For the latest awards, announced on 25 September, there were 38 cars competing in five price categories and two 4×4 categories, all chasing the prestigious title of The Caravan Club Towcar of the Year 2009
Each car was subjected to a rigorous programme of testing with a British-made Bailey caravan hitched on the back, scrupulously ballasted to bring its total weight to precisely 85 per cent of that of the car. This is in line with the Caravan.
Club’s recommendation for towing safety. It also ensures fair evaluation for the cars, giving them a level playing field of work to do. During all the testing, extra ballasting is installed in the cars themselves. A sandbag in the front nearside footwell mimics the weight of a front seat passenger, and more ballast stowed in the boot represents typical luggage a car would carry on a holiday trip. I was one of the 10 judges acting as jury for the awards. Six of us were driving judges, assessing the cars’ behaviour, stability and performance on a hilly, twisty handling course and on a motorway-style high-speed track. The other four judges were ‘caravanability’ experts, adjudicating on the practicality of each car with a caravan hitched on the back. The scoring system under which we driving judges evaluated the cars is a complicated one: up to 15 points per judge given for each of 11 categories: acceleration 30- 60 mph, stability below and above 50 mph, hill start (on a 17 per cent gradient), gearbox/ratios suitability, handling/ manoeuvrability, traction, brakes, driver ergonomics, visibility, and parking brake.
What’s the relevance of all this if you’re not a caravanner? Lots of people tow, hauling trailers carrying boats, cars, camping kit or whatever else their job or hobby demands. Towing is very revealing, it makes a car work hard, magnifying both its strengths and weaknesses as it lugs something that weighs nearly as much again as its own kerb weight. Experience shows that diesels tend to do the job far better than petrol cars. Out of 38 cars contesting the 2009 awards, only three were non-diesels. So it’s hardly a surprise that the winners in six out of seven categories, as well as the overall winner, were diesel cars.
Citroën Berlingo Multispace – Seven cars contested this lowest price category, for models costing up to £16,000. Every one was a diesel. The winner romped home 22 points ahead of its nearest rival. Citroën’s Berlingo Multispace XTR 1.6 HDi 110 was an impressive victor, liked for its roomy practicality as well as its highly competent behaviour as a towcar, for an all-up price (as tested) of £14,915. In second place was the Kia cee’d SW 1.6 CRDi LS, and trailing a long way behind in third position was the Hyundai i30 Estate Style 1.6 CRDi.
£16,000 – £20,000
Hyundai i800 2.5 CRDi Style – There were six cars chasing glory in the up to £20,000 class, all diesels. The margin between first and second was identical to the lower-price class. User-friendliness and good driving manners with a caravan hitched up behind, put the Hyundai i800 2.5 CRDi Style out in front. Its as-tested price of £19,721 included no extras other than a towing hook and electric sockets. Kia came a creditable second with the cee’d SW 2.0 CRDi Sport, and the Peugeot 308 SW Sport HDi 136 was third.
Lots of people tow, hauling trailers carrying boats, cars, camping kit or whatever else their job or hobby demands
Towcar of the Year winner.
£25,000 – £32,000
Ford Mondeo Estate 2.5T – Ten cars were in competition here, eight of them diesels. They included the returning champion from last year’s Towcar awards, and it turned out to be the class winner by the narrowest of margins. Victory went to the Ford Mondeo Estate Titanium X 2.5T (the only petrol-engined winner) by just a single point ahead of the Volvo V70 D5 AWD SE. Then came a big points gap to the rest of the pack, headed by third-placer Renault Koleos Privilége dCi 170 4×4. The Mondeo’s as-tested price was £26,303.
Mercedes C 320 CDI Estate – Only three models were in the running for the over £32,000 and top price class – all of them diesel powered. The winner was the Mercedes-Benz C 320 CDI Estate Sport, 12 points ahead of runner-up – the Volvo XC70 D5 SE Lux. The Toyota Land Cruiser V8 off-roader, the largest and most expensive car in the towcar contest, was a distant third by 67 points. The Mercedes-Benz’s price including a long list of optional extras, among them a £610 towing bracket, was £42,003.
ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE – UNDER 1,800KG TOWING WEIGHT
Volkswagen Tiguan SE 2.0 TDI – Five cars, four of them diesels, contested the award for best 4×4 towcar with a towing weight up to 1,800kg: the Volkswagen Tiguan SE 2.0 TDI 4MOTION Auto, Ford Kuga Titanium 2.0 TDCi, Subaru Legacy Sports Tourer 2.0D, Renault Koleos Privilége dCi 175 and Mitsubishi Outlander 2.4 Elegance Auto. The cars spanned two price classes, and the winner was chosen by judges’ vote rather than score mathematics. It gave victory to the Tiguan, with an as-tested price of £22,390.
ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE – OVER 1,800KG TOWING WEIGHT
Volvo V70 D5 AWD SE – There were seven all-wheel-drive models challenging the higher towing weight 4×4 category, and these were all diesels: Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi XS, Mitsubishi L200 Double Cab 2.5 DI-D Walkinshaw Performance, Volvo V70 D5 AWD SE, Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited, Toyota Landcruiser V8, Land Rover Defender 90 SW and Volvo XC70 D5 SE Lux. The Volvo V70 beat all the other contenders, with and all-up price of £38,045.
TOWCAR OF THE YEAR 2009 OVERALL WINNER: SKODA SUPERB 2.0 TDI