Not everyone needs a hefty 4WD to tow their camper. For some of us, our weekend getaway machine must also perform as a city all-rounder, so we’ve narrowed down the most suitable sub-$30k suburban run-arounds designed to haul a light camper trailer.
These wagons are all compact soft-roader SUVs. Two have 4WD while the rest are front-wheel drive with traction control. Although our modest selection won’t lock horns with a LandCruiser, rest assured they’ll get you down well groomed trails and national park dirt roads.
Our selected models offer 1000kg towing capacity at a minimum, although realistically a camper trailer weighing no more than 800kg would be ideal for this group.
Our top five were chosen for their ability to swallow a fair amount of gear either on dedicated roof racks or in the cargo area, clearance to straddle a high-crowned roads and for their good all-rounder appeal in the peak hour trundle as well as out bush.
SUBARU XV 2.0I
The Subaru XV is basically a pumped up Subaru Impreza hatch. It gets the guard extensions and extra ground clearance and the result is to good effect.
The features list is pretty good for your money, too — not only does the XV have all-wheel drive, it gets roof rails, front fog lights, a rear view camera, a comprehensive trip computer, auto engine stop-start system
and 17in alloys.
The boxer four is a relatively smooth engine which still has some of that characterful boxer beat. The engine does not have any obvious peaks or troughs in its power and torque delivery, so it can feel a bit underpowered and as though it has a light flywheel — you can easily stall it getting off the line at first. Although a little lacking in torque and a bit slow unless stirred along, once it is revved the engine is the smoothest boxer so far and will deliver a steady stream of power. Average fuel consumption at 7.3L/100km is not bad either. The transmission is not the most fluid in gear changes, but you soon get used to it.
The XV rides firmly but soaks up big bumps really well. Although it is not designed for mud-plugging, the XV’s underside is quite well designed for soft-core offroading with vital bits tucked up well.
The cabin is nicely finished and like most of our budget choices, isn’t huge. But good things come in small packages, as this is a quality item. The driver’s seat is firm and supportive and the XV is easy to see out of without any large blind spots. Loads of storage and easy, simple instrumentation and controls finish off the story up front. The back seat is tight on legroom while the cargo space suffers for the swept-back hatch design but is typical for the class and has a low loading lip.
The Subaru XV feels well-made and well thought-out, and has some clever features plus the ability to dip its toes in the muddy stuff. It would make a great light-duty camper hauler.
SPECIFICATIONS: SUBARU XV 2.0i
Eng/trans 2.0 petrol/six-speed man
Power 110kW at 6200rpm
Torque 196Nm at 4200rpm
Min ground clearance 220mm
Cargo volume (claimed) 310L/na
Towing max braked/Tongue max 1400kg/140kg
> MORE INFO
KIA SPORTAGE SI
The Kia Sportage represents the latest wave of Korean SUVs which have employed smart European styling and a quality of fit and finish that’s a cut above their forebears. The Sportage is a shared platform with the Hyundai ix35 but has a higher towball download capacity.
The standard features list includes front and side airbags, ABS, traction and stability control, cruise control, power folding heated side mirrors and 17in alloy wheels (with a full-size alloy spare). The only thing missing that we’d like to see on the Sportage is roof rails.
The Sportage driver sits relatively high in a command driving position like more of the vehicles here, and the dash view is impressive — the shrouded binnacle in front of the driver not only houses simple, clear instruments but the overall impression is of quality and style. The Sportage is not lacking for storage space, with cupholders and oddments trays spread though the cabin.
The driver generally has a clear view out of the Sportage, except the thick A-pillars impede vision slightly to the sides. The rear window is small and D-pillars are thick also, but at least the side mirrors are big.
The rear seat has a 60-40 split and while headroom is okay for medium-height adults, leg/foot room is very good for the class. The seat itself is a bit flat and unsupportive.
The cargo area has a low loading lip and the full-size spare wheel lives under the floor.
The 2L engine has a good response off the mark, and executes the urban trundle without problems. When push comes to shove the engine lacks torque and when revved it could be smoother. Fuel consumption at 8.7L/100km is not class leading. The five-speed gearbox is a smooth-shifting device.
Steering feels light and handling is adroit if not inspiring. Ride quality can become sharp over short bumps but generally the damping is well-controlled — a far cry from the typically under-damped Korean suspension of the past.
The Sportage is an appealing, value-laden vehicle that would handle a weekend trek with a light trailer behind without fuss.
SPECIFICATIONS: KIA SPORTAGE SI
Eng/trans 2L petrol, 5-speed man
Power 122kW at 6200rpm
Torque 197Nm at 4600rpm
Min ground clearance 172mm
Cargo volume (claimed) 740/1547L
Towing max braked/Tongue max 1600kg/200kg
> MORE INFO
SKODA YETI 2WD
The Skoda Yeti is marked by a distinctive, boxy design that you’ll either love or hate. Whatever you think of the quirky upright style, it is actually more practical than most.
The Yeti 77TSI 2WD is well featured, with seven airbags, stability and traction control, ABS, roof rails, 16in alloys, Bluetooth and cruise control the highlights. Cleaver options such as Park Assist are available, which if chosen would still bring the Yeti in under our $30k barrier.
