THE MEDIUM-to-large 4WD wagon segment has seen a raft of primarily ute-based newcomers join the party in the past five years, and with it a boost in towing capacity.

Not so long ago, 2500kg was the maximum towing limit for wagons like the Toyota Prado (and still is), but with these newcomers arrived a boosted towing capacity Ė around 3000kg is the new norm.

Relatively new kids on the block, Ford Everest, Holden Trailblazer, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner, joined a just-updated Isuzu MU-X and recently renovated Toyota Prado to round-out our half-dozen wagons.

While a solid tow vehicle, the Mitsubishi Pajero misses out mostly because itís been around essentially unchanged for nine years. In fact, it hasnít been a fresh-sheet design since before Sydney hosted the Olympics.

The Prado has the lowest towing capacity here, at 2500kg, followed by the Fortuner at 2800kg and rest of the group at 3000kg (except Pajero Sport, with its pub-bragging rights of Ďbestí capacity at 3100kg, just 100kg more than the others).

One figure often missing in towing specs is the towball download maximum Ė in the case of all of the wagons here, itís the industry standard 10 per cent of towing capacity.

Test procedure

WE TOOK each of the vehicles, towing the tandem-axle ívan, on a test loop covering slightly more than 100km, taking in the lower Blue Mountains and the north-western Sydney Basin. We had a wide variety of road conditions to give the wagons a towing workout, from a freeway to secondary tarmac and even a bit of dirt thrown in for good measure. Speed was capped at 100km/h (instead of the statutory freeway limit of 110km/h) as we felt this was as high a speed as youíd want to go when towing.

speed as youíd want to go when towing.

In an ideal world we would have tested these vehicles with a caravan right on the limit of their towing capacities. To be consistent, we had to tow the same ívan that would be legal across all the six vehicles, and that meant it had to be legal behind the Toyota Prado, with its 2500kg capacity Ė and also use a ívan that had a legal theoretical payload. Using a 2499kg unladen caravan isnít realistic when the typical tandem-axle ívan has a payload of 400kg. We used a full-height tandem ívan weighing slightly less than 2100kg and with 180kg on the towball. Thatís plenty enough to sort things out.

You donít go towing to win drag races, but a standing-start acceleration test is a good way of comparing the vehiclesí relative flat-out performance. We used sister magazine Wheelsí Driftbox to accurately record the standing start to 60km/h and 80km/h figures. Unfortunately, it poured for the test week, so the acceleration tests were marred by loss of traction off the line due to a soaked surface. However, given that these are not high-performance cars where every tenth can make high-performance cars where every tenth can make a difference, our figures are still representative of their comparative all-out performance.

While all-out acceleration figures give you part of the towing performance puzzle, how the wagons slug it out climbing hills is another big chunk of the picture.

The hillclimb test on a freeway hill started as a shallow climb then gradually became steep, approximately 1:5 gradient. Speed was settled at exactly 80km/h on the Driftbox at the beginning of the rise, then full throttle was applied at a set marker point. The results were very interesting, showing how in some cases gearing can, to some degree, make up for a lack of torque.

Tank-to-tank fills gave us accurate fuel consumption figures.

Rounding out the considerations was wheelbase and rear axle-to-towball point measurements, front and rear body height measurement changes with/without a ívan Ė plus the all-important kerb weight, payload and Gross Combined Mass figures.

Itís typical to tow a trailer right on a vehicleís maximum limit and load it up with every kilogram available of the vehicleís payload, but itís worth noting how much payload or towing capacity you lose with the maximum GCM of some of these vehicles (GCM is the maximum total weight Ė including occupants, gear, fuel, water, everything Ė allowed for vehicle and trailer together).

We didnít need to use a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) Ė these wagons had a relatively light 180kg on the towball, and all had front body lift measurements within an acceptable range. We also wanted to be able to feel if towing changed the wagonsí ride and stability, which is next to impossible to achieve when using a WDH.

