Prior to purchasing our first caravan in 2016 I had never towed, for that reason I enrolled on a Caravan Club Towing Course, something I found very useful and confidence boosting.
Since then I’ve towed for about two thousand miles without mishap visiting some 24 sites, several of them multiple times, in the process. So I think that I’m beginning to get the hang of it; although I’m still very far from claiming to being an expert.
We’ve owned two caravans and two tow cars during that short time, neither of our first choices proving to be completely acceptable; but such is the price of experience. Unfortunately it’s difficult, perhaps impossible to test drive a car whilst towing your caravan or indeed vice versa. So we are reduced to reading the experiences of others who have sampled the product, and they are not always too helpful as one man’s meat is another’s poison. This short article is my input into the debate.
At the time we decided to buy a caravan we owned a Citroen C5 2 litre diesel automatic with air-suspension, the quietest and most comfortable car we had ever owned, and one we though would be eminently suited to towing a caravan. The problem surfaced when I researched having the essential tow-bar fitted. “What was I going to tow” asked the fitter? “A 1.4 tonne caravan” said I. “Might be worth checking the car’s specs”, said the fitter. Well, it quickly became apparent that our C5 was never designed to pull anything but the lightest of loads, and certainly not our caravan, so it had to be replaced, if we were to continue to our dream.
Scouring the caravanning press suggested that the VW Passat with a modern version of the Citroen engine, but unfortunately without the air-suspension could be a good way to go. Our local VW dealer just happened to have a nice clean late model on his forecourt that we arranged to test drive. The suspension was rather non-existent, but that was put down to the direct comparison with our C5. The Passat drove very well, had nice auto gearbox with finger paddle override to play with, and plenty of oomph. The press said told us it would make an ideal tug, so we brought it, and with a tow bar fitted we were good to go.
So what was wrong with it? Well, firstly we brought a saloon, which proved to be a mistake since a lot of caravanning paraphernalia has to be carried in the tow car and getting lumpy items into a car boot or onto the back seat was difficult. We never did adjust to the teeth rattling suspension when towing on anything other than perfect surfaces. And lastly, being front wheel drive one had to be very light-footed when towing and pulling away if wheel slip was to be avoided, especially if on an incline and the surface was poor or slippery.
So, the search for a replacement began. I concluded that a low milage older car with a bigger engine would be acceptable since, our annual milage was low it would take a decade or two to wear it out.
We finally settled on a low-milage Volvo XC70 2.4 litre AWD diesel auto, even though the caravan press were not enamoured with its road handling when in solo mode. It is criticised for leaning excessively when cornering, even though there is an obvious reason for that!
In every other respect it received good marks as a tug, and we both liked the higher seating position and ride comfort compared with the VW. It’s performance when towing can be summed up, in my view, as exemplary. There have been occasions where I’ve found myself checking in the mirror to see if the caravan is still attached. Perhaps I’ve been lucky but the combination of the XC70 and Clubman SB seems to be close to towing perfection, the caravan just follows the car without any drama, seemingly unaffected by gale force crosswind or passing traffic. Steep hills are noisily eaten.
The downside is that it is more expensive to run than either the VW or the Citroen by way of Road Tax and insurance, while the fuel consumption ranges from the awful to the horrendous, but I like to think that the exchequer is grateful for our contribution to the national budget.
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