Best tow cars to buy in 2020
The annual Tow Car of the Year awards have been announced and these are the best cars for towing currently on sale
Us Brits love our caravans. There are more than half a million touring caravans on the road and collectively we spend £2billion a year on caravan holidays. Caravans are, it’s fair to say, big business in the UK. And that’s not counting the thousands of trailers, horseboxes and boats we tow behind our cars each year.
Having the best tow car certainly helps, and helpfully the good folks at the Caravan and Motorhome Club have tested a variety of new cars to determine which is best for your towing needs.
But before we get to naming the best tow cars of the year, there are a few considerations to take into account with towing.
Towing licences rules and weight limits
Towing is not as simple as just hooking up and off you go. There are a few rules and regulations you need to check before you hitch up. If you passed your driving test before 1997, you can haul much larger loads (up to a combined weight of 8.25 tonnes).
However, if you passed your test after this time, you’re limited to a combined towing weight of 3.5 tonnes (that’s car and trailer). The trailer weight also has to be lower than the car’s vehicle weight. Most cars and caravans fall within these limits, but if you’ve a heavy car and a large caravan, you might want to consider taking an additional test to upgrade your licence.
It’s also important to know your car’s maximum towing weight. Car towing capacities are listed in your owner’s handbook, but remember they can vary by engine and specification, so double check your actual car is capable of towing the weight of the trailer.
There are a few other rules, too. Your trailer or caravan can’t exceed 2.55-metres in width and all tow bars fitted to cars registered after 1998 need to be type approved to meet EU standards. You might also need extendable mirrors if your trailer is particularly wide and the trailer must have a licence plate and lights. If your caravan or trailer exceeds 750kgs in weight, it must have its own braking system.
For its tow car of the year awards, the Caravan and Motorhome Club tested 35 cars at the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, putting car and caravan through a series of rigorous tests, measuring their acceleration, braking, high-speed stability and hill performance.
Here they are, the best tow cars on sale in the UK and ranked by caravan weight limit.
Tow car of the year & 1,400-1,500kg caravan category winner
The Volvo XC40 won the best tow car in the 1400-1500kg caravan weight category. But it so impressed judges that they named it their overall ‘Tow car of the Year 2020’ winner as well. The model tested was the diesel D4 AWD in R-Design Pro spec. With 187bhp and 295 lb/ft of torque, its engine proved particularly effortless when moving off. The judges also praised its ability in the 17% hill start test, as well as its levelness when hitched up. “A willing and eager sporty SUV,” they said. The XC40 tested had Volvo’s optional retractable tow bar fitted and, with a hefty kerb weight of 1,735kg, it has no trouble towing a caravan weighing 85% of its mass.
Best alternatively-fuelled tow car (and best tow car for caravans less than 1,150kg)
As a fully-electric car, the I-Pace is limited in terms of what it can tow – up to a maximum capacity of 750kg. But in HSE spec it’s the electric tow car of choice for the judges at the Caravan and Motorhome Club. They were effusive in their praise, saying it was, “revolutionary, brilliant, amazing and lots of fun.”
With 393bhp, 513lb/ft of torque and all-wheel drive, the I-Pace has certainly got the muscle to tow. The judges were astounded by its acceleration as during straight-line tests it accelerated from 0 to 60mph in a staggering seven seconds – while towing. The issue for the I-Pace and other electric cars is that towing kills their range. According to the judges, the I-Pace’s range will drop to around 115 miles when towing a caravan, so you’ll be stopping frequently.
Best tow car for caravans between 1,150kg – 1,300kg
Skoda Octavia Estate Sportline 2.0 TDI 150 PS DSG
The Skoda Octavia Estate was the overall category winner for caravans weighing 1,150kg to 1,300kg. The judges praised its practicality and large boot, as well as the detailed towing information in its handbook. Of particular note was how easy it was to fit extendable mirrors, as well as the convenience of the detachable electrics hook-up placed just under the bumper.
The judges said of the Octavia’s driving capability, “a lively and entertaining little estate”. They tested the Sportline model in 2.0-litre diesel guise with the DSG automatic gearbox, which has 148bhp, 251lb/ft of torque and front-wheel drive. The Octavia as tested has a maximum towing weight of 1,204kgs.
