I own a 2013 Mercedes Benz GLK250 because I need a vehicle with at least a 5,000-lb. (2,268-kg) towing capacity for an 18.5-foot boat or utility trailer that would not break the bank in fuel costs for everyday driving. I appreciate the sportiness of the GLK, but it now has around 220,000 kilometres on it; components are starting to fail, and in my opinion, repairs are extremely expensive. It may be time to replace it.
Since “Dieselgate,” most manufacturers have discontinued their diesel vehicles. Can you recommend a vehicle to replace my GLK250 with a 5,000-lb. towing capacity and reasonable fuel consumption? Brand is not important. A hybrid would be nice. My budget would be in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. – Allan
Richardson: First off, forget about a hybrid. Only a few plug-in hybrids are rated for towing. The costly Lincoln Aviator PHEV can tow 5,600 lbs., but it’s big and not at all sporty.
Gentile: Agreed. Allan had a great run with his GLK250, but it’s a smart move to replace it now. Diesels are fantastic for towing and long-haul driving, but Allan is right that since Dieselgate, most manufacturers have dumped diesels from their lineups.
Richardson: You know, I miss diesels. Great fuel economy, gobs of torque for acceleration, and they can tow massive weights without breaking a sweat.
Gentile: Exactly what I said. Allan isn’t necessarily looking for a luxury towing machine, which opens up some affordable gas-powered large-SUV options in his price range.
Richardson: Before we get to them, I’ll just throw it out there – the Jeep Gladiator offers a diesel engine that tows a hefty 6,500 lbs., which is 2,948 kg, and can be optioned very nicely for less than $60,000 out the door. I’m sure Allan won’t want it, but plenty of other readers might.
Gentile: Throw it back; that’s a truck. Allan is looking for an SUV.
Richardson: Okay, back to Allan. My first recommendation would have been the diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee, which I drove across Labrador one time and thought was a remarkable and very comfortable vehicle with a huge tow rating. No one else thought so, though; Jeep stopped selling the diesel option in 2019. There’ll be clean, used models available if he wants to look for one.
Gentile: But he can still look at a gas-powered Grand Cherokee. Even the base model with the 3.6-litre V6 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic can tow up to 6,200 lbs. And if he moves up to 5.7-litre V8, he’ll be able to tow more. It’s impressive. Although maybe design-wise, it’s a bit long in the tooth.
Richardson: To my mind, the Grand Cherokee is a very underrated vehicle, but it gets the job done well and its tow rating is more than enough. It’s a lot less money than a BMW X5, which is the smallest Bimmer to have enough strength to tow Allan’s boat. If he wants German, he’ll need to buy used to meet his budget.
Gentile: Exactly. Allan can get a brand new base model Jeep Grand Cherokee for around $47,000, and that price could come way down with incentives. He doesn’t need to spend extra cash on a luxury SUV to haul a boat. There are other, less expensive alternatives that are just as powerful with excellent payload and towing capabilities.
Richardson: The only other “affordable” mid-size SUVs I can think of with enough tow rating in a regular trim are the Toyota Highlander at 5,000 lbs, the Ford Explorer at 5,600 lbs, and the Nissan Pathfinder at 6,000 lbs. Which of those do you think is the best for Allan?
Gentile: I love the new 2021 Highlander; it has a great interior and rides well. Of course, he’ll have to skip the hybrid, as we mentioned before, because it can only tow 3,500 lbs. But if he goes with the gas-power 3.5-litre V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with AWD, he won’t be disappointed.
Richardson: It’ll certainly be reliable, and it’ll hold its value well. It starts at $39,990 for the FWD version, and he’ll have to add another $3,500 for the AWD trim. On top of that, the tow hitch and wiring harness costs an extra $1,361 if he buys it from the dealer. This is how they get you; the tow package on the Jeep is an extra $950. The Explorer is just as nice inside for its $42,799 and tows a little more with AWD as standard, but it needs the $600 tow package to haul the heavier weight.
Gentile: $600 isn’t too bad. Besides, the Explorer was redesigned for 2020 and it tows very well. I had a chance to tow a boat with it, and it’s very powerful and strong. At times, you’d never know you were hauling anything behind it.
Richardson: It all depends what you’re hauling, of course. The lighter the weight and the more margin you have, the easier it is. You need an extra margin, but you also don’t need to buy much more than what’s required. All these SUVs should be enough for the job.
Gentile: And the Pathfinder, as you mentioned, can tow a bit more – up to 6,000 lbs. The V6 engine is strong and powerful and not bad on fuel-efficiency, too.
Richardson: Plus, the Pathfinder is the least expensive of them all, starting at $36,698. At that trim, the hitch receiver and wiring harness costs around $690 plus installation. These are basic trims, of course. If you want more features, you can get all these vehicles up well past $50,000 if you want to bling them out.
Gentile: But there’s no need to splurge on the extras. The base models are more than enough. I still think Allan’s best bet in the Highlander; it’s luxurious and comfortable with strong towing capabilities, and it won’t break the bank.
Richardson: The Highlander is probably his most expensive bet. My recommendation is for the Pathfinder. It’s just as capable as the Highlander, it’ll tow a thousand pounds more, and it’s the cheapest to buy. The Explorer will be better on gas with its 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine. But check out the incentives on the Grand Cherokee; it could be the best value of all.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.