We fitted a Hayman Reese break-away brakes remote battery monitor to each wagon to keep things legal (itís a unique NSW towing requirement for towing trailers with break-away brakes fitted). The break-away battery monitor plugs into a 12v accessory port (or USB port) on the dash and wirelessly monitors the breakaway battery on board the caravan.

Towing mirrors (other than the fixed Clearview type) are either door-mounted or clipped onto the side mirrors. We used Oraís Rossa units with the optional magnetic door-mounted bracing.

The 2183kg Jayco at tare weight (that is, with water tanks and gas bottle empty and no other payload on board) weighed 180kg on the towball.

Get it weighed

KNOWING weight limits is important when youíre towing, and if you havenít had your rig weighed at a weighbridge then youíre really flying blind. You donít have to weigh your vehicle and trailer every time you tow, but if itís a new set-up then you have to know exactly what it weighs.

Two identical caravan chassis can be 100kg different over the weighbridge, simply because of the amount of galvanised paint left in the chassis rails.

With thanks to Jayco Sydney, 63-67 Glossop Street, St Marys, NSW, for the loan of the caravan for this story.

Contact: Ph (02) 9623 1971.


THE EVEREST has the most power and second-highest peak torque of this bunch, but it is also one of the heaviest wagons. That made its towing performance a surprise Ė we didnít think it would do so well.

The Everest cruised comfortably and quietly on the freeway with the ívan behind it. The six-speed auto transmission was happy to stay in sixth gear on the plains with the engine revving at just 1800rpm at 100km/h. However, inclines saw it downshift to fifth and sit at 2200rpm.

The Everest was the best-performing wagon of the bunch, except for the 0-60km/h increment where it was pipped by the Trailblazer. While the redline is at 4700rpm, the Everest upshifts at 3400rpm in Drive and 3700rpm in Sport mode Ė clearly it is not lacking in performance by not revving higher, and peak power is reached at just 3000rpm anyway. Given how noisy the inline five gets, itís not such a bad thing anyway.

The hill climb wasnít an even grade, starting as a shallow climb and gradually becoming steeper. While this allowed the Everest to easily build up speed initially, even the steep section didnít dampen the wagonís enthusiasm. The Everest recorded the fastest speed at the top of the hill, with 88km/h.

That slightly rough, noisy five-cylinder engine comes into its own in term of engine braking Ė the Everest felt as though it was almost going to come to a stop on one less-steep section of the test hill.

Fuel consumption was on the higher end of the scale in this group, but at least the Everestís 80-litre tank gives you a realistic touring range of slightly less than 500km.

With 180kg of caravan weighing down on its towball, the Everestís body dropped 35mm at the rear and rose just 5mm at the front. While the rear drop is a little high, itís not excessive.

The Everestís rear axle-to-towball measurement was 1225mm, a relatively short distance that can only help towing stability together with its 2850mm wheelbase. The Ford has trailer sway control, should things get out of hand.

Not that that will happen easily. The Ford was quite stable with a caravan behind it and was hardly impacted by cross-winds, bowwaves created by passing trucks, or the varied road conditions we encountered. Its ride was on the firm side with the caravan coupled up behind it, but not jittery or uncomfortable.

The Everestís GCM of 5800kg (GVM is 3100kg) means you canít make full use of its maximum payload and towing capacities Ė youíll have to reduce weight by 300kg. And the towing mirrors were a little awkward to fit onto the Everest mirror shells, thanks to their sloping shape.

Ford was the only manufacturer here to fit a 12-pin plug as standard (which allows it to plug into a caravan 12-pin plug, which means the vehicle battery can power accessories such as 12v fridges when driving). A seven-pin flat caravan connector will plug straight into the vehicleís 12-pin connector.




WITH the highest torque output, second-best power figure and relatively light kerb mass, the Trailblazer looked very promising as a tow hauler. It certainly felt responsive compared to the others from the moment we took off with the caravan behind it Ė you even feel tempted to check that ívan is still hitched up.

On the freeway, the Trailblazer cruised easily in sixth gear with the engine quietly spinning at 1600rpm at 100km/h, even on slight inclines. With slightly steeper climbs, the transmission eventually made a downshift to fifth, where the engine revved at 2200rpm; while amping up the noise level, it wasnít intrusive.

