By on May 25, 2015

Clark writes:

Sajeev,

We plan on buying a hard-side folding camper (a.k.a. an Aliner) with a dry weight of about 2,100 lbs. Which minivan or SUV would you recommend?

Sajeev answers:

I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I kinda want a pop-up camper to tow behind my Ranger. Kinda the same thing…sorta.

Anyway, if you stick with an Aliner and don’t totally overload both the trailer and exceed the tow rig’s GVWR, almost any late-model V6 powered CUV or minivan is fine. I’d go vanning, for practicality and stretch out comfort; ideal for a small family, a couple, or just one person with mucho outdoor stuff. And their boxy shape (usually) punches a larger hole in the air for the trailer to “rest” inside.

Consider these minivan parameters, in no particular order:

  1. The option for a large, standalone, transmission cooler. And maybe the same for power steering. Or, as previously discussed, a super trick bolt-in setup in the aftermarket. Or perhaps give up and get the largest universal-fitting tranny cooler you can slap in. The latter could be the best and most affordable alternative.
  2. Size of brake discs and, to a lesser extent, any variance in caliper surface area between manufacturers. While I’m not holding my breath for a minivan with 4-piston front calipers, that would be sweet.
  3. Towing Capacity: checking the manufacturer websites, Chrysler wins the minivan towing race for MY 2015. Not only does it have available trailer sway control, there’s an extra 100 lbs of tow rating beyond every 3,500 pound rated minivan. But is that extra rated 100 lbs a tangible improvement?
    1. Another option: The Nissan Quest offers the same 3,500 pound towing capacity, but is the CVT gearbox is a good or bad thing? Good: CVTs work so well to put down power with efficiency, no steps for downshifting must be nice with the extra demands from towing. Bad: well, who here actually knows people who tow with CVT gearboxes over long periods of time?
  4. Tires: with all that load, finding the van with the most tow-worthy rubber is also important. Or switch to LT tires.
  5. Ease of adding aftermarket camping accessories: if you want it, can you get it for non-Chrysler minivans?
  6. U-body with LS4-FTW. Obviously, the rightest of the most righteous answers, if not the easiest to acquire. How sad for everyone!

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Shutterstock user Sundry Photography]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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48 Comments on “Piston Slap: Minivan or SUV to Take the “A” Liner?...”


  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Bear in mind that some companies, no names, no packdrill, publicise towing capacites that use a very low proportion of towball load to trailer weight. Great for marketing, lousy for high speed stability. 6% is a bare minimum.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I don’t disagree, Greg. But you might also add that the recommended tongue weight for towing is 10% of the trailer weight, meaning a 210# ball weight on the A-liner referenced. The short pivot length (tongue to trailer axle) will also have an effect on trailer stability, meaning you want it heavier on the ball than you might if that pivot length were longer. That’s also why the storage bays on the trailer are larger in front of the axle than they are behind. It’s also one reason why the propane tanks and battery tend to ride the tongue of the trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Sajeev Mehta,
      A company called Avan in Australia, produces the Aliner under licence as well as having their own Pop Up Camper, they actually produce more than Aliner
      http://www.avan.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Aliner-110-1080×720.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        They also have the Diesel Subaru in Australia with 4,000lb towing but a pretty rare model though
        http://www.carsguide.com.au/car-reviews/2015-subaru-forester-diesel-auto-review-first-drive-31400

  • avatar

    I think the Chrysler Town and Country makes more sense considering it’s towing ability…but I’m also considering it’s own interior space and capacity. If you’re going on a long drive you’d want to be comfortable and most likely be carrying a lot of items for a road trip. I’d feel more comfortable in a minivan for that task than an SUV.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Good call on keeping track of GVWR Sajeev. But it’s also smart to keep in mind that most popups don’t have much GVWR capacity either. My parents towed a popup to Alaska twice and many other places with their Dodge Ram conversion van. The van did fine, but they ended up buying new axles at least twice for the trailer during the 6 years they used it. I have no idea how many trailer tires they went through.

