When it comes to cars for dog owners, there's no question that some vehicles are simply better than others. Whether you're setting out on a long road trip or running out for a quick in-town errand, you want to be able to transport your furry friend as safely, conveniently and comfortably as possible.

When shopping for a new set of wheels, you may have many considerations, but carting your canine properly should be one of them. There are a number of desired features that can help make your vehicle choice a more pet-friendly one:

  • A rear lift gate allows your dog to jump in and out of the car easily; it also makes for more convenient loading in/loading out of pet carriers, crates and kennels.
  • Fold-flat seats create a spacious area for your dog to sit while keeping the actual surface of the seats clean from hair or scratches.
  • An airy cabin is especially beneficial for large dogs to stretch out.
  • Rear cargo-attachment ringlets help keep carriers and crates from sliding around.
  • A containment barrier/divider keeps your dog from jumping up to the front seat while the car is in motion.
  • A low ride height helps dogs -- especially older ones -- get in and out with ease.
  • Rear climate control keeps your dog cool and comfortable in transit no matter what the weather is like.
  • A sunroof brings fresh air and sunlight so you can keep your dog from hanging its head out of the window.
  • Underfloor storage gets your things out of the way so your dog can ride more comfortably.

These features will enhance comfort and convenience. Because driving around with your dog has its risks, safe transport should be at the top of your mind. Some states require owners to crate or tether animals while in motion; other states, such as Connecticut, have general distracted-driving laws that can be applied to animal-related incidents. New Jersey categorizes an improperly restrained pet as a disorderly-conduct offense. Penalties for violations vary by state, but ultimately, common sense should prevail. In other words, it may be fun for your dog to ride on your lap on the highway, but it's clearly not the best idea.

From crossovers to minivans to wagons, there are many well-suited cars for dog owners. Here are our top seven picks.

Subaru Outback

Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel drive (AWD) is one of the most capable AWD systems available. If you live in a cold climate and have an outdoorsy dog that likes being in wintry conditions, the Outback's superior traction and surefootedness will keep you and Fido safe and secure as you tread over snowy terrain. Additionally, the Outback's wagon configuration makes for plenty of room in the cargo area. A wide, low load floor and an optional pet barrier round out the amenities. Subaru also has many pet-friendly accessories.

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Nissan Juke

This little urban runabout offers a low, carlike ride height for easy in and out, especially via the large rear hatch. A combination of coupe, crossover and hatchback, the Juke offers just the right amount of size and utility for small-to-medium dogs that ride in carriers. Tether down the crate, and get out of the city for the weekend!

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Volkswagen Tiguan

VW's Tiguan got its name by combining the words tiger and iguana, so the car's sure to be pet-friendly. The Tiguan is a lot like the Nissan Juke: compact on the outside but deceivingly spacious within. The rear seats fold flat, making room for pets of almost any size, and an optional dog barrier keeps your pet safely contained where it can't distract you.

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BMW X3

Well proportioned, upscale and athletic, the BMW X3 maximizes canine comfort with soft, heated leather seats, a sunroof and rear climate control. The cargo area is the right size for small- to medium-sized dogs, and for dogs that like to play in the snow, the X3's AWD system makes winter driving virtually worry-free.

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Volvo V60

The V60 offers a spacious cargo area, lots of utility, rear climate control and one of the safest passenger compartments available. If crash safety is your top concern, the V60 is your best choice here. Rear tie-downs make harnessing your pet carrier easy. If you don't use a carrier, then go with the optional dog barrier.

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Kia Soul

This stylish urban cruiser offers rear-seat heat and an extra-large panoramic roof for lots of sunlight. Its boxy and efficient shape also allows for plenty of headroom, so even though the Soul is compact, it comfortably accommodates big and tall dogs. The large rear hatch is also a plus for quick entry and exit.

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Honda Odyssey

The Odyssey has it all when it comes to driving with your dog. There's a wealth of room, comfortable seats, rear ventilation, underfloor compartments and even a built-in vacuum. For dogs that shed excessively, this innovative vac system lets you clean up quickly and effectively. The Honda Odyssey also has side window shades that can help keep your dog from getting too hot while traveling.

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There are many great vehicle choices -- across multiple segments -- for you and your dog. Each brings its own set of pet-friendly amenities and characteristics. It's up to you to decide which are most important to you.

author photo

Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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