What’s the best SUV for towing in Australia? A lot of people will say that you can’t go past the iconic Toyota LC200. Yet, this is not entirely true.
While the LC200 is a hugely capable 4WD, it has surprising limitations in the context of towing – especially in stock form.
Controversial, I know.
To add more drama to the story, the Australian consumer now has the option of RAM trucks which, apparently, “eat utes for breakfast”.
But how much of this is hype, and how much reality?
Speaking of utes, Aussies have the usual menu of Rangers, Hiluxes and D-Max’s.
Finally, for the eccentric weirdos who got bullied in high school, but ended up becoming tech executives on $400K+ salaries, there are Jeeps and Land Rovers.
Which of these SUVs and 4WDs is best for towing a large caravan in Australia?
Let’s find out.
The Wrong Way To Choose A Towing 4WD.
Most people choose their 4WD’s suitability for towing by making sure that their van doesn’t exceed the 4WD manufacturer’s towing limit:
- Can my 4WD can tow 3,500 kg? Check.
- Does my van weigh less than 3,500 kg? Check.
Job done. Let’s go touring.
There’s a lot more to this story. Rear axle loads, CGM, TBM, ATM and GTM must all be taken into account.
Inevitably, you will have to make hard decisions. Specifically, you’ll need to compromise on at least one (but likely a few) of the following:
- Your car’s equipment levels.
- Your van’s equipment levels.
- Your budget (to pay for GVM/GCM upgrades).
- Your choice of car.
- Your choice of van.
The Psychology Of SUV Ownership.
Cars are not just practical machines. Whether we like it or are aware of it, they form parts of our identities.
As humans, we identify with certain brands that we feel support our perception of ourselves. Being a Toyota owner means something. Being a Land Rover owner means entirely something else.
This isn’t just marketing. As humans, we’re tribal, social creatures and we construct our maps of meaning by identifying with certain tribes, and not others. We use the products that we own to signal to other apes who we are and what we value.
Why I Wrote This Guide.
I currently own a 21.6-foot Jayco Silverline Outback and have a 20.6-foot Zone Offroad on order. (Bloody excited about the Zone – but that’s a story for another day).
Before I bought the Jayco, I’ve towed rented large caravans all across Australia and up/down Australia’s east coast.
While renting caravans, I didn’t give towing weights a lot of thought.
I simply knew that my car (a 2014MY Land Rover Discovery 4) could tow 3,500kg. I also knew that I had quite a bit of usable payload available because I travel without kids and, by touring standards, my 4WD has a moderate amount of modifications.
I wasn’t worried about tow ball weights because Jaycos, even the large ones that I was renting, have a relatively low unladen ball weight (about 170kg). They’re also relatively difficult to overload because of limited water carrying capacity (2X80L tanks) and the absence of a drawbar-mounted toolbox.
With the front boot filled by relatively light stuff – chairs, hoses, leads – I estimated my tow ball weight to be around the 250kg-300kg mark – well below the Disco’s 350kg limit.
But this kind of “guesstimation” was not going to cut it when purchasing my own van. I put my Disco on a weighbridge, assuming I had plenty of wiggle room left for all weights – and almost had a heart attack.
I was already 40kg overweight on my front axle. Worse, I only had 140kg payload left until I hit GVM and 255kg of wiggle room before I hit the rear axle’s max load limit.
This rear axle figure was not as generous as it occurred at first glance – because it didn’t take into account a multiplier due to the tow ball’s distance from the rear axle. In real terms, this 255kg buffer translated to only about 190kg of effective weight that I could place on the tow ball.
Shit. It was time for a serious rethink.
- Was my SUV a second-rate tow vehicle? Did I need to sell it and buy the iconic Toyota LC200?
- Was everyone driving around overweight?
- Did I need to start removing accessories from the car? If so, which ones?
- Did I need to buy a smaller caravan?
A lot of questions, but not many sensible answers. I scoured Toyota, Land Rover and caravan forums – and only found dozens of other confused and alarmed motorists, many of them new to towing. I also found a lot of people who, like me, just relied on low-resolution metrics – GVM, towing capacity and CGM. A few people were very cluey, but their expertise was limited to their own little niche – e.g., they knew that their particular SUV + caravan setup was legal.
I wanted to understand the entire picture, so I researched the shit out of this topic. Here are the fruits of my labour. Enjoy.