    I plan to use my F-150 to tow a popup, but I’ll also be loading the truck bed with the heavy items and make sure the trailer holding tanks are empty before traveling.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’ve towed a single-axle U-Haul (half-loaded, so maybe 1800 lbs) behind our 09 Sedona, filled with 7 family members and camping gear, cross-country from Pittsburgh to San Diego, and again to Boston, in the heat of summer both times.

    The car is very well-behaved under these conditions. I religiously change tranny fluid very 25k miles, and at 82k miles now, we haven’t had any problems.

    This car has 2-piston calipers on the front, and it always seems to have plenty of braking ability.

    My advice for towing: Don’t speed, no jackrabbit starts, and downshift on long grades to prevent the brakes from overheating.

    Personally, I’d beware of Chrysler transmissions and CVTs for towing.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Jeep Grand Cherokee. Heavier duty drive train than any minivan or CUV, but not as large as full size SUV’s. Most minivan transmissions barely survive motivating the van itself, much less the weight of a trailer.

    As the owner of two vehicles with CVT transmissions there is no way I’d consider pulling a camper with one.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yes I think a longitudinally oriented drive train is the way to go if you plan to keep the vehicle and use it for towing long term. GC, Durango, maybe a 4runner?

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Considering the relatively light weight of the A-liner you have in mind, just about any SUV/CUV will serve with the exception of the really short-wheelbase models like the Jeep JK 2-door (only 1,000 tow limit). But that light weight is more the exception than the rule; even the A-liners can quickly work up to 3500-5000 pounds and then you have to pay more attention to the tow vehicle.

    Now, Sajeev suggests looking into a minivan, but honestly if you don’t like minivans, buying one for the specific purpose if towing a trailer is really reaching, despite its other strong points. If you want something more car-like then you want to look at a medium sized SUV such as the Jeep Cherokee or similar, depending on your brand of choice. You’ll also want to consider where you’ll be towing, because driving through the Rocky Mountains almost requires a turbo like Ford’s EcoBoost vs driving at lower altitudes like the coastal regions where a normally aspirated engine will serve well enough.

    Can I recommend a specific model? I have to say I’m prejudiced away from Ford and GM both, but for different reasons. I haven’t driven any of the Japanese or Korean brands in many years, so I don’t know how they perform but I’ve found Toyota lacking in legroom for a tall driver in most vehicles (especially the Tacoma pickup) and with the exception of Hyundai I just don’t like the look of most of them. European brands on average will probably be too much vehicle–meaning more expensive, though FCA’s Jeep brand offers a pretty good range at decent but not great prices. My own pick would probably be a Jeep Renegade if you keep the trailer light (despite being only a 4-cylinder) or the Cherokee for mid-sized. The Grand Cherokee at ‘full sized’ on the other hand is a very popular towing vehicle for almost any trailer under 5,000 pounds.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Up until Labor Day of last year I had a pop up camper….they don’t hold up well to being rear ended.

    I have the traditional two kids, one dog family almost required for camping. What I found was, it was not the trailer but the gear that goes with you that adds the weight. We would pack the you know what out of the camper with stuff that adds a lot of weight. keep in mind depending on where you want to go, going dry can be problematic. I typically filled the 20 gallon fresh water tank at home because finding a working potable water source is not always guaranteed.

    I am a big fan of the BOF for towing anything. Get a used CC F150. Will tow like a dream, can handle the gear and is useful when not in camping mode. Plus, if you just suck at backing up a trailer four low makes this much easier. Oh, if possible, whatever you go with, get the back up camera as this makes hooking up the trailer super easy.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      This is so true and why I tow my pop up with the Frontier. My wife’s Hyundai could likely tow the camper but there is the grill, bike, fishing gear, wet clothes, and all that. The truck keeps me from stinking up the interior.

  • avatar
    fleeno

    I don’t know what counts as long term, but I have a Rockwood A122BH, and previously a Viking popup that I pull with a Nissan CVT.

    I bought the Viking in 2011 and the a-frame in 2013. I pulled both with my 2011 Murano without any issues. I stayed mainly around the Midwest, with a few longer trips out West. Loaded up, my a-frame weighs in at 2300 lbs, with about 300 lbs on the tongue. The Murano is rated for 3500lbs, with 350 on the tongue.