The Driftbox recorded acceleration figures that put the Trailblazer as the quickest of this bunch to 60km/h, despite the wheelspin just off the line on very wet tarmac. Reaching 80km/h took 0.1sec more than the Everest, which was the quickest of the six wagons in this increment. The Trailblazerís engine is a relatively smooth diesel and doesnít object to being revved to give its best.

While you might put the slightly slower 0-80km/h time Ė compared to the Everest Ė down to wet-weather traction issues, the same canít be said of our hill climb test, where the Trailblazer was 2km/h slower than the Everest at the top of the hill.

Even though it doesnít feel like a particularly slow-revving, high compression diesel when accelerating hard though the gears, it sure behaves like one when using engine braking. The Trailblazer recorded a respectable 60km/h at the bottom of our test descent.

The Trailblazerís fuel figure was around average for this group, and its fuel range was an acceptable 492km when towing.

The Trailblazer rose 18mm at the front and dropped 30mm at the rear once 180kg of coupling weight was dropped onto the towball. Its 2845mm wheelbase is similar to its competitors, but the rear-axle-to-towball-point measurement, at 1270mm, is by far the longest. Perhaps that might, in part, explain the Trailblazerís tendency to yaw slightly over bumpy roads with a caravan behind Ė it didnít feel quite as planted as some of the others when towing. The ride quality felt firm when towing, but not to the point where it became uncomfortable.

Like most of the wagons here, you can’t load up the Trailblazer to its full payload and also tow a trailer at the maximum permitted weight. The Trailblazerís GCM figure of 5700kg brings it up 120kg short of its full payload and maximum towing capacities compared to the field.

The squared-off exterior mirror design also meant the towing mirrors attached securely to the Trailblazer.




HE MU-X settled into an easy highway cruise and was much more relaxed cruising at a 100km/h with its newly revised 3.0-litre engine (with 50Nm more torque) and an additional transmission ratio (now a six-speed auto in place of the old five-speed unit). Where the MU-X would sit on 1900rpm in fifth gear (with the occasional shift to fourth, where it would rev noisily at around 2600rpm) at 100km/h, the MY16.5 MU-X ticks along in sixth gear at 1500rpm, with the occasional downshift to fifth where it revs at 1800rpm at 100km/h. When revved, though, the Isuzu is just as clattery and intrusive as before and, while the extra drag of a caravan masks it a little, the Isuzuís turbo lag hasnít been reduced.

Aside from initial sluggishness due to turbo lag, the MU-X was a real performance surprise packet. It came third in the group for standing-start and hill climbing, not that much behind the Everest and Trailblazer. Perhaps there is no substitute for cubic inches, because despite the Pajero Sportís slight (3kW) power advantage and two additional gears (albeit biased towards overdrive ratios), the 3.0-litre MU-X hosed the 2.4-litre Pajero Sport in the standing start and hill climb performance figures.

Engine braking was also excellent, with the MU-X just behind the Everest in pegging back speed down the test hill.

Despite being the most fuel-efficient wagon here, the Isuzu has just 65 litres of fuel capacity, netting it a satisfactory rather than outstanding 442km safe touring range.

The wagonsí wheelbases are within 100mm of each other, but at 2845mm the MU-X has one of the longest on test. Its 1210mm rear-axle-to-towball point was one of the shortest, another pointer to good towing stability. Finally, while the body dropped 30mm at the rear with the ívan hitched up, the front increased in height by just 5mm.

The Isuzuís suspension, quite plush when unladen, becomes more obviously soft when thereís a caravan hitched up behind.

When heading along rough, undulating roads, the MU-X exhibits quite a bit of fore-aft pitching. Yet thereís one thing for sure Ė this is one of the most planted, secure towing platforms around, and despite its bouncy shenanigans on some roads, it never feels unstable or unsafe.

Isuzu doesnít short-change you on weights as some of the other manufacturers do, so you can run with the full 638kg payload while towing to a maximum 3000kg behind the MU-X and still meet the 5750kg GCM maximum.

