Top 5 Little Tow Tugs

By: Philip Lord


Phil Lord nominates his top five light caravan tow tugs.

Not everyone wants or needs a big tow vehicle – our 14ft caravan reviewed this month is not the only van around that doesn’t need a LandCruiser to pull it along.

We’ve nominated 2000kg as the top hauling capacity for our top five light caravan tow tugs. There are plenty of wagons and SUVs with a maximum 2000kg towing capacity (mostly the Euro models) but they have a 100kg maximum ball load – or less. Here we’ve nominated only vehicles that have a TBM closer to 10 per cent. As abou t 80 per cent of car buyers today choose automatic over manual, we’ve knocked out manual-only tow vehicles.

This bunch has also been chosen for their practical nature; the ability to swallow a fair amount of gear – whether it be on dedicated roof racks or in the cargo area and for their good all-rounder appeal as a vehicle that can do the city peak hour trundle as competently as the caravan hauler on tour.

While many here are SUVs available as a 2WD, we’ve gone for the AWD versions where there’s an increased towing capacity by doing so – being all-wheel drive also opens up the options for beach or forestry trail forays.

Where a diesel option is offered – and where it’s a better engine than a petrol alternative – then that has been chosen as the oilers generally have more torque and are more fuel-efficient than petrols generally – important elements for a good tow vehicle.

1. Mitsubishi Outlander LS Di-D

Mitsubishi -Outlander -XLS

The Outlander is becoming one of the older models in its cohort but that doesn’t stop it being a pretty good towing package.

The 360Nm peak torque figure isn’t electrifying but is delivered between 1500rpm to 2750rpm, making it an ideal towing tug. The only downside to this free-revving diesel is it’s a bit clattery at idle and lacks the engine braking you’d expect of a compression engine.

Cornering in the Outlander is met with understeer and steering that loads up pretty quickly, so this isn’t one of the most dynamic vehicles in its class. Ride quality is good, if a bit on the soft side.

Controls and instruments are easy to use and all but headroom dimensions are generous. The Outlander has the bonus of seven-seat capacity and a class-average cargo area capacity of 488L when the third row seats are folded. A full-size spare wheel is included, a must-have when you’re remote-area touring.

Price: $39,500

Eng/trans: 2.2L TD/six-speed auto

Power/torque: 110kW/360Nm

Towing max braked/Tongue max: 2000kg/200kg

2. Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Mazda -CX-5

The AWD-only CX-5 GT can be had with a 2.5L petrol engine but we’ve nominated the 129kW/420Nm 2.2L turbodiesel.

The 2.2L engine is smooth and happy to rev but is pretty noisy when doing so. You don’t need to rev the Mazda to get hold of its fantastic 420Nm of torque though, and it’s here where the CX-5 beats all comers as an easy, relaxed caravan hauler.

The SKYACTIV-Drive six-speeder is also a crisp-changing auto and teams well with the diesel engine.

The GT rides firmly and has responsive and well-weighted steering – not a given in the SUV segment.

The interior is getting a bit dated but there’s plenty of occupant space. At 403L, the boot is on the small side and unfortunately there’s only a space-saver spare tyre.

The CX-5 might not be the latest SUV – a new, second-generation model is due later this year – but it’s got all the makings of a strong towing performer.

Price: $47,090

Eng/trans: 2.2L turbodiesel/six-speed auto

Power/torque: 129kW/420Nm

Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1800kg/150kg

3. Renault Koleos Intens

Renault -Koleos -Intens

The Koleos was fresh out of the oven last year after the first-generation’s long, eight-year stint on the market.

Controls and instruments are easy to read and use, although seats are not as supportive as they could be. At least it’s big inside; the Koleos interior is the roomiest in the class.

While based on the Nissan X-Trail platform, the Renault offers something the X-Trail doesn’t – a 2000kg/200kg towing capacity in auto form. The downside is that the Koleos comes in petrol only – and the 2.5L four is a carry over and so is getting dated. It’s a bit harsh when revved and the CVT tends to accentuate this (the CVT keeps revs in the power band when accelerating hard). While peak torque arrives at 4400rpm, the 2.5L is punching out good torque from around 2500-3000rpm, which makes for a good towing proposition.

Steering is the relatively numb SUV style but is responsive and the Koleos handles well. Ride quality is quite good, if not quite as supple as the X-Trail on which it’s based.

While the lanky 2705mm wheelbase is promising for good towing stability, the Koleos’ 1038mm rear overhang is a bit long for perfect stability when towing.

Price: $43,490

Eng/trans: 2L petrol/CVT

Power/torque: 126kW/226Nm

Towing max braked/Tongue max: 2000kg/200kg

4. Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport

Suzuki -Grand -Vitara

The Grand Vitara is an old-timer, first arriving in 2005, but it has plenty going for it as a compact tow vehicle.

The Grand Vitara’s 2.4L is smooth and responsive and not only spins freely to its 6000rpm redline but also gives a good spread of torque in the mid-range. The four-speed auto doesn’t lack for smoothness but does lack ratios; its competitors all have six-speed units.

Ride quality is fussy and the Grand Vitara gets lean through corners but it settles once saddled with a caravan.

Offroad is where the Suzuki shines. Its good ground clearance and dual-range transmission pushes it a lot further offroad than other SUVs here.

The cabin is spacious but lacks some features – the steering is only tilt adjustment (no reach), and that passenger space doesn’t extend to the cargo area – it’s a quite tight 398L.

Price: $30,990

Eng/trans: 2.4L petrol/six-speed auto

Power/torque: 122kW/225Nm

Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1700kg/150kg

5. Hyundai Tucson Elite

Hyundai -Tucson -Elite

The Tucson arrived last year as an all-new model replacing the ix35 and it’s a quantum leap forward for the Korean mid-size SUV.

The engine is smooth and revs freely, with next to no turbo lag – and the impressive 400Nm of torque arrives seamlessly.

The Aussie-tuned suspension delivers a fine mix of handling and ride comfort – which is no easy task. Steering is light but direct.

Inside the Tucson has plenty of room and seats are comfortable and supportive. Its 488L cargo space is up there with the better in the class and the Tucson is one of the few here with a full-size spare.

The healthy 400Nm peak torque and a brief rear overhang of 890mm looks promising for planted towing performance. It’s just a shame that this latest Hyundai mid-sizer wasn’t rated to tow more.

Price: $41,750

Eng/trans: 2L TD/six-speed auto

Power/torque: 136kW/400Nm

Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1600kg/140kg.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #560. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!