Which cars tow best?
If you need to haul a caravan or trailer this summer, check out three top picks that deserve a place on your buying list
What makes the perfect tow car? Good question. At a push, pretty much any car can be called into service. But if you’re about to change your vehicle, and you’ve a caravan or trailer that it will need to haul along, there are definite do’s and don’ts when it comes to buying.
First, and at the absolute bed-rock of your decision, is whether the car can do what you’ll be asking of it. Put simply, every car has a maximum permitted towing weight. Exceed this and you’re a danger. You also risk a fine and points on your licence.
You’ll find your car’s maximum permitted towing weight in the owner’s handbook. As a rule of thumb, a vehicle shouldn’t tow anything heavier than 85% of its weight. Remember, though, that this will be an ‘all-up’ figure. If it’s a caravan, this will include gas, water, touring gear and other equipment. The Caravan Club suggests that, for a four-person ‘van, this typically adds 100kgs to its unladen weight.
And all the good advice is that if the weight of whatever you’re to tow climbs above the tow car, you’re heading for trouble.
So when it comes to choosing a car, ‘heavier’ often equals ‘better’. But remember, too, that whatever you pick will be driven more on its own than with something attached. So it’s no good choosing a huge, heavy car that you’ll curse for the way that it eats fuel, while also costing a bomb to maintain and insure.
The best bet is to follow a middle course. Above all, seek advice from other caravanners through clubs or on-line forums. Be aware that, when towing, a car may handle very differently. And while test drives are an accepted part of car buying and selling, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to test-drive your intended choice with a caravan or other trailer behind.
Here’s the motors.co.uk low-down on three key cars we think you should consider:
The off-road option
Land Rover Discovery 3 2.7 TDV6 GS
Used: from £14,900
Fantastic go-anywhere ability means that pulling your van across a muddy, slippery field should hold few fears. Has fully adjustable suspension settings that you dial in via a chunky knob on the dash. But once on a road, it’s as composed, powerful and serene as a quality executive saloon, capable of swallowing huge distances effortlessly. It will also carry up to seven adults in comfort. Factor in, too, that it is a heavy car and that means its towing capacity is considerable: it’s a seriously weighty 3500kgs.
The Discovery is a terrific car to pilot whatever the conditions, though its size can be off-putting if you’ve not driven anything similar to it before. Running costs are steep, although one reassurance is that late-plate Discoveries are usually better built and so more reliable than older ones.
The one that caravanners love
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDi SE
Used: from £3000
Chosen by the Caravan Club as its current Tow Car of the Year. Its 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel engine has plenty of low-revs power for heavy hauling. There’s also an all-wheel-drive model, if you want it, offering extra traction and stability. All Superb rides firmly but they are set up to smother the bumps, while the cabin on the newest model offers absolutely huge lounging space for five grown-ups – better than in most other similar cars. It’s also a clever car because it is both hatchback and saloon. Pop open the back normally and the boot lid lifts as it would on a conventional four-door car. But when you trigger a second catch, the rear screen and lid open together to give a full-length tailgate.
Before choosing the Superb, testers drove the it and other contenders for over 1000 miles on a test track to assess running costs, stability and long-haul comfort.
The bargain buy
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Zetec estate
From: £3000 second-hand
The best-value tow-car you can buy. Big family Ford is tough, reliable and inexpensive to run. Insurance, servicing and spare parts are all cheaper than most, while a competent mechanic should know the car inside out. A Mondeo with a diesel engine is capable of running well past 100,000 miles without needing major work, provided that scheduled servicing is kept to and the car is looked after in-between. It’s pretty good to drive, too, with a sureness to its steering, a weight to its major controls and a suppleness in its ride which matches that of much more expensive, high-tone models. The diesel engine in this car is strong and smooth, while its load area is enormous – bigger than most other cars of a similar size and price. The latest Mondeo estate is still too pricey as yet to qualify as a ‘proper’ bargain: the cheapest we found on motors.co.uk cost a lick over £10,000, but the previous shape is bang-on because hundreds are for sale and the cheapest can be yours for just £3000.