Best tow vehicles for 2013


How do you tell if a 4WD is a tough tow vehicle? Usually it’s a case of the bigger the better: maximum towing capacity and maximum towball download are a good start, but they're not the only way of knowing if your rig will tow like a champ.

Chassis stability can vary according to what’s hooked up behind and how the load is spread out. Being built like a truck helps — that is, a separate chassis and live-axle leaf-spring rear suspension. And an engine that pumps out plenty of torque is also a great help. There’s obviously a more to the story (a lot more) and you will find that some tow vehicles are better than others.

So here are our top 10 heavy haulers that have the backbone and stamina to do the job.



If you travel the highways in winter you’ll have trouble counting the number of LandCruiser 200s pulling large caravans towards the northern warmth. Quite simply, the big ’Cruiser is one of the best towing platforms money can buy, and has the stability and torque to handle just about anything behind it with ease.

Cementing the 200’s towing ability is the addition of trailer sway control as standard from 2013. Part of an electronic stability control package, it’s not a feature you want to use anytime soon, but it is a great safety back-up.

The auto ’box doesn’t shuffle gears back and forth all the time like some do and, when holding gears, engine braking downhill is pretty good. Fuel economy is much better than a big petrol rig but the 200 diesel still likes a drink when towing heavy stuff. Towing a 3000kg tandem-axle caravan, average fuel consumption is about 19.0L/100km.

The LandCruiser 200 Series TDV8 has been around for six years and you’d think by now another manufacturer would have introduced a better heavy-duty tow vehicle. Sure it is a bit thirsty and it’s expensive but it’s an incredibly solid all-round towing truck without peer.


Engine V8 twin-turbo-diesel
Max power 195kW at 3400rpm
Max torque 650Nm at 1600-2600rpm
Transmission Six-speed auto
Kerb mass 2640kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3300kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3500kg/350kg



The Discovery SDV6 has rock-solid towing stability, while its bi-turbo V6 delivers superb performance and reasonable economy. It also comes with standard trailer stability assist, which is linked to the stability control and helps to correct a violent trailer sway. Also standard is trailer wiring and a hitch receiver, although the tow hitch itself is an optional extra.

The engine is a pearler. Land Rover says the 3.0L SDV6 delivers 500Nm of its 600Nm about 500 milliseconds from idle, and sure enough it has an amazingly small amount of turbo lag.

With a 2200kg tandem-axle caravan tucked behind, the Discovery belts up hills easily and displays strong engine braking downhill. On level roads the transmission can be left in Drive but any incline requires a kick-down, and in hilly terrain you might want to drive it in ‘Sport’ mode. With the 2200kg van the Disco averaged 17.0L/100km. With a fuel tank capable of swallowing 82L you’ll still get a decent 400km-plus range per tank.

You can’t fit a weight distribution hitch because Land Rover says it hasn’t engineered its towbar to accommodate one. However, with a cracker of an engine, great suspension, solid towing stability and standard towing equipment, the Land Rover Discovery is a natural towing performer.


Engine V6 twin-turbo-diesel
Max power 183kW at 4000rpm
Max torque 600Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission Eight-speed auto
Kerb mass 2650kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3240kg
Roof load 75kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3500kg/350kg



There aren’t many 4WDs that have a 3500kg towing capacity together with a nimble chassis, a compact body and a smooth and torquey V6 diesel. The Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD is one — and it’s also the cheapest 4WD wagon with a 3500kg towing capacity.

Its 3.0L V6 has the gravelly note typical of most diesels but it is well suppressed so when you’re lugging a trailer up a hill you don’t have to stop the conversation. The V6 has a torque hole at low revs like many turbo-diesels, but with a trailer behind this is not quite as obvious if you’re taking off in a hurry. Once the engine is doing about 1600rpm it hits a nice wedge of torque and smoothly revs out to just beyond 4000rpm. The Grand Cherokee is a responsive tow vehicle with good hill-climbing and overtaking performance. Once you’re towing anything much more than 2000kg the edge will come off its towing performance on steep hills, but that’s not unusual. Fuel consumption averaged 15.5L/100km when towing a 2200kg trailer.

It tows heavy stuff best with a weight distribution hitch but that too is not unusual. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best, most user-friendly vehicles you can buy for the combination of the weekday traffic shuffle and weekend tow duties.


Engine V6 turbo-diesel
Max power 177kW at 4000rpm
Max torque 550Nm at 1800-2800rpm
Transmission Five-speed auto
Kerb mass 2272kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 2949kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3500kg/350kg



The Navara dual cab with the V6 turbo diesel is on the expensive side but for towing it is worth the asking price. As a dual-cab ute alone there might be better vehicles but as a tow tug this thing has heaps of torque and it shoulders a load very well.

