• The 5 Best Performance Cars for Dog Owners

According to the internet, some little outfit called "Autotrader" just released its list of the best cars for dog owners. There was a Volvo and an Audi. Not too bad. Then a Honda minivan, and a couple of soft-UVs. And of course, the inimitable Kia Soul. Good enough.
If you’re feeling a little more...exuberant...Gayoh.com suggests a Mazda Miata, which is somehow both wrong, and completely contextually correct. But somehow a bit less so than the Nissan Juke Autotrader recommended. Huh.

Autotrader’s criteria included a low ride height, rear lift-gate for doggy entry, a rear cargo area, fold-flat rear seats and a few others we’ll get into shortly. Ours are more along the lines of rubber carpet for easy clean-up after slalom maneuvers, Alcantara inserts to keep Schnauzer from the glove compartment under braking, and enough power to pin Scooby to his seat while accelerating into the carpool lane. Consumer Reports, we ain’t.

Because at the end of the day, the real best vehicle for dogs will always be a 1976 Ford van. Anything other than that is a compromise. So, since we’re compromising anyway, might as well do it in the name of fun for driver and dog alike.

Continue reading for my somewhat, um... unorthodox version of a common and important topic.

Criteria

While 1976 might have been the high point for canine transport, this list is going to stick exclusively to new cars in the legit performance spectrum. I’ll try to hit as many of Autotrader’s dog-friendly points as possible, though most are fairly flexible. The only ones that aren’t are that the vehicle must have at least a back seat with easy accessibility, if not a full hatch and rear cargo area.

Hatchbacks, wagons and SUVs fall into this category by default, though most sedans and a few coupes and pickups would as well. However, mid-engine cars and two-seaters are obviously out, as are coupes that don’t have easy back-seat access. Anything with a full leather interior is out, because leather is expensive, scratches easily, and a lot of dogs will eat it like a rawhide bone. Cargo ties and tether points are a must, since some states require that pets be tethered in moving vehicles.

Tuner and specialty manufacturer vehicles are on the table if they’re available in America. For these purposes, fuel economy isn’t an issue and price is somewhat secondary, as you’ll see from this first entry. Here we go, then.

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

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Technically, the Turbo S does have a full leather interior as standard equipment, which is unusual for Porsche. However, that leather doesn’t extend to its rear storage area, which at 23.7 cubic feet isn’t exactly enormous. But it’s big enough to comfortably fit a German Shepherd, and the fact that it’s a tad snug might not be a bad thing in this case. It’s that much less room for Max to fly backward when you put all 570 horsepower of turbocharged V-8 grunt to the ground.

The Cayenne Turbo S certainly offers the performance to get your furry friend to the dog park before the competition.

At 3.8 seconds to 60 mph and 176 mph, the Cayenne Turbo S certainly offers the performance to get your furry friend to the dog park before the competition; and of course, it’s got all the necessary cargo hooks and tie downs in the back to ensure he’s as tall when he gets there as when you left.

The seats don’t fold flat, which probably isn’t a bad thing if you don’t want claw marks in your leather back seat. Porsche even offers an Alcantara roof lining — the only imaginable purpose of which must be to stick dogs in place after hitting the Porsche’s massive brakes.

If the Porsche has anything going against it, it’s that leather interior. Ironically, if Porsche had just taken its usual tactic of charging for everything but the air and allowed owners to spec a more stripped-down model with leather floor mats, the Caynne Turbo S would be an almost ideal ride for performance-oriented mutt friends. As it is, the Porsche is a little too luxurious for its own good. Still, not a bad choice overall.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon

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Wagons are a love it or hate it thing, but it’s impossible not to love any car that will hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and top out at a mind-warping 186 mph. That’s electronically limited, mind you. With the limiter off, there’s little reason to believe 200 mph is out of the question.

With the seats down, you should find plenty of room to fit the two biggest Mastiffs around, or 17 Chihuahuas.

The AMG 63 wagon isn’t so much a car as it is a 5.5-liter, 577-horsepower nuclear weapon with a car attached to it. True, it’s got a limited-slip differential, traction control and a brake-based "torque vectoring" system; but if history’s anything to go by, this wagon will prove to be the quickest way imaginable to squish seven of your closest friends in a pall of powersliding tire smoke.

Granted, none but the most loyal of dogs are likely to enjoy that last ride with you. But they will like the AMG’s fairly sizable rear cargo area. And if that’s not enough, the Merc has a 60/40 fold down rear seat. With the seats down, you should find plenty of room to fit the two biggest Mastiffs around, or 17 Chihuahuas.

Again, leather upholstery is standard; but the backs of the rear seats aren’t upholstered in leather, and neither is the rear cargo area. It’s all carpet and fantastic plastic, which is perfect for doggy duty.

While this nuke with a body is undoubtedly an axe murderer when provoked, it’s probably one of the safest vehicles on the road otherwise. Packed with every electronic safety device in the Mercedes catalog, the E63 Merc will at least do its best to ensure you and your furry friend survive long enough to take flight at 200 mph.

Tesla Model S P85D

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If you’re like every other person who’s looked at a car website lately, you’re probably already sick to death of hearing about the wonders of America’s own electric wondercar. But there’s a reason it’s all over the place, and why you’ve probably already memorized every performance spec published. But just in case: 691 horsepower, four-wheel drive, torque vectoring, 2.9 seconds to 60 mph (with the incredibly named Ludicrous Speed upgrade) and 11 seconds for the quarter mile. This, from a four-door sedan that gets the equivalent of 80 mpg. Wondercar, indeed.

