How do you choose the best vehicle for towing a caravan?
If you’re just starting out in the world of caravan towing and trying to decide what would make the best tow vehicle, the best place to start is not with the tow vehicle but with the caravan it needs to tow.
In other words, you need to put the cart before the horse. By firstly deciding which make and model of caravan will best suit your needs, the process of choosing the right vehicle to tow it will be simplified.
How to work out caravan towing weight?
It's crucial to understand caravan weights when towing caravans. Every caravan comes with important towing-related numbers on its compliance plate. These show how much it weighs when empty (Tare Mass), how much it’s legally allowed to weigh when loaded (Gross Vehicle Mass or GVM) and its maximum towing weight (Aggregate Trailer Mass or ATM), which is the GVM plus the maximum allowable weight on your vehicle’s tow ball (Tow Ball Download or TBD). As a rough guide this is usually around 10 percent of the GVM, but it can vary.
Each motor vehicle also comes with important towing-related numbers, but they are not on the compliance plate. Instead they can be found in the owner’s manual or in manufacturer specification sheets readily available in online brochures.
The key figures are maximum braked towing capacity (or the maximum weight of a trailer equipped with brakes), maximum tow-ball download and the maximum weight allowed for your vehicle and trailer combined (Gross Combination Mass or GCM).
Armed with these figures, it’s much easier to create a short-list of potential tow vehicles because you can dismiss all the ones that don’t meet or ideally exceed your caravan’s ATM and TBD (we’ll get to GCM in a moment).
We prefer ‘exceed’ rather than ‘meet’ because the larger the margin between your caravan’s minimum towing requirement and the maximum towing ability of your vehicle, the more you have in reserve. And the more you have in reserve, the safer and more relaxed the whole caravan towing experience will be.
A vehicle operating at the limit of its towing capacity is not only drinking lots of fuel and suffering maximum wear and tear on its drivetrain, chassis, suspension, tyres and brakes; it also has nothing left in reserve to cope with unexpected nasties which can crop up (trailer sway, heatwaves, poor roads etc).
So it goes without saying that if you choose a tow vehicle that exceeds your caravan’s ATM and TDB ratings, then the combined weight of your tow vehicle and caravan will also comfortably sit below its GCM and protect that all-important reserve.
For example, if your caravan has an ATM of 2500kg and your tow vehicle has a maximum braked tow rating of 3500kg, you literally have a tonne of towing capacity in reserve. And that would typically allow a useful increase in the tow vehicle’s payload (GVM) while still remaining comfortably below the GCM.
Such big reserves are not always achievable, but always aim for the largest margin you can. Ideally, to avoid the tail wagging the dog, the tow vehicle’s GVM should always exceed (even slightly) the caravan’s ATM.
What type of vehicle is best?
Smaller caravans and fold-out camper trailers can be competently towed by a medium-sized sedan, wagon or SUV. A good car caravan towing match can usually be achieved after carefully comparing caravan weights and vehicle towing capacities. However, larger caravans with ATMs between 2-3 tonnes require something more heavy duty.
In our experience the best 4x4 for towing these larger caravans is a full-size wagon with turbo-diesel engine and automatic transmission. We know of numerous 4x4 utes that also make excellent towing vehicles, but for towing a caravan a full-size wagon offers numerous practical advantages - particularly for families.
Firstly, there’s usually the flexibility of a third row of seats so that the vehicle can carry up to seven occupants, or the third row can be folded away when more luggage space is required. Passenger comfort in the second row of seats is also increased in a wagon, as the seat base can be slid rearward to provide more leg room and the backrest angle can also be adjusted as required.
A wagon’s rear luggage area also provides ample storage space that is lockable and weather-sealed. This can also be achieved by fitting a canopy to a ute, of course, but you still miss out on the flexible seating capacity and second-row seat adjustments.
Traditionally, the larger the engine, the more relaxed the towing experience.
A wagon also shines when it’s time to unhook your caravan and do some exploring. They’re particularly convenient if you need to collect some relatives or friends who want to show you around their local area – a wagon’s ‘on-demand’ third row seating can be most handy in these situations.
Full size 4x4 wagons also share many of the dual cab utes’ other strengths as tow vehicles, as they typically have wheelbases of 2800-3000mm and kerb weights between 2-3 tonnes which provide the rock-solid anchorage and directional stability needed for safe and relaxed caravan towing.
They also tend to have short rear overhangs, which results in a short distance between the rear axle centreline and the tow-ball. This is an important dimension, because the shorter this distance the less potential ‘yaw’ (side to side) movement between vehicle and caravan and therefore greater towing stability.
Their turbo-diesel engines, which tend to range in cubic capacities between 3.0-4.5 litres, are pretty much tailor-made for this role with high torque outputs providing excellent pulling power and better fuel economy than petrol engines. Traditionally, the larger the engine, the more relaxed the towing experience, so go for the largest capacity you can.
The latest intelligent automatic transmissions, some boasting up to eight speeds, are also designed to get the most out of these engines when towing, yet also offer the option of sequential manual-shifting if required.
Our selection is based purely on vehicles we’ve actually driven, and some new models which that have all the right credentials (on paper at least).
Other desirable caravan towing features to look for are a reversing camera with guidelines, which make lining up your vehicle’s tow-ball with your caravan’s tow hitch as easy and fun as joining the dots. Also look for trailer sway control in a tow vehicle’s stability control menu. It really works and can avoid a lot of sweaty palm situations.
So here’s our prime selection of full size 4x4 wagons (not in any particular order) with credentials that are highly desirable for caravan towing, to ensure your next summer holidays - whether you're camping is on or off road - are as stress-free as possible.
We know there are numerous other very capable caravan tow vehicles which have not been included here. However, our selection is based purely on vehicles we’ve actually driven and some new models which we are yet to tow-test but have all the right credentials (on paper at least).
