Based on our experience, the best towing vehicle is either a full-size 4x4 ute or wagon with a turbo-diesel engine and automatic transmission.
With kerb weights between 2-3 tonnes and wheelbases of around 3000mm, they provide the heavy, sure-footed anchorage needed for high towing capacity with good control. Their high-torque diesels are also tailor-made for this role with excellent pulling power and better fuel economy than petrol engines, combined with intelligent automatic transmissions that save you a lot of stick-and-pedal work and offer the convenience of sequential self-shifting when required.
No matter what you're towing, be it a caravan, horse float or trailer, large engines provide a more low-stressed towing experience than smaller ones (but there are exceptions) so go for the largest cubic capacity you can. It's also crucial to know if the maximum tow-ball download rating will suit your towing requirements and to be aware that tow-ball download (generally up to 350kg) is included in your vehicle's GVM when towing.
Remember also that the shorter the distance between rear axle and tow-ball the greater the towing stability, so measure carefully and compare. Other features to look for are a trailer sway control function in the vehicle's stability control and a reversing camera with guidelines that make easy work of lining up your tow ball and trailer. So here's our prime selection of mid-spec models with sets of numbers that are desirable for towing.
Towing capacity by model
1. Toyota Land Cruiser 200 Series GXL maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
2. Ford Ranger XLS maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
3. Mazda BT-50 maximum XTR braked towing capacity: 3500kg
4. Toyota HiLux SR5 maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
5. Nissan Patrol Ti maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
6. Isuzu D-Max LS-M maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
7. Nissan Navara ST maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
8. Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
9. Holden Colorado LTZ maximum braked towing capacity: 3500kg
10. Mitsubishi Pajero GLS 3.2 maximum braked towing capacity: 3000kg
You only have to see what many people are doing laps of Australia in to know this much loved and trusted touring icon is widely recognised as not only the best SUV for towing but also one of the best caravan towing vehicles on the planet. Its massive 2640kg kerb weight, 2850mm wheelbase, smooth-riding coil-spring suspension and close proximity of tow-ball and rear wheels create a stable, comfortable and spacious towing platform.
Add to that a mighty twin-turbocharged 4.5 litre turbo-diesel V8 with a bulldozer-grade 650Nm of torque and intelligent six-speed automatic and you understand why it's rated to tow 3500kg and do it with consummate ease. Even more impressive is that it can do that without needing to reduce its 3350kg GVM to stay on the legal side of a huge 6850kg GCM. In other words, it'll carry a payload of more than 700kg with 3.5 tonnes behind the tow-ball. What more could you want?
The blue oval's big bruiser is a ute towing benchmark. Designed and developed in Australia, its generous 3220mm wheelbase is the longest in class and provides rock-solid stability under tow, backed by a low-stressed 3.2 litre five-cylinder turbo diesel with a bountiful 470Nm of torque, intelligent six-speed automatic, a kerb weight of more than two tonnes and a plethora of dynamic safety systems including trailer sway control. Peak towing capacity of 3500kg and GVM of 3200kg are impressive figures on their own, but if you want to join them together with a tow bar the Ranger's peak payload needs to be reduced by a whopping 700kg to avoid exceeding its 6000kg GCM. That's something to think about if you need to carry and tow really big loads at the same time.
The Ranger outsells its BT-50 birth twin by three to one yet under the skin their blood brothers. BT-50 offers the same tough chassis architecture and long 3220mm wheelbase, (near-identical) 147kW/470Nm engine, intelligent six-speed auto, class-leading 3500kg braked towing capacity and 6000 GCM as the Ranger at a lower price. The hill-flattening Mazda is blessed with a relaxed gait and effortless towing ability combined with low wind and tyre noise that makes for comfortable long range load hauling, particularly at freeway speeds where with full auto lock-up it will sit on 110km/h at barely 2000rpm all day long. Look beyond the questionable styling for one of the best towing utes on the market.
'Competent' is a word to describe most Toyotas from Corolla to Coaster and it certainly applies to the latest automatic Hilux as a tow vehicle, even though the peak values of Australia's long-standing ute king are shadowed by several competitors. A 3085mm wheelbase and good rear axle-to-tow-ball reach provide a solid foundation, backed by a smooth and refined 2.8 litre turbo-diesel with a class-competitive 450Nm of torque and the choice of a ‘Power' mode when required. The refined and intelligent six-speed automatic is well suited to this role even though its maximum tow rating of 3200kg is 300kg short of the manual version's 3500kg.
You may well scoff that it 'only' offers a big petrol-powered V8 but the gargantuan Y62 Patrol packs a set of numbers that deserve serious comparison with the LC200 as a luxury tow vehicle. It's wider and longer overall with a heavier 2700kg kerb weight and 225mm longer wheelbase (3075mm), all controlled by Nissan's brilliant Hydraulic Body Motion Control (HBMC) active suspension system. This advanced platform provides rock-solid stability, huge interior space and a superior 785kg payload. It matches the LC200's 3500kg maximum tow rating but the Patrol's higher 3500kg GVM results in a benchmark 7000kg GCM. Making all of these big numbers possible is a state-of-the-art DOHC 32-valve 5.6 litre V8 with 298kW and more importantly 560Nm of torque, most of which is on tap from as low as 1600rpm. Doesn't mind a drink but in the 'real world' so do diesels at this weight level. After a long heavy tow the difference in extra litres consumed would likely be in single digits, which is more than compensated for by the massive five-figure saving in purchase price.