The MU-Xís side mirrors were a nice squared-off shape, making it easy to attach the towing mirrors.




THE PAJERO Sport was one of the smoothest and quietest wagons on the freeway with a ívan behind, ticking along at 1750rpm at 100km/h. It didnít take much of an incline before the Mitsubishi preferred seventh gear, though, which saw it running at 2200rpm at 100km/h While having the smallest displacement engine and equal lowest torque (with the MU-X), the Pajero Sport has a relatively low kerb weight and two extra gear ratios on its side. The 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is smooth and free-revving, which it needs to be given its power and torque figures peak relatively high in the rev range.

Acceleration figures put the Mitsubishi in the middle of the pack Ė it wasnít quite as quick as the Everest and Trailblazer nor, surprisingly, did it manage to keep up with the MU-X. The hill climb speed was telling, though, as having the right gear ratio for such conditions saw it faster at the top than the MU-X and not far behind the Everest and Trailblazer.

What you donít want for engine braking is a free-revving engine, and here the Pajero Sportís speed increase from the 60kmh start to 65km/h is telling. At least you can grab a lower gear quickly thanks to the Mitsubishiís excellent paddle shifters.

With a fairly small fuel tank (68 litres) combined with a fair thirst for fuel (14.3L/100km) the Pajero Sport has a fairly short 425km safe touring range.

This wagon has a relatively lanky 2800mm wheelbase and a short rear axle-to-towball-point measurement of 1200mm, but when hitched up to the test ívan (with 180kg towball download) the front lifted 25mm and the rear dropped 30mm. The net result is a stable towing platform, without undue yawing or pitching movement. However, the ride is firm and turns quite brittle on rough secondary roads.

Youíll have to shed 310kg from vehicle or ívan if you were intended on loading both to the gunnels, thanks to the Pajero Sportís 5400kg Gross Combined Mass.

The Pajero Sportís side mirrors slope at the top, making them a bit more difficult to mount towing mirrors than the others here, but with some adjustments to the mounting brackets they can be made secure.




THE FORTUNER cruised along the freeway easily, although it was reluctant to drop into sixth gear at 100km/h with the ívan behind it. It was happiest in fifth gear, where it was sitting at 1850rpm at 100km/h. An occasional downshift to fourth when there was a slight elevation in the road saw revs jump to 2700rpm at 100km/h. Needless to say, the Fortuner wasnít quite as relaxed as some of the other wagons when cruising with a ívan.

With equal power, 20Nm more torque and similar kerb weight as the Isuzu MU-X, the Fortuner should have produced similar performance figures, but didnít. It was slower in all tests. While it was considerably slower in standing-start acceleration, it was only 5km/h slower than the Isuzu on the more relevant hill climb test, which is not a big difference. Perhaps the Toyotaís gearing is not quite as well-matched to the engine as the Isuzuís is to its engine, or perhaps the test vehicle wasnít the best example.

Engine braking was quite good, with the Fortuner peaking at 62km/h at the bottom of the test hill. And like the Pajero Sport, the Fortuner has paddle shifters, making a quick downshift or two very easy to do.

The Fortuner was quite fuel-efficient on our test loop and that, combined with a comparatively large fuel tank, nets it a healthy touring range of 547km With a fairly long 2750mm wheelbase and nicely short 1200mm axle-to-towball point, the Fortuner looks, on paper at least, to have promising towing stability. While the body lowered 40mm at the rear with the ívan hooked up, the front rose just 10mm.

The net result was a pretty solid towing platform, with no nasty pitching or yawing to upset the experience.

However, the Fortunerís suspension does not appear well-tuned for having 180kg pushed down on the towball; on rough roads the ride is jittery and uncomfortable. Perhaps a laden vehicle and ívan Ė or a different suspension tune Ė would result in a much smoother ride .

Good news if you want to load up the Fortuner and your trailer right up to their respective maximums, as the Fortunerís Gross Combined Weight does allow for the vehicle, a full payload and maximum towing mass.

