Towcars 1425-1574kg

CLASS WINNER

Volkswagen Passat Estate 2.0 TDI 170 Bluemotion Sport

List price £26,010
Target Price £24,143
Kerbweight 1563kg
85% match 1329kg
Max towing weight 1800kg
Towball limit 90kg

winner_2011_1425_1574The Volkswagen Passat estate is very good at just about everything. In many respects, in fact, it’s borderline brilliant.

Let’s start with the engine. with an extra 30bhp of top-end thrust and 22lb.ft more mid-range muscle over the Passat saloon tested on page 47, the estate performed with more urgency. The difference is especially noticeable when towing. The 168bhp estate went from 30-60mph in just 12.7 seconds – 4.5 quicker than the 138bhp saloon.

Both Passats have high gearing, chosen with economy in mind, but the more powerful engine copes better. You may need a lower gear than expected from time to time, but official figures promise spectacular fuel economy as a reward: 60.1mpg should be possible driven solo.

VW Passat Overall Winner

The willing engine is matched to a composed and stable chassis. Through the lane-change test the car was unshakeable, no matter how the ’van swung around behind it. The AL-KO ATC sensors recorded hardly any movement from the ’van when slowing sharply from high speeds.

With or without a tourer, it’s hard not to be impressed by how quiet the Passat’s cabin is. There might not be quite as much legroom as in a Ford Mondeo or skoda superb, but there’s more than enough space for most families.

Our practicality judge found plenty of luggage space for our mix of suitcases, bags and tent poles, and was pleased to see a full-sized spare wheel. The electrics weren’t as easy to access as they ought to be, but there’s not much else to criticise.

We say

Towing 5star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 4star towcar

Buying & owning

5star towcar
Verdict 5star towcar

Just about the complete all-rounder. great for towing, practical and economical.

 

GREEN AWARD WINNER

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.7 CDTi (125PS) 16v Ecoflex SE

List price £22,880
Target Price £19,576
Kerbweight 1468kg
85% match 1248kg
Max towing weight 1400kg
Towball limit 75kg

The Astra Sports Tourer impressed everyone who drove it.  In spite of having just 123bhp to call on, it took a respectable 19.2 seconds to tow from 30-60mph. It was stability rather than performance that earned the astra so many plaudits, though.  Our performance tester concluded that the sports tourer matched the stability “of some of the best models in the top weight category”.

If the astra scored ‘a+’ for stability, it earned a ‘B-’ in the hill start. The electronic parking brake held the outfit still every time, but careful balance of clutch and throttle was needed to pull up the slope cleanly. This was particularly true in reverse, when it was easy to stall.

The astra also picked up solid scores from the practicality judge. There was space for all the holiday luggage, and though the car comes with a compact spare, the handbook says it can be used when towing. The steep price is partly offset by big discounts and running costs are low, too.  Expect 62.8mpg on the combined cycle while emitting just 119g/km of carbon dioxide.  A few cars beat those figures, but none tow as well as the Vauxhall. That’s why it’s 2011’s green award-winner.

We say

Towing 4star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 4star towcar
Buying & owning 3star towcar
Verdict 4star towcar

An excellent small estate with impressive economy and low emissions.

 

Mazda 5 1.6D Sport

List price £21,955
Target Price £20,167
Kerbweight 1490kg
85% match not legal
Max towing weight 1200kg
Towball limit 75kg

As one of the most affordable seven-seaters in this year’s tests, we were looking forward to testing the Mazda 5. It turned out to be an okay towcar rather than a really good one, with a disappointing towing limit.

Stability at 60mph was acceptable, and the sensitive steering helped the driver make small corrections easily.  However, the Mazda was out of sorts in the lane-change test, noticeably pushed around by the ’van.

The 1.6-litre engine may be small, but with 199lb.ft of torque it was strong enough to pull the outfit from 30-60mph in 20.4 seconds. Most judges found acceleration to be acceptable up to 60mph, but the Mazda struggled to go much quicker, especially into a headwind.

So long as the handbrake was pulled firmly, it stopped the Mazda rolling back on the test hill.  However, it took a careful balance of clutch and throttle to reach the top. The smell from the clutch showed just how hard the 5 found reversing back up the other side of the hill.

Inside, the flexible cabin offers a variety of seating arrangements with no need to remove the seats first, although the centre seat in the second row is hard and uncomfortable. Fold the third row away and there is plenty of luggage space.

We say

Towing 3star towcar
Solo 3star towcar
Practicality 3star towcar
Buying & owning 4star towcar
Verdict 3star towcar

A good MPV and a solid towcar, but there are better cars in this weight class.

 

Ford Grand C-Max 1.6 150 Ecoboost Titanium

List price £21,445
Target Price £19,939
Kerbweight 1496kg
85% match not legal
Max towing weight 1200kg
Towball limit 75kg

Does your ’van weigh more than 1200kg? Then you can skip the next 200 words, because the Ford grandC-Max 1.6 150 ecoboost won’t tow it. That’s a shame, because apart from the restrictive towing limit (well under 85% of the car’s kerbweight) the Ford makes a good towcar.

The engine may be a small-capacity petrol, but the addition of turbo promises good performance and economy (hence the ecoboost name). For the most part, that’s what it delivers. There may not be the mid-rev thrust of a good turbodiesel, but the engine still pulls the grand C-Max forward long after a diesel would have shut up shop and demanded the next gear.

