3.5-tonne tow ratings: Busting the great 3500kg myths
- Toyota HiLux
- Ford Ranger
- Mazda BT-50
- Isuzu D-Max
- Holden Colorado
- Volkswagen Amarok
- Nissan Navara
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- Nissan Patrol
- Land Rover
- Land Rover Discovery
- Toyota Land Cruiser
- Tradie Advice
We often see '3500kg towing capacity' headlines in advertising and sales brochures for 4x4 dual cab utes and heavy-duty SUVs. However, as impressive as that 3.5 tonne figure may appear, it actually relies on a few other figures to make such a vehicle and trailer combination practical in the real world.
The four key numbers which need to be crunched to make or break a 3500kg towing claim are a tow vehicle's kerb weight (no passengers or gear but fully fuelled and ready to roll), its GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass or how much it can weigh when fully loaded), its payload (the difference between kerb weight and GVM) and its GCM (Gross Combination Mass or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time).
The fact is that after running these stats through the CarsGuide calculator, many of the popular 4x4 dual cab utes and heavy-duty SUVs with 3500kg braked trailer ratings (both low-grade and high-grade models) require large reductions in payloads to achieve it, So large, in fact, that they make 3500kg towing impractical.
4x4 DUAL CAB UTES
The 2.8 litre turbo-diesel SR manual has a 1955kg kerb weight and 3000kg GVM, leaving a useful one-tonne-plus payload of 1045kg. Its 5850kg GCM also looks sizeable until you deduct the 3500kg towing figure (the auto is limited to 3200kg) from it, leaving 2350kg. Deduct the SR's 1955kg kerb weight from that and you're left with a legal payload capacity of 395kg. In other words, that big 1045kg of payload has been reduced by a whopping 650kg to avoid exceeding the GCM limit.
So, just adding 3-4 adult occupants without luggage to this ute and trailer combination could theoretically use up all of that remaining payload and push it over the GCM limit. And if you're looking at the premium grade HiLux Rugged X manual, which shares the same 5850kg GCM but is 297kg higher in kerb weight, that equates to a payload of only 98kg. Just enough for a driver - and that's it.
The 3.2 litre XL auto has a 2135kg kerb weight and 3200kg GVM, resulting in a 1065kg payload rating. Its impressive 6000kg GCM is also greater than the HiLux. However, deducting our 3500kg towing figure from that 6000kg GCM leaves 2500kg. Deduct the XL's 2135kg kerb weight from that and you're left with only 365kg of payload to play with – a massive 700kg reduction.
The top-shelf Wildtrak, which shares the same GCM as the XL but has a higher kerb weight, drops that remaining payload to only 222kg. Two large adults maybe - and that's all. Hope you weren't planning on taking any gear with you...
The BT-50 shares much of the 3.2 litre Ranger's platform and mechanicals so you won't be surprised to know that its 3500kg towing numbers are closely aligned. It has the same 3200kg GVM and 6000kg GCM of its Ford-badged brother, but it also has slightly lower kerb weights and higher payloads which work in its favour when crunching these numbers - but not by much.
For example, the entry-level XT hooked up to our notional 3500kg trailer leaves a payload of 464kg before it exceeds the 6000kg GCM limit. The heavier top-shelf GT model reduces that payload to just 339kg. The latter figure allows only for the weight of a driver and maybe a couple of adult passengers. Okay, and their toothbrushes.
Applying the same calculations to low-grade and high-grade models in the popular Isuzu range, the entry-level SX with its 3050kg GVM and approximately 2015kg kerb weight (Isuzu only publishes tare weights so we've added the missing fuel weight) allows for a 1035kg payload and a 5950kg GCM.
However, deducting the weight of our 3500kg trailer from the 5950kg GCM leaves 2450kg. And deducting the 2015kg kerb weight from that leaves a payload of 435kg or a huge 600kg drop in capacity. For the top-shelf LS-T model, the payload limit is 10kg less.
Like the Ranger/BT-50 twins, the Holden Colorado shares lots of platform and mechanical DNA with its D-Max birth partner so the 3500kg towing figures for entry-level and top-shelf models are almost identical. The low-grade LS leaves only 435kg of payload capacity after you hook up 3500kg of trailer, while the heavier high-grade Z71 leaves only 357kg of payload to play with.
Like Isuzu, VW only publishes tare weights in their spec sheets, which allows for 10 litres of diesel in the fuel tank. So, like the D-Max we've added the missing fuel in kilograms to produce kerb weights for low and high-grade models to keep things consistent.
As a result, the TDI550 V6 Core's 2149kg kerb and 3080kg GVM results in a 931kg payload and a big 6000kg GCM like the Ranger/BT-50. However, after deducting our 3500kg towing figure and the Core's kerb weight you're left with 351kg of payload, or a big reduction of 580kg. No surprises that the payload left-overs for the heavier top-shelf Ultimate TDI580 are even less at only 198kg - just enough for a crew of two maybe?
