Doggy Driving


"Sit! Down! Stay!" My passenger looked a bit hang-dog at being ordered about, but did as he was told.

It sounds like a very tall order, fitting a Bentley into a SsangYong.

We managed it though, and with room to spare. How? This lofty SsangYong is one of the Korean car maker’s largest models, the Tivoli XLV, a stretched version of the company’s popular budget SUV, with a huge boot. And the Bentley? Also a big example of its breed, but not the car.

He’s our large and leggy dog, a Pointer named after the upper-crust motor I was test-driving just before we collected him from the breeder. No, don’t blame me, it was pup-and-car-besotted daughter’s idea to name one after the other. Back then namesake Bentley was a gangly pup with fur as smooth and soft as the car’s upholstery. Now he’s a small horse of a canine, so tall that a friend has memorably nicknamed him ‘donkey dog’.

One of the disadvantages of an SUV compared with a similarly roomy estate car is the height of the boot sill. But loading ‘donkey’ into the Tivoli XLV’s cavernous 720-litre boot is as easy as instructing Siri on your mobile. You just say ‘In!’, and it happens. Big leap, job done.

If only all luggage were as easy to pack in ahead of a trip. No such luck, you have to laboriously heave inanimate stuff up and over, and it doesn’t even wag a tail at you when it’s there. What a boon it would be to shout ‘In!’ at a pile of suitcases, and watch them leap unaided into the back of the car. Well, autonomous cars are coming, so maybe that will too, one day.

A roomy SUV like the Tivoli XLV has other advantages as a dog carrier. Its height gives a handily elevated view over other traffic, which is a boon for nausea avoidance. Height-challenged children and pets, craning to see out of a low-slung, high-waistline saloon or hatchback, can imperil your pristine seats with sudden eruptions. A raised viewpoint is a good gastric calmer.

Not that a leggy mutt like Bentley has any such issues. He can see out with ease, so no worries about any unwelcome re-acquaintance with breakfast. His lofty height requires headroom, and an elevated SUV has more of that than other cars. He loves to sit up in the back and gaze watchfully at following vehicles, with an occasional grumbly woof if he spots some other driver eating at the wheel. Well, it’s food, and he’s a dog, with endless appetite to match.

Britain is such a besotted nation of dog lovers that canine passengers are very common on our roads, and car companies increasingly offer accessories to accommodate them. Well-behaved Bentley travels in the boot but is tethered for safety – his and ours – with his lead clipped to a luggage hook, and behind a dog-guard securely installed between boot and cabin.

It’s a pricey piece of canine fencing from the SsangYong accessory range at £105, but worth it. A dog the size of a young donkey being propelled forward in a collision could do some serious damage – and not just to himself.

For many Brits an estate car is the quintessential choice as a family transporter, including the family pet on his way to a walkies location. In some ways it’s easier option than an SUV – the lower boot sill is kinder for canines, especially for smaller breeds and older pooches. Bentley is a big fan of our current car, a Volvo V60, and springs in the moment its electric tailgate whirrs upwards.

It’s a lower leap, but he fits more snugly in there than stretched out in the SsangYong. With a dog for cargo, boot space matters . The new V60 has 539 litres of it, which is a useful extra stretch from the 430 litres of the previous model. It’s now just about the roomiest amongst similar-size rival estates – notably cramming in an extra 34 litres more than an Audi A4 Avant, and 44 litres more than a BMW 3-Series Touring. But compared with the unusually commodious Tivoli XLV, even the V60 is nowhere near as roomy.

Even though a big dog like ours occupies a lot of boot space, driving with man’s (or woman’s …) best friend on board is mostly a very good thing. Dogs generally make great passengers. They don’t distract you with chatter, criticise your driving, try to back-seat navigate or vet your parking, and never say ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Best of all, doggy driving is very companionable. You’re never alone with a Bentley in the boot.