BEST CARS FOR TOWING
What Car? UK|December 2021
If you’re planning to tow a caravan, you’ll need a car that’s up to the job. We’ve put 40 through their paces to find the best
David Motton

Welcome to the 2021 What Car? Tow Car Awards. Last year we named the best-used tow cars, but this year we’ve returned to new models, with everything from family hatchbacks to luxurious SUVs tested. And while we’ve once again partnered with the towing and caravanning experts at The Camping and Caravanning Club, this time we have a new technical partner, Adria, which supplied us with a fleet of its latest caravans for our test week.

To make it easier for you to find the best match for your caravan or trailer, our 40 contenders were divided into five classes by weight, with separate categories for pick-ups and electric vehicles (EVs). The heaviest weight class was further divided by price, with a £50,000 cut-off separating mainstream models from luxury cars and SUVs. The caravans were weighted to 85% of the car’s kerb weight or the legal towing limit, whichever was lower.

The trend towards electrification is reflected in the record number of hybrids and full EVs we assessed this year. Whatever the car, though, we put it through the same rigorous series of tests, including an emergency lane change, 30-60mph acceleration and 30-0mph braking. We also conducted a hill start on a one-in-six slope and a high-speed stability test.

The Camping and Caravanning Club checked over each car’s towing gear, while assessing how easily towing mirrors could be fitted and the suitability of the puncture repair provision for use while towing. Boot space was also checked with a typical load of camping luggage. These tests gave us each car’s practicality score.

Because most of these cars will spend much of their time without anything on the back, each was also rated as a solo drive. Finally, we considered value, safety, equipment levels and running costs

Up to 1400kg

Seat Leon 1.0 eTSI SE Dynamic DSG

List price £25,185

Target Price £22,749

Kerb weight 1330kg

85% match 1131kg

Max towing weight 1300kg

Towball limit 75kg.

THERE’S A LOT to like about the Seat Leon. It’s one of the lightest and most affordable cars tested this year, yet it punches well above its weight when it comes to towing.

Stability is what really counts in a good tow car, and it can be in short supply when a car is light. However, the Leon gave our drivers no worries in that department, pulling its Adria caravan straight and true at 60mph and beyond. That said, even with electrical assistance from a 48V starter-generator, the Leon’s 1.0-litre engine has its work cut out with more than a tonne of caravan to pull; a 15.8sec 30-60mph time shows that overtaking with a caravan in tow will take patience and a long, straight road, but the Leon stays the right side of being underpowered.

In everyday driving, it handles really well, too. Okay, it’s not quite as much fun on a twisty road as a Ford Focus, but it turns in keenly, has well-weighted steering and grips the road securely. The flipside is a firmer ride than you get in a Volkswagen Golf, particularly over potholed streets at low speeds, but the Leon is never harsh.

There’s plenty of space inside the Leon, too; even the tallest of drivers should have no trouble getting comfortable, and there’s enough room for adults to travel in the back without feeling cramped. Finally, our practicality testers were impressed by the neat retractable towball – not a feature you necessarily expect from a car at this price.

14001549kg

Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 150 R-Line DSG

List price £30,515

Target Price £29,255

Kerb weight 1465kg

85% match 1245kg

Max towing weight 1600kg

Towball limit 80kg

SOME CARS APPEAR secure and stable in normal towing but go to pieces in an emergency manoeuvre. Not so the latest Volkswagen Golf; the harder it was pushed, the more it seemed to relish towing a caravan.

Even the lane-change test, which often finds cars wanting, failed to upset the Golf. The first two runs were entirely undramatic. The third and fastest lane change had the caravan sliding but with no effect on the car.

The Golf is brisk as well as stable. Diesels may be out of favour with many car buyers, but the mid-range pull of a good one makes this type of engine ideally suited to towing. The Golf’s 2.0 TDI unit pulled car and caravan from 30-60mph in 11.2sec and handled a hill start without any sign of strain.

Leave the caravan behind and the Golf is a really satisfying everyday drive. The suspension is well judged – more comfortable than the Seat Leon’s, but more tightly controlled than the Skoda Octavia’s.

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