Combining the practicality of a hatchback with the chunky looks and lofty driving position of a 4×4, crossovers are now hugely popular. Some models are close to being true SUVs, and are available with four-wheel drive. Others are content simply to borrow styling cues from a 4×4, but with no pretensions towards off-road ability. Used examples can make affordable and capable tow cars.
- Our favourite 1.6 dCi Stop/Start System Acenta Premium
- Approx price £8290 (14-plate, 50,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1494kg
- 85% match figure 1270kg
- Legal towing limit 100kg
Just one crossover has won the overall title at the Tow Car Awards – the Nissan Qashqai, which took the top spot in 2014. “It didn’t take long behind the wheel to discover the Qashqai has what it takes as a tow car,” we wrote. “Stability at speed is excellent.”
The winning model was the 1.6 dCi (130PS) Stop/Start System Acenta Premium. Six years on, the same car makes a fine used buy. It’s good to drive, with or without a caravan.
The 1.6-litre engine is strong enough to cope with a sensibly matched tourer, but frugal enough for modest fuel bills. When we tested the facelift Qashqai in 2017, we achieved just over 30mpg while towing.
Another plus point with this version of the Qashqai is that it’s available with either front- or four-wheel drive. The car that won the Tow Car Awards was a front-wheel drive, but for four-season towing, the 4WD is worth a look. It’s also a little heftier than the 2WD, which benefits car and caravan matching ratios.
Stick with the two-wheel drive, and the kerbweight of 1494kg makes for an 85% match figure of 1270kg, so it can tow a range of lightweight caravans.
Inside, the Qashqai is solidly put together, and spacious enough to make a fine family car. There’s enough room for adults to travel comfortably in the back, although it’s a shame there are no air vents in the door pillars or between the front seats.
There are heavier crossovers than the Qashqai, and boot space is relatively modest at 430 litres with the seats upright. However, as an all-round package, the Qashqai is hard to beat.
- Our favourite Outdoor 2.0 TDI CR 170 PS 4×4 DSG
- Approx price £9880 (14-plate, 60,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1565kg
- 85% match figure 1330kg
- Legal towing limit 2100kg
The Škoda Yeti is a favourite with Practical Caravan. Even the least powerful 1.2-litre petrol is a willing tow car, provided your caravan is light enough.
But for a pocket-sized crossover punching above its weight, try the 170hp diesel. Four-wheel drive versions use that power securely in bad weather, and the strong mid-range makes short work of towing a well-matched caravan up to the legal limit.
With such pulling power and four-wheel drive, hill starts are easy. The Yeti is stable at speed, too, and unflustered at 60mph on the motorway.
Inside, the Yeti offers the upright 4×4-style seating position that many crossover buyers seek. It makes getting in and out of the car easy, and the driving position is extremely comfortable on long journeys.
Fun and agile drive
In everyday driving, the Yeti is fun and agile. There’s some bouncing and pitching if you drive with spirit on bumpy roads, but otherwise it handles well.
Considering its relatively small size, the Yeti is very practical. There’s room for adults to travel in the back, and air vents between the front seats keep rear-seat passengers at a comfortable temperature.
The boot is a healthy size with the seats in place, and can be extended by tumbling the three individual rear seats forward to sit against the front seats. For maximum space they can be taken out, although this does mean finding somewhere to store them.
Skoda scores very highly in reliability and owner satisfaction surveys, so you can buy with confidence. And with prices edging below £10,000, a six-year-old example of our favourite diesel is great value.
- Our favourite 2.0 CRDi 18 4PS 4×4 KX-3 Auto
- Approx price £15,990 (66-plate, 26,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1690kg
- 85% match figure 1437kg
- Legal towing limit 1900kg
Few cars are as popular with caravanners as the Kia Sportage, and with very good reason. It tows well, it’s packed with equipment, and it comes with the reassurance of a seven-year warranty.
That warranty is also transferable to subsequent owners, a strong point in the Kia’s favour as a used buy. But there’s a good chance you won’t need to use it – the Sportage is generally tough and reliable.
Launched in 2016, the current model can stand comparison with any rival. There’s a good choice of petrol and diesel engines, but for regular towing duties, we’d pick the 184hp 2.0 CRDi diesel 4×4.
It makes the Sportage more than capable of towing most four-berth family tourers. Acceleration is brisk, even while towing, and stability at speed is very good, too. Long journeys should prove relatively stress-free if you choose a Sportage – only excessive road noise undermines its credentials as a long-distance tow car.
Inside, the current-generation Sportage shows an improved standard of finish over its predecessor and all models are well equipped.
That’s especially true of the First Edition model, a high-spec limited edition which was available when the car was first launched. Kit includes heated (and cooled) front seats, heated outer rear seats, powered tailgate and a host of high-tech driver aids. These contributed to a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
We would be inclined to save a bit of money and choose the KX-3 model, which is well equipped in its own right, with satellite navigation, leather trim and parking sensors.
