Calling all SUV owner's...

I currently own a 94 ford ranger with a ladder rack that I use to haul my kayaks. We’ve just about outgrown this small truck and it’s just about on it’s last leg since it’s also my work truck. We’re thinking of getting a midsized SUV and are just starting to figure out what we want. We know we don’t want something too small, like a kia sportage due to the fact that we’d like more room and more horsepower. But we also don’t want a super gas hog like an expedition or tahoe. We were thinking of something like a Jeep Cherokee, Xterra, Highlander, Escape…something about like that.

What I’d like to know is if you have one, what you have, what you like/dislike about it, and how easy it is to cartop your boat. Also, if you wouldn’t mind, what type of rack to you use? Thanks!

jeeps break down fast
owned an 84 cherokee & it was great until it hit about 6 or 7 years just fell apart after that.I now own an expedition & love it.gas is a problem but it seems well made & kayak fits nicely on top.have had up to 3 on the roof with no problem.the other suvs I have no knowledge of.

Calling all SUV
I have a Buick Rendezvous and haul two kayaks on two Thule Hull-A-Ports. Loading/unloading requires either a stable stepstool for one person or two people since you cannot roll the boats very well from the rear. With two folks, you can lift and slide from the rear of the car but it isn’t a one person job. A flat loading rack should work well since the top of the car isn’t excessively high. Then it would readily be a one person task.

Pop the back seats and there is a bunch of room inside. Two kayaks on top, two bikes inside and you still have plenty of room.

The Thule top rack adapters mount very securely on the existing roof rails.


Have a 2002 Xterra
It is very comfortable and the 4wd makes winter driving easier. Use a Yakima railriders on to the factory rack. No mech problems but get about 18mpg. The roof is high, but I just use a towel to slide the boat up. I just use foam blocks. They are more secure than the saddles and J type cradles are just too high.

forget the SUV
get a minivan like a Honda Odyssey or if you need fourwheel drive a Subaru. SUVs are pretend off road vehicles, if you really don’t need a higher cg vehicle why not get something with good high speed handling,room, comfort and mpg?

I have an '05 Ford Escape and installed an intake device that increased my mileage to 28mpg with my one boat on the rack.

I use Malone Jcradles and can carry two boats no problem on the factory racks.

The height isn’t too bad so don’t have to put the boats up from the back of the car…just pop it up there from the side. (have a 40# Arctic Hawk)

The Escape is great, plenty of power (6cyl) and with the air intake device that increases mileage and power, quite a nice ride that will handle any road conditions.

Xterra works well
I have a 2004 Nissan Xterra that works well. Yeah the mileage is bad, around 17 mph on the highway. But at least I don’t dent the oil pan (as I did on my old minivan) driving on bad roads. I use Yakima hully rollers and cradles mounted on the factory rack. I only carry one kayak. I put an old ridgerest pad on the back when loading to avoid scratches as I can’t put it on top without sliding it up the back. (I’m only 5 ft 3). Lots of room inside for gear and/or sleeping (with rear seats folded down).

what kind ?
of intake device are you using.

I traded in my GMC Yukon a month ago. That thing only got 17 on the highway w/o boat. I’ve taken my new Outback on two 500+ mile trips and with the kayak on top averaged 27-28 mpg. I’m giddy every time I fill up… Much easier topping the boat as well.


you might
also consider a gmc envoy or chevy trailblazer. both get pretty decent mpg to horsepower. both are very affordable depending on the options you choose. i’m sure you can even pick either of these suvs up at a discounted rate as gm and many others have their employee discount programs running. good luck. tell us what you end up with.

Ford Freestyle
I got a Ford Freestyle this year. It is a crossover between a SUV and a minivan. It is built on a car chassi (Volvo). It can seat 7 passengers comfortably and all of the seats fold flat too. I can put my one piece GP’s in it plus all of my kayaking gear plus I carry two 17 foot sea kayaks on my rack.

The car has more cargo space than my wife’s Explorer, gets 23 - 25 mpg (actual-not EPA), runs on regular gas, and the roof is much lower than the Explorer.

I have an 2000 Isuzu Rodeo. My second one. Medium size, reasonable gas mileage. The thing I really like is it has real 4 wheel drive with low range. It also has power drive and winter drive buttons. I use Yakima racks. It has a somewhat weak factory rack. I have the front rack that mounts to the roof and door frame and the rear rack mounts to the factory roof rack. I get a lot more strength from the front setup.

I second the suggestion not
to get an SUV unless you really need one (like if you live off-road, like my sister-in-law, or have 6 kids, like my brother). It’s much harder to unload kayaks off high vehicles, you’ll have more trouble driving into garages and other low places with a boat on the car, and your already low gas mileage will decline further with gear on the roof.

On the other hand it’s a good time to buy one price-wise–sales are down 43% due to increased gas prices and other factors.

The apparent safety benefits of SUVs are entirely illusory. My VW Jetta is 3 times as safe as a Ford Explorer, mostly due to the Explorer’s higher rollover risk, longer stopping distance, and greater risk of killing others with its high bumpers.

If you need to tow, get a Saab 9-3 or 9-5, which tows more than many SUVs and pick-ups.

Just my nosy, let’s-do-what-we-can-to-save-the-planet opinion,



– Last Updated: Oct-05-05 11:51 PM EST –

We have a 98 Jeep Grand Cherokee, that's been a fine commuter, traveller, and hauler for us. A very basic model -straight 6, black interior, 2WD, power all -but no leather, CD, sunroof, stuff like that. We use Yakima RailRiders for our rack, and it's been solid. It's carried us comfortably back & forth to work in Tha Big City, back & forth from Miami to Illinois & Iowa to family in the country, and back and forth (with 1, 2, and sometimes three kayaks) to put-ins on the Gold Coast, the SW Coast, and the Florida Keys for 7 years now, and we've had no real problems with it.

