You can’t employ any old motor as a tow car. Pulling something heavy such as a caravan, boat or trailer requires a broad range of abilities from a car. That’s why every year the Caravan Club awards its Tow Car of the Year gong.
In the words of the Caravan Club: “Our annual tow car competition puts a variety of cars to the test, to provide members with an evaluation and recommendation on which are the best buys for 2017.”
This year, 47 cars were put through their paces by a team of seven judges made up of caravan journalists, car journalists and Caravan Club members. The idea is to evaluate each car using the same criteria. The testing was carried out in a controlled environment at the motor industry’s Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire. The route included tight and twisty ‘country lanes’, 17 per cent hill stops and starts plus circuits of a high-speed bowl. Other tests were for reversing, driver ergonomics plus visibility.
Class winners were put in seven price categories from less than £20,000 to more than £45,000. From these a single Tow Car of the Year was chosen.
And the overall winner is…
Volkswagen Passat Estate Alltrack
This is Volkswagen’s answer for people who want a car with some off-road ability but don’t want to buy a full-blown SUV. The base is a sound one: the Passat has already been voted 2015’s European Car of the Year. It was described by the Caravan Club’s judges as ‘one of the classiest mid-range cars by a mile’. It didn’t just win the panel over because of its beautiful build quality and high-class interior. The 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and VW’s 4Motion variable four-wheel drive also worked in its favour. As well as winning overall, the Passat Alltrack also won Class 5 for £32,000-£35,000 cars beating the Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota HiLux.
Class 1: Less than £20,000
Citroen C4 Cactus Rip Curl HDi 100
The quirky but popular C4 Cactus beat other finalists such as the SsangYong Tivoli and Peugeot 2008. What the judges said about the winner: “The willing and torquey 1.6 turbodiesel engine took us by surprise with its pulling power.”
Class 2: £20,000-£23,000
Peugeot 308 SW BlueHDi 120
The £21,546 estate came out ahead of three other cars including the Suzuki Vitara and Kia Cee’d Sportswagon. What the judges said about the winner: “One of the Competition’s surprise packages, offering a blend of practicality and space combined with lively performance and a flexible and frugal turbodiesel engine.”
Class 3: £23,000-£29,000
Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI
There were six cars in this group including the new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar. What the judges said about the winner: “In this competitive class, it was its all-round refinement, stability and confidence-inspiring composure that gave it victory.”
Class 4: £29,000-£32,000
Volkswagen Golf Estate Alltrack
The smaller Golf version of the winning Passat Alltrack triumphed in this seven-car class, beating the Volkswagen Touran and Skoda Octavia Scout. What the judges said about the winner: “The vehicle scored well on its ability to absorb caravanning loads and for its easy-to-use retractable towbar.”
Class 6: £35,000-£45,000
This was the biggest class of the lot with 11 contenders. The new Mercedes came out ahead of rivals including the Volkswagen Tiguan, SEAT Alhambra, Mercedes GLC, Jeep Cherokee and Land Rover Discovery. What the judges said about the winner: “The powerful, torquey, yet frugal diesel engine, twinned with an incredibly refined nine-speed automatic gearbox made for a joyful driving experience.”
Class 7: More than £45,000
BMW X5 xDrive40d
The big BMW came top in this seven-car group that included the Volvo XC90, Range Rover and Mercedes GLS. What the judges said about the winner: “The BMW deploys a raft of technological tricks to make the towing experience as comfortable as possible.”
Previous overall winners that are still on sale include the Land Rover Discovery in 2016, SEAT Leon ST (2015) and Skoda Superb in 2014.