The Yeti has firm, supportive front seats and the driver a clear over bonnet view and out to the sides. The side mirrors are huge — good for towing a camper. Rear vision is not ideal, but this is typical for the category. Instruments and controls are for the most part clear and
easy to find.
The rear seat is a pretty clever, useful design with one-third splits. The outboard seats are ore-aft adjustable and each of the three seats can be taken out. There is a reasonable amount of leg and headroom, but three adults across is tight.
The cargo area is a tall space with a low loading lip but a family of four will find space at a premium when loading up for a holiday. The full-size spare is fitted under the floor, and this arrangement costs space; if a space-saver was fitted (available in other markets) the cargo area would be appreciably deeper.
The 1.2L turbocharged TSI engine is smooth and refined and has its peak torque available from as little as 1550rpm. It could do with more power, especially with a trailer hooked up, but the upside is great fuel economy — the average claimed is 6.6L/100km.
The manual transmission has a remote clunky shift feel, but once you get used to it shifts are positive and can be changed quickly, and the clutch is light. The Yeti has some bodyroll, light, slightly dulled steering feel and reasonable grip.
With its innovative interior, sophisticated engine and boxy design the Yeti is a great point of difference when compared with the others here, and while it’s no powerhouse it would prove a very handy city tool and weekend getaway machine.
SPECIFICTIONS: SKODA YETI 77TSI 2WD
Power 77kW at 5000rpm
Torque 175Nm at 1550-4100rpm
Min ground clearance 170mm
Cargo volume (claimed) 310L/1665L (seats removed)
Towing max braked/Tongue max 1200kg/80kg
> MORE INFO
MITSUBISHI ASX ASPIRE 2WD
The ASX Aspire is a new model for the 2013 ASX range, and while one of the smaller vehicles here, it comes packed with plenty of gear. Standard driver controls include climate-control air-conditioning, a rear view camera, cruise control, power windows, power adjustable and folding side mirrors, rake and reach adjustment for the leather steering wheel, a leather gear knob and a driver’s seat height adjustment.
Other standard features include a trip computer, 17in alloy wheels (with a 16in steel space-saver spare) and roof rails plus a comprehensive safety package, including seven airbags, ABS and stability control.
The wide-opening doors invite you to a cabin containing seats with a high hip point, meaning you slide straight across rather than having to clamber in and out. The dash is a no-fuss set-up and has a comprehensive central display that cycles through a wide range of vehicle information.
The 2L engine is getting a bit long in the tooth yet still is contemporary in design and is a smooth if not stunningly powerful unit. Average fuel consumption is a competitive 7.7L/100km.
The five-speed manual’s gearshift is precise, the ratios appear well suited to each other with no obvious gaps and the clutch is light to operate.
The ASX shares its wheelbase and two-thirds of its platform with the previous-generation Outlander, meaning it is equipped with a conventional independent, coil-spring set-up and electric-assist power steering.
The ASX can become terse riding over sharp, low-speed bumps but on faster undulating roads the body control is very good. The electric power steering like many of its type lacks feel but it is precise. The ASX, more than the others here, feels like a tall hatchback to drive, and the 17in tyres provide a decent amount of lateral grip.
The nominal towing capacity might be low for the ASX, but it is a very realistic limit that the ASX will handle easily. A very worthy inclusion in our top five.
SPECIFICATIONS: MITSUBISHI ASX ASPIRE 2WD
Power 110kW at 6000rpm
Torque 197Nm at 4200rpm
Min ground clearance 195mm
Cargo volume (claimed) 416/1193L
Towing max braked/Tongue max 1300kg/130kg
> MORE INFO
JEEP COMPASS SPORT 4X4
The Compass is one of the few Jeeps that isn’t a true offroad vehicle, but in this company it can hold its head high, with good ground clearance and 4WD as standard.
The Compass Sport 4X4 is the most expensive but most feature-laden vehicle here. It comes with an on-demand 4WD system with lockable centre diff, ABS, traction control, front and side curtain airbags, front and rear fog lights, leather steering wheel, power folding heated mirrors, 17in alloys and a full-size spare wheel.
With the Compass’ high glass line, it feels more like a car than an SUV inside. The interior is well designed but some of the plastics look cheap.
The seats are comfortable and supportive up front, although a little flat and hard at the back. Head, hip and legroom are not an issue in the cabin, and instrument and switchgear location is intuitive. The cargo area has a low loading lip and is tall and wide but not deep.
The Jeep’s 16-valve DOHC VVT 2.4L engine is the most powerful here, and it revs sweetly to its redline. It is responsive and works really well with the smooth-shifting five-speed manual. Despite its promising on-paper figures, it could still do with more torque at low revs. Average fuel consumption is a quite competitive 7.6L/100km.
The Compass has a prodigious grip, a flat stance and while it will push at the front the chassis is quite neutral in its set-up. The Compass handles well, and ride quality
The Compass straddles the car-like qualities such as good handling with offroad ability such as its better than average ground clearance and 4WD system. The Jeep would slide into the role of camper trailer touring rig without a worry.
SPECIFICATIONS: JEEP COMPASS SPORT 4X4
Eng/trans 2.4L petrol/5-speed man
Power 125kW at 6000rpm
Torque 220Nm at 4500rpm
Min ground clearance 205mm
Cargo volume (claimed) 328L/na
Towing max braked/Tongue max 1500kg/150kg
> MORE INFO
Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia #64, April/May 2013.