If you’ve got a small, light caravan (and if you’re looking for one, our best small caravan guide is worth a read) you can afford to look at the more diminutive end of the tow car market – you should still pay heed to the 85% guideline, but you won’t need such a weighty car as those with a heavier van. This year’s best tow car under 1600kg category at the Practical Caravan Awards 2024 features four featherweights, suitable for a variety of budgets and covering a range of weights.
No matter which you choose, these are the lightweight tow cars to look at – you can also read our best caravan tow car guide for more towing inspiration.
Our number one pick this year is the Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI Evo 150PS SE Technology DSG – we like how it does a great job of pulling a sensibly matched van, as well as being a great option for everyday use. In this guide, you can see what we made of it, as well as take a look at our shortlist, which includes options from Dacia, Škoda and more.
The best tow car under 1600kg is:
Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI Evo 150PS SE Technology DSG
- Price: £32,110
- Kerbweight: 1418kg
- 85% match figure: 1205kg
- Maximum towing weight: 1600kg
You can’t buy a new Ateca with a diesel engine anymore, but the 1.5 TSI softens the blow. It’s stronger in the mid-range than most petrol engines and does a fine job of pulling any sensibly matched tourer, although it pays to stay close to the 85% match figure rather than towing anything heavier.
With a kerbweight of 1418kg and an 85% match figure of 1205kg, the Ateca is suitable for pulling lightweight tourers like the Swift Basecamp 4. It tows with excellent stability for a relatively small and light tow car.
Ateca drivers enjoy a big-car towing experience but with small-car running costs. The official combined economy range of 39.8-44.1mpg is a reasonable guide to the efficiency you can expect in everyday driving.
Leave the caravan behind and the Ateca is one of the sharpest-driving family SUVs. It’s nimble and sporty, although the pay-off is a firm ride, especially around town.
On the shortlist for the best caravan tow car under 1600kg are:
Here, you can see the models we shortlisted at the Practical Caravan Awards 2024. However, if you’re looking for a pre-owned option instead, our guide to the best used tow cars is also well worth a look, as we share our pick of the standout reliable options at budget-friendly prices.
Škoda Kamiq 1.5 TSI SE L Executive
- Price: £27,910
- Kerbweight: 1280kg
- 85% match figure: 1088kg
- Maximum towing weight: 1250kg
The Kamiq uses the same 1.5-litre engine as the award-winning Seat Ateca. In a smaller and lighter car, performance is brisk in solo driving, and the Kamiq copes admirably with any well-matched tourer. There’s a definite step up in pace compared with the 1.0-litre petrol models.
With a caravan behind it, the Kamiq performs more strongly than most lightweight tow cars, although it’s worth keeping in mind that this is a very light car – the 85% match figure is just 1088kg. That still allows for towing the likes of the Bailey Discovery D4-2 or the Swift Basecamp 2.
Stability is a strong point compared with most lightweight tow cars, and the Kamiq is comfortable to travel in, with or without a caravan.
For such a small option, the Kamiq is remarkably roomy inside with generous rear-seat space and a respectable boot.
Dacia Duster Blue dCi 115 4×4 Extreme
- Price: £24,445
- Kerbweight: 1480kg *
- 85% match figure: 1258kg
- Maximum towing weight: 1500kg
*Including 75kg for the driver not included in Dacia’s published kerbweight
It’s hard to find any bargain-priced new vehicles these days when you’re choosing the right tow car. Even Dacia’s prices have risen over the past few years. Even so, you get more metal for your money with Dacia than just about anyone else.
The Duster Blue dCi 115 4×4 Extreme is the pick of the range for towing. It’s the heaviest model, and the diesel engine has a lot more mid-range muscle than the petrol versions. The diesel is also the only model in the range available with four-wheel drive, making it ideal for caravanners who holiday in all weathers.
Extreme is the range-topping model, all for the price of an entry-level car from many manufacturers. It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, heated front seats, and all-round parking cameras.
It can’t match the Ateca for stability at speed, but then it costs more than £7500 less.
Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid ‘3’
- Price: £36,825*
- Kerbweight: 1594kg
- 85% match figure: ABOVE MAX TOW
- Maximum towing weight: 1300kg
*New model year price TBC
The plug-in hybrid tow car of the new Kia Niro has proven so popular that it’s temporarily off sale while Kia waits for the 2024 allocation of right-hand-drive cars to be available. If you have a light caravan and want to tow with a hybrid, it’s worth the wait.
With more power than other versions of the Niro (180hp) and a modest but usable 1300kg maximum towing figure, the Niro is one of the finest small hybrids for caravanners. Performance is brisk with a sensibly matched caravan in tow, although the petrol engine can sound noisy if worked hard.
Stability at speed is good, although the Kia is pushed around by gusty winds a little more than the Seat Ateca.
In everyday driving the Kia promises rock-bottom running costs so long as you top-up the batteries regularly. The official combined figure is 313.9mpg.