- Our favourite 2.0 TDCi 180PS Titanium AWD Powershift
- Approx price £17,995 (18-reg, 14,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1716kg
- 85% match figure 1459kg
- Legal towing limit 2100kg
We’ve rated the old-shape Kuga as a good rather than great new tow car. But as a pre-owned buy, it’s very good value. A high-spec 2018 diesel 4×4 can be bought for less than £18,000, which you can easily spend on a new supermini these days.
Stability is a given when towing with the Kuga. At 60mph it feels solid and secure, and when we towed at higher speeds on a test track, the Ford remained firmly in charge of the caravan.
Go for the four-wheel drive version, which we tested back in 2018, and it copes confidently with hill starts as well as high speeds.
There’s a choice of petrol and diesel engines, and we really rate the Ecoboost turbocharged petrols. However, if you choose the 180hp diesel, you’ll enjoy a good balance between punchy performance and fuel economy. There’s enough poke to easily tow a mid-sized family caravan.
The Kuga’s cabin isn’t quite as impressive as its towing manners. The standard of finish is rather ordinary, considering how much the Kuga cost as a new car, and there’s not as much luggage space as you’l find in most rivals.
Ford is usually the master of making mainstream cars fun to drive, but the Kuga is fairly strait-laced and sensible from the driver’s seat.
However, all of those drawbacks are forgivable when you consider the price you’ll pay for a used Kuga, especially with the new generation launching this summer. Look through the classifieds and you’ll find plenty of well-priced examples to choose from.
- Our favourite 1.4 Boosterjet Allgrip S
- Approx price £13,800 (66-plate, 28,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1210kg
- 85% match figure 1029kg
- Legal towing limit 1200kg
Don’t underestimate the Suzuki Vitara. It might not be quite such a common sight as some of the other cars on this list, but it’s superb value, whether you choose to buy new or used.
It was the Best Ultralight Tow Car in the 2016 Tow Car Awards, thanks to its really compelling blend of stability, lively performance and practicality.
There are petrol and diesel versions. Our favourite is the 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol. Ignore the silly name and just enjoy the surprising mid-range punch and sporty exhaust note. It’s a cracking engine.
The S is the sportiest version of the Vitara, with stiffer suspension than the standard car. It improves the handling without making the ride too harsh, so the S is fun to drive as well as stable.
Off the beaten track
‘Allgrip’ is Suzuki’s name for its 4×4 system. For serious offroading, the company’s Jimmy 4×4 is a better bet, but the Vitara should cope with towing to and from campsites that are off the beaten track.
Suzuki is known for being generous with standard equipment, and kit in the Vitara S includes satellite navigation, DAB radio and a rear-view camera.
Despite being smaller than the other models in our favourites list, the Vitara is practical. Rear-seat space is modest, but acceptable for a vehicle of this size. The 375-litre boot is enough for a couple’s holiday bags, but a bit of a squeeze for a family.
You can pick up a four-year-old Vitara S priced at £10,000 to £14,000, depending on the model’s mileage and condition. If you own a lightweight tourer, we can highly recommend it.
- Our favourite 1.5 dCi Laureate 4×4
- Approx price £5800 (63-plate, 56,000 miles)
- Kerbweight 1369kg
- 85% match figure 1164kg
- Legal towing limit 1500kg
Of the six cars we’ve chosen here, the Dacia Duster has to be the biggest bargain. It started out as a very cheap new car, and is an absolute steal as a used buy.
It was named Best Budget 4×4 in 2013, when we described it as “a lot of tow car for very little money”.
Relatively soft suspension makes for a rather floaty feel while towing a caravan, but this doesn’t lead to instability at speed. However, you’ll need patience and a heavy right foot to tow up to 60mph – the 1.5-litre diesel has more pull than the petrol models, but it’s still rather slow.
On the plus side, a low first gear and four-wheel drive make for easy hill starts, and the diesel 4×4 model is usefully heavier than the two-wheel-drive versions. A kerb weight of 1369kg gives an 85% match figure of 1164kg, so the Duster is a good match for the likes of an Elddis Xplore 304 or a Swift Basecamp.
However, the downside to the 4×4 is that it has a smaller boot than the two-wheel-drive models.
Rough and ready
Inside, the Dacia’s standard of finish is a little rough and ready, but this is a budget car. Legroom is modest in the back, although there’s plenty of headroom.
We’d look for a high-spec Laureate version. These have air conditioning alloy wheels, cruise control, heated mirrors and all-round electric windows. Cheaper versions are rather basic, so we think that the Laureate is worth the slight premium.
Our biggest reservation is that the Duster’s safety standards are modest. It scored three stars out of five when tested by Euro NCAP back in 2011. But for the money, there’s not a lot that can touch it.
If you have a bigger budget and you’re looking for a new crossover, what would you recommend? Well, the Seat Ateca should certainly be on your list. There’s a broad choice of petrol and diesel engines, it’s stable at speed, and fun to drive. Other VW Group crossovers, like the Škoda Karoq and VW T-Roc, also tow well. Some of these on our list of used favourites are still available as new cars. The Vitara remains one of our top buys, and the second-generation Dacia Duster has a much improved finish. The Kia Sportage is now available with mild hybrid powertrains, and we preview the new Ford Kuga here.
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