Towing vehicles: Our motoring expert puts a selection to the test *H&H Plus*

  • Torn between a 4x4 or a pick-up for towing your horse? Motoring expert Graham Courtney has been out testing the latest towing vehicles to help you narrow down your choice

    Most of us who want to know what is the best car to tow a horse trailer also need that car for everyday use, whether on the farm or the school run. For this test-drive, we have divided the eight vehicles into four categories; 4×4, pick-up, estate and family SUV.

    Price and towing ability are key considerations, besides the usefulness of the vehicle for whatever other chores fill our lives. We’ve also ensured that they come with a full list of safety aids and all, except the Skoda Octavia, have four-wheel drive. (The latest Skoda has just been released and a 4×4 version will arrive eventually.)

    Plus, we check out all the mod cons to help you navigate narrow lanes and awkward reversing challenges.

    The writer: Graham Courtney comes from a farming community. He learnt to drive, aged nine, on a Massey Ferguson 135 tractor and graduated to a Land Rover Series 2a, Seddon truck and New Holland combine harvester. He passed his tractor licence test on his 16th birthday. He has now road tested over 2,000 cars – everything from AC to Zastava – but still has a love of tractors. And ride-on mowers. And quad bikes.

    • We tested the cars’ towing ability with the superbly engineered Ifor Williams trailer, model HBX 506 with an all-aluminium body and streamlined roof design.
    • It boasts a host of innovative new features, offering comfort for the horse and remarkable ease of use and versatility for the user/owner.
    • Prices for the range start at £6,100 + VAT and the price of trailer used in our testing is £6,865 + VAT, which included extras such as padding boards, high-level brake lights and diamond-cut alloy wheels.
    • With a gross weight of 2,600kg and an unladen weight of 860kg, this means it can carry a maximum load of 1,740kg.
    • Average weight of 14hh: 400kg; 16hh: 600kg. Therefore, with the dual functionality, it can carry two sizeable horses and a fair amount of tack, depending on the towing ability of your vehicle.

    Volkswagen Touareg SEL Tech 3.0 TDi 4Motion

    Price: £52,055
    Engine cc: 2,995 (V6)
    Towing Capacity KG: 3,500
    Power bhp: 228
    Gearbox: 8-speed auto
    0-60mph SEC: 7.5
    Top Speed mph: 135
    Economy mpg: 34.6
    Co2 g/km: 214
    Seats: 5

    The Volkswagen Touareg has a choice of two V6 3.0 litre diesel engines and a thumping petrol 3.0 litre which develops 335bhp. But for those of us who need a good all-rounder for day-to-day transportation and weekend jaunts with the trailer in tow, I’d be perfectly happy with the entry-level 228bhp diesel. The six-cylinder engine has a lovely grumbly note to it, but when it comes to effortless towing, the VW Touareg is up with the best. Put it this way, it’s easy to forget you’ve got the trailer hooked up.

    As well as having a luxurious interior with goodies like satnav, DAB radio and heated front seats, it’s also packed with safety kit and driver-assistance aids.

    Volkswagen’s “Trailer Assist” is brilliant. It comes as part of an options pack that includes an electronic folding tow bar. The electronic wizardry lets the car control the steering when reversing with a trailer.

    All you have to do is fire up the system on the large touchscreen and use the exterior mirror adjuster to load your trailer angle and the reversing route you’d like to follow. Hit “Set” and gently reverse. The car will steer for you.

    “Lane assist” will stop you wandering and “Front assist” will apply the brakes if the car spots a hazard. In a nutshell, the Volkswagen Touareg makes towing a trailer an absolute doddle.

    Land Rover Defender 110 240PS SE

    Price: £56,040
    Engine cc: 1,999
    Towing Capacity kg: 3,500
    Power BHP: 237
    Gearbox: 8-speed auto
    0-60mph sec: 8.7
    Top Speed mph: 117
    Economy mpg: 31.2
    Co2 g/km: 237
    Seats: 5, 6 or 7

    The Land Rover Defender is an icon. If you need to head off the tarmac into the rough and soggy stuff, none comes better. However, most Defenders will spend some of their life trundling through town traffic, negotiating country lanes and being a general workhorse. It is available in either a three- (short wheelbase) or five-door (long wheelbase) guise. All-wheel drive is standard, naturally. For those who need space rather than seats, there is a hard-top version. I prefer the five-door Defender 110 with its six interior seats.

    You can get an accessory to match almost every lifestyle. There are approaching 200 options. There are four engine choices… I’d recommend the 2.0 litre diesel. There are also 2.0 litre and 3.0 litre petrol engines.

    Air suspension comes as standard on the 110, as does a 3D surround camera, 360-degree parking aid, satnav, air con and a host of driving-assistance gadgets.

