Car Choice: What's the roomiest runaround for walkies?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

David Williams has been told to downsize his current vehicle to accommodate himself, his wife and an Alaskan Klee Kai dog.

David Williams has been told to downsize his current vehicle to accommodate himself, his wife and an Alaskan Klee Kai dog. Comfort is a priority but he wants something with a little style. A diesel Golf estate he looked at was practical but very bland. He has been more tempted by Volvo estates and also a Toyota RAV4, and is looking for the best all-round compromise and will consider an estate, coupé, hatch or even a 4x4.

David should never underestimate the value of having four doors. If there are regular occasions when he needs to transport friends or elderly relatives then it makes an immense amount of sense when getting people in and out. It sounds obvious but I have come across families who have bought coupés as their main vehicle and then found it impossible to get everyone and their luggage inside for regular trips.

David is right to allocate the dog its own area and for me that rules out a coupé. Rear seats are certainly OK for a snoozing hound, even if they are barely adequate for anyone over toddler size. However, there are issues about safety and that means adequately restraining the dog and also odours. Yes, keep the dog in the boot area and that means not literally inside a boot, but a hatchbacked or estate car-like set up.

So hatches, 4x4s and estates are all on the short list, but then again, David does not need any vehicle that is any larger than it should be. Volvos, especially the V50 he has seen is certainly on the large side. But some of lifestyle 4x4s - especially with just two doors may be the best option.

A car for the heart

David might like to know that the RAV4 has safe, predictable and very car-like handling. This is, of course, helped by the permanent four-wheel drive system. The way it goes around corners is truly remarkable. Certainly there is a fair dose of body roll, as you would expect with a high-rise vehicle, but most of all there is grip and lots of it.

The tyres may whine at the effort, but it clings to corners that would make much more conventional vehicles think twice. Yep, this isn't just car-like; it is GTi-like with well-weighted steering and impressively neutral handling.

The ride is good too. There is no jiggery, pokery, potholey nonsense that seems to defeat most 4x4s in the urban jungle. To top it all, the RAV4 is stable at motorway speeds. The boot is big, especially with the rear seats folded, but the sill is very high. As for the new RAV4, there is a very good range of engines, the variable valve technology on the petrol units makes all the difference - making the 1.8 and 2.0 very eager units.

Most buyers will want the combination of power and economy that the 2.0 D-4D delivers. Again the VX is the top specification, but even the entry level NV and five-door GX provides ABS and air conditioning as standard.

A car for the head

If David wants a car that is nice to drive, reasonably spacious inside and not too big, then the Ford Focus C-Max is worth considering. He even has the option of four doors for those occasions when they need to get extra bodies inside.

There are a lot of compact MPVs to choose from these days, but this model does not have more seats than necessary. Indeed, David might get away with a standard Focus, which has recently been reworked. But the C-Max has an excellent driving position and very supportive seats with a very adjustable steering column, so getting comfy is not a problem. The dashboard layout is very good and it has the feel and appearance of an executive class car.

David could give their dog its own rear seat because the centre one pushes back into the load space and locks in a vertical position, which may be a bit silly but they come out if required.

The plus points for the Focus have to be the excellent driving manners and a very good diesel engine, which will return over 50mpg in 2-litre form and has the responsiveness of a petrol unit. He should give the Focus a try.

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