Best used cars for towing: budget SUV, hybrid and heavier winners
If you’re looking for a car that will tow a caravan safely and reliably, buying used can save you a fortune. But you do have to choose carefully. That's where our Used Tow Car Awards come in...
Winner: BMW 5 Series Touring
Years on sale 2017-present Price from £22,000 Best buy 520d xDrive Kerb weight 1810kg 85% match 1539kg Max towing weight 2000kg Towball limit 90kg
Back in 2018, the 520d xDrive Touring was the overall winner in the Tow Car Awards, and it’s similarly hard to beat now as a used buy.
The 5 Series is just such a brilliant all-rounder. It’s engaging and comfortable in everyday driving, especially with the optional adaptive suspension; this allows you to choose different settings to suit the road or your mood, with ‘comfort’ making the ride more supple.
What's more, as a tow car, it’s one of the very best. To win in 2018, it had to see off the challenge of the Jaguar F-Pace and Volvo XC40, and despite the many strengths of these rivals, the 5 Series was the clear winner. We praised the 520d for being “unshakeable at speed”. Even a violent lane change test failed to unsettle it.
For everyday driving, the rear-wheel-drive 520d Touring is all you need. For towing, though, the xDrive four-wheel-drive model is heavier, making it suitable for towing a wider range of caravans. And, of course, sending power to all four wheels makes pulling a caravan across a wet, grassy site a lot easier.
Inside, the 5 Series is very well finished, with lots of space in the front and back. There’s no need to travel light, either, thanks to the generous 560-litre boot.
Finally, as a used car, the 5 Series should be largely trouble-free; it finished third in class in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, with a reliability rating of 95.2%.
Winner: Volkswagen Touareg
Years on sale 2015-2018 Price from £15,000 Best buy 3.0 TDI 262 4Motion Kerb weight 2251kg 85% match 1913kg Max towing weight 3500kg Towball limit 140kg
Finding a heavyweight SUV that tows well isn’t difficult; the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery will all do the job. It’s harder, though, to find one that combines towing ability with value and reliability.
The Volkswagen Touareg sits at the intersection of these different qualities. It doesn’t have the image or badge appeal of some rivals, but as a car to tow a heavy and luxurious caravan, it’s up with the very best.
When we tested the previous-generation car in 2015, we wrote that “once up to the legal limit, the Touareg gave the impression it would happily stay there all day”. The big VW is one of those select few cars that makes towing straightforward and truly stress-free.
With a mighty 258bhp 3.0-litre diesel engine and four-wheel drive, there’s loads of muscle for towing, and the smooth-shifting automatic gearbox makes for easy hill starts.
Inside, the Touareg can’t match the sense of occasion you enjoy in big 4x4s from Audi and Mercedes, and the fact that there’s no third row of seats might rule it out for some buyers. However, there’s lots of room for five passengers and their luggage.
In the 2019 What Car? Reliability Survey, the Touareg won its class with a score of 96% (it didn’t reach the sample size to feature in 2020). And used it costs a lot less than SUVs of similar age and mileage from prestige brands.
Winner: Volvo XC90
Years on sale 2016-present Price from £25,000 Best buy T8 Twin Engine Kerb weight 2321kg 85% match 1973kg Max towing weight 2400kg Towball limit 140kg
The big Volvo XC90 T8 is an absolute sledgehammer of a tow car. The combination of well-judged suspension and a kerb weight of well over two tonnes cracks the nut of any caravan. With a powerful petrol engine and punchy electric motor working in tandem, the T8 is a quick and stable tow car.
We rate it as the best plug-in hybrid we’ve towed with to date. Many hybrids have restrictive towing limits or can’t tow at all, but the XC90 has a 2400kg legal maximum. The 85% match figure – usually recommended as a safe and sensible limit even if a car can legally tow more – is almost two tonnes.
In everyday driving, the T8 is at its best when recharged frequently; doing so allows it to travel on electric power alone for up to 24 miles. On longer journeys, though, the Volvo is less efficient, and one of its few weak points as a tow car is its thirst for fuel once the battery runs low.
Still, it’s beautifully made inside, with a clean and minimal design that still looks fresh after several years on the road. And unlike other hybrid SUVs, the T8 still has room for seven, despite the extra space needed for the battery.
As a used car, the T8 is surprisingly good value, with prices starting from around £25,000. It should prove a reliable used buy, too; in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, the XC90 took fourth place in the luxury SUV category, scoring 91.6%.
Winner: Dacia Duster
Years on sale 2018-present Price from £10,500 Best buy 1.5 Blue dCi 115 4x4 Kerb weight 1480kg 85% match 1258kg Max towing weight 1500kg Towball limit 75kg
We considered giving this award to the previous-generation Dacia Duster; it’s around in greater numbers than the latest model, and good used ones cost next to nothing. However, the current-shape Duster is a huge step forward, particularly for safety.
It’s still an absolute bargain, too. Our favourite model for towing, the diesel 4x4, can be found for as little as £10,500. Expect to see that drop further as more examples become available.
While value for money is the Dacia’s outstanding quality, it’s by no means the only one. As a tow car, the Duster is stable and secure at 60mph, even if it takes its time to haul a caravan up to that speed.
Inside, the latest model is better made than the bargain-basement original, no longer feeling quite so rough around the edges. We recommend going for mid-range Comfort trim or above to get goodies such as satellite navigation, all-round electric windows and a rear-view camera.
Unlike some small SUVs, the Duster is available with four-wheel drive, and that extra weight if useful for towing. It also makes the Duster a good choice for four-season caravanners, or anyone who likes to stay at out-of-the-way campsites.
You don't have to compromise on reliability, either; Dacia finished ahead of Audi, Volkswagen and Volvo in our 2020 survey.
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