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Best Cars & SUVs for Kayak Lovers

Posted by on August 2, 2013

There is a select breed of individuals driving on the road today who would purchase a car or SUV second to a kayak, many of which, I would imagine, are readers of this blog. These adventure bound people are looking for cars with many key features including cargo space, roof top capability, roof height, ground clearance, AWD/4WD capability, fuel economy, and of course… price.

From the passenger cars available on the market today there are very few that fit into the adventure category. I have compiled a list of the top featured cars for the adventure spirited driver. I personally call this category of vehicle the AUV (Adventure Utility Vehicle).

Your feedback is appreciated! If you own one of the cars listed and want to make a comment on your personal experiences, we would love to hear about it.

All quoted reviews and photos courtesy of



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Subaru Outback

“With its generous cargo capacity and commendable off-road performance, the 2014 Subaru Outback wagon offers far more utility than many competing crossover SUVs. It’s a good option for families, especially those who enjoy the great outdoors.” (Also see the Subaru Forester)


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Volvo XC70 AWD

“The current generation Volvo XC70 is ruggedly handsome, and it continues to offer many of the same virtues as previous versions: confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive, top-notch safety, a luxurious cabin and enough cargo space to satisfy all but the most haul-happy families.”




Small SUV

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Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

“The Outlander remains a good choice for buyers with performance-oriented criteria, including sporty handling and V6 power. The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is also among the roomiest cargo haulers in its class, and it offers plenty of standard and optional features, including a rear-seat entertainment system as well as a navigation system and 40GB music server.”



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Ford Escape

“With the original Escape, Ford successfully combined the styling and four-wheel-drive capability of a traditional SUV with the size, practicality and driving characteristics of a midsize car. For the urban dweller in need of something comfortable, versatile, fun to drive and capable of doing some light-duty off-roading or towing, it fills the bill perfectly.”



Large SUV



Jeep Grand Cherokee

“The Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of the most appealing five-passenger midsize SUVs on the market. Unlike similarly sized crossovers, it stands out with its significant off-roading and towing capabilities. Its well-trimmed cabin is comfy for five, and it can handle a daily commute as easily as it does an off-road trail.”


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Ford Explorer

“[The Explorer] drives well, gets good fuel economy for its class and still retains the versatility that made people like SUVs in the first place. Fitted with most of its optional high-tech features, the Explorer is also one of the most advanced SUVs available, luxury brand or not.”





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Cadillac SRX Crossover AWD

“One of the SRX’s most appealing traits is its healthy roster of standard equipment. There are four available trim levels for the SRX… Even the base model comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a power driver seat, 60/40-split-folding and reclining rear seatbacks, dual-zone automatic climate control and an eight-speaker Bose sound system.”



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Land Rover LR2

“The LR2’s small size makes it maneuverable in urban environments. At the same time, the LR2 still retains the superior off-road ability for which Land Rovers are known. Land Rover endowed the LR2 with technologies to make it both capable and confident when the journey is off the beaten path.”



Small Car

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Subaru Impreza 5-door

“The Impreza’s most notable edge is its distinctive powertrain, as this model has always been available with all-wheel drive. This provides it with extra traction in slippery conditions and, on higher-horsepower models, works in combination with the Impreza’s well-sorted chassis to provide entertaining handling.”


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Subaru XV Crosstrek

“The Subaru XV Crosstrek is an all-new model for 2013. While Subaru’s all-wheel-drive lineup has developed a reputation for being unflappable in the face of some truly nasty driving conditions, this variation of the Impreza takes things to another level in dicey situations both on- and off-road.”


10 Responses to Best Cars & SUVs for Kayak Lovers

  1. Bryan Sarauer

    My earlier (detailed) comment disappeared (2x actually but this time I copied it 1st). :(

    Attributes of the ideal canoe & kayak transporter: Spacious inside with room for 4+ people plus their tripping gear, decent clearance to get you the last few miles to the put-in, good fuel economy, ability to tow a light canoe/kayak trailer, low roofline to make getting canoe or kayak from shoulders onto the racks easy, straight roofline so that canoes and kayaks don’t end up pointing skyward or coming down in front of the windshield, a long roofline so that load bars can be properly spaced, ample tie down points, old enough that it is of no interest when parked at the put-in for 2 weeks and so that you don’t cringe when damage occurs on rough northern roads, an inexpensive windshield (not heated) so that your not out thousands of dollars when that semi passing on the curve at 100 kph on a rough gravel road throws a fist sized rock.