So let us know below which other makes and models you think are just as worthy of inclusion and why. That way, we and our many CarsGuide readers can benefit from your hands-on knowledge, which in effect extends the list of vehicles worthy of serious consideration for towing caravans.
Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series GXL
If you were given a clean sheet of paper on which to design the ideal caravan towing vehicle, you’d probably end up with something close to this enduring icon. Its hefty 2630kg kerb weight and 2850mm wheelbase provides a Queen Mary-grade anchor, with smooth-riding coil spring suspension and a short rear axle to tow-ball reach.
The refined 4.5 litre twin-turbocharged diesel V8 has enough torque (650Nm) to pull a large tree out of the ground, matched with an intelligent and smooth-shifting six-speed auto. The massive 6850kg GCM also means you don’t have to reduce its 3300kg GVM (that’s a payload of almost 670kg) even when towing the maximum 3500kg.
Although it can work up quite a thirst when hauling heavy, the mighty 200 is still widely considered to be the caravan tow-tug by which all others are judged.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland TDV6
This iconic brand has been squeezed through the corporate ringer in recent times but that doesn’t detract from the top-shelf towing ability of the Grand Cherokee, particularly with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 engine that churns out a sizeable 550Nm of torque through a smooth-shifting eight-speed auto.
Its 2915mm wheelbase, 2327kg kerb weight and short rear axle to tow-ball reach results in a very stable and predictable caravan hauler in all conditions. It matches the 200 Series’ peak 3500kg tow rating, but unlike the Toyota you’d have to reduce the peak 534kg payload by 184kg to keep within its 6099kg GCM.
Toyota LandCruiser 76 Series GXL
The mighty 70 Series has more than earned its stripes over decades of unbreakable service in some of the toughest work and play environments on the planet. Its rigid live axles (unmatched for ruggedness and load-carrying ability) and five-speed manual gearbox are defiantly old school, because that’s the way its loyal customers want it (although an auto option for towing would be ideal).
The 4.5-litre single-turbo diesel V8 thrives on hard work, with 430Nm available across a 2000rpm torque band as wide as Lake Eyre. A 2730mm wheelbase and 2265kg kerb weight provide a rock-steady anchor for caravan towing and with a huge 6560kg GCM, it’s rated to carry its maximum payload (795kg) while towing the maximum 3500kg.
Ford Everest Trend AWD and RWD
The effortless towing ability of the Ford Ranger dual cab ute (and its Mazda BT50 birth twin) are well known. Fortunately, the multi award-winning Everest wagon, which is derived from the Ranger, shares much of the ute’s DNA with the added convenience of seven seats.
The low-stressed five cylinder turbo-diesel with 470Nm and smooth-shifting six-speed automatic is matched with permanent all-wheel drive. The Everest’s shorter 2850mm wheelbase and solid 2407kg kerb weight, combined with coil-spring rear suspension, short rear axle to tow-ball reach and 3000kg braked towing capacity, adds up to a very capable tow vehicle.
Keep in mind, though that to tow 3000kg and not exceed the Everest’s 5800kg GCM, the peak 693kg payload has to be reduced by 300kg. The significantly lower priced RWD version shares the same 3000kg braked tow rating and could be ideal for caravaners that never venture far from the bitumen.
Isuzu MU-X LS-T
Isuzu Ute Australia was 2017's quiet achiever, having clocked up a decade of annual double-figure sales growth and galvanised customer loyalty with only a two model line-up, comprising its D-MAX 4x4 ute and MU-X wagon derivative.
The seven-seat MU-X is one of Australia’s best vehicles for towing caravans. Its 2845mm wheelbase and 2075kg kerb weight provide a stable and predictable towing platform that feels reassuringly well planted on the road.
The refined 3.0 litre four cylinder turbo-diesel matches the Land Cruiser 70 Series’ 430Nm of torque and with its six-speed auto provides strong yet economic performance under sustained loads. And with a generous 5750kg GCM it’s rated to tow up to 3000kg of braked trailer without having to reduce its peak 675kg payload. There’s a rich heritage of truck building behind this Japanese brand and it shows in the load-hauling excellence of the MU-X.
Upcoming models in 2018?
Land Rover Discovery TD6 HSE
The ‘Disco’ has always been an excellent vehicle for towing caravans and we look forward to hooking one to the tow-ball of the recently released fifth generation of this Land Rover icon, given its mighty impressive credentials.
Like the Jeep Grand Cherokee it uses unitary body construction, but adopts Range Rover technology in the use of light but immensely strong aluminium instead of steel. This weight saving results in a 3170kg GVM that allows for a huge 940kg payload that exceeds many dual cab utes.
Its 2923mm wheelbase and 2230kg kerb weight is a good combination for towing, particularly when powered by a fuel efficient 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 with a massive 600Nm of torque and eight-speed automatic. It’s also rated to tow up to 3500kg and with its 6670kg GCM can do that with maximum payload. Height adjustable air suspension is also available on most grades.
Toyota Prado GXL
Yep, another LandCruiser, but in our experience the seven-seater Prado is just as deserving of praise for its caravan-towing ability as its larger 200 and 70 Series stablemates, even more so now that its braked tow rating has increased by 500kg to 3000kg.
The 2.8-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel shared with the HiLux delivers a solid 450Nm through an intelligent six-speed auto. The Prado’s rugged yet plush-riding chassis combines a 2790mm wheelbase and 2205kg kerb weight with a 2990kg GVM, resulting in a safe and predictable tow vehicle with a useful 785kg payload rating.
And like its larger cousins, its 5990kg GCM allows for a full payload while towing up to the maximum 3000kg. We look forward to hooking up a caravan and putting the MY2018 Prado’s higher tow rating to the test.