    You can also get “Advanced tow assist”, which allows you to reverse a trailer while the Defender takes care of the counter steering.

    The new Defender is a revelation. It manages to stay faithful to the previous model, but is now very much 21st century. It merges city chic with the ability to get down and get dirty. It will still shrug off the worst that the British weather can throw at it and go places where a mountain goat would think twice; however, it will look equally at home outside your favourite restaurant.

    Isuzu D-Max Blade

    Price: £29,314 (ex VAT)
    Engine cc: 1,898
    Towing Capacity kg: 3,500
    Power BHP: 162
    Gearbox: 6-speed manual
    0-60mph sec: 12.7
    Top Speed mph: 112
    Economy mpg: 40.4
    Co2 g/km: 183
    Seats: 5

    Isuzu has only one model in the UK – the D-Max. A raft of changes has recently been introduced on the D-Max, including the arrival of a new 1.9 litre turbo diesel engine. It’s one of the more economical pick ups.

    Many will want a D-Max pick-up because it’s built to do a job. If you’re not worried about having too many frills and don’t need 4×4 drive, try the D-Max Utility (£17,414 plus VAT). It might be the introductory model but you still get air con, powered front windows and Bluetooth. You also get Isuzu’s five-year/125,000-mile warranty.

    The pick of the D-Max range is the D-Max Blade, which blends between workhorse and lifestyle statement. All-wheel drive comes as standard as does the ability to pull 3.5 tonnes. It will easily carry over a tonne in the load area.

    The D-Max Blade comes with satnav, reversing camera, nine-inch touchscreen, folding/heated door mirrors, powered windows, leather upholstery, heated front seats, remote central locking, DAB radio and Bluetooth. You can also link your smartphone.

    What’s more, an impressive array of safety gadgets, including trailer sway control, comes as standard.

    For those who are VAT registered, the Blade gives a serious option for day-to-day motoring because, even though it’s a pick-up, this Isuzu is as good to drive as many SUVs and it will tow your trailer over boggy and rough terrain.

    SsangYong Musso Rhino LWB

    Price: £29,995 (ex VAT)
    Engine cc: 2,157
    Towing Capacity kg: 3,500
    Power BHP: 179
    Gearbox: 6-speed auto
    0-60mph sec: 11.9
    Top Speed mph: 107
    Economy mpg: 31.4
    Co2 g/km: 235
    Seats: 5

    If you are VAT registered, the Musso range kicks off at £21,995 excluding VAT; however, even at just over £26,000 for the rest of us, this is incredibly good value for a big, versatile and spacious pick-up.

    SsangYong thrives on no-nonsense vehicles and the Musso is one of their best – and it comes with a terrific seven-year/150,000-mile warranty.

    If carrying capacity is vital to you, then how does this grab you? Go for the automatic gearbox and your Musso can tow 3,500kg and carry 1,140kg at the same time. It has selectable all-wheel drive and  with the model we chose, the Rhino LWB, you get the longest load bed of any UK pick-up: 1.61 metres.

    You’ll also find satnav, air con, heated steering wheel, powered leather seats which are heated and ventilated for those up front, cruise control, wiper de-icer, front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, DAB radio and so on.

    In other words, don’t be fooled by the price; the SsangYong Musso is tough, up to the job, laden with kit and amazing value. This is a serious workhorse and, bearing in mind the warranty that SsangYong include as standard, it will make a lot of people think about ditching their “normal” everyday wheels and going for a pick-up.

    Mazda CX-5 Sport 2.2d AWD

    Price: £34,785
    Engine cc: 2,191
    Towing Capacity kg: 2,100
    Power (BHP): 181
    Gearbox: 6-speed manual
    0-60mph sec: 9.3
    Top Speed mph: 129
    Economy mpg: 42.8
    Co2 g/km: 175
    Seats: 5

    Mazda isn’t a name that a lot of people think about when it comes to towing, but the CX-5 is surprisingly good. Every Mazda is enjoyable to drive. Mazda has forged a reputation for building driver-focused cars.

    The entry level SE-L trim without AWD and a 2.2 diesel engine with a lower power output is available for £29k and is a perfectly good car, but it’s worth shelling out for the bigger engine  and Sport trim. Not only does the engine give more grunt which will be handy on hills and at motorway speeds, but you get additional and very handy kit. It also has four-wheel drive.

    The Sport model adds gadgets like a reversing camera and powered tailgate. If you’d mentioned these two things to me a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been bothered, but it’s only when you don’t have them that you realise how handy they are. Reversing cameras are brilliant for hitching the trailer, especially when you are on your own. After a bit of practice, you’ll plant your hook perfectly under the tow bar.