Which SUV Has The Best Payload?
You need to start here. Take your SUV’s maximum allowed weight (GVM) and subtract its Kerb (empty) weight.
You’ll get the Official Payload figure. In other words, the maximum amount of weight you can add to the car. This includes your tow ball weight.
The little problem we run into here is that kerb weight can mean slightly different things, depending on the manufacturer. Some view it as fully fuelled, but without a driver while others view it as a car with 1/2 fuel and with a driver.
I’ve done my best to find that out, and equalise the final score by creating a Real Payload figure, which offsets for any variations in the definition of “kerb weight” and includes an allowance of 150kg for passengers and the car’s full fuel load.
If the car has 2 fuel tanks, I only included the weight in the primary tank, so as not to unfairly penalise the car for its additional fuel carrying capacity.
I believe that this is the most useful figure because it:
- levels the playing field, allowing us to compare apples to apples
- calculates for most common touring scenario (2 adults)
- prevents a scenario where above GVM after filling up
|FUEL||OFF PLD||REAL PLD||REAL PLD WITH 300KG|
|Toyota LC200 VX||3500||3350||6850||2740||93||610||460||160|
|Toyota LC300 VX||3500||3280||6750||2630||80||650||500||200|
|Land Rover Discovery 4||3500||3240||6760||2649||86||569||419||119|
|Land Rover Discovery 5 SE||3500||3260||6760||2372||89||888||738||438|
|Land Rover Defender 110 SE 7-seat||3500||3280||6780||2301||90||979||829||529|
|VW Touareg 170 TDI||3500||2850||6350||2157||90||693||543||N/A|
|Toyota Prado VX||3000||2990||5990||2245||87||745||595|
|Ford Ranger XLT 3.2||3500||3200||6000||2178|
|Toyota LC 70 Series|
|Toyota Hilux SR5||3500||3050||5850||2110|
|Jeep Grand Cherokee|
|Nissan Patrol Y62|
Land Rover Defender kerb weight is calculated using not Land Rover manuals, but this excellent review, which I trust more.
Kerb Weight Explained.
What does kerb weight mean? Well, this depends on the manufacturer. Here are my findings.
|Toyota||The mass of the vehicle in running order unoccupied and unladen with all fluid reservoirs filled to nominal capacity, including fuel and with all standard equipment.|
|Land Rover||“Unladen weight” includes a 75kg driver and 90% fuel.|
|Ram||Full fuel, but no driver.|
|Ford||Includes the vehicle with a full tank of fuel, without occupants, luggage or cargo and with all standard equipment.|
Maximum Axle Loadings.
This is the most overlooked factor.
|VEHICLE||FRONT AXLE LIMIT||REAR AXLE LIMIT|
|Land Rover Discovery 4||1450||1855|
|Land Rover Discovery 5||1500||1900|
|Land Rover Defender 110||1530||1900|
|Toyota Hilux SR5|
|Ford Ranger XLT 3.2||1480||1850|
|VW Touareg 170TDI||Unknown||1480|
My 4WD Modifications.
I knew that I had quite a bit of usable payload available because I travel without kids and, by touring standards, my 4WD has a moderate amount of modifications. Namely:
- steel bullbar and winch
- steel rock sliders
- LT tyres
- 2nd spare wheel
- recovery gear
- basic tools
This meant no drawers, no fridge, no onboard water, no spares, no underbody armour, no rear bar and no 2nd battery.
Why You Run Out Of Payload.
Everyone wants to own a monster touring SUV that has all of the bells and whistles. Don’t forget that each feature eats into your precious payload.
Barwork is the biggest culprit. Bullbar, roof rack and stand-off bars add significant weight. Drawers, fridges, second battery and fridge slides are also heavy. Finally, don’t forget about your recovery gear, compressor and tools.
Just Upgrade Your GVM, Bro.
In the case of the LR Defender and Discovery, you can’t do a GVM upgrade on their fancy monocoque chassis.
Let’s have a look at each SUV in detail.
The Toyota Land Cruisers (70 / 200 / 300).
Australians love their big Land Cruisers. With enough power to pull 3,000-3,500kg with ease, they’re the most ubiquitous tow tug on Australian roads. But is popularity a good indicator of towing ability?
Yes and no.
The Land Rovers (Discoveries 4 & 5), Defender 300 & 400).
The Ram Trucks (1500 / 2500).
