One of the flashy features in the new Jeep Cherokee is its built-in cargo rail system. It promises flexibility for unique Jeep accessories like the cooler we recently tested. When we decided to purchase other accessories one that stood out was a custom-fit dog crate to keep canines safe on the road.
The collapsible dog crate is similar to others you would find in the pet supply world. The Jeep version retails at $165. Our internet price was $142.41, including shipping. Similarly sized crates can be had from $60 to $140, but they aren't custom-made for specific cars, a seeming advantage for the Cherokee's rail system. However, even though the Jeep crate is custom-tailored for the Cherokee, it does not use the much-hyped cargo rail at all.
Instead, it has four adjustable straps securely sewn to it with carabiner clips at the end of each strap that attach to metal cargo hooks in the Cherokee's cargo area. The straps are positioned to align perfectly with the cargo hooks but could likely be used in other cars too. Our research yielded only a couple collapsible canvas crate equipped with four steel D-rings anchoring it — none with straps like the Jeep crate.
I recently spent a weekend carting my canine companions — 4-year-old golden retriever Tyler (pictured below), 2-year-old golden retriever mix Danny and 5-year-old husky-shepherd mix Shadow (pictured above) — around to obligations ranging from a vet appointment to a rescue group's meet and greet to a joy ride, which proved a good test for the crate.
The crate assembles easily. Simply unfold it and fit the top support bars together. The canvas was a good, sturdy weight, and the mesh was made from heavier material than I've seen in similar crates. The crate has "doors" on three sides with zippered openings, and the top opens as well. It's 30¾ inches long, 22 inches high and 18 inches wide.
See step-by-step photos below
The crate fits lengthwise into the cargo area. Clip the carabiner hooks to the tie-down rings and pull the straps tight; then wind up the excess strap and use the Velcro closures to secure it near the buckle (this is what keeps the strap from loosening).
The crate disassembles as easily as it assembles, and when folded flat is easy to store with other cargo.
My biggest concern was whether the carabiner clips would hold up in a crash; they seemed rather delicate and had a snap closure. I think heavier-duty clips with a screw-type closure might prove safer.
"To me the issue was not having a third pair of clips to attach to the back of the seats. So even if the four clips are as tight as possible, the crate can still slide toward the cargo door," Cars.com Managing Editor David Thomas explained after he tested it with his 9-year-old boxer, Roxy. We also wonder why the cargo rail system wasn't used since it could provide a better anchor on one side of the kennel than the straps.
During one trip I pulled into the empty section of large parking lot and hit the brakes hard to see how well the straps kept the crate anchored. My 22-year-old daughter watched from the backseat — assuring me that our dog Tyler was lying down before I hit the brakes — and observed the crate rocking backward and hitting the back of the backseat; it then dropped forward into its original position. While driving, however, the crate remained in position. Thomas noted that with his 65-pound boxer weighing down the crate it stayed in place, only shifting significantly during sharp turns. But that would be expected of other crates of this type.
Dog owners might want to consider how high the Cherokee's cargo area is before making a judgment on the dog-friendliness of the SUV, crate or not.
The cargo floor is 32 inches off the ground, according to Thomas' measurement. Tyler and Shadow have physical issues that prevent them from jumping that high, so we used our dog ramp to get them into the cargo area. It fit nicely in the cutout area of the Jeep's bumper beneath the license plate; it didn't move a bit as the dogs entered and exited the crate. Danny missed his mark jumping in and lightly scratched the plastic bumper.
Thomas' boxer Roxy (above) — who still has some significant jump left in her step — barely made it up to the cargo area and had even more trouble jumping out. His family's Subaru Outback's cargo floor is 28 inches off the ground and Roxy has no issues getting in and out and is a regular passenger. Both the Outback and Cherokee have identical ground clearance of 8.7 inches.
So the height of the cargo area could definitely be an issue for some dogs. As for the crate's size, the quarters were a bit tight for my tall dogs, who weigh 50 to 65 pounds, but once they were lying down they were fine. The boxer's back hit the top of the soft crate but fit fine when lying down as well.
The crate didn't seem to obstruct the view out of the rearview mirror for either of our tests.
So is this crate a worthwhile investment for dog-loving Cherokee owners? Pets are among the many distractions that cause crashes; approximately 30,000 crashes annually are attributed to unrestrained pets, according to AAA. When traveling at 35 mph, a 60-pound unrestrained dog can become a projectile exerting 2,700 pounds of pressure. Having your dog restrained is safer for you, your passengers and the dog.
The high second-row of seats in the Cherokee would likely prevent a large dog from becoming a danger to passengers, but the crate might influence dogs to lie down during most of the ride for a safer position along with the added restraint of the tied-down kennel.
Cars.com photos by Evan Sears, Sara Burklow and David Thomas