|Room for Flick's, Wiley's and Austin's dog crates is non-negotiable|
But it's the car I use to take my dogs to agility in, so I have to be able to fit their crates in its replacement. I can fit three med crates in the back of this little wagon by placing one sideways facing the passenger side door, and the other two facing the back. This leaves about 18" of space between the crates and the lift gate for other gear, plus it's sort of a "buffer" between the back of the car and the rear. It means my dogs' crates (and more critically, my dogs) are less likely to be crushed in a rear-end collision.
Most crossovers have a shorter, taller, and wider cargo box, so I'd have to check if the three crates would still fit in any replacement candidate (the exact dimensions of the cargo areas is something car manufacturers are very coy about, I've noticed). Extra "headroom" above, and space to the sides of the crates is of less use to me than a somewhat longer, but not so tall and wide cargo area.
Another thing I'd like is to get a car that gets better than the 24 mpg my current vehicle averages. I'd really hoped that there would be a selection of small wagons, minivans and crossover SUVs by now that averaged, if not the 40 mpg of my husband's Ford Focus hybrid, at least somewhere in the mid thirties. My car is the dog mobile on the weekends, but it's the car I use for commuting and driving to work the rest of the time.
The vehicles I've been considering include:
Prius v Wagon. Higher mpg, above 40 average. Very sluggish performance compared to the other vehicles on my list (and compared to the Ford Focus hybrid), but maybe worth it to save fuel costs and to help the planet. Not sure if the cargo space is sufficient for my crates, though, and that would be the real deal breaker.
Honda CRV. Decent fuel efficiency and the cargo space looks good on paper (about 71 cubic feet behind the front seats). Generally a well-reviewed little mini SUV. But I've a feeling the cargo area is too short and tall for my crates.
Subaru Forester. A bit worse than the CRV for mpg, and maybe a bit better space wise. A well-regarded car overall, but it may still be the wrong dimensions for the dog crates.
The Subaru Outback. Similar mpg to the Forester with a bit more omph and a slightly higher price tag. Similar to my Legacy Wagon, but taller. The cargo area is longer with less headroom than the Forester.
Toyota Rav 4 hybrid. Brand new, so there's that buying something when it first comes out thing. Plus it's kind of pricey, and there are the same possible space issues as other crossover SUVs.
All-gasoline Toyota Rav 4. The 2015 was panned by reviewers, but rumor has it there are some improvements with the 2016 model. I've noticed the 2015 models are being priced dirt cheap on clearance right now--same price I paid for my wagon 16 years ago. Might be a good deal if the 2015 model isn't a complete pig.
Honda Odyssey. The best minivan on the market, according to many sources. Also rather pricey and cruddy mpg (better than most other minivans, but still no improvement over my current car). It has tons of space, but is rather large for day to day driving and parking.
Honda Pilot. The next crossover step up from the CRV. It costs about the same as the Odyssey and gets similar mpg but has less cargo space (though a lot more than the CRV). So not sure why I'd buy one instead of the minivan.
Ford Transit Connect wagon. It comes in two wheelbases and has more space than a crossover SUV but less than most minivans. It's cheaper than the pilot or Odyssey, more comparable in price to small crossover suvs. But it's ugly as sin (really just a very small work van with windows and kitted out for passengers) and probably klunkier to drive and park than a crossover or smaller wagon. And it gets terrible mpg.
So, the sad truth is, there's nothing on the market right now that really fits my desired criteria: room for three dogs crates with a bit to spare, over 30 average mpg (preferably higher), and affordable (as in less than, say, 28k). So I'll have to compromise on something. The next step is to start test driving. And of course to bring a tape measure to investigate the cargo space dimensions.
And I may have to consider getting the next new car sooner than I normally do if there's some technological breakthrough in the next few years that puts a high-mileage dogmobile on the market.