Best petrol tow cars

Tow cars are traditionally diesel powered but punchy modern petrols mean that needn’t be the case. Keep reading for the top petrol options

John Evans
Mar 17, 2022

Towing something heavy like a caravan, a big trailer or a boat demands a lot of pulling power at low engine speeds in order to get all that extra weight moving - a car's pulling power is known as torque, and is measured using either foot pounds (ft/lbs) or Newton metres (Nm). If you have an engine with a lot of low-speed torque you’ll find it's much easier to pull away from a stand still, which also means you can take it much easier under acceleration and even save some fuel.

It's for this reason that anyone looking for a reliable car capable of heavy towing will typically opt for a diesel car, because diesel engines produce more torque at lower speed than traditional petrol engines. This means they are more capable of lugging heavy loads without stress, and are normally more economical in the process, too.

In more recent years, however, turbocharging technology has been greatly developed and rolled out across a wide range of petrol cars. Turbocharging an engine means it can give out an increased amount of power without having to work harder. This is primarily to help improve emissions and fuel economy, but the added power can also allow some small-engined cars to take on towing jobs that may have once been impossible.

Another benefit of going petrol is that you get a wider choice of cars. As diesel has somewhat fallen out of favour, petrol engines are becoming the more common option in all car types ranging from superminis to luxury 4x4s. Keep reading for our roundup of the best petrol cars for towing.

Best petrol tow cars

On the subject of 4x4s, four-wheel drive is another useful feature of a good tow car - although it is not essential. This is especially the case if you're likely to spend a lot of time on muddy country roads or crossing fields with a horsebox - since four-wheel drive can boost grip on slippery surfaces where a two-wheel-drive car might struggle.

Besides having lots of accessible torque, another quality a good petrol tow car should possess is a decent braked towing limit. This refers to the maximum weight of the trailer - which must have its own braking system - that the car can safely pull. If the trailer doesn't have its own brakes, you'll have to stick to a maximum load of 750kg or 50% of the car's 'kerbweight', whichever is less.

To be safe and legal, it’s important you don’t exceed these limits and that you allow a margin for additional equipment as well as for comfortable towing. This balance is called a ‘tow match’ and you can find the right tow match for your car, online.

The gist of this is that if you have a big, heavy car, you're likely to be able to tow a substantial load, provided the engine is powerful enough. Meanwhile, if you have a small, light car, you'll have to stick to a less heavy load, to avoid the car being overwhelmed by the trailer when accelerating, braking and cornering.

Here’s our pick of the best used and nearly new petrol tow cars.

Best small petrol tow cars

1. Volkswagen Polo

Our pick VW Polo 1.4 TSI 150 GT 5dr
Used deals from £6,250
Monthly finance from £0*

This Volkswagen Polo is a tough, roomy and comfortable little car capable of taking the rough and tumble of caravanning or dinghy towing in its stride. Its ace card is its turbocharged petrol engine that produces a generous 250Nm of pulling power from as low as 1,500rpm.

This significant amount of punch at low engine speeds means you don't have to thrash the car to get moving with a load attached to the back. Not only that, it can almost tow its own kerbweight, which is impressive for a car of this size - although you'll have to lower that somewhat to allow for a safe tow match.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,200kgUnbraked towing capacity 610kg
Torque 250Nm at 1,500rpmKerbweight 1,249kg

 

VOLKSWAGEN POLO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Seat Arona

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 115 SE Technology DSG
Used deals from £12,150
Monthly finance from £317*

Thanks to its roomy interior and enjoyable handling, the Seat Arona is one of our favourite small crossovers. This version benefits from having the very efficient 1.0 turbocharged petrol engine that produces a useful 2000Nm of torque from 2,000rpm.

We’ve gone with the smooth-changing automatic because it’s easy to drive, efficient and smooth changing - meaning your concentration is more focussed on the job at hand. It also has seven gears whereas the manual gearbox has only five. This makes a difference on the motorway where the additional gears should make the engine quieter when cruising and boost fuel economy.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,200kgUnbraked towing capacity 600kg
Torque 200Nm at 2,000rpmKerbweight 1,137kg

 

SEAT ARONA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Peugeot 2008

Our pick Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure
Used deals from £8,350
Monthly finance from £182*

The Peugeot 2008 is a compact crossover that, while not being the last word in sophistication, is practical and comfortable. Look out for versions with optional Grip Control, a clever traction control system that uses the brakes to maximise how much grip the tyres have on a variety of surfaces and restore traction. This feature can be useful when towing.

More useful, though, is the petrol engine’s solid 230Nm of pulling power at just 1,750rpm which you’ll appreciate when getting up to speed on the motorway. This 1.2-litre petrol engine may be small, but it definitely punches above its weight.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,250kgUnbraked towing capacity 600kg
Torque 230Nm at 1,750rpmKerbweight 1,155kg

 

PEUGEOT 2008 BUYERS' GUIDE

Best medium petrol two cars

4. Skoda Octavia

Our pick Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI 150 SE
Used deals Limited stock

We’re tempted to say that if you’re looking for a mid-size petrol tow car then look no further than the Skoda Octavia. The model is famed for its large interior and even larger boot but add the 1.4 TSI petrol engine and you get a petrol tow car to be reckoned with. It produces no less than 249Nm torque at just 1,500rpm.

