By Mark Nichol
So you’re looking to lease a new car for your caravan or trailer? We’re here to help. The good news is, you don’t necessarily need a massive SUV, nor to spend a fortune on making sure your getaway home is towed safely, securely and comfortably. Here we’ll look at the best cars for towing a caravan, horsebox or even a boat on a trailer – large objects with an integrated braking system, that is. It’s important that you know all the rules around what you can and can’t tow, specifically the driving licence rules and the towing capability you’ll need from your car.
As a general rule, if you’re a novice at towing then you should follow the 85 percent principle: that the total loaded weight of what you’re towing shouldn’t exceed 85 per cent of the kerb weight of your car. For that reason, for the following cars we’ve given you the official towing capacity as well as the kerb weight.
The Top 5 Cars For Towing 2023
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Model: D165 AWD Auto
Braked Towing Capacity: 2200kg
Kerb Weight: 2000kg
We can’t do tow-car suggestions without a Land Rover, right? And while you could go for any one of its cars, really – the latest Defender has a whopping 3,500kg towing capacity – you’ll find the Discovery Sport is a great all-rounder with enough towing ability for medium and small caravans. We’d choose the AWD version for the extra traction, though it’s not essential. Either way, the 2.0-litre diesel engine in the D165 model has loads of low down torque (380Nm), great for hauling a caravan effortlessly, while the nine-speed automatic gearbox is great at utilising all that torque. On top of that, it’s just a really flexible car, with a huge boot and loads of seating configurations; you can get a seven-seat Discovery Sport, although it does reduce the maximum towing capacity, which is something to consider.
Model: 1.6 T-GDi
Braked Towing Capacity: 1650kg
Kerb Weight: 1500kg
With a relatively low kerb weight for an SUV-shaped car, yet a towing capacity that’s suitable for most small- or medium-sized caravans, the Hyundai Tucson could be all the tow car you need. Despite the ‘D’ in the name, the 1.6 T-GDi is actually a turbo petrol engine (it stands for ‘Turbo Gasoline Direct Injection’ if you’re interested) but it’s a really flexible unit that develops 250Nm of torque at just 1,500rpm. In other words, it’s got a lot of low-down pulling power, like a diesel, but it’s quieter and more refined than the average diesel. That aside, the Tucson is just a fantastic family car, with plenty of interior and boot space, lots of equipment as standard and a real sense of high quality and comfort.
Model: 1.5 T-GDi Auto
Braked Towing Capacity: 1750kg
Kerb Weight: 1600kg
MG is making the best-value cars on sale today, Dacia aside, and the HS is one of the company’s most appealing products: a large, high-quality crossover-SUV with a starting price that undercuts the Volkswagen Golf. Like the Tucson, the HS 1.5 T-GDi is petrol-powered and front-wheel drive, but as you can see it has a very useful 1,750kg maximum towing capacity. This is almost certainly the best-value method to tow your caravan, while getting the space and flexibility of a 4x4-type car. It’s not the most efficient set-up in the world – you can expect around 35mpg in reality – but that’s more than compensated for with a massive standard equipment list. Base model ‘Excite’ cars get climate control, a parking camera, satellite navigation and also a suite of safety systems, including emergency automatic braking and lane keeping assistant.
Seat Leon Estate
__Model: __FR 1.5 TSI 150 DSG
Braked Towing Capacity: 1700kg
Kerb weight: 1400kg
You might think that a family hatchback with a petrol engine and front-wheel drive is a strange choice for a tow car, but the Seat Leon Estate FR 1.5 TSI 150 DSG was the 2022 Caravan & Motorhome Club Towcar Of The Year winner. The judges remarked that the Leon 1.5 TSI has “lively performance from a willing petrol engine with plenty of pulling power, while remaining composed at speed”.
Its relatively light weight means it’s more suitable for small- to medium-sized caravans, but if that’s what you have, then the Leon’s petrol engine has plenty enough pulling power. And in Estate form its 620-litre boot makes it the perfect holiday companion.
Model: 50 TDI Quattro
Braked Towing Capacity: 3500kg
Kerb weight: 2200kg
If you need the highest maximum towing capacity possible – for your mega six-bed touring caravan, say – here’s an option. The Audi Q7 50 TDI quattro has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo diesel engine linked to a four-wheel-drive system, putting 600Nm of torque down at the tyres. That’s enough torque to pull your caravan out of concrete, basically. This is of course not the cheapest way to pull your mobile home or your horses, but it’s one of the very best. And when you’re not doing that, in the Q7 you have one of the world’s great luxury cars, with seven-seat flexibility, amazing refinement, and almost peerless cabin quality. You should get 40mpg from the diesel too, which is lovely.
Best Tow Car FAQs:
Is a petrol or diesel car better for towing? A turbodiesel is better, with a bigger engine preferable for greater torque. This is because any turbodiesel generates more low-down torque than equivalent power petrol engines, so diesels are great for hauling things. That said, most petrol engines nowadays are also turbocharged, so they can still be very good for towing in most instances.
What is the 85 rule for towing cars? The rule is that if you’re a novice, you should only tow something that weighs 85 percent of the kerb weight of your towing vehicle. So if the tow vehicle weighs 2,000kg, the fully laden weight of the caravan or trailer should not exceed 1,700kg. Obviously, once you are more experienced at towing, you can exceed the 85 percent rule – bear in mind that the Audi Q7 on our list can pull 3,500kg of braked trailer, when it weighs 2,200kg, which means this German SUV can haul up to 159 per cent of its own mass.
Are longer cars better for towing? Yes, as they’re more stable. The longer the wheelbase, the less likely that the weight of the trailer pressing down on the towing hitch – at the back of the vehicle – will force the front wheels of the tow car upwards. This means you have more control with longer towing vehicles that you do with shorter ones. You’re also better picking a heavier vehicle than a lighter one when it comes to towing.
How can I get better economy when towing with my car? The best way to save fuel when towing is to be as slow, steady and smooth as possible. Although it will make journeys longer, you’ll have fewer fuel stops if you cruise at 45mph when towing rather than travelling at the maximum of 60mph on motorways and dual carriageways.
Also, try and anticipate traffic flow so you don’t brake sharply or need to accelerate fast – and the more you can avoid stop/start traffic, the better. And if you’re going long distances, then always plan your journey using as many motorway and/or dual carriageway miles as possible.
While it might be tempting to travel on the scenic route, especially if you’re going on holiday in a caravan, if you end up climbing and descending steep hills, or driving through lots of snarled-up towns and villages, you’ll be using more fuel than you would be keeping a constant, higher speed on the motorways and dual carriageways.
Finally, make sure both the towing vehicle and the caravan/trailer are both in tip-top condition to achieve the best fuel economy figure. Pay close attention to tyre condition and pressures – poorly maintained machinery and flat tyres will sap your fuel economy when towing.
What happens if my car tows weight over its capacity? You should never tow over your vehicle’s weight capacity. First of all, it will put excess wear and tear on the engine and key components of your car, as the vehicle will be straining to move more weight than it is designed to haul. But more importantly, it can be very dangerous – not to mention illegal – to tow over-weight. Your vehicle might not be able to stop itself and the trailer on steep downhills, for example, or the trailer or caravan could get into a side-to-side ‘snake’ that the towing vehicle is not capable of controlling as a result of the trailer being overweight.