It's been exhausting: consumer research, test drives, post-dealership debriefs. These discussions start logically (engine size, the merits of all-wheel drive, trade-in value conjecture), but inevitably end with the $64,000 question: Will our dogs be comfortable?
My partner (let's call her Gail, because that's her name) and I are the human companions of Charlie Parker, a cockapoo, and a schnoodle named Louis Armstrong.
Just before the summer we decided it was time to trade in our respective wheels for a family car. We'd save on insurance, gas, repairs, precious street parking in our downtown Toronto neighbourhood and, most important, buy something roomy for Charlie and Louis' frequent road trips to the country.
Since Gail insists on "research" and "logic," she said we should be methodical and look at a variety of cars - both luxury and economy class - to get a better handle on value. Since I insist on "back-seat driving" and "impulse buying," I had a thing or two to say about a potentially lengthy process. We found middle ground by targeting several dealerships close to a Dairy Queen.
We started at Mercedes-Benz. Why not? Two professionals without children can afford a little luxury, right? Plus, Mercedes offers cappuccino while you wait. (Read: nowhere to go from here but down.)
Sure, the GLK is a driver's dream: quiet, smooth, peppy, gorgeous. But as I put it to the elegant saleswoman, "Can the GPS understand 'Find dog park'?"
A succession of vehicles followed as rapid as a montage of neon signs in a forties musical: Toyota Venza - stylish but too roomy for the dogs? Volkswagen Tiguan - nimble, but would the subwoofer be overwhelming for our two woofers? And then there was the Ford Flex - here I must digress.
On our way to the shiny Crosstour at the back of the dealership floor, Louis sniffed the potted palms while I kept Charlie close for fear of him customizing a vehicle.
The Ford Flex Titanium is nifty looking, and has overhead vents in the back; we're talking sheer pooch appeal. It's also the only car we drove that can "self park." The salesman, however, didn't know how to use the feature so we left dejected, having driven Chitty Chitty Bang Bang without seeing it fly. At least the dealership was less than five minutes from a half hot fudge/half hot caramel sundae.
This brings me to the least likely of endings, having started at Mercedes-Benz: Honda. In Gail's mad Googling, she'd read positive consumer reviews of the Crosstour. It's a sports car-cum-SUV-cum-station wagon with a look so unique it's polarizing. At least in our family.
Gail: "I think it's sexy."
Me: "The tinted windows remind me of the Bat Cave. Won't the dogs be affected?"
Gail: "Yes. They'll be cooler in the summer."
Me: "Cooler perhaps - but potentially vitamin D deficient?"
Gail: "We can't talk about this any more and hope to stay together."
The Crosstour's sporty lines and cornering spoke to Gail's inner thrill seeker. The ground clearance, while sufficient for a decent snowfall, seemed manageable enough for our stocky schnoodle's hampered leap.
The manager of the dealership we visited (let's call him Ron, because that's his name) also told us we'd be part of the Honda family, whether we bought a car from him or not. I envisioned a Labour Day picnic at his house; Gail thought it meant he'd likely take our calls.
When we got home from the test drive Gail was impressed, but I was troubled by the sloping hatch: would Charlie and Louis be able to stand up? Given the style, price, comfort and fair trade-in value, Gail was (pre)sold. She called Ron and asked him to measure the back of the vehicle at its lowest point to humour me.
Meanwhile, with a tape measure she calculated Charlie and Louis' respective heights while sitting, standing and sitting with chins up. Ron provided the specs, and Gail had to concede it might actually be a tight fit - that perhaps this time my irrational worry was a legitimate query.
So we did what seemed logical (to me), and asked Ron if we could bring the dogs in to see if it - literally - measured up. He said this was a first in his 29 years at Honda. Unless of course he was kidding. We all know how quirky family can be.
On our way to the shiny Crosstour at the back of the dealership floor, Louis sniffed the potted palms while I kept Charlie close for fear of him customizing a vehicle. Ron graciously lifted the hatch and, while two salesmen looked on, we gave the up command and the pooches jumped into the back.
Gail told Ron that while she loved the car, I was uncertain about fit, so now the decision was "up to the dogs." (There's my girl, finally parking on my side of Irrational Street.)
Like an oyster with two pearls inside, we gently lowered the tailgate. Then we got into the back seat and closed the doors to the Bat Cave. I kneeled facing the dogs, to observe, I assured Gail, not influence the boys' behaviour.
Charlie wedged his snout between the head rest and the roof to plant a wet one on my nose. Louis opted for two and a half clockwise turns before collapsing with a sigh.
No barking. No squirming. Room to sit. Room to sit with noses in the air.
In human vernacular: Sold.
Arlyn Levy lives in Toronto.