The 1500 has a claimed 4500 BTC, but this is a gimmick – the car’s GCM of 7250 means you’ll be doing The Big Lap solo. That’s because if you attach a 4,500kg caravan to the back, you’ll be left with only 83kg of payload.
Full weight chart of all Ram 1500 models is here.
I thought there was an issue with the RAM 150 GCM because GVM+BTC (7950) is 600+kg over its GCM (7237).From what I can findKerb weight 2620 (usually no passengers and only 10 litres fuel)GVM 3450GCM 7237BTC 4500So Kerb weight plus full weight BTC van= 2620+4500 = 7120Which leaving only 127kg to hit GCM weight including occupants.Towing 4 tonnes (ie some Zones) means 627kg is left. Adding two occupants (70-80kg each) and full fuel (98 litres) is a 200 to 220kg. So 380-400kg left using GCM.But also need to do GVM calcs. Kerb weight + ball weight (4 t van) 2620+400=3020. Add two ppl and full fuel pushes weight to 3220 leaving “200 kg of other stuff”. A steel bull bar with winch will add well over 100kg.Towing at only 3500kg gives better numbersKerb weight+TBW = 2620+350 = 2970Then add fuel and two pax @200= 3170plus a bull bar @100 = 3270leaving only 180kg left.But don’t put bash plates on or add a rear dual wheel carrier.Or have I got the arithmetic wrong?
Done my homework (phew !!) in a similar fashion to you. As I mentioned Kerb is with Full fuel Tanks (in many cases), the current DT model Laramie spec is as you say 2620kg , however GCM is upgraded from the Classic Model series (DS) to 7713kg (per RAM Aus Website). Max tow is 4500kg as you correctly state however we are considering 4T Zones here so will go with that. Payload is Maxed out at the 800+kg by specification whatever you tow but this is all available whilst towing 4T. The end result is, apart from the path you have chosen, no real other way to tow 4t in Australia legally or safely. Taking out all those items as you have above still brings you down to levels which require forethought and common sense and few Options (bull bars/Canopies etc) but is no different to a L/C 200 or Disco etc which have similar payloads but cant tow above 3500kg Legally or Safely. Without doubt a 2500 series would cream the exercise ($$$) but a new RAM 1500 series (Laramie spec) is as a minimum as well if not better equipped than a L/C or anything of that ilk even at 3500kg Tow but comes in to its own @ 4T or higher. (The preceeding was an unpaid advertorial for RAM – And Yes I own a Ford !!). Bottom line it all comes down to the new models increased GCM to make it a viable option, otherwise what you say above holds very true.
The Utes (D-Max, Ranger, Hilux, Navara, BT-50).
Most Aussie 4WD utes are now rated to tow 3,500kg. If that’s the case, why would you fork out another $60,000 on a ‘full-size’ SUV for caravan towing duties?
Let’s start with an uncomfortable truth. You can’t tow a 3,500kg van legally with any of the 4WD utes available on the Australian market.
Some utes will tow a 3,000kg caravan, assuming very low payload in the vehicle and zero equipment additions to the car.
But the real sweet spot for utes is the 2,000kg-2,500kg mark. Any more, and even if you can tow it, you won’t really want to. The van will push your ute around, the lack of torque will make exits on to highways hairy and the suspension’s sag on the rear will translate to poor steering. The boys at 4WD action did a great review of this – check it out:
You can spend $5-10K on basic suspension and power upgrades, but in my opinion you’re still trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Ford Ranger XLT, on paper, presents with humongous potential:
- Rear axle kerb: 930
- Front axle kerb: 1238
- Payload: 1022
More importantly, these figures translate to a nutty 920kg capacity of the rear axle. Is this really correct?
The Nissan Patrol.
The VW Touareg.
The V8 TDI R-Line has the same twin-turbo V8 found in the muzzle of the Bentley Bentayga and can throw the Touareg from 0 to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. I had high hopes for this car until I found out that VW limits its tow ball weight to 240kg.
This is not enough in the context of heavy caravan towing. You’re guaranteed to exceed it – unless you tow a smaller, single-axle pop-top or hybrid van.
VW does redeem itself – somewhat – by offering a 170KW V6 with a 290kg max tow ball weight.
The Jeeps (Gladiator / Grand Cherokee).
The Mid-Size SUVs (Pajero, Prado, VW Touareg).