David Motton

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Don't write off petrol power when deciding what tow car to buy, says Practical Caravan's expert David Motton – and here are five of the best you can buy

It probably hasn't escaped your notice that diesel power has been in the news lately thanks to the Volkswagen 'dieselgate' scandal.

Whether or not you drive a VW Group car, perhaps all the negative publicity surrounding diesel fuel has made you wonder whether, when considering what tow car to buy next, you should plump for a petrol car rather than a diesel. Or maybe you cover a low annual mileage and would rather not pay the price premium diesel commands over petrol.

Despite all the recent headlines, we still think diesel tow cars are a better bet than petrols for the majority of caravanners. But the best petrol models can also make very capable tow cars. That's especially true of the latest generation of turbocharged petrol engines from the likes of Ford, Peugeot, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, which combine surprising economy with strong mid-range performance.

Here are our five favourite petrol cars for towing a caravan.

1. Ford Mondeo 1.5T Ecoboost 160PS Titanium 5dr

  • Price: £22,545 
  • Kerbweight: 1485kg
  • 85% match: Over towing limit
  • Legal towing limit: 1250kg
       

The Mondeo won the 'Best Petrol' prize at our Tow Car Awards 2015, and nothing we've driven since has made us question that decision, provided you can live with the modest 1250kg towing limit.

If you do own a van light enough to make a suitable match, the Mondeo's engine is easily up to the job, with 177lb ft of torque. That makes the Mondeo a lot stronger in the middle of the rev range than most petrol-powered family cars, but with refinement and quiet that few diesels get close to. 

What's more, the Mondeo is roomy, practical and affordable. The latest generation Mondeo isn't available in big numbers on the used market yet, but when it does appear on secondhand forecourts it should be even better value as a used buy.

2. Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 1.6i 16v SIDI Turbo (170PS) Start/Stop Elite Nav

  • Price: £25,129 (in 2014)
  • Kerbweight: 1613kg
  • 85% match: 1371kg
  • Legal towing limit: 1700kg
       

The Insignia was the Mondeo's predecessor as our favourite petrol car at the Tow Car Awards. Like the Mondeo, it impressed with almost diesel-like mid-range performance, combined with minimal engine noise and sensible pricing. It's a stable tow car, too.

The version we tested no longer appears in Vauxhall's price list, although there's still a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol variant. If you want the 170PS (168bhp) 1.6-litre engine that impressed us so much in 2014, it looks like you'll have to search on the secondhand market. We've seen low-mileage hatchback versions of the Insignia with this engine priced at £17,000-£18,000.

3. Mazda 6 2.0 165PS Sport Nav

  • Price: £24,595 
  • Kerbweight: 1470kg
  • 85% match: 1250kg
  • Legal towing limit: 1500kg
      

Mazda bucks the trend for small capacity turbocharged engines, sticking with a big 2.0-litre non-turbo as the petrol option in the 6 family car. For the most part the results are impressive, but you'll need to rev the engine harder to get the best from it than if you were driving the Mondeo Ecoboost or Insignia SIDI.

To our eyes the 6 is one of the best-looking family cars, especially since the 2015 facelift. There's plenty of equipment as standard, too, especially on the high-spec Sport Nav model we tested earlier in the year. Two-year-old examples can be bought for around £13,000-£15,000, depending on the mileage and specification.

4. Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic Sport

  • Price: £31,450 
  • Kerbweight: 1505kg
  • 85% match: 1279kg
  • Legal towing limit: 1800kg
      

Of all the petrol tow cars we've tested in recent years, the Mercedes-Benz GLA is probably the most surprising. You're paying a lot of money for a relatively small car, but as well as the Merc badge on the bonnet, your £30,000 buys four-wheel drive and effortless performance from the 208bhp engine. It's stable at motorway speeds, too.

There's no getting away from the high price, which is one of the reasons it's only fourth on our list of favourites. These cars hold their value well, and a quick internet search failed to find any examples for less than £27,990.

5. Seat Leon SC 1.4 EcoTSI 150PS FR

  • Price: £20,225 
  • Kerbweight: 1266kg
  • 85% match: 1076kg
  • Legal towing limit: 1500kg
       

Another car that performed above expectations when we tested it back in 2014, the Seat Leon SC should be even better now thanks to a slight increase in engine power. The 1.4 TSI is a willing and lively little engine, and comfortably copes with a caravan weighing 85% of the Seat's kerbweight. That said, we'd be very reluctant to tow anything weighing close to the legal limit of 1500kg.

Seat prices the car competitively, but you can make a substantial saving by shopping secondhand. We've seen used Leon SC 1.4 TSIs priced from around £12,000.

Others to consider...

We mentioned Peugeot as one of the manufacturers that has embraced turbocharging as a way of coaxing surprising power and efficiency from petrol engines. No Peugeot makes our favourite five, largely because although we've driven Peugeot's PureTech petrol models, we haven't had the chance to hitch a caravan to one, to determine what tow car ability is really on offer. A 308 SW 1.2 PureTech 130 looks like an intriguing tug, although the 1200kg legal towing limit is very restrictive.

Another worthy of mention is the Subaru Outback 2.5i. With a towing limit of 2000kg, you can legally tow more than you can with the Outback diesel (although for the sake of stability we'd never tow more than the kerbweight, even if the driver has many years of towing experience).

We'd also be keen to recommend the Škoda Superb 1.8 TSI. Again, it's a car we've driven and enjoyed, but we haven't towed with this specific engine. Our gut feeling is that it should make a very fine tow car.

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