what small wagons we could recommend. She'd only had a cursory look and wasn't even sure people still made them.
Recently widowed, Mary felt the load floor on the Freelander her husband left her with was a little tough for her dogs, saying that they can't jump into the back, much as she liked the vehicle which has a higher loading floor than she'd like.
She said she doesn't go off-road and that she'd prefer something with a lower floor, so the dogs don't have to be lifted in every time they go to the beach or for special walkies (lucky dogs).
Now all the financial dealings have been done, she says she can afford about $30,000 for something new, a conventional wagon if she can find one. Well, it appears there are cars that fit her budget, though they have all been languishing (literally) in the shadow of SUVs, which of course she won't consider because of that floor height.
Toyota recently launched its latest Corolla wagon. This is not based on the current Corolla hatch, and is about a generation behind that car. It's usually a Japanese market-only vehicle, but Toyota New Zealand saw fit to bring it in this year in facelifted form and with improvements to its looks and a much plusher interior than before. We'd call its $30,780 (manual) and $32,780 (automatic) pricing pretty fair, especially as it has a low easy dog access rear floor, six airbags, stability control, air conditioning and a good sound system. The car has a 1.5-litre engine with just 80kW and 138NM on tap, but it's a very quiet and willing unit.
Mary wants an automatic, which makes the buy go well beyond her intended budget, but we'd guess that she'd have to be a very meek negotiator not to drive away in the Corolla wagon at a sticker much closer to her $30,000.
The Nissan Wingroad at $34,400 has always been a bit of a favourite for us. Like the Corolla, it's a CVT automatic, which means it's a refined choice, and though the car does not offer stability control, it has all the other safety items and home comforts offered by the Corolla, and a larger 1.8-litre 94kW/176Nm power unit, which means Mary is less likely to miss the six-cylinder oomph of the Freelander.
Again we'd say the Wingroad's price would be negotiable.
Both these cars beg the question as to why someone would get an SUV when they don't need one. Why buy a heavy all-wheel-drive system and pay more for the fuel to drive it, when a cheaper, nimbler wagon can do the job?
Both the Toyota and Nissan are rated at about 5.6 to 6.0L/100km in terms of combined fuel consumption, and are much of a muchness when it comes to handling - safe but hardly a road burner - and ride quite well even with a load on board.
Another wagon, but one out of left field, is Skoda's excellent wee Fabia wagon, which may not have the ultimate load volume of the Japanese pair because it has a less vertical hatch design.
But the floor space is there, and for a small family wagon, it's the most fun to drive with VW's 1.2 TSi engine doing the driving, through a brilliant seven-speed two-pedal DSG transmission.
The engine may only rate at 1.2-litres, but it's a cleverly turbocharged unit, that puts out 77kW/175Nm, and it's that torque figure that should impress, because despite being down on kilowatts, the much bigger torque output makes it flexible and capable of a commendable 5.3L/100km.
The car also fronts with stability control, six airbags and a full Euro NCAP rating of five stars. The Skoda asks $30,500.
So there you have them, Mary, three wee dog-friendly wagons, each of which can be accessed from the driveway by dogs as small as a terrier. We tested that last ability personally.
With dogs being the main cargo for Mary now, it must be remembered that should the unthinkable happen, a dog can be a dangerous projectile in a crash. So it's best to invest in a dog barrier for your car, so that neither luggage nor canine cargo will fly about in an accident.
Better still, a dog harness that clips to your seatbelts is a good bet. We've seen several different sizes for our canine (and feline) friends, and it has to be said that as with children, a dog that sits securely and comfortably in his or her seat with a harness with the ability to see outside the car is a happier creature.