The Hyundai Sante Fe is a great modern SUV.
The Hyundai Sante Fe is a great modern SUV.

Which is the best large SUV to buy for towing a caravan?

THE QUESTION

We've just retired and are looking at buying our first new car. We tow a light Coromal pop-up single axle caravan and currently drive a 2002 Holden Commodore Equipe V6. It's been good but it's getting old. We mostly drive around town ferrying grandkids, so don't want a big 4WD. We'll do more caravanning in the near future. I've been researching several cars, including the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Mazda CX-9. Should I get a diesel? I want something easy to park so nothing too big.

Judi

ANSWER

All vehicles on your shopping list should manage the light van. Ute-based SUVs such as the Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport will tow more but are big and cumbersome around town. Normally we wouldn't recommend a diesel for pottering around town but if you want to get some serious grey nomad kilometres under the belt, especially with a caravan, it makes sense.

CHOICES

Kia Sorento Si Diesel, about $49,900

The upgraded Sorento has gained some important safety features.
The upgraded Sorento has gained some important safety features.

Our Car of the Year a couple of years back, the Sorento has had an upgrade that added some important safety features and creature comforts. The 2.2-litre turbo diesel has plenty of grunt for towing a caravan (capacity is 2000kg) and part-time all-wheel drive for any slippery surfaces around the campsite. The third row of seats provides enough space for the grandkids and there are ample outlets for them to plug in their phones and tablets. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.2L/100km, compared with 10L/100km for the petrol version. It has autonomous emergency braking but misses out on blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. Its industry-leading seven-year warranty adds to the appeal.

Hyundai Santa Fe Active about $50,400

Hyundai Sante Fe shares is a slick machine.
Hyundai Sante Fe shares is a slick machine.

This shares the Sorento's engines and basic underpinnings but has been updated recently and has a more modern looking cabin with newer technology. It's also slightly larger, liberating more space for rear passengers, and it has easier access to the third row than the Sorento. Creature comforts on the Active include leather seats, smartphone mirroring and an abundance of USB ports and 12V outlets, although there's no satnav. As with the Sorento, the airbags don't extend to the back of the third row and the warranty is shorter than the Kia at five years. Towing capacity matches the Kia.

Skoda Kodiaq 140TDI, $47,490

The Kodiaq is smaller than the other two SUVs listed here but has part time seven seats.
The Kodiaq is smaller than the other two SUVs listed here but has part time seven seats.

It's not a diesel and it's a bit smaller than the Santa Fe and Sorento, so there's less luggage space and room in the third-row pews, which also don't get aircon vents. If you can live with that, the Skoda rewards with a punchy 2.0-litre turbo that punches above its weight and is reasonably frugal for a petrol engine, using just 7.6L/100km. It tows the same weight but has a low 80kg downball weight and a space-saver spare - in the Kia and Hyundai they are full-size. Safety is good, with nine airbags and AEB but other driver assist tech is bundled in an expensive Luxury Pack. Five-year warranty matches the Hyundai.

Wildcard

Holden Commodore Tourer, $47,990

The new Holden Commodore might not be built here but it is still a competent performer.
The new Holden Commodore might not be built here but it is still a competent performer.

If you liked your old Commodore, why not buy a new one? The Tourer Calais has a powerful 235kW 3.6-litre V6 matched to a smooth-shifting nine-speed auto and adaptive all-wheel drive. It's a five-seater but is rated to tow 2000kg and has all the goodies including satnav, head-up display and smartphone mirroring. There's even a massaging function on the driver's seat for those long treks between camp sites. Safety tech is comprehensive, including AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. Its thirst - a claimed 9L/100km - is the only drawback.

The verdict

The Commodore is a good drive if you can afford the fuel bills, the Sorento and Kodiaq have long warranties and clever cabin layouts - but the Santa Fe has the right combination of size, tech and ability.