Sally loves the driving position where you can see a lot from the SUV height.

But when it came time to replace the old Nissan 240, we wanted somehing that would carry 2 people VERY well, would carry 4 comfortably, would carry briefcases, gym bags, grocery bags, and kayaking gear with an really EZ-in/EZ-out capability, and had some amenities.

But MOST of all, for THIS one, what we wanted was a smaller -shorter!-hauler.

See, every year the Jeep was getting an inch taller, the kayaks were getting an inch heavier, and WE were getting an inch OLDER...

We looked at the Freestyle, but it was still too tall and too new, we looked at the Magnum, but it too was too new and too constricted a view out back, and we looked at sedans, and they all had trunk liftover issues.

Surprisingly, the Mazda6 SportWagon is just as roomy, storage-wise, as the Jeep is. Its 220 HP gives it enough power to go. It's a terrific driving car, quick and nimble (they're right when they say "zoom-zoom".) It's VERY nice for two, and four adults can ride in it comfortably. It comes with a bunch of amentities at a good price. And best of all, it's REALLY easy to load the kayaks on our Thule crossroads installed on the factory rails.

We -like many here, and urged by Grayhawk, who replaced HIS Grand Cherokee with a handsome Outback -checked out Subarus, but they're taller (tho of course not as tall as the Jeep), and didn't drive quite as well, and the ones that come with "real" engines all take premium, so we passed.

Don't get us wrong -we DO like our Jeep, and it's been an excellent car for us. We just decided to "go low" for the new one.

Don't initially dismiss a wagon out of hand and automatically settle on an SUV; see if any wagons out there fit your criteria. They CAN (and in our case, certainly DO) make a fine vehicle to use to


-Frank in Miami

I also have a Ford Escape…
…and like it very much.

I have been impressed with it’s power, yet I get good gas mileage

I have 78" Yakama Bars on it. I removed the factory bars and used Yakama Landing pads in the factory rails.

I am constantly carrying a bunch of boats, so besides Yakama kayak saddles I have two sets of Thule hulaports which allows me to carry four kayaks at one time, or a combination of canoes and kayaks.

At last Saturdays race I was doing the shuttle and had six large males, (one on the deck in back) plus a bunch of gear, and it still handeled as if I only had one person in it.




– Last Updated: Oct-05-05 6:21 AM EST –

I'd also recommend that you look at wagons, too. We have a Mercury Sable wagon, and it can carry more than many SUVs, is much easier to get the kayaks on and off since the roof is so much lower than a SUV, handles and rides much better, easier to get in and out of, and gets much better gas mileage - I've been getting 26mpg.

I use the thule racks that use the factory rack rails - the rack is removable (takes just a few seconds), so it looks like new even though it is four years old. When the rack is off, there are small "stubs", about an inch tall that stay in the rails - most people never even notice them.

Small ‘SUV’ Type Vehicles
I have a 2004 Honda CR-V-slick little vehicle. With the V-Tec 4, it has no problem hauling boats, bikes, etc. With some creative packaging, we even fit four boats up there one time… It has loads more room than my Outback, which is also a fine vehicle, and a much tioghter turning radius as well. The gas mileage is not terrific; around 21 mpg combined, but anything AWD will suck it down. This said, note that AWD is NOT 4WD. In the really deep stuff, you’ll wish you had AWD, or at least a locking differential, which the Escape/Mazda Tribute twins do offer. IMHO, the Subaru AWD system is far superior to Honda’s (and just about everything else out there, with perhaps the exception of Audi). Biggest complaints with the the CR-V are lousy rear visibility, an automatic locking system that drives me mad, and my back doesn’t fit well in the tight seat bolsters. Beyond that, it’s extremely well thought out, and quite a lot of fun to drive. Honda knows engines.

Rav 4

– Last Updated: Oct-05-05 6:55 AM EST –

We've had good luck with the Toyota Rav 4.
Perhaps you might find it a bit small..we've thought about the Highlander but they seem a bit big for us. It gives a smooth ride. I think we have about 160,000 miles on the Rav and find it is not overly tall when loading the Kayaks.
We often appreciate it's tight turning radius and it's all wheel traction. We have a 4 cylinder, so the gas mileage isn't to bad.
We also have a station wagon..while it is somewhat lower for loading it can't handle the soft sand or back roads that we find ourselves on.
One difference between the two vehicles is the type of rear door...I tend to hit my head a lot more on the station wagon hatch back style.

Different Results Here
Have a 93 Grand Cherokee with 170k miles on it and the only thing that’s failing is the air conditioner. Great little truck, but it IS small compared to my 2000 Suburban which is one of the nicest trucks I’ve ever driven.

Handling is exceptional for a truck this big, gas mileage blows.

If I was shopping today I’d look at Jeep, GM, Ford, and also Toyota. With the gas issue there is no shortage of them on the used market here in MD.

Tracker Mini-SUV
I have a 2000 4WD Chevy Tracker which gets 26-27 MPG all day long…unless I’m pulling my pop-up trailer then it drops down to 18-19 MPG. It came with LOCKING factory racks on which I installed two Malones that carry my 17 foot Boreal Design and one other kayak (usually a 139 Old Town XL). Loading is done with my feet on the ground though I do have stand on the tires/running board to pull tiedowns over the boats to the securing point. Seats four with comfort and enough cargo room for your weekend adventure.

I got my unit originally because of some of the places I have to drive over to get to some great paddling. However, I do live in a flood-prone (hurricane) area and the high suspension and 4WD are a blessing.

Stay safe on the water,