The dust has settled after another Tow Car Awards test week. The cars have been collected from the MIRA test track and the caravans have gone back to Swift. Regular users of MIRA like Bentley, Jaguar and Lamborghini have the place to themselves again.
This is the eighth year of the Tow Car Awards, and with 56 cars on test the 2014 event was the busiest yet. When the Tow Car Awards started in 2007 we produced a print supplement for Practical Caravan, What Car? and The Camping and Caravanning Club. Now as well as reviewing the cars in print for Practical Caravan and the C&CC, there’s a separate feature on fuel economy when towing for What Car?, a website to build with extended reviews of every car, two videos to produce and a Caravan Channel TV segment to prepare. Then in June there’s an awards ceremony to organise at Woburn Abbey. That little lot should keep me out of mischief for the next few weeks.
There are a lot of words to be written, that’s for sure, but everything which happens after the test week is a lot less nerve-racking than preparing for the event and the test week itself. You’d be surprised how many times cars have arrived without towballs (just the one car this year!), and more than once cars haven’t arrived at all. One year a car was delivered with the detachable towball mounting the wrong way around, so if we’d been able to fit the towball it would have punched a hole in the exhaust.
This year, though, things went quite smoothly. Although the test week proper didn’t start until last Monday, the first caravans and people arrived at MIRA the previous Wednesday. That sounds very early, but the Thursday and Friday before the tests start are devoted to checking we have all the cars, that every tyre is inflated to the correct pressure for towing, and arranging all the vehicles ready for a prompt start on the Monday morning.
For the second year in a row the Thursday and Friday were also devoted to economy testing in partnership with What Car?’s True MPG team. If you’re not familiar with True MPG, it’s intended to provide a more realistic guide to fuel economy than the official European figures using on-the-road testing.
Last year we tested cars of different sizes, weights and fuel types to measure the effect of towing on fuel economy. This year’s economy testing formed part of the judging for the Green Award. Amazingly, all six of the cars on our Green Award shortlist achieve more than 70mpg in regular driving according to the official figures.
Our only late arrival was the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (a plug-in hybrid 4×4). We were happy for the Outlander to arrive a couple of days late, given that the UK press launch had only just taken place and that Mitsubishi had to pull out all the stops to get the car to us in time.
Other strong contenders this year included the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, the Mazda 3, the Nissan Qashqai, the Peugeot 308, the Skoda Octavia Estate 4×4 and the Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid.
Those are just a handful of the cars which our five driving judges and the practicality testers assessed during the week. It couldn’t have been done without a lot of help. Thanks as ever to Swift for supplying the caravans, and to Al-Ko and Witter for their invaluable technical support.
Since the very start of the event we’ve used Milenco mirrors and since the 13-pin electrical system arrived we’ve used Milenco adaptors, too, so thanks to Nigel at Milenco for his on-going help. Thanks also to Admiral for supplying us with the fire extinguishers which we’ve never actually needed.
At the risk of sounding like an over-long speech at the Oscars, the biggest thank you has to go to the volunteers from The Camping and Caravanning Club who give up their free time to make the event possible. We really couldn’t do it without them.
As for the results, well, I can’t tell you until after the Tow Car Awards ceremony on 12 June. What I can say is that I think our list of winners is one of the strongest and most varied in the history of the event.
Anyway, that’s enough from me. I need to get on if I’m going to review all 56 cars before my deadline.
With 56 cars on test, 2014 was the busiest yet