The best family hatchback tow cars can make a fine choice. While you won’t be towing a big twin-axle behind a small hatch, match car and caravan carefully, and these relatively small cars can be strong and stable tugs.
These days, describing family hatchbacks as ‘small’ is stretching things – like most classes of car, they have grown. Park today’s VW Golf Mk8 next to the Mk1 from the 1970s and it will dwarf the original. Choose one of the best hatchback tow carss, and you have a worthy alternative to a more fashionable SUV or crossover.
Given that most small SUVs are hatchbacks with a raised ride height and chunkier looks, a regular hatch performs as well, if not better. In fact, their lower ride is a plus for stability. These are five of our favourites.
You can also take a look at our best car to tow a caravan guide for more ideas.
The best family hatchback tow cars – our top picks:
Mazda 3 e-Skyactiv X SE-L Lux
- Price (new): £26,265
- Kerbweight: 1498kg
- 85% match: 1273kg
- Legal towing limit: 1300kg
If there’s a better-looking small hatchback on sale, we haven’t seen it. The Mazda 3 is a real stunner, especially in Soul Red metallic finish.
There’s substance as well as style, too. The 3 is refined and quiet at speed, and the interior quality is excellent.
Mazda doesn’t offer a diesel in the 3; instead there’s a choice of two petrol engines. The less powerful 122hp e-Skyactiv G engine is a bit weak for towing, which just leaves the 186hp e-Skyactiv X.
This fiendishly clever engine uses Mazda’s Spark Controlled Compression Ignition to burn fuel very efficiently. It achieves 53.3mpg on the combined cycle. Mazda reckons that the engine combines the best of petrol and diesel engines, although that’s stretching things a bit.
With 177lb ft of torque, it doesn’t have the mid-range pull of a good turbodiesel, so it needs to be revved hard to build speed while towing.
With a kerbweight of 1498kg and a towing limit of 1300kg, it won’t tow anything heavy, but a small four berth tourer such as Bailey’s Discovery D4-4 should be fine.
New prices start from £26,265 in SE-L spec, rising to £30,465 for GT Sport Tech. We’ve seen a high-spec 5000-mile ex-demo car on a 71-plate for £23,500.
- Are you looking for a new tourer instead? Then our guide to the best small caravans could be worth a look
Škoda Octavia 2.0 TDI SE L DSG
- Price (new): £32,075
- Kerbweight: 1487kg
- 85% match: 1264kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
The main thing that makes the Škoda Octavia really stand out among its sector rivals is just how roomy it is inside.
A typical family of four will have space to spare, while a pair of the lankiest teenagers will fit comfortably in the back, with room to stretch out.
There’s more than enough space for the family’s holiday luggage, too. The hatchback has a generous 600-litre capacity, making it half as large again as the boots of many rivals. If that’s not enough, the estate model has 640 litres of luggage space.
Buyers have a broad range of engines to choose from, but we would plump for the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel for towing duties. It’s an engine used widely across the VW Group, and the strong mid-range pull makes it ideally suited to towing. That means it should easily handle any sensibly matched tourer.
The Škoda makes a stable tow car, too, although we’d say the Volkswagen Golf is even more secure at speed, especially on a windy day. Judged purely as tow cars, the two are closely matched, but the Octavia is by far the more practical, which makes it our first choice.
If £32,000 is a bit pricey, we’ve seen a 69-plate car with 26,000 miles on the clock offered for £16,900.
Ford Focus 1.5 EcoBlue 120PS Titanium
- Price (new): £26,130
- Kerbweight: 1363kg
- 85% match: 1159kg
- Legal towing limit: 1400kg
It’s not the roomiest or cheapest family hatchback, but from the driver’s seat, the Ford Focus remains the benchmark.
We’re tempted to recommend the 155hp mild-hybrid petrol. The engine is really willing and suits the Ford’s sporty character. More’s the pity, it has a hopeless 1100kg towing limit. So instead, if you want a Focus hatchback for towing, we would steer you towards the 1.5-litre diesel.
There’s still a bit of headroom above the 1159kg 85% match guideline figure if you’re experienced at towing.
While it’s not as punchy as the 2.0-litre diesel we’ve recommended in the Škoda Octavia, it does have 221lb ft of torque, more than enough to pull a reasonably light van up to speed.
The diesel may not be as lively or sound as good as the mild-hybrid petrol, but it does promise excellent fuel economy. It should achieve 62.8-67.3mpg, according to the official figures.
That should mean close to 30mpg will be possible while towing, perhaps even better.
Shop for a used Ford Focus and there’s plenty of choice. We’ve seen a 69-plate car with 27,000 miles for £16,500. If high mileages don’t put you off, we also spotted a 20-reg car with 72,000 miles for £13,200.
Seat Leon 1.0 eTSI 110PS SE Dynamic DSG
- Price (new): £26,625
- Kerbweight: 1335kg
- 85% match: 1135kg
- Legal towing limit: 1300kg
If you have a really light caravan, you could do a great deal worse than choose the Leon 1.0 eTSI to tow it with.
Of course, you can have much more powerful engines in the Leon, including the 150hp 2.0 TDI, of which we’ve sung the praises in recommending the Golf and the Octavia.
On the other hand, all that power and torque is overkill if you own a micro-caravan.
The ‘e’ bit of ‘eTSI’ tells you this is a mild hybrid. The car never runs on electricity alone, but the starter-generator takes some of the strain away from the engine to improve fuel economy. The official figures promise 45.6-50.4mpg – not bad for a petrol engine with an auto gearbox.
As the sportiest of the VW Group’s mainstream brands, the Leon rides more firmly than the Golf. It’s not excessively firm, though. It makes for a taut and controlled ride, whether towing or in solo driving.
Even without a caravan, you couldn’t describe the 110hp Leon as quick. But its sharp steering and agile handling make it almost as much fun to drive as the Ford Focus.
We couldn’t find this exact spec of Leon for sale pre-owned, but there’s no lack of 19-plate diesels for around £15,000.
Take a look at our guide to the best small tow cars too, where we included the Seat Leon 1.0 eTSI SE Dynamic.
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI 150PS Style
- Price (new): £28,315
- Kerbweight: 1489kg
- 85% match: 1266kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
If we were pressed to name the best family hatchback tow car of the five we’ve chosen, the Golf would come out on top.
It’s very similar under the skin to the Octavia and the Leon, but the VW will do the best job of keeping your caravan on a short leash. Navigating country roads or on the motorway, in good weather or bad, the Golf will tow straight and true.
You get a wide choice of engines, including a plug-in hybrid and some excellent turbocharged petrols. If you want a high-performance tow car, it’s hard to ignore the 200hp diesel, and the 115hp diesel also offers good value.
For regular towing, the 150hp diesel is the sweet spot. It’s an economical engine as well as having the brawn to haul a van. The official figures promise 58.9-61.4mpg.
From the driver’s seat, the Golf strikes a near-ideal balance of comfort and control. It has more finesse than the Octavia and is more supple than the Leon. It’s a car that you’ll enjoy driving, but not at the expense of your passengers.
Compared with the Octavia, the Golf has less legroom and a boot of just 381 litres. Go used and you could pay £24,740 for a 12,000-mile 70-reg car.
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