The Fortunerís mirror shells are a curved shape that are not the easiest to clip towing mirrors to.




tHE PRADO settled into a comfortable, easy cruise on the highway, but more than the others it felt the weight of the caravan. At 100km/h, the transmission couldnít decide if it wanted to lock the torque converter or not, so revs fluctuated between 2300rpm (unlocked) to 1600rpm (locked) in fifth gear at 100km/h. While engine noise was obvious when sitting at 2300rpm (which was most of the time), it wasnít a conversation-stopper.

The gut feeling that the Prado was slower than the others was reflected in the performance figures. While it was quicker than the Fortuner and only a fraction slower than the Pajero Sport to 60km/h, (its constant 4WD helping traction on the slippery surface, no doubt) it was the slowest of the group to reach 80km/h from a standing start and also the slowest on the hill climb. The Prado was the heaviest wagon here (albeit only 38kg heavier than the Everest) with engine outputs towards the bottom of the group, and the additional drag of constant 4WD over the others running part-time 4WD (set in 2WD for our testing) wouldnít help either.

The Prado did a pretty good job keeping speed down on the test descent, and it reached a peak of 62km/h at the bottom of the hill.

The Toyotaís fuel consumption was the highest recorded for the group (although not much more than the Everest), but the big drawcard with this vehicle is its massive fuel range. With 937km of safe touring range when towing, you can afford to miss a fuel stop that you canít with the others.

The Prado dropped 20mm at the rear and rose 15mm at the front and, with a 2790mm wheelbase and 1225mm rear axleto- towball overhang, looked like it had the goods for stable towing. Thatís how it turned out too, with no yawing and very little pitching it was a very solid and stable towing platform. The Kakadu has adjustable dampers and for towing, Sport mode was the best setting. Even then it was a little soft on rough roads, where the Pradoís nose would pitch a little.

While Toyota isnít the only one to have a GCM less than the combined weight of the vehicle, maximum payload and maximum towing capacity, itís hardly significant. Just 15kg will have to be taken out of the vehicle or ívan to meet the Pradoís GCM figure.

The Pradoís side mirrors were the largest of this group and in many instances you wouldnít actually need towing mirrors to tow legally. We had to use the extended securing strap to get the towing mirror clamps onto the mirrors, though.




THE EVEREST is a great tow vehicle, with plenty of torque allowing it to cruise easily. It also offers ample overtaking and hill climbing power. While fuel consumption is relatively high and the payload takes a hit when towing at its 3000kg limit, it has a very good touring range, excellent engine braking, and a comfortable and stable chassis. On test, it was the most wellrounded towing wagon.

The Trailblazerís impressive, class-leading torque should have seen it blitz the field but, as we found in performance testing, it didnít always lead the pack. Yet thereís no denying this vehicle gets on with the business of towing very easily and, while it didnít feel quite as planted on the road as some of the others, it had impressive engine braking and a reasonable Gross Combined Mass limit.

The MU-X was the surprise performer of this group. The extra 50Nm of torque and new transmission for MY16.5 gives the Isuzu a new lease on life, and its towing performance was very competitive while staying economical Ė always an MU-X strength.

While the MU-Xís towing ride could be better contained, and itíd be nice to have a better touring range, it was the most rock-solid of the group for towing stability and one of the few that you can use every kilogram of payload while towing at its limit.

The Pajero Sport might have the best towing capacity, but it loses a fair bit of payload when youíve hitched up a trailer at the limit. No matter, the little 2.4-litre four teams up really well with the eight-speed auto to extract a surprising amount of get-upand- go with 2100kg lumbering behind. You do pay for it at the bowser, though, and the firm-riding Mitsubishi becomes even more so when thereís weight on the towball.

The Prado is in some ways an outstanding tow vehicle. It was one of the most rock-solid vehicles here when cruising with a caravan hitched up. Itís no surprise really with its near-2500kg kerb weight, which in part explains the not-so-stellar towing performance and fuel economy. It might be a bit thirsty when towing, but then the Prado can travel double the distance of the others here before itíll need fuel again Ė a great asset when youíre out bush. While some might argue the Pradoís 2500kg towing limit is realistic, it does knock out plenty of trailers and caravans that weigh just that bit more when loaded up.