    Favourite canoe/kayak transporter was a ’94 Honda Accord Wagon. Current vehicle is a ’05 Honda CRV, it’s OK, but gas mileage sucks. I lust after a Volvo XC70, Delica 4×4 van, and an AMC Rambler.

  2. kayakfishingfever

    The 2005 Saturn Vue has been a great vehicle for my family for years. Similar to the Escape size and style, it has what no other Vue has; the Honda engine and drive train.

    Now eight years old and 130K miles later, this V6 runs and drives like new. Sure it’s had tires, shocks and brakes, but no major trouble. Best part? The family is grown. The wife got a new car. I got the Vue to myself. Without payments.

    It will never rust out the doors or fenders as Saturn stayed so long with their “plastic cars”

    I can tow a small power boat or my trailer holding three kayaks. Or top load a yak and slide my 8 footer inside. The V6 is pretty strong.

    Mileage isn’t best compared to today’s hybrids, but it’s paid for and maintenance costs are low.

    I plan on driving it until its car show material. When it arrives at its first show, there will be a kayak on the roof.

  3. George North

    Mercedes R Class by a country mile seats 7 huge roof 155 mph 4WD adjustable ride height lowers down for unloading swallows gear, total comfort you can easily sleep in the LWB version.
    5 litre engine very powerful eats fuel but who cares, I am going paddling.

  4. Amar Ortiz

    You forgot about the VW Jetta Sportwagen

    • arrudad

      Hi Amar!

      What is it about the VW Jetta Sportwagen that works well for a kayaker? I’m not familiar with this vehicle and others may be interested in learning why a kayaker should consider it. Thanks for your input!

      -Kayak Dave

  5. Pat

    Hi Dave, As a single female at 5′ 2″ and average strength at 107 lbs. I’m shopping for a new car ( or new to me but used) which I can load and carry two kayaks by myself as well as 3-4 bikes. You don’t mention the Toyota crossover Venza and I wonder why. I like the fact I can get a v6 and maybe with a Yakima boat loader I could get the kayaks on top by myself. I need 4 wheel drive or AWD too. And coming from an Audi A6 2.7 T I’ll miss the tight steering but perhaps can preserve some T. Your opinion would be most appreciated.

    • Alex Russo

      Hi Pat,

      Thanks for your question! At the end of the day, it is all a matter of personal preference and is a subjective decision but we personally prefer the Subaru Outback over the Toyota Venza for the following. Please note that the Subaru Outback, like the Venza, also is available in a V6 model version. The Subaru Outback is designed for the outdoor-person in mind so it has many standard features that work well with kayakers including a low roof line for easy on/off loading, high ground clearance (8.7 inches), a standard roof rack (not an option), and standard AWD (also, not an option).

      Unlike the Venza which built off of the platform of a Toyota Camry, the Outback is designed on an off-road, all wheel drive platform which make it a better adventure vehicle overall. Much of the features that come standard on the Outback are a paid option on the Venza which can drive the price up higher. For example, a V6 Venza with AWD is in the range of $36,000-$40,000 while a comparable Outback is in the range of $32,000-$34,000.

  6. Becky

    We’ve been using a Kia Rondo for the past 4 years. The pluses are: cargo room, back seats fold down super flat so that we can sleeping the back for an overnight paddling trip, gas mileage, price. We got it used for $10,000 and never had a problem. But I am 5’2″ and the roof height is 67.7″ — add a roof rack and I wind up standing on the back seat or trying to balance on the door catch to tie boats on. We have some old-school river boats and two long boats, our friends, pretty much the same. We are looking for something with low mileage and under $30,000. The Mazda 3, or any nice hatchback would be perfect, but not enough cargo room. I think a used Accura Sportwagon would be the ticket — super reliable, low roof height, looks amazing, lots of cargo room. Problem is we would have to drive about 100 miles to even test one (because we live in a rural area). We’d also be happy with a Jetta Sportswagon except for the low ground clearance (also problem with the Accura) and the reliability issues we keep reading about. Are there any short paddlers out there who can weigh in, have a better idea?

  7. Justin

    No Toyota 4Runner?

    • westernflyer2015

      Had a 4Runner….great Toyota quality, awesome off-road but abysmal gas mileage. Our’s managed 19 mpg at 60mph on cruise control and in town, it was worse. Other than that, a great kayak rig.

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