These are the tow cars under 1600kg that we shortlisted at last year’s Awards:
Seat Ateca 1.5 TSI Evo 150PS SE DSG
- Price: £29,630
- Kerbweight: 1416kg
- 85% match figure: 1204kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
The Ateca is a superb tow car, whichever model you choose, from affordable 1.0-litre petrols up to powerful diesel 4x4s. If you own a lightweight caravan, there’s no need to look beyond the 1.5 TSI SE. The combination of stability, performance and value is hard to beat.
You’ll notice the 1.5-litre engine has a much punchier mid-range than most small-capacity petrol engines. It can easily handle any sensibly matched caravan, and the DSG auto swaps gears smoothy to make the most of the available power.
Stability is what really stands out, though. The Ateca’s firm but well-judged suspension makes for controlled and secure towing. Combine that with a roomy and practical cabin, and a generous list of standard equipment, and you have an excellent all-round tow car.
Dacia Duster BluedCi 115 4×4 Journey
- Price: £22,145
- Kerbweight: 1480kg
- 85% match figure: 1258kg
- Legal towing limit: 1500kg
Dacia has a well-deserved reputation for bargain basement cars that punch above their modest price tags. The latest Duster continues in that tradition, but with the new generation there are fewer rough edges to put up with.
Buyers have the choice of petrols and diesels, and two- and four-wheel drive models. We’d recommend the diesel 4×4, which sits at the top of the range. In Journey spec it’s the most expensive Duster you can buy, but it still undercuts the next cheapest car on this awards shortlist by more than £5000.
You do get the odd fidget from the caravan when towing on the motorway, but nothing untoward. Being a 4×4 with decent ground clearance the Duster should have no trouble towing away from a muddy pitch. You’d be hard-pressed to buy a better new tow car for the money.
Ford Focus Estate 1.5 EcoBlue 120PS ST-Line
- Price: £27,410
- Kerbweight: 1431kg
- 85% match figure: 1216kg
- Legal towing limit: 1400kg
The Ford Focus has long set the benchmark for driver appeal among family hatchbacks and small estate cars. It really is great fun to drive, with an agility that more mundane family cars can’t match.
Firmly controlled suspension isn’t just a plus on a favourite B-road. It makes a big difference to how the Focus tows. For such a light car it really feels secure at speed towing any sensibly matched caravan. We’ve recommended the diesel, which weighs more than the petrol models and has a higher 85% match figure.
With family luggage in mind, we’d recommend the estate over the hatch. For a little more money it has a lot more space for bags and camping kit.
- Price: £38,815
- Kerbweight: 1542kg
- 85% match figure: 1311kg
- Legal towing limit 1800kg
Nissan’s third-generation Qashqai has a lot to live up to. Although we have a couple of reservations, there’s a lot to like.
Today’s Qashqai is more spacious than its predecessor, with lots of room in the front and the back of the cabin. Quality has also taken a big step forward.
To drive, the Qashqai combines tidy handling and a firm but comfortable ride. It’s not as nimble as a Seat Ateca or as comfortable as a Skoda Karoq, but Nissan has found a good compromise to keep drivers and passengers happy.
As a tow car, the Qashqai is stable and composed, but it’s a shame you can no longer buy the Nissan with a diesel engine.
Full review: Nissan Qashqai DIG-T 158PS Tekna+ Xtronic
Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDI 150PS SE L DSG
- Price: £32,075
- Kerbweight: 1499kg
- 85% match figure: 1274kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
If you’re buying an estate, luggage space is likely to be near the top of your priorities. Should that be the case, the Skoda Octavia Estate is for you. It has 640 litres with the rear seats upright, rising to 1700 litres with them folded – there’s no travelling light in this car.
Our pick of the range is the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel. Not only does it have plenty of pulling power to cope with a car full of people and a caravan, it’s also very economical. The last time we towed with one, it returned 31.3mpg.
The Octavia is a stable as well as economical, although it’s not quite as solid on a windy day as the Seat Ateca or Volkswagen Golf. On the other hand, neither of those cars has so much space for people and their luggage.
Volkswagen Golf 8 2.0 TDI Style
- Price: £31,520
- Kerbweight: 1441kg
- 85% match figure: 1225kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
The Golf has been one of our favourite small tow cars for years, and today’s Golf 8 continues to impress. Its finest quality is stability. Any sensibly matched caravan will be towed with calm composure.
You can take your pick from relatively affordable petrols all the way up to high-performance hot hatches. We think the 150hp diesel is the sweetspot for caravanners, keeping the price sensible but offering enough muscle for regular towing duties.
Leave the caravan behind and the Golf is enjoyable to drive, not quite as sharp as a Ford Focus but with a more comfortable ride. It’s a shame the infotainment is fiddly to use and Volkswagen’s touchpad controls are a backwards step compared to normal buttons. Otherwise the Golf is an excellent all-rounder.
- Looking for a pre-owned tow car instead? Our guide to the best used tow cars is full of our top picks
Are you looking for the new caravan to accompany your tow car? Then our guide to the best caravans on the market is the perfect place to start!
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