The D-Max is yet to score a mid-life update like its Holden Colorado birth partner, and is starting to starting to show its age a little, but Isuzu's heavy duty truck-building heritage continues to shine through. The D-Max is as tough as they come with a well-proven chassis and drivetrain combination that makes a well-planted and reliable towing platform. Its low-stressed 3.0 litre engine is surpassed only by the Ranger's in cubic capacity, with 380Nm of torque delivered via an Aisin five-speed automatic with ‘intelligent' features that allow this tough turbo-diesel to optimise its performance. The auto-equipped D-Max has a 3500kg towing capacity which it can handle with admirable competence and its peak GVM of 3050kg only needs to drop by 100kg to comply with the 5950kg GCM. A durable and tireless worker that ticks a lot of boxes for towing.
Bigger engines are better for towing but the latest Navara is an exception. The smooth, quiet, responsive and powerful 2.3 litre four cylinder diesel with sequential twin turbocharging is the jewel in the Navara's crown. Its excellent fuel economy under load is matched by a bountiful 450Nm of torque on tap from a very low 1500-2500rpm. However, to tow its 3500kg maximum requires a sizeable payload reduction of 500kg to stay within the 5910kg GCM. Its generous 3150mm wheelbase is only 70mm shorter than the big Ranger/BT-50 twins with a similar distance between rear axle and tow ball ensuring a stable platform for its 2910kg GVM and 3500kg tow rating. It also bucks ute tradition with a two-stage coil-sprung rear end primarily to improve ride quality when empty. However, from our experience it also maintains good straight-line stability and steering response with high GVM and trailer loadings, even though the rear squats more than traditional leaf-sprung rears.
We can't help thinking Toyota may regret giving the Hilux ute its ‘unbreakable' tag because it's run out of superlatives to describe the legendary 70 Series. If it was our call we'd go for ‘indestructible' because the mighty 70 has proven to be just that for so many Toyota loyalists on the land and in the mines over many decades. And if you're happy with any transmission as long as it's manual, this tough-as Toyota thrives on hard work and makes a fine tow vehicle. Available as either single or dual cab-chassis, five-door wagon or Troop Carrier, the heart of the 70 Series family is a big 4.5 litre turbo-diesel V8 with 430Nm of torque available in a 2000rpm sweet spot. With a 3500kg maximum tow rating, the 70 Series (depending on model) can carry up to a 3400kg GVM and all share the same 6900kg GCM.
This was a rough old bus when released in 2012 with levels of noise, vibration and harshness reminiscent of vehicles built in Eastern Europe during The Cold War. Fortunately The General has given the Colorado a mid-life makeover with improved NVH levels that have filed off a lot of the rough edges. Which is handy, because the Colorado was already a competent tow vehicle thanks to its 3095mm wheelbase, 2050kg kerb weight and good rear-wheel-to-towball reach. A more refined version of the Italian-sourced 2.8 litre turbo-diesel retains its Ranger-matching 147kW and superior 500Nm of torque matched with a smarter GM six-speed automatic that quickly starts changing down when it detects braking on descents. The 3500kg towing capacity is competitive but its 3100kg GVM has to be reduced by 600kg to do it. That's a lot of payload to dump, so think about that if 3000kg-plus towing capacity is important.
It's been around for a fair while now but Japan will keep supplying them for as long as a steady stream of Aussie buyers keeps flowing into Mitsubishi showrooms. And there's a good reason for that strong current because the Pajero has proven itself to be a rugged, reliable and comfortable tow vehicle that's popular with families and other recreational users. Its 2273kg kerb weight and 2780mm wheelbase provides a strong and stable platform for towing. And with a generous 6030kg GCM it can tow up to its maximum 3000kg tow rating at its maximum 3030kg GVM, which translates to a useful 757kg payload. The Pajero's well-proven 3.2 litre turbo-diesel is a smooth operator with 441Nm of torque that can haul big loads with impressive ability. There's nothing about the Pajero worthy of a new headline. It just keeps on keeping on, at a price that represents excellent value.
The Mitsubishi Triton GLS's 2900kg GVM allows for a 970kg payload and its 5885kg GCM requires only a small 115kg reduction in that peak payload to legally tow up to 3100kg, which is a practical compromise. However with a kerb weight of 1950kg it's also comparatively light in this company and its prominent rear overhang results in quite a stretch between rear axle and tow-ball resulting in what feels like a slight pendulum effect in yaw movement at times. The 2.4 litre turbo-diesel is a willing performer, though, in what is a competent and good value all-rounder.