The V6 is a bit like Jeep’s Grand Cherokee in that it’s one of the smoother diesels around and has a nice, quiet idle. It feels as if you can simply lunge for a gap in the traffic without much effort at all. Off-idle response is not as forceful and the dreaded turbo lag is the culprit. Stretching the V6 towards its redline is a turbine-smooth experience, though it hardly seems worth the effort given the enormous torque available lower down the rev range.

Stability can vary so much according to the vehicle and van used but the combination of a 2000kg caravan sitting on its towbar was a sweet one, with no swaying or pitching. The Navara ST-X/ST-X 550 is a lot better than its peers as a tow vehicle but when not towing it isn’t a standout. If you want brilliant tow-hauling ability and don’t mind on/off engine performance and transmission behaviour when unladen then the ST-X/ST-X 550 is a good thing.


Engine V6 turbo-diesel
Max power 170kW at 3750rpm
Max torque 550Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission Seven-speed auto
Kerb mass 2177kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3010kg
Roof load 80kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3000kg/300kg



With a proven powertrain and a comfortable, spacious interior, the Prado is a walk-up start as a tow tug. While its 2500kg maximum capacity might not suit everyone, it’s still a great all-round tow vehicle.

The 3.0L turbo-diesel is a quiet and fairly smooth engine when running around solo but you get the sense that it isn’t quite as sophisticated as it could be. Indeed, the engine was carried over from the previous 120 Series Prado. The engine doesn’t quite nail it when you want the forceful acceleration for overtaking or climbing, without knocking it back a gear or two. Around town, once the turbo has spooled up, it is petrol-V8-responsive, though like many turbocharged diesels it takes a moment to respond to throttle input off the mark.

The surprise is just how well the Prado copes with a load. When towing a 2000kg tandem trailer, consumption reached 15.2L/100km. It also has a truly massive 150L tank.

While the Prado is not exactly a towing weapon, don’t underestimate its ability — it certainly gets on with the job surprisingly well. It is a comfortable towing rig that has the torque and touring range to make lugging a trailer no chore at all.


Engine 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power 127kW at 3400rpm
Max torque 410Nm at 1600rpm
Transmission Five-speed auto
Kerb mass 2435kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 2990kg
Roof load 80kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 2500kg/250kg



With a strong turbo-diesel engine and a stable, solid platform it is no wonder the Pajero is a favoured towing rig. In one form or another its engine has been around for a while; it’s sufficiently responsive enough at lower speeds, but the engine comes into its own on the highway, where it just builds a head of steam and takes off. It has very good overtaking response and the five-speed auto is a smooth unit, too.

When we hitched up a caravan, the rear of the Pajero dropped 30mm (the front did not lift, however). We fitted a weight distribution hitch and that levelled the ride out. Indeed, the Pajero tows like it was made for A poor tow vehicle will usually give a hint of an unhappy ‘marriage’ when hitched to a trailer but not here. With a tandem-axle caravan hitched up, the Pajero felt absolutely planted on the road.

Towing performance is exceptionally good. On our test climb the only thing slowing us down was the speed limit, although it’s not super-economical. With a van weighing 2046kg, fuel consumption averaged 18.0L/100km.

With a super-stable platform and punchy engine the Pajero has the basics right, but the location of the spare wheel (you can’t open the tailgate very far) and the limited appeal of its 3000kg tow capacity (only useable if you restrict towball download to a maximum of 180kg) partially dulls the shine.


Engine 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power 147kW at 3800rpm
Max torque 441Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission Five-speed auto
Kerb mass 2314kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3030kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3000kg/250kg



This LandCruiser was born to tow. With its basic, live-axle, leaf-spring rear suspension saddled to a separate chassis, stump-pulling V8 turbo-diesel and short gearing, the ’Cruiser has all the ingredients for a very solid towing experience.

With a 1900kg trailerboat slung behind, the 79 Series barely seems any different to drive than when unladen, although the ride is much better with a bit of weight pressing down on the ball. This isn’t the smoothest or quietest diesel on the planet but it has an ocean liner’s torque, most of it ready to go from idle. There seems no point revving beyond 3000rpm though, because the power starts to taper off.

Gearing is very short in the 79: by 80km/h you are reaching for sixth gear only to realise there isn’t one. This means it sounds pretty busy at touring speeds. The V8 diesel likes a drink when cruising solo — thanks to its short gearing and brick-like aerodynamics — but when towing that trailer boat it still averaged a meagre 15.4L/100km.