Not only that but the car also has a braked towing limit of 1,800kg which should be enough for a family-size, single-axle caravan and equipment, with a safe margin to spare. Even if you plan to tow other bulky loads, the Octavia is likely to be up to the task.

Maximum braked towing capacity Unbraked towing capacity 620kg
Torque 249Nm at 1,500rpmKerbweight 1,202kg

 

SKODA OCTAVIA BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Seat Ateca

Our pick Seat Ateca 2.0 TSI 190 FR 4Drive DSG
Used deals Limited stock

Spacious, fun to drive and offering an attractive interior, the Seat Ateca is an SUV that excels as a tow car thanks to its four-wheel-drive system and substantial 320Nm of pulling power at 1,450rpm.

The extra four-wheel-drive running gear and smooth automatic gearbox contribute to a relatively bulky 1,466kg kerbweight but the pay-off is decent braked and unbraked towing limits. That four-wheel-drive system should prove particularly useful if you want to tow a horsebox and need to deal with slippery fields and muddy roads, too.

Maximum braked towing capacity 2,000kgUnbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 320Nm at 1,450rpmKerbweight 1,466kg

 

SEAT ATECA BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Vauxhall Astra

Our pick Vauxhall Astra 1.4 150 SRi Sports Tourer
Used deals from £6,149
Monthly finance from £0*

If you're simply after a sensible and super-spacious petrol tow car, the Skoda Octavia above takes some beating, but the Vauxhall Astra estate makes a good alternative. There are tonnes of Astras to choose from, it offers a fine balance of ride and handling and it’s also extremely good value for money. That's even more true for used car buyers.

Meanwhile, as a tow car, its 245Nm of torque is more than adequate. It comes in at 2000rpm, so you'll need to keep the engine above this for the best performance, but this is still half the engine speed needed to access the maximum pulling power with many older petrol engines.

The braked towing capacity is a little down compared with some here, but there’s ample scope for towing a small caravan with a safe margin to spare.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,500kgUnbraked towing capacity 640kg
Torque 245Nm at 2,000rpmKerbweight 1,322kg

 

VAUXHALL ASTRA BUYERS' GUIDE

Best large petrol tow cars

7. Ford Mondeo

Our pick Ford Mondeo 2.0 EcoBoost Titanium auto 5dr
Used deals Limited stock

If you want strong acceleration from your tow car, then check out the Ford Mondeo. With a hefty 340Nm of pulling power, the Mondeo picks up speed easily - whether you're towing at the time or not. True, maximum pulling power comes in slightly higher than some alternatives at 2,300rpm but this is still a very capable towing machine.

The Mondeo is spacious and pleasant to drive and has a cavernous boot. It’s a heavy car, though, which is why that 1,800kg braked limit looks conservative. Still, it’ll tow a 1,200kg family caravan with ease.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,800kgUnbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 340Nm at 2,300rpmKerbweight 1,564kg

 

FORD MONDEO BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Volkswagen Tiguan

Our pick VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI SEL 4Motion
Used deals from £19,780
Monthly finance from £449*

This sister car to the Seat Ateca boasts the same torque output (practically at the same engine speed) and the same towing figures, even though it is heavier. Like the Ateca, the inclusion of four-wheel drive (VW calls its system, 4Motion) gives welcome additional traction on slippery slopes and campsites.

The Golf-based Tiguan handles well for an SUV and offers plenty of interior room with its additional height and width. It has a more upmarket feel inside than the Ateca in terms of material fit and finish but the Seat is better value for money. So set your budget and take your pick.

Maximum braked towing capacity 2,000kgUnbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 320Nm at 1,500rpmKerbweight 1,540kg

 

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN BUYERS' GUIDE

Best luxury petrol tow cars

9. Land Rover Discovery

Our pick Land Rover Discovery 2.0 Si4 HSE auto
Used deals Limited stock

Powerful, stable, comfortable and with four-wheel drive as standard: the Land Rover Discovery is a supremely capable tow car. Even this petrol version, with its 3,000kg braked towing limit and 400Nm of torque at just 1,500rpm – barely higher than idling speed – makes a very good tow car.

It also has seven seats, meaning the whole family plus friends can go camping. Just don’t expect it to deliver the last word in fuel economy. With this much weight and a small petrol engine, even the most efficient motor would get through lots of fuel.

Maximum braked towing capacity 3,000kgUnbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 400Nm at 1,500rpmKerbweight 2,162kg

 

LAND ROVER DISCOVERY BUYERS' GUIDE

10. Mercedes E-Class Estate

Our pick Mercedes E200 AMG Line auto estate
Used deals Limited stock

For almost as long as there have been estate cars, there’s been a Mercedes E-class estate. This current version is the most sophisticated of them all and while diesel-powered versions take the lion’s share of sales, there's still a case to be made for this 2.0-litre petrol model.

For one thing, it delivers its maximum torque at just 1,200rpm, the lowest engine speed on this list - making it very easy to access the engine's maximum muscle. Some of the alternatives offer more outright punch than the E-Class's 300Nm of pulling power, but it's available at such a low speed that pulling away smoothly should be a doddle.

Meanwhile, the standard nine-speed automatic gearbox makes the best use of that power as the revs build. Add a substantial 2,100kg braked limit, a roomy load bay and a comfortable interior, and family towing holidays don’t come much more relaxing.

 

Maximum braked towing capacity 2,100kgUnbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 300Nm at 1,200rpmKerbweight 1,725kg

 

MERCEDES E-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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