As SUVs become more luxurious and car-like, finding one with the capabilities to tow and haul the heaviest loads without sacrificing comfort, refinement and style may be a challenge. Full-size pickup trucks are typically the best haulers, but there are some high-end luxury SUVs that can do the job, too.
Here we highlight 10 luxury SUVs based on their gross tow rating, which is the maximum they can tow when properly equipped with hitches and other gear needed for this serious task.
Several factors govern how much a vehicle can tow: the power of the engine, the robustness of the chassis on which the vehicle is built and how stout the various mechanicals are, such as suspension, transmission and braking systems. Basically, the bigger the better, in every case.
“High-end SUVs and trucks have a particular appetite for towing heavy loads,” says John Tiger, sales manager of Cequent Group, which sells popular towing products under the brands Reese, Draw-Tite and Hidden Hitch. “These are usually full-frame vehicles that are designed and built to haul larger trailers without drama. The offerings from American manufacturers usually have higher capacities due to their larger engines, heavier frames and sheer overall size.”
Half the vehicles on this list are American. General Motors dominates with its full-size models including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe/GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Suburban. Ford made the list with its Expedition and Lincoln Navigator models, and Chrysler’s Aspen (twin to the Dodge Durango) ranked as well. In the slideshow, we listed similar models from partner brands together, rather than separately.
Despite the strong showing from American manufacturers, there are European and Japanese SUVs with serious towing capabilities for those who prefer foreign luxury vehicles. On our list, these include the British Land Rover Range Rover, the Japanese Nissan Armada and several German models, including the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and GL-Class and Volkswagen’s Touareg.
The gross tow rating of vehicles on our list ranges between 7,000 pounds and nearly 10,000 pounds. There are few, if any, bumper-pull or receiver-hitch pull trailers that these rigs won’t tow.
Towing is growing
More people are towing with their trucks now than in years past. Heavy-duty trailer hitches are among the most popular accessories for so-called “light trucks.” Installations of these products have increased from 40 percent in 1988 to 57 percent in 2006, according to the 2006 Specialty Equipment Marketing Association’s Light Truck Personalization Report.
With a receiver hitch and a minimal amount of hardware, any driver can transform the family SUV into a true utility vehicle that opens the door to a wide range of activities and adventures. These include boating, personal water craft, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles, RVs and equestrian pursuits, among others.
Data from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association indicates that the popularity of larger towables is fueling sales of big SUVs. The RV industry is forecast to grow by 15 percent, totaling 8.5 million units, by 2010. The vast majority of those sales are bumper-pull travel trailers, most of which will be towed by full-size SUVs.
If you are planning a new SUV purchase, be sure to order the factory trailer towing package. Most cost $300-$500 and include a heavy-duty receiver hitch, more-robust suspension components, trailer-light wiring, additional engine and transmission coolers, and the largest brakes.
When there is a choice of engines, larger displacement and higher torque output is always a plus. The more-powerful engine will be less efficient for daily commuting, but it will actually be more efficient when towing, simply because it won’t be working nearly as hard as the base or less-powerful engine. And in terms of vehicle size and weight for big towing applications, heavier is better — it takes mass to control a weighty load.
To make our top 10 list, the SUVs had to have a base price of $30,000 or higher. The models are ranked by gross tow rating (obtained from manufacturers' Web sites) in ascending order and reflect the maximum tow rating possible as enabled by the most powerful engine, suspension and drivetrain combinations for that particular model.