I'm in the market for a compact SUV. I am a tall lady, at six feet, with a need for ample leg and shoulder room. To make matters more complex I'd like the vehicle to be able to tow a small camper trailer, which I don't own yet. What vehicles fit the bill? I'm hoping to stay around the $30,000 mark and am considering vehicles that are a few years old – but not too old, I still want modern finishes. – Alex
Richardson: When it comes to towing, the hard truth is that bigger is always better. I learned this the hard way when I towed a camper trailer with my four-banger Mercury Mystique and destroyed the transmission.
Gentile: Way to go, Mark. At least you learned your lesson. Alex, I hate to admit it, but Mark is right. Bigger is better. There aren’t many compact SUVs that could do the trick for towing a small camper trailer.
Richardson: The vehicle itself doesn’t have to be big, though it helps. It’s the engine and transmission that has to be strong, with plenty of torque. This is why diesels are popular for tow vehicles, because diesel engines make a lot of torque from low revs. When did you last see a transport-truck that wasn’t a diesel?
Gentile: But thanks to Volkswagen’s diesel-gate scandal, no one wants to buy a diesel anymore.
Richardson: Some people still want a diesel, and the Mazda CX-5 now offers a very torquey diesel engine.
Gentile: Yes, diesels are great for towing. But I’d still take a gas-powered vehicle over a diesel. Unfortunately, VW has forever tarnished my image of diesels.
Richardson: It’s funny how we all loved diesels and reported on how great they can be, and then Volkswagen lied about their emissions and now we hate diesels – even though they’ve only improved, and other makers never lied about them.
Gentile: It’s true. I loved diesels, especially for towing and long commutes. I’ve recommended them to family and friends. Some even made money on their cars after the VW scandal, by trading in their diesels for a gas-powered equivalent.
Richardson: The main argument against diesels is still that the fuel can’t be found at all stations, and that it can be stinky. But if Alex does not want a diesel, she at least has a very good engine alternative for the CX-5 with its new turbocharged engine. It makes 310 lbs.-ft. of torque, which is plenty of pulling power.
Gentile: I love the new turbo CX-5 – it’s gutsy and powerful – but it can only tow 2,000 lbs., while the diesel is rated at 3,500 lbs., almost twice the weight.
Richardson: Yeah – the issue is with potential overheating of the gas engine. Diesels run cooler than gas, so their temperature can be managed more easily. A camper trailer weighs more than 2,000 lbs., as my poor Mystique discovered to its cost.
Gentile: I know we’ve recommended the RAV4 often, but it would also do the trick for Alex’s towing needs. It’s rated at 3,500 lbs. The GMC Terrain can also tow 3,500 lbs, but I prefer the RAV4 over the Terrain.
Richardson: Only the Trail AWD version of the RAV4 is rated to tow 3,500 lbs – all the other versions, including the “sporty” hybrids, are limited to 1,500 lbs. That’s a $38,000 SUV, which is $11,000 more than the base edition. With the Terrain, you have to buy the larger 2.0-litre engine and install the Trailer package for an extra $500. That’s a good deal - it includes the hitch and a cooler - but you’re still looking at a $38,000 truck, same as the RAV.
Gentile: And that’s over Alex’s budget. She wanted to stay around the $30,000 mark. Maybe a Jeep Cherokee would fit the bill?
Richardson: Ah – now we’re talking! The Cherokee has the strongest tow rating of all in this size, at 4,500 lbs. She’ll need to get it with the 3.2-litre V6 and the trailer tow package. This adds about $2,300 to the basic FWD vehicle, but it still starts at $31,000 with this month’s discounts, or $35,000 after taxes.
Gentile: So to get to $30,000 all in, Alex will need to look for probably a four-year-old vehicle. The Terrain and Cherokee have pretty much the same engines as they did then, but the RAV4 and CX-5 are all new.
Richardson: I’d recommend the Jeep and the GMC as her first choices to stay on budget with a used car, but the Toyota and diesel Mazda are nicer if she can afford new.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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