Best family tow car (and best tow car for caravans between 1,300kg – 1,400kg)
Ford Focus Vignale Estate 2.0 EcoBlue 8-Speed Auto
The winner of the caravan category for caravans weighing between 1,300kg and 1,400kg was the Ford Focus Estate, tested in top-spec Vignale trim with the 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine and auto transmission. The judges praised the Focus’ handling and flexible engines. With 148bhp, 273lb/ft of torque and eight gears, they said its gearbox and engine worked in perfect harmony when towing. They also referenced its generous boot, that has 541-litres of space with the seats in place. The Focus as tested has a maximum towing capacity of 1,325kg.
Best tow car for caravans between 1,500kg – 1,700kg
Volvo V60 D4 AWD Cross Country Plus
The new Volvo V60 is one of our favourite estate cars. It combines stylish good looks with huge practicality, making it a very desirable and premium choice. It seems it’s a favourite with the Caravan and Motorhome Club judges, too. They crowned it as their top tow car for caravans weighing between 1,500kg and 1,700kg, praising its safety technology, sophisticated interior and top-end tech.
They tested the Cross Country model, which has a raised ride height for better off-road capability than standard. Its D4 diesel engine is a good compromise between performance and fuel economy, with 186bhp, 295lb/ft of torque and up to 50mpg. The V60 has a towing capacity of 1,559kg and has an electrically retractable tow bar. But at £1,075, it’s a pricey option.
Best tow car for caravans over 1,700kg
Volkswagen Touareg R-Line Tech 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION 286PS auto Tiptronic
If you want to tow large caravans in excess of 1,700kg, in the eyes of the tow car experts the best car for the job is the Volkswagen Touareg. They tested the R-Line Tech model and the most popular engine, the 3.0-V6 TDI 4Motion. With 282bhp and a whopping 443lb/ft of torque, it lugs caravans effortlessly.
It has a maximum towing capacity of 1,760kg, so it’ll be able to tow most things on the market. The judges praised its ability to tow a large, twin-axle caravan with ease, noting the sophistication of its ride, handling and steering as well as its superb stability at all speeds. Add in a huge 810-litre boot and this is a car that is a natural towing companion.
Best Large Family Towcar
ŠKODA Kodiaq vRS 2.0 TDI 239 PS 4x4 DSG
The winner of the large family tow car is the Skoda Kodiaq. The testers put the top-spec vRS model through its paces, which comes with a 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine, four-wheel drive and a DSG automatic gearbox. Its 236bhp engine towed a large caravan with ease, the judges noting its pace, refinement, smooth ride and sure-footedness. It’s also a great looking car, with plenty of space and practicality. Even when all seven seats are in use it provides 230-litres of space. The Kodiaq has a towing limit of 1,708kg.
Volkswagen Amarok Trendline 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION 204PS auto
The award for best pick-up goes to the Volkswagen Amarok for the second year in a row. Using a less-powerful version of the Touareg’s engine, its 201bhp and 368lb/ft of torque was more than enough to prove to the judges that the Amarok’s 3.0-litre V6 makes light work of hauling a caravan.
The judges also praised its refinement and composure, attributes not normally associated with commercial vehicles like these. As with all pick-ups, the Amarok’s load area is vast, and it has a really impressive towing limit of 1,972kg. The model tested was the entry-level Trendline, which comes with car-like levels of equipment including a touchscreen infotainment display, phone compatibility and cruise control.
Previous Tow car of the Year winners
Below you’ll find the overall Tow Car of the Year winners from the last few years. All of these models still make great value used tow car choices if a brand new model isn’t for you…
2020 – Volvo XC40 D4 AWD in R-Design Pro2019 - Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design2018 - Skoda Kodiaq SE L 2.0 TDI 4x4 DSG 190PS2017 - Volkswagen Passat Estate Alltrack 2.0TDI 4MOTION 150PS2016 - Land Rover Discovery HSE LUX2015 - SEAT Leon ST FR 2.0 TDI2014 - Skoda Superb Elegance Estate 2.0 TDI
Do you agree with this year's winners? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...