It’s rare to drive a vehicle that seems unchanged with two tonnes behind it, but this is one of them. Just as long as you don’t expect it to motor up steep hills at warp speed or expect the last word in luxury.


Engine V8 turbo-diesel
Max power 151kW at 3400rpm
Max torque 430Nm at 1200-3200rpm
Transmission Five-speed manual
Kerb mass 2215kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3300kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3500kg/350kg



These vehicles have the same powertrain and they also share fantastic towing ability. With very strong mid-range engine performance, a planted chassis, a high towing capacity and the bonus of the trailer sway control as standard, the Ranger and BT-50 twins are towing naturals.

The diesel five-cylinder is still noisy and unrefined in this day of silky smooth oil-burners and it has disconcerting turbo lag at low revs.  Yet provided you are happy to keep the engine in a relatively abbreviated rev range, performance is still plentiful.

With a tandem-axle caravan weighing 1940kg the five-cylinder’s behaviour improves — lag is much less noticeable and the very strong mid-range torque swallows the load. The diesel five-cylinder burns 15.5L/100km when towing a 2000kg caravan.

The Ford factory towbar is set very low, with the trailer plug attached underneath the bar and very hard to get to. Offroading departure angle is affected when using this towbar and the trailer plug is vulnerable to damage. The Mazda bar sits higher and is easier to access.

The Ranger/BT-50 could be smoother and less prone to turbo lag when driven unladen, but it rises to the challenge once you have a heavy trailer on the back. Aside from Ford’s towbar (there are other towbar options) it is a well-sorted out vehicle for lugging a heavy trailer.


Max power 147kW at 3000rpm
Max torque 470Nm at 1500-2500rpm
Transmission Six-speed auto
Kerb mass 2100kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3200kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3500kg/350kg



The GU (Y61) Patrol has been around for ages and even though it lost its best engine for towing (the 4.2L turbo-diesel six) to stricter emissions regulations a few years ago, it’s still one of the better towing rigs.

The 3.0L engine has to work hard when in a hurry: it needs a good rev to extract the best out of it. This seems wrong in a diesel, but you can rely on its torque for most driving. This past-its-prime four-speed auto doesn’t have as many ratios as its rivals, but it swaps cogs smoothly enough.

A 2000kg caravan lifts the Patrol’s nose but with a weight distribution hitch general towing dynamics are generally very good.

The Patrol’s auto ’box masks any low-rpm turbo lag so when moving off idle it doesn’t feel like it takes forever to get into the mid-range torque band. At lower speeds, up to 80km/h, the Patrol performs as though the trailer isn’t there. We achieved 18.2L/100km while towing a 2000kg van. Also note that Nissan has specific requirements regarding ball load to which you need to pay close attention.

Few wagons feel as bulletproof as the Patrol and, although it could do with more torque for towing, it is a reasonable tow rig.


Engine 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power 118kW at 3600rpm
Max torque 354Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission Four-speed auto
Kerb mass 2451kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 3020kg
Roof load 100kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 2500kg/350kg



There are small-displacement surprises in towing land and the 2.5L Mitsubishi Challenger is one of them — it’ll shift a big trailer without fuss or fanfare.

From a standstill throttle response is good for a turbo-diesel, but the turbo does pause to spool up when sudden acceleration is called for. The engine can also get quite noisy and vibrations also transfer to the cabin. It’s surprisingly strong when towing 2100kg but there is no free kick for extra performance up a steep hill.

With a 2100kg caravan behind the Challenger is working pretty hard and fuel consumption averaged out at 17.2L/100km. The Challenger handles towing weights quite well, with minimal sag of the rear suspension with a 180kg download. You might want to use a weight distribution hitch for better stability and it can be sensitive to buffeting from passing trucks.

The Challenger’s mirrors are also too small (and the wrong shape) for wide loads. If your trailer’s jockey wheel is mounted on the outside of the A-frame you’ll bend the jockey wheel bracket tensioning lever when turning tightly, as we did on two trailers.

There are better towing vehicles around but few offer such value and with such accessible output from a relatively small engine. As a tow vehicle, the Challenger is a quiet achiever. 


Engine 4-cyl turbo-diesel
Max power 131kW at 4000rpm
Max torque 350Nm at 1800rpm
Transmission Five-speed auto
Kerb mass 2110kg
Gross Vehicle Mass 2710kg
Roof load 80kg
Towing capacity (max/on towball) 3000kg/300kg