    The level of kit in every CX-5 is generous. They all come with satnav, air con, DAB radio, front and rear parking sensors, wiper de-icer, heated steering wheel and a powered sunroof. The additional outlay makes the CX-5 feel really special. It’s great for towing and one of the best SUVs for driver enjoyment. A terrific all-rounder and decent value.

    BMW 320d xDrive M Sport Plus Edition Touring

    Price: £45,480
    Engine cc: 1,995
    Towing Capacity kg: 1,800
    Power BHP: 187
    Gearbox: 8-speed auto
    0-60mph sec: 7.4
    Top Speed mph: 145mph
    Economy mpg: 54.3
    Co2 g/km: 145
    Seats: 5

    If you fancy all-wheel drive in a premium estate, they don’t come any better than the BMW Touring xDrive models. There’s a decent range of petrol and diesel engines, but arguably the best all-rounder for those of us who need to tow a trailer is the 2.0 litre diesel unit.

    The BMW Touring isn’t the lightest car in its class, but you still get really good performance and excellent economy.

    You’ll crack 50mpg without too much trouble in general day-to-day motoring.

    The version tested is a fully loaded car, but if you don’t need 4×4 transmission and opt for an economical petrol engine instead, you can lop around £10k off the price shown here. If you prefer the sound, economy and performance you’d get from a six-cylinder diesel engine, head for the 330d xDrive Touring. It’s one of the finest estate cars ever built and, if you don’t go for a loaded model like this one (the options came to over £5k), the price is almost identical.

    The BMW 3 Series has been a hugely successful car for the simple reason that it is wonderful to drive, well equipped and, if you avoid diving too deeply into the options list, it is actually decent value. Throw in the fact that it looks really smart (I prefer the Touring’s looks to the saloon) – and it’s easy to see why it is so popular. Add into the equation that it is also great for towing a trailer and you end up with a versatile winner.

    Skoda Octavia Estate SE L 2.0 TDi DSG

    Price: £29,135
    Engine cc: 1968
    Towing Capacity k:g 1,600
    Power BHP: 148
    Gearbox: DSG auto
    0-60mph sec: 8.8
    Top Speed mph: 132
    Economy mpg: 61.4
    Co2 g/km: 122
    Seats: 5

    The latest Skoda Octavia has just gone on sale, so the range is a tad limited at the moment. You can choose from either a 1.0 litre petrol engine or a pair of 2.0 litre diesels which develop either 114 or 148bhp.

    More engines and a 4×4 option will arrive next year. Go for the bigger diesel, however, and you get great lugging power and an automatic gearbox. You can juggle between ratios by using paddles on the steering wheel.

    The Skoda Octavia is based on the VW Golf, but I reckon it’s a better car, perhaps substituting a touch of style for a mass of substance. If you need interior carrying space, the latest Octavia has more than any other similar-sized estate. It’s vast. You can also buy rubber load area coverings, so if you and a partner are up front, you can chuck everything into the boot.

    Standard equipment is good. Almost everything is controlled via an iPad-sized touchscreen on the dashboard. There are loads of clever touches, such as a storage area within the front doors for umbrellas. There are lashing hooks in the load area, and flip open the fuel flap and you’ll find an ice scraper. Go for SE L trim and you’ll get satnav, front and rear parking sensors with manoeuvre assist, cruise control and dark, tinted rear windows.

    Volvo XC40 B4 2.0 4×4 Momentum

    Price: £34,490
    Engine cc: 1,969
    Towing Capacity kg: 2,100
    Power BHP: 194
    Gearbox: 8-speed auto
    0-60mph sec: 8.5
    Top Speed mph: 112
    Economy mpg: 37.2
    Co2 g/km: 174
    Seats: 5

    If safety is at the top of your priority list, don’t bother considering any other cars. Go and buy a Volvo.

    The XC40 was rated as the safest car ever tested by Euro NCAP (the European car safety assessment programme). Volvo has a system called IntelliSafe which, in a nutshell, monitors the world around you and either warns you of imminent danger or prepares the car for front, side and rear shunts. Volvo are rightly proud of their safety record and they’ve proved that it works – it’s not a gimmick.

    Towing is also important to Volvo. The XC40 comes with trailer stability assist, automatic levelling, a retractable tow bar and an ingenious 360-degree camera which gives the impression of being looked down upon by a satellite. For anyone who struggles when reversing on to a trailer, this will be a massive boon.

    If you are concerned about the environment, keep a close eye on Volvo as they are at the forefront of producing electric and hybrid technology. Diesel engines are being phased out by Volvo.

    Volvo is now rivalling the premium manufacturers. The interior is extremely smart and build quality is top notch. The XC40 is great to drive and certainly ticks the boxes when it comes to being a family holdall. If you want a more sporty appearance, go for the R-Design models.

    It is safe, well equipped and ideal for towing.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 September 2020

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