We had no arguments with the Ford’s stability, either. The AL-KO ATC system showed little movement from the tourer at speed.  In the lanechange test the grand C-Max stayed on course, no matter how out of shape the caravan was behind it.

Inside, there’s space for seven in a seating arrangement so similar to the Mazda 5 you wonder if Ford’s designers sat down in a Mazda showroom with a tape measure and digital camera.  With the two rear seats folded, our practicality judge found room for every luggage item, although he thought the handbook was short on towing information.

We Say

Towing 3star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 4star towcar
Buying & owning 3star towcar
Verdict 3star towcar

An impressive towcar that would be better still with a higher towing limit.

 

Vauxhall Astra 2.0 CDTi 16v Ecoflex Start/Stop SRi 5dr

List price £22,410
Target Price £19,070
Kerbweight 1453kg
85% match 1235kg
Max towing weight 1500kg
Towball limit 75kg

Last year’s class champion is still one of the best cars in this division.  On towing ability, it’s a match for the Passat estate, with exceptional stability at speed and composed performance in the lane-change test.

There’s no shortage of poke. The 158bhp engine pulls car and caravan from 30-60mph in 12.2 seconds. a little more pull from very low revs wouldn’t go amiss, though. The push-button parking brake held the outfit on the 1-in-6 test hill, and the astra pulled up the slope easily in first gear and reverse.

The boot was far too small to cope with our holiday luggage. however, the compact spare wheel may be used when towing.

We say

Towing 4star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 3star towcar
Buying & owning 4star towcar
Verdict 4star towcar

Still a top performer. excellent performance and stability.

 

Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 140 Bluemotion SE 4dr

List price £22,035
Target Price £20,460
Kerbweight 1532kg
85% match 1302kg
Max towing weight 1800kg
Towball limit 90kg

Most Qualities that apply to the Passat estate also apply to the saloon. The four-door is just as stable. Pushed hard in our lane-change test, even when the caravan began to slide, the Passat stayed on course.

The 138bhp saloon is slower, though, taking 17.2 seconds to go from 30-60mph. The less-powerful engine isn’t as flexible as the estate’s, and doesn’t cope as well with Passat’s high gearing.

With or without a van, the VW is very quiet and refined at speed.  It rides comfortably, too, and while not as lively as the Ford Mondeo, it’s a satisfying drive. The boot holds a full load of luggage and a Trailer stability Programme is standard.

We say

Towing 4star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 4star towcar
Buying & owning 4star towcar
Verdict 4star towcar

A capable, refined towcar although the gearing is high for towing.

 

Hyundai ix35 1.7 CRDi Premium 2WD

List price £19,450
Target Price £18,672
Kerbweight 1537kg
85% match not legal
Max towing weight 1200kg
Towball limit 50kg

We drove the 2.0-litre 4x4 version of the hyundai ix35 last year. The less powerful 1.7-litre two-wheel-drive costs almost £3,000 less.  Is it better value?  Not if you own a caravan weighing over 1300kg. That’s the legal towing limit, and a few kilos less than 85% of the car’s kerbweight.

To be honest, though, we wouldn’t want to pull more than 1300kg. we found that the ix35 tended to wander in crosswinds when towing, and inconsistent steering didn’t help the driver keep the car straight.

Despite poor stability in a straight line, the hyundai coped reasonably well with the lane-change test, but the back of the car was pulled around by the ’van at higher speeds.  The ix35 gained ground in the hill-start test. so long as the handbrake was pulled firmly, the outfit held still.  Given lots of revs it coped with the hill in first gear and reverse.ven with its limitations, there’s no doubt that the hyundai makes a practical towcar. almost all the luggage went in the boot, there’s a full-size spare wheel and towing electrics are easy to access . The ix35 is well equipped and cheaper than most rivals. Fuel economy of 48.7mpg should keep running costs down, too.

We say

Towing 2star towcar
Solo 3star towcar
Practicality 4star towcar
Buying & owning 5star towcar
Verdict 3star towcar
Good value, but the towing limit is low and it’s not as stable as the best here.

 

Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec 5dr

List price £20,700
Target Price £18,561
Kerbweight 1557kg
85% match 1323kg
 Max towing weight 1800kg

Towball limit

90kg

A mid-life nip-and-tuck has refreshed the Ford Mondeo’s looks and upgraded the interior finish, while a revised engine line-up promises better economy and lower emissions.

The Mondeo’s engine is that bit noisier than the VW Passat saloon’s, and there’s more road noise, too.  However, the gearing is better suited to towing, so acceleration in fifth and sixth is stronger than the Passat can manage, although from 30-60mph through the gears there’s nothing to choose between them.

Driving judges and the al-ko aTC system agreed that this is a very stable towcar, with little movement from the caravan when slowing down from high speeds. The lane-change test was straightforward, too.  However much the ’van slid, the car was never dragged off-line.  Leave the caravan on your drive and the Mondeo is great fun to drive solo. The suspension strikes a near-perfect balance between comfort and control, and the steering is direct and precise.

It’s also a very spacious car, with plenty of room for adults to sit in comfort in the back.  We found room for all our holiday luggage, too.  On the other hand, it’s a shame no Trailer Stability Programme is fitted.

We say

Towing 4star towcar
Solo 4star towcar
Practicality 3star towcar
Buying & owning 4star towcar
Verdict 4star towcar
Still one of the best family towcars. Fun to drive and reassuring to tow with.