Best used cars for towing
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...
Welcome to the What Car? Used Tow Car Awards 2020, in association with The Camping and Caravanning Club.
Since 2007, we have teamed up with the club to find the very best new cars for towing caravans and trailers. Over the years, we’ve hitched up more than 500 cars, towing Swift Group caravans for thousands of miles. The combined expertise of our road test team and the club’s caravanning gurus make the What Car? Tow Car Awards worth the trust of tow car drivers.
However, these are the first ever What Car? Used Tow Car Awards, where we take another look at the best cars from our main Tow Car Awards over recent years and judge them in the light of their value and reliability when bought on the used car market. These are cars you can be assured will tow a caravan well and in safety for mile after mile.
As we do in the new Tow Car Awards, we’ve divided the results into five classes by kerb weight, so it’s easy to find a car that’s suitable for towing your caravan or trailer. The Camping and Caravanning Club recommends towing a caravan weighing no more than 85% of the car’s kerb weight, especially for someone new to towing.
We’ve also included awards for the best hybrid and best budget SUV. So, whatever your towing needs and no matter how much you've got to spend, there should be something to suit you. If you want to find out more about a particular winner or find used examples for sale, just click on the relevant link.
Up to 1400kg
Winner: Skoda Octavia Estate
Years on sale 2017-2020 Price from £9000 Best buy 2.0 TDI DSG Kerb weight 1374kg 85% match 1168kg Max towing weight 1600kg Towball limit 75kg
As a new car, the Octavia has won this lightest weight category more times than any other model, so it's perhaps not surprising to see it take the used title as well. Its combination of vast passenger and luggage space, and stable towing makes it a brilliant choice.
We’ve gone for the facelifted version of the Octavia Estate. Sold from 2017, it brought improved infotainment, more safety kit and the option of a trailer assist feature to make reversing a caravan less of a chore.
For regular towing, the 2.0-litre diesel models are particularly good. These have plenty of pulling power for a sensibly matched caravan, with impressive real-world economy. Expect around 30mpg while towing.
If you’re willing to buy a high-mileage example, prices start from around £9000. Pre-facelift cars (from 2013) begin at £4000.
At motorway speeds, the Octavia is secure and stable when towing a caravan. Blustery winds can push it around a little, but the car soon pulls the caravan straight again.
Judged purely as a tow car, a Volkswagen Golf of a similar age is every bit as good, but the Octavia is roomier. There’s loads of space for adults to travel in the back, as well as a boot that’s big enough to embarrass those of plenty of larger cars.
Although the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey shows the Octavia diesel isn’t quite as reliable as the petrol, it still scored 94%. As a brand, Skoda ranked a commendable fifth out of 31 car makers in the same survey.
Winner: Skoda Superb
Years on sale 2015-present Price from £7500 Best buy 2.0 TDI 150 Kerb weight 1485kg 85% match 1262kg Max towing weight 2000kg Towball limit 90kg
Another regular award winner, the Skoda Superb is great value as a used car. You can buy high-mileage diesel examples for around £7500, while a budget of £12,500 will be enough for an average-mileage early car of this generation, with a full service history.
We reckon this makes it better value than the equivalent Volkswagen Passat of a similar age. Like the smaller Octavia, the Superb is larger and more spacious than its direct rivals. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the rear seats, which offer as much leg room as some luxury saloons.
As a tow car, the Superb is stable and unflustered at motorway speeds. The familiar 148bhp 2.0 TDI engine does a solid job; 53.3mpg fuel economy is possible when driving solo, yet it’s strong enough to easily cope with a sensibly matched caravan.
While you can buy four-wheel-drive versions of the Superb, the front-wheel-drive car tows well enough, being settled and reassuring at motorway speeds. It also comes at a lower purchase price and has keener running costs. Plus, its 625-litre boot means that choosing the hatchback rather than the estate hardly compromises practicality.
The Superb is also a safe car, being awarded a five-star rating by the experts at Euro NCAP. And like the Octavia, it’s dependable, with a strong 93% rating in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey.
Winner: Kia Sportage
Years on sale 2016-present Price from £12,000 Best buy 2.0 CRDi 184 4WD auto Kerb weight 1690kg 85% match 1437kg Max towing weight 1900kg Towball limit 100kg
Stepping up to the 1550-1699kg weight class brings some very capable and family-friendly SUVs into play, with the excellent Mazda CX-5 and Peugeot 5008 being among them.
As a used car, though, it’s hard to argue against the Kia Sportage. We named it our favourite small SUV in last year’s What Car? Used Car Awards, and it should be a dependable choice, scoring 96.4% in the 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey.
In the unlikely event that the Sportage goes wrong, Kia’s seven-year warranty should guard against unexpected bills. The latest Sportage has been around since 2016, so even early cars still have plenty of cover left.
For regular towing, we’d pick the range-topping 181bhp 2.0 CRDi engine. It makes for easy overtaking even when pulling a caravan and copes well with hilly roads. With four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox, that power is put to the road cleanly, even on damp roads, and there’s no need to juggle clutch and accelerator during hill starts.
The Sportage is stable and reassuring at 60mph on the motorway (and beyond 60mph at the test track). The ride is rather firm, but if that contributes to the Kia’s stability, it’s a price we’re happy to pay.
As a used car, the Sportage is also very good value. Prices for our preferred engine and gearbox combination start from around £12,000, and there are plenty to choose from.
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