    I now pull it with a 2014 Pathfinder, which is rated for 5000/500. Many of these a-frames and popups are light, and they really pull like they’re not even there. They can be a bit heavy on the tongue, so make sure to keep the tongue weight in mind. My A122BH has a deck on the front for cargo, and I couldn’t really load anything on it with the Murano. I put a few things on there now, since I have more tongue weight available.

    There are lots of a-frame and popup forums out there where you’ll see what people are pulling with. My Forest River forum has people pulling with minivans and even the short wheelbase Jeeps.

    Enjoy your a-frame! They’re lots of fun and everyone at the campground will want to check it out. They do pull easily, and depending on the model and height of your tow vehicle, you should be able to see over the top of it, which is handy! You’ll get better mileage with the low-profile trailer too.

  • avatar
    King of Eldorado

    Another issue, depending on where you intend to go camping, is ground clearance. Even some relatively civilized campgrounds can present issues such as high-crown gravel or dirt access roads. I’m sure there’s some overlap, but a generic CUV/SUV is likely to have more clearance than a generic minivan. A related issue is breakover angle, with the shorter-wheelbased CUV/SUV having an advantage over a longer-wheelbased typical minivan.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Sajeev, I’m surprised at you, no love for the Ford Flex on your list?

    My lack of expertise on this subject makes it difficult to know if I’m comparing apples to apples, but Edmunds.com lists the comparable tow rating of the Flex at 4,500lb. Ford themselves provide a more detailed breakdown.

    https://www.ford.com/resources/ford/general/pdf/towingguides/14_flex_sep11.pdf

    For comparison I’ve towed a Yamaha Rhino (1,049lb dry weight, but high wind resistance) on a number of occasions. The Ecoboost, AWD and factory trailer option (sway control included) have made easy work of this.

    The route (Phoenix / Flagstaff) is a 150+ mile ~6,000 foot change in elevation with multiple steep gradients and no shortage of dickhead road users. Flex inspires nothing but confidence.

    I recall reading here that Jack Baruth used a similar Flex Ecoboost to tow cars, though his was possibly older and the brakes were revised / improved for ’13.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The Flex is a great choice, even the standard engine is rated for 4500lbs with a weight distributing hitch, as long as the trailer frontal area is low which it is on the trailer in question.

    • 0 avatar

      The Flex is a great choice, but I’ve become more enamored with minivans over CUVs…any CUV. The new Pentastar Chrysler minivans are actually quite fun to drive and are so damn practical. And they seem to depreciate nicely. If I was a family man, I’d enjoy it enough to drive it myself and let my (hypothetical) wife drive a “more interesting” vehicle to impress others and/or ensure adequate penile health.

      It may not tow like the Flex, but it’s okay and camping with the extra space efficiency is ideal.

  • avatar
    formula m

    The Honda Pilot is rated for 4500lbs and there are end of model cycle deals right now as mentioned on TTAC. I love my Highlander for driving smoothly and good power that can tow up to 5000lbs. Vans are good but I find it’s easy to overload the brakes, suspension, transmission, front wheel drive, etc… The extra suspension travel often found in SUVs compared to vans is helps the vehicle not to sqat to low while loaded. Over the life of the vehicle it will be more common not to have 2-3000lbs hitched to the back so I wouldn’t go down the full sized truck/suv road.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      The current generation of Honda Pilot has been having a nasty issue with premature rear control arm bushing failure, at super low mileages even. I’d imagine towing would only exacerbate the issue.

      All of what you say regarding overloading a FWD van applies in full to sedan-based crossover SUVs. In fact they more often than not share platforms and drivetrains with the manufacturer’s respective minivan. “Extra suspension travel in SUVs” is again not necessarily valid for CUVs, which (oftentimes) have the same multilink independent rear suspensions as the sedans which they are based on, albeit it with different spring rates and uprated control arm strength. There is still something to be said for the good old solid rear axle: for towing, drag racing, and offroading, a more elegant and effective solution is yet to be seen.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    What ever you choose do not put LT tire on it, they need much more air pressure to carry the same load as the equivalent P series tire. That translates to a much harsher ride and since the miles w/o the trailer will almost certainly be much more than with trailer it is a poor trade off.