The Fortuner gets the same engine as the Prado but carries much less weight and, with its part-time 4WD system, has less drag on components when in 2WD mode. Yet it lacks the Pradoís excellent range and its ride quality goes south with 180kg pushing down on the towball. Perhaps loading it up more would sort out its ride. And thereís no issue doing that because the Fortunerís GCM allows payload and towing capacities to reach their full limit.

Balancing act

LETíS FACE it, whenever you stick a trailer onto vehicle it is automatically a much less stable combination.

Get your payload weight balance all wrong and you may as well start filling out your insurance forms before you Ė quite literally Ė hit the road. Itís that plain and simple.

Good payload balance is the foundation of safe towing. Get this right and you shouldnít have a rig that automatically spits itself off the road at the slightest puff of a crosswind or bump in the road. Heavy stuff should be packed low and over, or just ahead of, the trailer wheelset if possible. Towing requires plenty of concentration, too, so taking a fair few rest breaks and a fairly cautious approach to speed should make the whole experience as straightforward as it can be.

People still get very nervous when towing heavy stuff and want every bit of gear they can find Ė like a Weight Distribution Hitch (WDH) Ė to make everything right again in their towing world. However, a WDH really should be the last resort.

Dust off the moth-eaten instructions for your WDH and youíll find that youíre required to take the tension off the spring bars before driving over any terrain that angles the vehicle and ívan too sharply. Otherwise, youíre transferring enormous loads through your vehicleís towbar and chassis, loads it was never designed to handle. Even some servo driveways should be a stopand- release spring bars situation.



ENGINE 3.2-litre 5cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 143kW at 3000rpm/470Nm at 1500-2750rpm TRANSMISSION Six-speed auto DRIVELINE Full-time 4WD with high/ low range WEIGHT 2407kg PAYLOAD 693kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5800kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 3000kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 300kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres PRICE AS TESTED $60,990 (not incl. on-road costs)


ENGINE 2.8-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 147kW at 3600rpm/500Nm at 2000rpm TRANSMISSION Six-speed auto DRIVELINE Part-time 4WD with high/ low range WEIGHT 2203kg PAYLOAD 617kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5700kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 3000kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 300kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 76 litres PRICE AS TESTED $52,490 (not incl. on-road costs)


ENGINE 3.0-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 130kW at 3600rpm/430Nm at 2000-2200rpm TRANSMISSION Six-speed auto DRIVELINE Part-time 4WD with high/ low range WEIGHT 2112kg PAYLOAD 638kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5750kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 3000kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 300kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 65 litres PRICE AS TESTED $54,800 (not incl. on-road costs)


ENGINE 2.4-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 133kW at 3500rpm/430Nm at 2500rpm TRANSMISSION Eight-speed auto DRIVELINE Part-time/full-time 4WD with high/low range WEIGHT 2070kg PAYLOAD 640kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5400kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 3100kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 310kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 68 litres PRICE AS TESTED $52,750 (not incl. on-road costs)


ENGINE 2.8-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 130kW at 3400rpm/450Nm at 1600-2400rpm TRANSMISSION Six-speed auto DRIVELINE Part-time 4WD with high/ low range WEIGHT 2135kg PAYLOAD 615kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5545kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 2800kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 280kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres PRICE AS TESTED $59,990 (not incl. on-road costs)


ENGINE 2.8-litre 4cyl turbo-diesel OUTPUTS 130kW at 3400rpm/450Nm at 1600-2400rpm TRANSMISSION Six-speed auto DRIVELINE Full-time 4WD with high/ low range WEIGHT 2445kg PAYLOAD 545kg GROSS COMBINED MASS 5475kg MAX TOWING CAPACITY 750kg (unbraked); 2500kg (braked) MAX TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 250kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 150 litres PRICE AS TESTED $85,900 (not incl. on-road costs)