We are picking up our new trailer in British Columbia next spring and hitting the road! We are looking for a new vehicle that is reliable, comfortable to drive, gas efficient and has a minimum towing capacity of 4,000 pounds. All of our research is pointing us to a Toyota Highlander, Kia Telluride or Hyundai Palisade. Europeans seem to use smaller vehicles for towing. What are your thoughts?
Diane and Doug
Richardson: You do need a larger vehicle for towing heavier weights, or at least a larger, more powerful engine. Diesel engines are very good for towing because they make lots of torque at low revs – that’s why tractor-trailers are all powered by diesels.
Gentile: Diesels have always been more popular in Europe, where the fuel was more accepted and more available. Many smaller vehicles have diesel engines there, which is why Europeans can tow boats and caravans with them, but not so much here.
Richardson: Of course, diesel popularity suffered a massive setback a few years ago with Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal. Europeans have always valued fuel consumption and fuel emissions more than North Americans because of the high cost of their fuel, and those diesels are getting themselves replaced by electric cars and hybrids.
Gentile: And EVs and hybrids aren’t nearly as capable of towing.
Richardson: No. The extra weight drains the batteries much more rapidly, and hybrids have small, fuel-efficient gas engines that really feel the strain. Most EVs and hybrids aren’t recommended for towing anything, period.
Gentile: Certainly not something that’s 4,000 pounds.
Richardson: So we’re back to good old internal combustion. What do you think is best for Diane and Doug – something not too big?
Gentile: Well, it looks like they’ve done some research. They mentioned the Toyota Highlander and that’s definitely at the top of my list. It can tow up to 5,000 pounds and has a payload of at least 1,520 pounds. The 3.5-litre V-6 engine is smooth, capable and powerful. Wouldn’t you agree?
Richardson: They won’t go wrong with the Highlander. The good news is that even the most basic V-6 Highlander will tow 5,000 pounds, with an MSRP of $40,450. The bad news is that the hybrid versions will only tow 3,500 pounds, so they’ll have an average fuel consumption of 10.3 litres per 100 kilometres, not the 6.7 of the hybrid.
Gentile: One that wasn’t on their list, but that they should consider is the all-new Nissan Pathfinder. It has a 284 horsepower, 3.5-litre V-6 engine and it can tow up to 6,000 pounds – that’s one of the leaders in the pack. Plus, Nissan dumped the annoying continuously variable transmission, or CVT, and replaced it with a new nine-speed automatic. It’s definitely improved the drive and the fuel economy, slightly, to an average of 10.5L/100 km.
Richardson: That’s intriguing. I’ve not driven the new Pathfinder yet, but an automatic transmission was definitely needed for it to be able to tow some heavy weight. B.C. has some serious hills, so it might be better for Diane and Doug to have some extra capability.
Gentile: And the ride and handling has improved compared with the last generation. On the road, it’s not as choppy as the previous version. It’s smooth and comfortable and it tackled the rugged, windy, hilly country roads very well. It’s a big improvement.
Richardson: The old Pathfinder wasn’t bad, it’s just that the competition was better. Competition like the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, which I would recommend to anyone.
Gentile: Those Korean cousins are great choices, too. Both are on Diane and Doug’s short list, and both can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Richardson: I like the amount of useable space in those two crossovers, which feel like mid-size to drive, but like full-size when you start packing them with luggage and people.
Gentile: They’re both loaded with many standard features. The Telluride, for example, comes stuffed to the nines with standard features like high-beam assist, cruise control, a sunroof, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel for $44,995.
Richardson: The Hyundai Palisade is even cheaper, starting at $39,199. It also comes with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and high-beam assist. Both are powered by a 291-hp, 3.8-litre V-6 engine.
Gentile: So which one do you prefer – Palisade or Telluride?
Richardson: I prefer Palisade because I think it feels a little nicer inside, but most people seem to prefer Telluride. It was the World SUV of the Year for 2020. But you know, there’s another alternative that Diane and Doug might not have thought of yet, if they prefer a smaller vehicle. I think you’re driving it right now.
Gentile: Hyundai Santa Cruz – that’s a great option! Bet they didn’t even think of a small pickup truck. It’s the best of both worlds: from the inside, it looks and drives like a Tucson SUV, but it has the practicality of a truck. And it can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Richardson: That 5,000 pounds is truly impressive for such a small truck. You don’t even need to add a trailer package, or pay extra for anything except a hitch. There’s comfortable room for four people, and the small cargo bed is quite practical.
Gentile: Don’t forget all-wheel-drive, a locking metal tonneau cover, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a hidden lockable compartment under the cargo bed and numerous safety features are all standard, starting at around $38,000! Not bad, eh?
Richardson: Not bad for an alternative to an SUV, though it’s being compared with the Ford Maverick, which is a new small truck that’s $10,000 less. The Maverick will only tow 4,000 pounds though, and to get that, you must pay extra for a more powerful engine and a “tow package” option. So the Santa Cruz is Diane and Doug’s better small choice for towing.
Gentile: Inside, the Santa Cruz is much nicer than the Maverick, too. From the driver’s seat, it looks like a Tucson. So skip the other options Diane and Doug, and go for Santa Cruz.
What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at firstname.lastname@example.org and use ‘What car’ as as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.
Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.