Travel: Feel the power and the pull of the open road

LOOKING for a new towcar? A good car doesn’t necessarily make a good towcar. So ignore 0-60mph times, racing car-like handling or the latest gizmos – great weights, a lusty, low revving engine and a good rear suspension are what really count.

The five towcars featured here are a mix to suit all pockets.

Land Rover Discovery 4

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Admittedly, not everybody has generous employers or deep enough pockets to drive this brilliant 4x4, but if you have the cash then you’ll have one of the best towcars ever.

The Discovery weighs more than four tonnes so will be able to cope with towing even the largest of twin-axle tourers, and the superb 150kg towball weight helps. But it doesn’t convey the sense of safety and satisfaction you get driving this Land Rover, either hitched up or solo, where its off-road ability is matched by on-road executive-style comfort and refinement.

The engine, also shared with Jaguar, is a mine of pulling power offering a juggernaut-like 601Nm of torque in 3-litre guise, enabling the Discovery to outgun many so-called hot hatches, yet still return over 30mpg. Sadly, that’s the only morsel of good news because the Discovery costs a packet to buy and run, but at least reliability isn’t as shaky as it used to be with this Land Rover.

Buy a used one starting from £26,000 and rely on an independent specialist for maintenance, and it becomes a more realistic proposition.

Land Rover Discovery4 3.0 SD

Kerbweight: 2,583kg; 85 per cent match: 2,196kg; Towing limit: 3,500kg

Ford Mondeo

Scottish motor racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart lent a hand in developing the original Ford Mondeo and, 20 years on, his influence can still be felt. The latest family Ford is superb to drive with cracking handling and ride, plus refinement levels that are well up to BMW standards. It’s just as capable when towing, too.

Part of the reason for this is the excellence of the TDCi diesel engines which have power to spare, especially the 2-litre with 161bhp where the 350Nm provides impressive pull and flexibility. If that’s a bit rich, then opt for the 140 which has practically the same pull but less outright performance. For lighter towing, the 1.6 and 1.8-litre units don’t do a bad job either. If the Mondeo has a fault then it’s the sheer size the current model takes up on the road, but it does ensure great weights and masses of space.

Depreciation means buying nearly new provides better value – like a 140 “60” plate Zetec for £13,500 which cost some £21,000 a year ago…

Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Zetec estate

Kerbweight: 1,592kg; 85 per cent match: 1,353kg; Towing limit: 2,000kg

Volkswagen Golf

The Golf has been with us for almost 40 years and its watchwords have always been quality and dependability. The latest Mk5 generation carries on the tradition and, like previous Golfs, is as satisfying to own as it is to drive.

There’s that same substantial, solid feel Golfs always enjoy, and, thanks to an excellent chassis design, it tows like a dream for its size.

The muscular diesel engines offered across the range pull like a train, especially the 2.0TDI which is endowed with 320Nm of torque in 140 guise; if that’s not enough, the 170 delivers a lorry-like 350Nm of pulling power. The DSG automatic option is superb, offering lightening yet smooth gear changes that make for easier towing. Golfs are roomy and refined and the boot space is more than adequate. And, unlike some rivals, the spare wheel is suitable for towing. Add typical VW reliability and strong resale values and, as the TV ad says, it’s crazy not to own a Golf instead of something like one.

Volkswagen Golf 140TDI Match

Kerbweight: 1,381kg; 85 per cent match: 1,174kg; Towing limit: 1,500kg

Skoda Superb

A past towcar champion, this model almost lives up to its name, offering remarkable value for money new and second-hand. Don’t let the Skoda badge put you off as this is really a cut-price Audi under the skin. And it is just as capable, sharing the same excellent diesel engines and secure chassis for effortless towing. It’s a real pleasure to drive solo, too.

If cabin space is paramount, then the Superb is in a class of its own with enormous rear seat and luggage room. And the hatch saloon model comes with a clever split door.

Superbs can be had with diesels, starting from as low as 1.6-litres, but really you need the 2.0 TDI, preferably in top ‘170’ guise for that 350Nm of pulling torque. For those who want to venture off the beaten track, there’s a select range of 4WD models. The economy-minded Greenline models are also suitable for towing.

Starting from £17,500 new, used Superb 2010 diesels start from £11,000. Given the choice, buy the classy looking estate.

Skoda Superb 1.70 TDI SE 170

Kerbweight: 1,577kg; 85 per cent match: 1,340kg; Towing limit: 1,800kg

Kia Sedona

A few years ago, many would have laughed at owning a Kia but today, if you need a large no-nonsense people carrier that’s big on room and workrate, then the joke’s on you for ignoring the Sedona. It’s just what you need in an MPV towcar: heavy weights, a lusty diesel engine and plenty of cabin space. In school-run mode, the powered sliding side doors are a boon, and this Korean belies its size, even in town. Although there are better MPVs to drive, there’s not much wrong with the way the Kia tows, proving stable at speed, with the 2.2-litre diesel delivering 436Nm of pulling power to cope with just about anything. Crucially, it comes with a full-size spare wheel.

It looks expensive, yet prices start from under £19,000. Buy a year-old alternative and you can save on average £6,000 plus take advantage of one of the best used approved schemes in the trade.

Kia Sedona 2.2 CRDi 2 auto

Kerbweight: 2,287kg; 85 per cent match: 1,944kg; Towing limit: 2,000kg