Also worthy of mention is the increasing choice of imported full-size US pickups by Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Ram and others for those that have some seriously heavy things to tow like super-sized trailer boats, fifth-wheeler caravans and horse-floats. The quality of local RHD conversion, compliance and dealer support in this specialised market is improving all the time and the towing performance of these US giants is from a different planet. We're talking giant 6.0 litre-plus turbo-diesels with more than 1000Nm of torque, kerb weights exceeding 3500kg, maximum tow ratings exceeding 6000kg and GCMs as high as 11,000kg.
That grade of towing ability comes at a premium of course, but if you're happy parting with six figures for the privilege and in some cases getting the required heavy vehicle endorsement on your driver's licence, one of these US giants could be just what you're looking for.
Original words by Bill McKinnon published 21 January 2013
You'll only see one petrol model in this top 10 list of towing vehicles. A diesel is infinitely more suited to dragging a load around.
It's got more of that all-important commodity called torque (otherwise known as "grunt'' and measured in Newton metres) and the fuel bills won't kill you. The ideal towing combo is diesel/automatic/all-wheel drive.
Always give yourself plenty of leeway on weight limits and keep within the crucial Gross Combination Mass (GCM). This is the all-up weight of your vehicle, trailer, your gear, fuel and you. Car companies will often argue a warranty claim that's a result of towing; the GCM, which you'll find in the handbook, is the first figure they'll use as evidence.
Here are the top models for towing:
The Forester's 2.0-litre turbo diesel is matched only with a six-speed manual, geared tall to maximise fuel efficiency, so you'll have to use the stick early and often. However 350Nm from just 1600rpm is more than enough to haul its maximum rated trailer weight of 1600kg.
Constant all-wheel drive, self-levelling rear suspension and a hill holder, which works in forward and reverse, are also useful. You can have the same drivetrain, in a bigger wagon, in the Outback. It's rated to pull 1700kg.
This is a rare beast -- a fair dinkum 4WD in a compact package -- with low-range gearing, locking centre diff and a separate steel frame chassis, so it's got the hardware to tow up to 2000kg through tougher conditions, including rugged off-road country, than any high-range only SUV.
The 1.9-litre turbo diesel has 300Nm at 2000rpm. It's as slow as Tuesday, and the five-speed manual isn't exactly the slickest shifter around, but you're towing, so what's the hurry?
There's the usual quality and reliability caveat that comes with any Land Rover test, but the base Freelander2 TD4 is a cracker to drive, with 420Nm of grunt and great fuel economy from its 2.2-litre turbo diesel. It will pull up to 2000kg with ease.
Six-speed manual is standard; a six-speed auto adds $2300. Hill descent control, adjustable traction control for various surfaces, a full-size spare and high clearance make the Freelander a much more versatile, capable wagon than its poncy German brand rival.
Every man and his uncle used to tow the van behind a Falcon. If you're prepared to cop the fuel bills, the mighty 4.0-litre petrol six, with 391Nm of grunt, will do the job without fuss. The EcoLPi gas engine produces 409Nm, so it won't be bothered by a load either.
The Falcon sedan and ute -- which has a robust live axle/leaf spring rear end -- will tow up to 2300kg with the optional factory load-levelling kit. The standard factory towpack gives you up to 1600kg with the six-speed automatic.
If you're after a big seven-seater turbo diesel, the Pajero is the best value going around. Its 3.2-litre four produces a solid 441Nm at 2000rpm, which is 31Nm more than the Prado's 3.0-litre, and it works nicely with the five-speed automatic.
It can run in 2WD or 4WD, high or low range, and will go just about anywhere, especially with the optional rear diff lock. The Paj is rated to pull three tonnes, but that's with only 180kg towball download. If you're pulling 2.5 tonnes or less, this increases to 250kg.
This is great value for money, especially the $50,000 base Laredo 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel. It produces big grunt 550Nm -- and is bolted to a five-speed automatic with a dual-range transfer case. OK, it's a Fiat engine, but they're a lot more reliable than they used to be. So they reckon.
The D-Max doesn't have the highest towing weight rating in the one-tonner ute class, but it's built like a tank. The Isuzu 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is bulletproof, has a lovely relaxed, effortless delivery and good fuel economy; 4WD models will pull up to 3000kg.
The Ranger XLT dual cab includes a towbar, which is optional on its Mazda XTR rival. The 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel, with 470Nm from 1750rpm, works a treat with the optional ($2000) six-speed automatic. It's a slugger, and has no problem hauling up to 3350kg. The stability control system includes trailer sway control.
The indestructible 70 Series, which emerged from a cave somewhere west of Alice Springs about 32 million years ago, is now available as a dual as well as single-cab chassis, plus the Troopy and five-door wagon.
It will tow up to 3500kg all day, every day, for as long as you wish. Its 4.5-litre turbo diesel V8 delivers 430Nm from idle (1200rpm) and doesn't seem to have the oil consumption issues that some owners have complained of with its twin-turbo counterpart in the 200 Series 'Cruiser.
The twin-turbo 4.5-litre V8/six-speed automatic is the most effortless towing combo there is, with 650Nm of torque from just 1600rpm. Keep an eye on oil consumption, though. If you're going to pull close to 3500kg, you might want to upgrade the suspension, which is pretty soft, especially at the rear.
What is your hauler of choice? Let us know in the comments below.