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 2023 features six fantastic featherweights, suitable for a variety of budgets and covering a range of weights.
There’s a variety of engines to choose from here, and our judging panel have included a petrol option too, if you’d rather fill up using the green pump.
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.
The winner of the best caravan tow car under 1600kg is…
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.
The other caravan tow cars under 1600kg that we recommend are…
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
These are the tow cars under 1600kg that we shortlisted at last year’s Awards:
Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDI
- Price: from £26,250
- Kerbweight: 1436kg
- Towing limit: 1600kg
It was a close call between the Skoda Octavia and the Volkswagen Golf at last year’s Awards. Both are stable at speed, although the VW is that little bit more secure. However, what makes us give the category to the Octavia at the 2022 Awards is its extra space and superior practicality
Sit in the back of the Skoda, or load up the enormous 640-litre boot, and you may wonder why people spend more. It’s every bit as roomy inside as many bigger and far more expensive cars.
There a broad choice of petrol, diesel and hybrid powertrains to choose from. For regular towing duties, we’d pick the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel. Diesel may be out of fashion but this engine makes a lot of sense for pulling a caravan, with its strong mid-range and excellent fuel economy.
The Octavia isn’t a very heavy car, but if it’s weighty enough to make a sensible match for your caravan you’d be hard-pressed to do better.
Renault Captur 1.3 TCe 140
- Price: from £22,300
- Kerbweight: 1309kg
- Towing limit: 1200kg
We were really impressed by the Captur, and not just because it looks so good.
The turbocharged petrol engine punches above its weight, with an effervescent character and plenty of punch so long as you’re not afraid to rev it.
Tow a caravan up to 60mph and you’ll find the Captur is stable and secure. Only when the wind picks up do you notice some gentle movement from the caravan.
The Captur’s towing limit of 1200kg may be a little restrictive, but it’s more than the 85% match figure of 1113kg and is high enough for lightweight tourers like the Swift Basecamp to make suitable matches.
Climb inside the Renault and there’s space to travel in comfort in the front. The rear seats are a bit more of a squeeze, but adequate unless your passengers are really tall.
Safety is usually a Renault strength, and sure enough the Captur earned a five-star rating from the crash test experts at Euro NCAP in 2019.
- Price: from £23,885
- Kerbweight: 1330kg
- Towing limit: 1300kg
In this model, the 1.0-litre engine has mild-hybrid assistance, but don’t expect any fireworks from under the bonnet. Performance is modest with the weight of a caravan to pull, but even so we’d happily tow long distances with the Seat.
The benefit of living with gentle acceleration is very good fuel economy. We saw better than 50mpg in solo driving and 27.7mpg while towing a lightweight caravan.
Stability is the most important reason why we’re happy to recommend the Leon. Relatively firm suspension may be a little unforgiving for some tastes, but it helps the Seat keep any sensibly matched caravan towing straight and true.
Inside, the Leon has plenty of space whether you’re travelling in the front or the back of the car, and with a long list of standard equipment the Seat is great value.
Full review: Seat Leon 1.0 eTSI 110PS DSG
- Price: from £25,049
- Kerbweight: 1275kg
- Towing limit: 1200kg
The Suzuki Vitara has been around for a few years now, but updates to the cabin and drivetrain have kept this small crossover fresh and competitive with newer models.
Mild-hybrid tech helps keep running costs sensible, while the Allgrip four-wheel-drive system should keep the Suzuki moving on muddy ground long after two-wheel-drive rivals have become stuck.
Inside, the cabin and infotainment system look a little dated. But the driving position should keep you ache-free on long journey, and adults can travel comfortably in the back of the car. Just keep in mind that high-spec models with a panoramic sunroof lose a lot of headroom.
With a caravan in tow the Vitara is stable, only moving very gently when caught by the bow wave of a lorry.
As an everyday drive, we’d choose the Captur over the Vitara. But for all season caravanners with a sense of adventure, the Vitara is hard to beat.
Full review: Suzuki Vitara Hybrid Allgrip
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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