Not everyone wants or needs a big tow tug. In fact, a lumbering vehicle can prove costly and restrictive when you’re driving it unhitched, but some nimble city cars really strain under tow. So we’ve come up with a list of top five lightweight vehicles well equipped for towing a camper trailer.
We’ve chosen 2000kg as the top hauling capacity for vehicles featured in this line-up. There are plenty of wagons and SUVs with a maximum 2000kg towing capacity (mostly the Euro models) but many have a 100kg maximum ball load (TBM) or less. Here, we’ve nominated only vehicles that have a TBM closer to 10 per cent. As about 80 per cent of car buyers today choose automatic over manual, we’ve knocked out manual-only tow vehicles, too.
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 as suitable for the city peak hour trundle as it is hauling a camper on tour.
An honourable mention that didn’t quite make the list – the Subaru Forester turbo diesel has everything going for it as a strong towing performer and is well in the ballpark with its 180kg/1800kg towing capacity but Subaru restricts towing speed to just 80km/h.
The Nissan X-Trail also misses out as the petrol auto has just 1500kg/150kg towing capacity while the 2000kg/200kg diesel is only available as a manual.
1. MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER LS DI-D
While it may be one of the older models on offer, that doesn't stop the Outlander from 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.
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. There's even a full-size spare wheel thrown in, a must-have when you’re remote-area touring.
Eng/trans: 2.2L TD/six-speed auto
Towing max braked/Tongue max: 2000kg/200kg
2. MAZDA CX-5 GT AWD
The AWD-only CX-5 GT can be found 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 tow tug.
The interior looks 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 (April, in fact) – but it’s got all the makings of a strong towing performer.
Eng/trans: 2.2L turbodiesel/six-speed auto
Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1800kg/150kg
3. RENAULT KOLEOS INTENS
The Koleos was new and shiny last year after the first-generation’s long, eight-year stint on the market.
Controls and instruments are easy to read and use, although the seats could be more supportive and comfortable. 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. 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.
Eng/trans: 2L petrol/CVT
Towing max braked/Tongue max: 2000kg/200kg
4. SUZUKI GRAND VITARA SPORT
The Grand Vitara is an old-timer, first arriving in 2005, but it still stacks up as a compact tow vehicle.
TThe 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.
Take it offroad though, and 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.
Eng/trans: 2.4L petrol/six-speed auto
Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1700kg/150kg
HYUNDAI TUCSON ELITE
Arriving late last year as an all-new model, the Tucson is 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.
Inside there is more than enough 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 a pity though that this mid-sizer wasn’t rated to tow more.
Eng/trans: 2L TD/six-speed auto
Towing max braked/Tongue max: 1600kg/140kg.
Check out the full feature in issue #112 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.