Ready to Roll

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Next to “How much does your harp cost?” one of the most common questions harpists hear from onlookers is “What kind of car do you have to drive to haul that thing around?”

The harpmobile. It has come a long way over the years. The ubiquitous station wagon dominated harpists’ garages for years. Eventually minivans became all the rage, giving way to the rise of the SUV in the 90s, and in the last 10 years the immensely popular crossover vehicles have taken over the harpmobile market.  With so many options on the road today, it’s hard to know where to begin your search for a new harp hauler; so we’ve done the dirty work for you.

In our 2014 Harpmobile Review—our biggest ever—we evaluate 44 station wagons, crossovers, SUVs, and minivans. We’ll also tell you which harpmobiles missed the cut so you don’t set your heart on that Mini Cooper that isn’t big enough to tote your harp to gigs. It takes a harpist to get excited about a new minivan on the market or increased rear cargo space or automatic rear lift gate sensors, but we are downright giddy about some of the new harpmobiles we found this year.

Harp Column’s review of harpmobiles dates back to our first issue in 1993 when the magazine’s founders Kim Rowe and Hugh Brock rated 10 harpmobiles. The response was huge—clearly harpists don’t want to lug their harp around to car dealerships, kicking the tires on all the possibilities out there. So for the past 21 years, we’ve done it for you. It’s been a while since our last review in 2008, but we made up for lost time by looking at more than twice the number of cars we’ve reviewed in any previous article.

Here’s how we conduct our review. Every few years we make a list of all of the new and redesigned vehicles that have harpmobile potential. Then we take a full size concert grand harp (this year it was a Lyon & Healy Style 23) around to car dealerships, and try loading it into every car we think it may fit in. We load our test harp into each car, evaluate its harpability and McFactor (more on those later), and take some measurements (see the chart below). If we looked at a vehicle in a previous harpmobile review, we will only review it again if it receives a significant interior redesign. So if you are looking for a specific model or a used car that you don’t see here, you will want to check out our previous harpmobile reviews.

About Our Rating Scale

We tried to keep our rating scale consistent with previous harpmobile reviews so that you can easily compare reviews from different years. Our scale ranges from zero to five for harpability and McFactor, which remains consistent back to our 2006 review. You may notice that we did not give out any perfect five scores this year. In years past, the only vehicles to ever receive a perfect McFactor score have been minivans, and no vehicle has ever achieved perfection in harpability, probably because no one has yet come out with a car that can load the harp automatically with the push of a button. We can dream, can’t we?

Harpability

Yes, we made up this word. Harpability is the term we use to describe how well a vehicle accommodates a concert grand harp. We test for ease of loading, number of loading options, and spaciousness. To receive a harpability rating higher than a three, a vehicle must offer flat-loading and column-loading options. So the maximum harpability score that most non-minivans can hope for is a three. Keep in mind that a car that scores a two and a half or a three could be a terrific harpmobile, but it only offers flat loading, thus keeping its harpability score down. Also consider that we reviewed these harpmobiles without any after-market customization that many harpists do to their cars. A strategically placed cushion or piece of heavy plastic from an office supply store can neutralize some of the common hitches you run into during harp loading. We tried to evaluate these harpmobiles as objectively as possible, but some biases snuck in here and there. One female harpist loaded our test harp into each vehicle. She is of average female size and strength, so those factors biased our results slightly. We could also sit comfortably in a driver’s seat with less leg room than, say, a 6’4” male. We also had an easier time loading the harp into vehicles that weren’t too high off the ground. Consequently, large SUVs weren’t our favorites, but if you are taller than the average female, you might not mind the height as much.

McFactor

Yes, we made up this word too. Car enthusiasts shudder at the thought of judging a vehicle based on its cup holders, dashboard cubbies, and shelf space to hold your burger and fries. But let’s be honest, busy harpists often need to grab dinner on their way to rehearsal, and having a comfortable space to chow without spilling ketchup on your black skirt is important. Minivans have always been the leaders in this category, probably because they are designed for busy families who are inevitably eating on the go. With only one minivan in our review this year, you won’t see too many high scores in the McFactor department, but some certainly do better than others.

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About Author

Editor of Harp Column, freelance harpist, private teacher, hot yoga lover, and grammar geek.

4 Comments

  1. I own an early Subaru Tribeca. The second row of seats can be moved back so there’s not a “Grand Canyon” over which you need to lift the harp. Most of the salesmen don’t know about that feature. Of course, If you move the seats back, that means more of an overhang for the top of the column. I use a large roller made of quilt batting to help with loading. The harp rests on the roller and the column overhang is not a problem.

  2. I am a Subaru girl from here on out. I had a Volvo 240, when it died I asked my mechanic what next and he whispered “get a Subaru”. I did and never looked back. My 2002 Legacy Wagon has 276,000 miles on it and I still drive it around town but just upgraded to an 2011 Outback with 28,000 miles. After last winter in MI, I can’t imagine a better car. The CVT gets great gas mileage. That said, I did look at the Prius V. I was curious. I got an LH 30 in it with no problem but I insisted they let me take a manual home and read it. Once I read the manual I realized I could never have Prius as my main harp car.

    I keep the back seat down in my car all the time since I am always moving a harp. I have a foam mattress that stays there for either the harp or the dog, depending on the trip. A Prius cannot function with the back seat down perpetually, I read. There is a vent at the foot of the back seat that must be clear or the battery will overheat. If the backrest is down, and a mattress is blocking the airflow, the car will not function eventually. Wow. I would not have known this otherwise until I had bought the car and then read the manual. That knocked it out of the full time harp car field for me. For a part timer, I am guessing no problem.
    I have also driven the new Ford Edge. I managed to fit my “mattress” a LH 15, my stool, cart, music stand, music bag luggage, and a child’s bike ( think 12 yr old size) in it. That said, it was not a comfortable drive for me. I am 5’3″ and found it gave me leg cramps to drive long distances. The seat is made for someone with a longer hip to knee ratio. I was pleasantly surprised by the gas mileage. I drove from MI to CT and back and the AWD version with ecoboost did very well. Just not comfortable for me.

    Other cars I have driven include the Hyundai Tucson which I agree is tight and uncomfortable for even me and tight for a 15, I can’t imagine a 30 in it. A Honda Pilot which was great but you lose in gas mileage, the Honda Insight which fit a 30 but was VERY tight and the seat had to be up all the way, a BMW 3 series wagon which was great, and old Ford Focus….ugh very small. Oh and I used to have a Jeep Cherokee Sport which worked great but the spare tire couldn’t be in the back and a tall person would be uncomfortable.

  3. I’ve been using my 2007 Dodge Caliber to transport my harp for the last 7 years. The front seat folds down so the harp slide all the way up front. I am now in the process of finding a new vehicle, but wanted to let you know the Caliber did work although it was a tight fit.

  4. Alyson Webber on

    I wonder how the re-design of the generation 4 Prius will let it stack up for the next Harpmobile roundup? It is supposedly 2.5 in longer than the gen3 Prius (not the v or the c, just Prius) which I could REALLY use. The hatchback seems a bit lower, which may pinch some bases, but it seems the trunk is recessed slightly which may gain that depth back. Here’s hoping that we casual harp movers can still stuff ourselves into a Prius in the future. I’ll be taking my style 100 to the dealer when they come out, just to compare to my current gen2 version.

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