Looking at getting a second vehicle for primarily towing a horse float. Prefer a ute for convenience (picking up hay etc) however if a wagon presents better that's fine. Budget $15,000; auto over manual. Can I get away with an AWD or 2WD? I do occasionally drive dirt roads and park on grass etc but that’s fairly rare.
Let’s start with the four-wheel-drive question, Jess: I reckon a vehicle with four-wheel-drive would be a much better bet for towing anything heavy, especially if you do find yourself on a loose or wet surface (which I imagine mightn’t be too uncommon in the world of the horse fancier). But even a wet bitumen road can be a lot safer in an all-wheel-drive tow-car. So don’t under-estimate the value of all-wheel-drive.
The problem with that is that four-wheel-drive dual-cab utes are absolutely the flavour of the month, so second-hand ones are really holding their value. Which means that to get into a, say, Toyota HiLux 4WD ute within your budget, you’re looking at a 15-year-old work-vehicle. And even then, it’s odds-on to have covered more than 250,000km.
Sometimes, better value is to be found in four-wheel-drive station wagons like Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros (the Toyota LandCruiser equivalent holds its value extremely well, too, so it’s more expensive). The trick is to find one that has been used as family transport rather than for weekend bush-bashing. Most of them will have enough towing capacity for your needs, too.
If you wanted to stick with a conventional utility, did you know that between 2003 and 2006, Holden made an all-wheel-drive version of the Commodore Ute? Called the Crewman, it was a five-seater with a proper tray, the option of a V8 engine and constant all-wheel-drive. They’re well and truly within your budget (and then some) and should be cheaper to run and maintain than a lot of four-wheel-drives. And towing? The Crewman in V8 form (the one you’d want for towing) can legally tow a braked trailer up to 2500kg which should be enough for a two-horse float. Sometimes you have to think laterally about this stuff.