With its rear seats folded down flat, the Tesla's got more square footage of floor space than the beds of some compact pickup trucks I could name.

One of the coolest things about the Tesla, though, comes not as a result of its insane power and performance, but its basic architecture. Because the entire car rests on a "skateboard" style chassis with a flat floor, and because there’s no central battery pack or drivetrain, the Tesla has just massive interior volume and versatility.

It’s the only sedan on Earth that can legally seat seven full grown adults: two in the front, three in the back seat, and two more in the rear-facing jumpseats, which place occupants effectively in the rear trunk space.

Those rear seats also fold down to the front, which means that the Tesla can carry a family of five, plus a couple of good-sized collies in the rear jumpseat area. Or, you can fold the rear seatbacks down, and fit two adults and two or three litters of shih tzus in the cavernous rear area.With its rear seats folded down flat, the Tesla’s got more square footage of floor space than the beds of some compact pickup trucks I could name.

Oh, also, Tesla’s a half-second faster to 60 than a 2015 Dodge Viper. Did I mention that? Yeah, it totally is.

2015 Ford Focus ST

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America isn’t known for building the best hot hatches in the world, but the latest Focus ST may just be one of the best for speedy dog enthusiasts on a budget. True, Europe still gets the best Focus hatchbacks, as we’ve yet to receive anything like the euro-spec 2009 Ford Focus RS. But we do have the the ST, and it’s drawn some pretty serious comparisons to its EcoBoost-powered Mustang sibling. Not least of which because the Focus ST is the most powerful hatchback in America today.

With 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space out back, Ford's little hatch actually offers a little more stretch space than the Porsche Cayenne.

How much power? At present, 252 horses at 5,500 rpm and 270 foot-pounds of torque at 2,500 rpm from a 2.0-liter, turbocharged and direct-injected four cylinder that’s pushing about 2,800 pounds, which is 66 pounds less than the previous generation, five-cylinder ST model. That weight reduction and power is good for a 6-second sprint to 60 mph, about 14.7 through the quarter and an (electronically limited) top speed of 155 mph.

Of course, there was a time when that kind of grunt channeled through the front wheels would absolutely ruin a car. It’s still not ideal, but Ford’s done a lot to tame torque-steer and understeer with the Focus’ electronic differential and active stability control system. Yes, it’s a little artificial, but you won’t notice unless you’re hammering at 10/10ths around a road course.

If you do make it to Sebring or Willow, rest assured your favorite mutt won’t be short on accommodations. With 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space out back, Ford’s little hatch actually offers a little more stretch space than the Porsche Cayenne. Which, granted, might say more about the Porsche than the Ford. But still, it’s nice to know exterior size doesn’t necessarily matter when it come to mutt comfort. And since it’s a Focus costing about a quarter of the Porsche, you’re not stuck with a leather interior. Or much of any interior, really. If Ford used any more plastic on this thing, they’d have to call it the Lil Kim.

Still, that’s a good thing for dog fans, and so is the rest of what makes the Focus what it is. Small, practical, decent on gas, easy to load and easy to clean — if you’re looking for a budget alternative to the Tesla, don’t want a sedan or wagon, and don’t mind front-wheel drive, the Focus ST just might meet all of your and your furry friend’s needs.

2015-2016 Hennessey VelociRaptor

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Come on — an article about dog-friendly performance vehicles, and you didn’t think there’d be at least one pickup truck? Pickups and dogs go together like cognac and Johnny Cash. So where else would your loyal old hound buy his truck but from a company called Hennessey, in the wild-west lands of Texas?

As far as dog-friendliness goes -- well, it's a King Cab F-150. That should pretty much say it all.

The VelociRaptor is Hennessey’s take on the 2011 Ford SVT Raptor pickup, plus about 350 horsepower worth of turbocharged goodness. Technically speaking, there is no 2015 or 2016 Raptor, since Ford discontinued the 6.2-liter, 411-horsepower monster in 2014. It will be back in 2017 with an even more powerful twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6, which will provide even more grunt than the V-8, and with better fuel economy. But as of right this moment, there is no Raptor available new from Ford, unless you can find a dealer with a spare 2014 model.

That might make this one a little bit of a cheat...if not for the fact that Hennessey is a manufacturer unto itself, and it is still selling V-8 Raptors, if you provide your own 2014 model for conversion. Afterward, you get a brand new Hennessey title, a serial-numbered Hennessey build plate, and 810 pointlessly crushing horsepower to back it up. The $55,000 buy-in price includes forged pistons and connecting rods, an HPE engine management system and a couple of turbos. At this point, you’re only a couple of blowoff valves away from the world’s most powerful dog whistle.

If you can’t find any V-8 Raptors lying around for conversion, Hennessey also currently sells 650-horse, supercharged VelociRaptors based on the FX4 F-150 pickup, and those are legitimately brand new. They’re still very bad, low-13-second trucks. They’re just not 810 horsepower bad.

As far as dog-friendliness goes — well, it’s a King Cab F-150. That should pretty much say it all. Hennessey also offers upgrade packages for the Mopar and Chevy boys, but not complete vehicles. As of right now, if you want a Hennessey truck, it’s Ford or nothing. Which isn’t entirely a bad thing.

If the hounds don’t mind waiting another year in the old ’76 Econoline, you can hold out for a brand-new 2017 Raptor from Ford itself. Hennessey will undoubtedly produce itsown version, which you can bet will be much, much faster. If you can talk them into dropping a modified Raptor engine into a new Transit van, let me know. You might have just created the greatest dog-mobile of all time.

Richard Rowe
Richard Rowe
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