The basic work-focused RX has a relatively light 1895kg kerb weight and 2910kg GVM, resulting in a 1015kg payload capacity and 5910kg GCM. Deducting 3500kg of trailer from the 5910kg GVM works out at 2410kg. And if you then deduct the Navara's 1895kg kerb weight from that, you're left with 515kg of payload capacity - again, a large drop of 500kg or half a tonne.
So, 515kg of payload capacity with 3500kg in tow gives the Navara the most practical theoretical figure of the dual cab ute bunch, largely helped by its kerb weight. For the heavier top-grade SL-X that payload drops to 431kg, or the same sizeable 500kg reduction.
4x4 HEAVY-DUTY SUVs
Not all SUVs have 3500kg tow ratings but some of the heavy-duty 4x4 models do, so we ran our calculator over a selection of the most popular brands to see how they measured up in comparison to the dual cab utes.
Fortunately, the payload figures were generally more practical, but the big reductions in some payloads required to not exceed the all-important GCM – or how much you can carry and tow at the same time – would still make 3500kg towing largely impractical in the real world.
With a kerb weight of 2281kg and 2949kg GVM, the turbo-diesel Grand Cherokee has a payload of 668kg and 6099kg GCM. However, when you deduct the 3500kg towing weight from its 6099kg GCM (2599kg) and then deduct its kerb weight from that, the result is a big 350kg drop in payload capacity to just 318kg. The heavier top-shelf Summit model grade reduces that payload figure to just 184kg after a similar 350kg cut. Enough for a driver and passenger maybe.
Unlike its Navara ute sibling, Nissan only publishes tare weights for the Patrol, so after adding the kilograms of its missing 130 litres of petrol, the Y62's kerb weight works out at a hefty 2847kg. With its 3500kg GVM, that results in a 750kg payload capacity and it has a towering 7000kg GCM.
However, those figures look less impressive after you deduct the 3500kg towing figure from the 7000kg GCM which comes to 3500kg. Deduct the 2847kg kerb weight from that and you're left with a payload limit of 642kg after a 108kg reduction. The Infiniti QX80, which is based on the Y62, has 3500kg towing figures which are virtually identical to these.
Land Rover's towing figures, like Holden's, are far from straightforward in the way they are presented in the company's specs sheet. They show neither kerb weight nor tare weight but another variation, which includes a notional 75kg driver and 90 per cent fuel. As a result, we only concentrated on one model to provide a general guide to the Disco range.
So, after deducting the 75kg driver and adding the missing 10 per cent of fuel, we came up with a kerb weight of 2115kg. And with a (seven-seat) GVM of 3130kg, that equals an impressive payload capacity of 1015kg and GCM of 6440kg. Deducting the 3500kg towing figure from the GCM works out at 2940kg. Then deducting the 2115kg kerb weight from that results in a more realistic 'real world' payload of 824kg, but it still requires a substantial 191kg drop in payload to achieve it.
That equates to four adult passengers and plenty of gear, so these are genuinely practical figures if you ever needed to tow at the max.
One of the main reasons these solid, dependable and well proven all-terrain wagons continue to sell strongly is because they're very good at towing heavy things, powered by 4.5 litre turbo-diesel V8s (single-turbo in the 70, twin-turbos in the 200).
The 200 Series' entry-level GX has a 2640kg kerb weight and 3350kg GVM with a 710kg payload capacity. However, when you deduct 3500kg of braked trailer from its 6850kg GCM, the GVM (and therefore that 710kg payload) does not need to be reduced. The same applies to the heavier top-shelf Sahara grade and its smaller 610kg payload.
The 70 Series offerings, though, are the pick of the Toyota crop in this context. The LC76 wagon, in entry-level Workmate grade, has a 785kg payload rating while the higher-grade GXL is 795kg, both of which also do not need to be reduced to comply with a 6560kg GCM with 3500kg in tow.
And we've left the best until last. The venerable LC78 Troopie, with its bountiful 6800kg GCM, offers enormous one-tonne-plus payload capacities of 1045kg in the Workmate and 1005kg in the GXL while towing 3500kg. No wonder they can't kill it.
By crunching the numbers published by these vehicle manufacturers, many struggle to justify their 3500kg tow ratings, given the big drops in practical payload capacities required to achieve them. However, we reckon few owners would ever need to tow 3.5 tonnes with these vehicles, which as these figures show is something of a blessing.
Our best advice to vehicle owners is to interpret any peak tow rating with caution and carefully do your sums if you're planning to use it. We also think it's time the motor industry had a rethink over these chest-beating 3500kg towing claims which, like official fuel consumption figures, are not relevant in the real world. A far more useful and responsible figure to publish would be a vehicle's towing capacity - with a full payload.