If you need or want as much room inside a caravan as you can afford and as many luxuries as possible, that extra space and gear will add to the towing weight. So you will have no choice but to consider purchasing a bigger, heavier vehicle with higher rated towing capacity. For this reason, many people resort to a 4WD.
But it doesn’t have to be a 4WD or nothing. Provided that you don’t tick all the options on the biggest and best vans on the market, you may need a 4WD, because there are a number of passenger cars that will be as good a tow vehicle and much more comfortable when not towing.
Yes, it’s true you will be limited in the weight of the caravan you choose. About 1900-2000kg Tare is the limit. That’s for the highest-rating passenger car on the market, which has a 2300kg towing capacity and 230kg towball download limit. We’re talking about the Ford Falcon, which of course has just stopped production, so you’d better get in quick if you want a new one.
Other cars that tow very well include the VFII Holden Commodore (2100kg/210kg) Subaru Liberty 3.6R (1800kg/180kg) and the Chrysler 300C (1724kg/170kg). A swathe of Euro wagons such as the Peugeot 508 have fairly good maximum towing capacities but don’t offer much towball download (less than 100kg typically). For these cars, a European van (or increasingly, a new Australian van) with a light TBM will be the only choice.
The argument for a passenger car over a 4WD is a simple one. They are generally much better to drive, including better steering, braking, ride quality and acceleration, as well as better packaging and more affordable to buy and maintain. With city streets not getting any bigger or better for parking, finding a spot for a passenger car is generally much easier than for a 4WD. Almost any passenger car will have a far better turning circle than a 4WD, and while it’s true the footprint of larger passenger cars is little different to some 4WDs, passenger cars are lower and can offer better vision and are not limited by car park height restrictions as 4WDs can be. Although it is not true in every case, 4WD tyres are generally much more expensive than passenger car tyres. Because a 4WD has a heavier footprint on the road, it requires heavy-duty suspension parts, which cost more to replace than a passenger car’s do. Items like shock absorbers wear out more quickly because of the extra work they have to do on a 4WD.
By virtue of its sheer weight, a 4WD will cost more in fuel than a passenger car. All that 4WD plumbing underneath is great for when you want to head offroad but doesn’t help much when towing down the highway, in fact it just adds to the fuel bill with the added weight and friction of the componentry. The extra hardware (transfer case, second differential) adds weight and the power loss to drive through the extra components adds to fuel consumption. With the advent of traction and stability control, a 2WD car will be able to maintain momentum and stability as well as most standard 4WDs in most slippery road conditions. Not to mention the inherent safety of a passenger car’s lower centre of gravity than a 4WD, meaning it is less prone to rollover.
Even cleaning a 4WD requires extra effort – unless you’re 2.5m tall, the big, hard-to-reach upper panels such as bonnet and especially roof can make for a difficult job.
Some vehicles are not engineered to accept load levellers, so check this out if important to you before you get serious about a particular vehicle. Also check out if a transmission cooler is required when towing. Some vehicle manufacturers — such as Subaru — stipulate a maximum recommended speed of 80km/h when towing.While there isn’t the same diversity and range in terms of new passenger towing vehicle choices as there is with 4WDs, a passenger car does make a lot more sense as a tow tug if the weight and towball mass of the caravan are within its relevant towing capacities.
Need a new tow vehicle? Read our top five 4WD tow vehicles for 2016.