IT’S BEEN ANOTHER busy year of towcar testing. With some allowance for my inability to count once I run out of fingers and toes, I reckon I’ve towed with over 70 different cars in 2011.
Then there are another 20 or so new models which I’ve driven but without the opportunity to tow.
With little more than a day to go before 2012, here are some of my personal driving highlights of the past year.
RANGE ROVER EVOQUE
By the time I drove the Evoque back in October, I’d heard good things from several colleagues who had already tested the baby Range Rover. I wasn’t disappointed. It looks gorgeous, inside and out, and is a pleasure to drive and travel in.
As a towcar, it suffers from being much lighter than the rest of the Range Rover range. But provided it still makes a suitable match for your tourer, the Evoque promises much better economy and lower emissions than either the Range Rover or Range Rover Sport.
Good though the Evoque is, the price tag is rather hard to swallow (you’ll pay at least £27,955). Judging by the waiting list, there are plenty of buyers out there with deep enough pockets.
PEUGEOT PARTNER TEPEE
It’s hard to think of a car more different from the Range Rover than the Peugeot Partner Tepee. One is arguaby 2011’s most fashionable car, one doesn’t give two hoots of the horn for fashion. One is the most expensive car of its size and type, one is a genuine bargain.
I’d driven the Partner Tepee before when it put in a solid performance at the Towcar Awards 2010, but having spent a week with a 1.6 HDI 92 this summer I liked the Peugeot more and more. It helped that the Partner Tepee was a big hit with my three-year-old daughter, who loved the sliding doors, deep windows and high-up seating position. In fact, she was quite adamant that Daddy should buy one.
I liked the huge boot, the refined engine, and the airy feel you get in cars with a plenty of glass to let the light flood in. It surprised me how sorry I was to hand back the keys.
VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ESTATE
It would be remiss of me to leave out our Towcar Awards 2011 overall winner, the Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI 170 Bluemotion Sport.
Having test driven the car before, I had a strong inkling that the Passat would be one of the contenders. I can remember the moment the VW moved to the top of my shortlist.
The Towcar Awards test route uses mile-long parallel straights at the MIRA proving ground. On the first leg, the driver accelerates up to 60mph. If the car is stable at 60mph, the tester makes the return leg at up to 70mph.
Despite a crosswind, the Passat didn’t move around on the way up to the legal limit, accelerating confidently thanks to the strength of the 2.0-litre diesel engine. On the return run the VW soon hit 70mph. I lifted my hands a millimetre or so from the wheel. Nothing. Not so much as a twitch. Even when I lifted off the accelerator at the end of the run car and caravan stayed straight and true. I only needed to take hold of the wheel again to make the turn at the end of the straight.
Strong performances in the lane-change manoeuvre, the hill start and acceleration and braking tests confirmed the Passat’s quality.
SKODA YETI GREENLINE II
I own two Skodas (an old Octavia Estate and a positively geriatric Fabia hatch), so I always look forward to catching up with the company’s latest cars.
In February I spent a day driving Skoda’s Greenline models, which use highly efficient diesel engines and a raft of energy saving measures to give excellent economy and low emissions.
The Yeti was my favourite. The more powerful 4×4 diesels are better suited to towing, but the two-wheel drive 1.6 TDI Greenline II promises 61.4mpg on the combined cycle and should still comfortably pull lightweight family tourers. To my mind the Skoda’s ride and handling balance is just about spot on.
Our 90,000-mile Octavia feels like it has plenty of miles left in it, but when we do replace it I’d be very tempted by the Yeti. Only the relatively modest boot puts me off.
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2012
Next year has the makings of being a belter in the world of towcars. This spring I’ll finally get to tow with the Range Rover Evoque. There’s also the 4×4 version of the VW Passat to look forward to, plus exciting new models from BMW, Hyundai, Kia and Mazda to name just a few.
See you in 2012.