5 Pet-Friendly Cars That Will Be Your Budget's Best Friend

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Mitt Romney might be president today if he somehow could have owned one of the cars on Edmunds.com's new Top Dogs for Pet Safety list.

"He'd have fared a lot better with pet owners -- and there are a lot of pet owners in America," says Warren Clarke, one of the editors at the popular car-buying site that recently hosted a rundown of 2013's most animal-friendly vehicles.

Romney drew howls of protest during the 2012 presidential campaign for admitting to transporting his dog in a roof carrier during a 1983 driving vacation rather than putting the pooch in the family car.

While supposedly a sign of the Republican candidate's logical mind, the incident made Romney seem cold-hearted to many animal lovers -- and one poll found the story made 35% of Americans less likely to vote for him.

If Mitt wants to make another run for the White House in 2016, the cars on Edmunds.com's "Top Dogs" list all offer plenty of cabin space for the Romney family dog.

Recommended vehicles also generally feature fold-flat seats for easy pet-carrier storage, as well as big doors for convenient animal access. Most models also have side-curtain airbags for animal (and human) safety, while some even boast built-in coolers or refrigerators for pet-food storage.

Clarke says such features make Edmunds' "Top Dogs" good choices not just for four-legged passengers, but two-legged ones as well.

"These are all vehicles that we recommend above and beyond the fact that they're good for pets," he says.

Click below for a look at the five least-expensive cars on Edmunds' pet-friendly list, arranged in order of manufacturers' suggested retail prices for 2013 base models.

Fifth-least-expensive pet-friendly car: Mitsubishi Outlander
Base price: $22,695

This small crossover sport utility vehicle gets the nod primarily because its second- and third-row seats fold flat, creating a generous 72.6 cubic feet of cargo space for pet carriers, dog-food bags and the like.

Clarke says the model also has lots of storage compartments perfect for things such as pet toys -- a good safety feature.

"It's a bad idea to keep things loose in a car cabin when traveling with pets, because they can fly around and injure your animal if you get in an accident," he says.

The Outlander also comes standard with a tailgate that can hold up to 440 pounds, perfect for getting Fido in and out of your vehicle or taking him along on a tailgate party.

Another bonus: Mitsubishi plans to roll out a completely resigned Outlander this year as a 2014 model, so you should be able to find good deals on the current version as 2013 wears on.

Fourth-least-expensive pet-friendly car: Mazda5
Base price: $19,940

The Mazda5 compact minivan comes with a host of pet-friendly features, from tethers and anchors for animal harnesses to fold-flat second- and third-row seats.

The vehicle boasts 97.7 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats down -- plenty of room for Spot or Mr. Whiskers. The Mazda5 also comes standard with sliding side-rear doors that provide 27-inch openings for easy pet entrance and exit.

Clarke adds that the six-passenger vehicle's standard safety equipment includes side-curtain airbags for all three rows, protecting passengers and pets alike.

He says the nimble Mazda5 also has a reputation for being unusually fun on the road. "It's a lot more pleasant to drive than full-sized minivans," the expert says.

Third-least-expensive pet-friendly car: Hyundai Tucson
Base price: $19,395

Your pet will be plenty cool traveling on hot days in the Hyundai Tucson, thanks to its multizone climate system and privacy glass that helps block the sun's rays. (Just make sure you don't leave animals unattended in a hot, parked car.)

The Tucson, a compact crossover SUV, also features fold-down rear seats that make carrying animals and pet accessories easy.

On the downside, the five-passenger Tucson has only 55.8 cubic feet of cargo space -- far less than rivals such as the Honda ( HMC) CR-V or Toyota ( TM) RAV4. Clarke adds that the Hyundai comes with a firm, sporty suspension that not all drivers like.

"The Tucson is a good choice if you're looking for something sporty and fun," he says. "But if you're looking for the most comfortable ride quality, you might be disappointed."

Second-least-expensive pet-friendly car: Dodge Journey
Base price: $18,995

This midsized crossover SUV makes the list mostly on the strength of its built-in cooler, which can store food or cold drinks for you and your pet.

Clarke says the Journey is also "a larger vehicle with fairly big door openings, so it's a good choice for people with big animals."

Additionally, the model's standard second-row seating and optional third-row fold flat --providing 67.6 cubic feet of cargo space for pets and supplies.

Other animal-friendly features include a separate climate zone for the Journey's rear seats, as well as lots of storage bins -- including some under the seat cushions -- to carry leashes and the like.

Clarke adds that even if you don't have pets, the Journey offers "one of the better interiors in its class. Material quality is very good and the design is fairly sophisticated."

That said, Edmunds editors consider the model's standard 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine weak. They recommend upgrading to the optional 283-horsepower V-6.

No. 1 least-expensive pet-friendly car: Kia Soul
Base price: $14,400

The hip Kia Soul is a tail-wagging choice if you're young or young at heart and don't have a lot of money to spend on transporting yourself or your pet.

The four-door compact wagon gets a thumbs-up primarily because standard side-curtain airbags will protect you and your animal in a crash.

Clarke says the model also has tinted rear glass that will help keep your animal cool on sunny days.

Additionally, fold-flat rear seats provide 53 cubic feet of cargo space -- not the best in class, but pretty good considering the Soul's size.

Beyond pet-friendliness, the vehicle boasts youth-oriented styling, quality interior finishes, lots of standard features and Kia's famous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. "The Soul offers good value for the money," Clarke says.

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