You might think choosing a rugged new vehicle that’d suit work or towing your boat would be easy. After all, as long as the tow rating suits the job at hand, you simply go for the SUV or ute which hits the right price point, surely?

But it’s not so easy nowadays. By the end of March, 2019 SUVs made up 43.1% of the new-vehicle market in New Zealand – with utes at a further 25.2%. There were 35 ‘medium’ SUV models and 49 ‘large’ at all prices, and 19 models of 4×4 ute. Prices and specification levels vary widely.

To avoid brain-bending confusion, you’ll need a short list of bottomline requirements. What weight is your trailer and load? Will the vehicle double as a family car, and what kinds of journeys will it do? Do you need a ute’s open tray, or is the security of a closed SUV more important than load flexibility? Would a single cab ute do, or will you need a double cab, and finally, do you actually go off road, or simply look on four wheel-drive as a bonus when towing, in which case high ground clearance and a low-range transmission aren’t vital.

The further the body sits from terra firma and the longer-travel the suspension, the more truck-like the ride and extreme the body roll, so serious off-road ability doesn’t just determine how far bush you can go, but how comfortable you and your passengers will be on the road. Some brands consider on-road refinement as a core value – VW’s Amarok ute may be your choice if that’s vital – while others try to have their cake and eat it too, some more successfully than others. Ford’s Ranger leads Toyota’s Hilux in our market partly because it juggles both requirements more ably than its competitor, but you don’t have to dig far to realize that Mazda’s BT-50 is similarly clever, and a whisker more affordable.

Next, powerplants. Diesel engines offer plenty of torque, and cheaper fuel costs than conventional petrols. But hybrids also cut petrol costs and deliver plenty of low-rev torque, as that’s where electric motors pull most strongly. They deliver lower emissions too – especially during city driving, which may be a factor for some. And yes, there are a few hybrids that tow. Toyota’s just- launched fifth-generation RAV4 hybrid will haul a 1500kg braked trailer, is a larger and better than any of its immediate predecessors and boasts a plethora of bonus spec and safety features.

As much as any of the age-old considerations, don’t forget to factor in the advantages of modern safety technology, especially as it pertains to towing. Especially if you haven’t bought new for a while – there’s been a revolution on this front. Some features until recently only available
to buyers of high-end Euro metal have filtered down to the mass market, and not just to SUVs and utes. Even vans may come with lanekeeping tech, surround cameras and blind-spot warnings. Yep, surround cameras – which show you a bird’seye view of your surroundings – are a thing, though for trailer purposes most useful will be a good reversing camera, especially if it includes parking guidelines that move as you turn the wheel to display your likely heading, and a marker to indicate where the tow bar will end up.

Some vehicles do more. Consider Holden’s big, brash Acadia, which not only gets hitch guidance with hitch view from its rear-view camera and a centre guideline to help you line up that trailer, but lets you check on it when you’re driving. Moreover, there’s a trailer/ tow drive setting which will alter the nine-speed auto’s shift patterns to deliver better torque or traction when you need it. Acadia also comes with seven seats, auto emergency braking to cut fender benders, blind-spot alert and rear cross traffic alert, all features becoming common on mid-range mass-market models.

Even those seeking simply the highest tow rating for their dollar will be spoiled for choice. Mahindra’s cut-price pickup at $29,990 for the double-cab will haul 2500kg, while many established brands will accommodate a 3500kg trailer, with Ford’s Ranger, Toyota’s Hilux, Holden’s Colorado, Nissan’s Navara, Mazda’s BT-50 and Isuzu’s D-Max just a few of the utes capable of it. The Ram 1500 leviathan can – using a pintle – manage over 6000kg.

We’ve left cars out of this equation, given the vast array of SUV and ute models to choose from, though many also offer the sort of fourwheel grip that assists with towing – think Subaru, or VW’s 4Motion systems. Consider the lot and you’re back to where you started – confused, and likely to let your heart, and a nice bit of chrome, rule your head.

So work out if you want a ute or SUV. Consider the likely mileages, the tow rating, your bottom line for safety – both in terms of tech and crash ratings – and your budget. That should leave you a manageable short list for those test drives. Good luck!

Article by: Jacqui Madelin