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
Jan 15, 2020

Towing a caravan, a heavy trailer or a boat demands lots of pulling power at low engine speeds - known as torque and expressed in Nm - to comfortably get car and load moving. Choose a weedy engine and you'll have to work it very hard, putting more strain on the engine and likely using more fuel than you would with a more powerful motor.

For this kind of work, drivers have typically chosen diesel cars. This is because diesel engines produce more torque at lower engine speeds than equivalent petrol engines, meaning that they are more capable of lugging heavy loads without stress, and are normally more economical in the process, too.

At least that used to be the case. In recent years, car manfuacturers have added turbochargers to more and more petrol models. This helps them provide greater power without having to be worked hard, all in an attempt to improve the fuel economy and emissions. Pick the right petrol car, therefore, and you get more than enough punch to deal with towing a trailer, caravan or horsebox.

Another benefit of going petrol is that you get a wider choice of cars. While diesel engines are more common in heavy SUVs and larger cars, petrol engines are found in everything from superminis to luxury 4x4s, and at prices to suit most pockets. 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, although not essential, feature of a good tow car - especially if you're likely to spend a lot of time on muddy country roads or crossing fields with a horsebox - since this can boost grip on slippery surfaces such as a slipway, 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 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' if that's 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 £9,341
Monthly finance from £157

This VW 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 mean you don't have to thrash the car to get moving with a load attached to the back. Not only that, impressively it can almost tow its own kerbweight - although you'll have to lower that somewhat to allow for a safe tow match.

Maximum braked towing capacity 1,200kg
Unbraked towing capacity 610kg
Torque 250Nm@1,500rpm
Kerbweight 1,249kg

Volkswagen Polo buyers' guide

2. Seat Arona

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 115 SE Technology DSG
Used deals from £11,999
Monthly finance from £169

Thanks to its roomy interior and enjoyable handling, the 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 – allowing you to concentrate on towing – efficient and smooth changing. It also has seven gears where 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 1,200kg
Unbraked towing capacity 600kg
Torque 200Nm@2,000rpm
Kerbweight 1,137kg

Seat Arona buyers' guide

3. Peugeot 2008

Our pick Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure
Used deals from £6,599
Monthly finance from £127

The 2008 is a compact crossover which, 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. It can be useful when towing.

More useful, though, is the petrol engine’s solid 230Nm of pulling power at just 1750rpm 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 1,250kg
Unbraked towing capacity 600kg
Torque 230Nm@1,750rpm
Kerbweight 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 from £8,800
Monthly finance from £145

We’re tempted to say that if you’re looking for a mid-size petrol tow car then look no further than this 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.

Unbraked towing capacity 620kg
Torque 249Nm@1,500rpm
Kerbweight 1,202kg

Skoda Octavia buyers' guide

5. Seat Ateca

Our pick Seat Ateca 2.0 TSI 190 FR 4Drive DSG
Used deals from £19,598
Monthly finance from £260

Spacious, fun to drive and offering an attractive interior, the 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 help if you want to tow a horsebox and need to deal with slippery fields and muddy roads, too.

Maximum braked towing capacity 2,000kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 320Nm@1,450rpm
Kerbweight 1,466kg

Seat Ateca buyers' guide

6. Vauxhall Astra

Our pick Vauxhall Astra 1.4 150 SRi Sports Tourer
Used deals from £5,765
Monthly finance from £116

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 1,500kg
Unbraked towing capacity 640kg
Torque 245Nm@2,000rpm
Kerbweight 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 this 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 1,800kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 340Nm@2,300rpm
Kerbweight 1,564kg

Ford Mondeo buyers' guide

8. Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen Tiguan

Our pick VW Tiguan 2.0 TSI SEL 4Motion
Used deals from £21,495
Monthly finance from £335

This sister car to the Seat Ateca, above, boasts the same torque output, practically at the same engine speed, with the same towing figures, though it is even 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 (it’s actually roomier and taller) handles well for an SUV and offers plenty of interior room. 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 2,000kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 320Nm@1,500rpm
Kerbweight 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 from £41,740
Monthly finance from £552

Powerful, stable, comfortable and four-wheel drive as standard: the 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 fist of towing.

And don’t forget it 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 3,000kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 400Nm@1,500rpm
Kerbweight 2,162kg

Land Rover Discovery buyers' guide

10. Mercedes E-Class Estate

Our pick Mercedes E200 AMG Line auto estate
Used deals from £24,130
Monthly finance from £280

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 a 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 of our 10 cars - 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 2,100kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Torque 300Nm@1,200rpm
Kerbweight 1,725kg

Mercedes E-Class Estate buyers' guide
 

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