    If you do add a transmission oil cooler make sure you get one with a thermostatic valve to regulate the temp. Too cold is just as bad, or worse, than too hot as the fluid will not flow like it should and some areas of the transmission will not receive adequate lubrication. If the one you select does not come with the valve you can purchase it separately like this one. http://www.amazon.com/Hayden-Automotive-163-Thermostat-Bypass/dp/B000HE8HAY

    There is a reason that the vast majority of OE transmission coolers are in the radiator and that is to get the temp up quicker and make sure it does not get too cold in the winter. Even with a transmission cooler located in the radiator Ford and some other mfgs frequently include a thermostatic valve to get the fluid up to temp quicker and keep it there.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Trailblazer
    BOF, much better suited to towing, solid axle again, much better for towing as you won’t be unevenly wearing out your rear tires, additionally it’s much safer at high speeds when your rear tires aren’t slanted from the weight. The inline 6 is a beast, pretty sure they had available(optional) factory tranny coolers and PS coolers.

    On the downside, no where near as roomy as a minivan or FS SUV.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The many minivans have a solid rear axle so their wheels don’t slant from the weight either. The Ford SUVs and most of their CUVs with the IRS also don’t slant from the weight, they are designed to keep the wheel perpendicular to the road throughout the suspension travel.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      The later-year models with the revised 6-cylinder also get plausibly decent gas mileage. I tow a much heavier trailer with a V-8 Envoy XL (GMC version of the Trailblazer) and it’s been a faithful pack beast.

    • 0 avatar

      There is of course an alternative that has all the advantages of the BOF plus enough interior room to play air hockey: the Big Old Econoline.

      This probably isn’t a realistic suggestion for the original poster, and it’s gross overkill for a 2000 pound trailer, and the fuel mileage is atrocious, but my sports club hauls a 3000 pound trailer with a cheaply acquired high-mileage E-350. The back of the van hauls probably a ton of gear, plus the trailer, and does so with perfect aplomb. It’s a pleasure to drive, the van hardly notices the trailer.

      Among realistic choices, I’d opt for a long wheelbase because that tends to make for easier towing. This, and the interior space, make a minivan (and probably a Chrysler) the best choice.

    • 0 avatar
      zoomzoom91

      BOF is nice for towing, but regarding the Trailblazer specifically, the 4L60 isn’t the most durable transmission. There’s an article from awhile back that I found recently where Alex Dykes is on his third trans. at 140K on an Envoy (that does tow a lot, thus relevant in this context). If that inline 6 was hooked up to a 4L80, those would have fared better.

  • avatar
    baconator

    Check out the Trailer Life towing guide for a comprehensive list of towing capacities. http://www.trailerlife.com/trailer-towing-guides/

    I’d add that you should look for a truck that has wiring tails for a trailer brake controller of the proportional-force type (e.g. Tek-onsha Prodigy). Even with a relatively small popup trailer, you want the help from the trailer’s brakes, and having a proportional setup rather than just setting them to come full-on with the brake light signal improves stability quite a bit.

    You can see whether your choice has this here: http://www.tekonsha.com

    For a 2100-lb trailer there are plenty of good choices; it’s hard to give advice without knowing your price range, what the vehicle will be used for the rest of the time, how far and how fast you want to tow, whether you’ll want to camp off-road or not, etc.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Prior to buying my current vehicle a pickup, I did seriously consider SUVs and one CUV. A LR Discovery, Grand Cherokee and a Sorento.

    I do think the best small vehicle for this task would be a 2.5 Colorado. It will offer the creature comforts of a refined CUV/SUV and is midsize with a small engine that has relatively good FE.

    It would also be quite affordable to purchase.

    Better still for touring, wait for the diesel Colorado, you will not even know you are towing this trailer and you’ll have at least 30mpg.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Just about anything you get will tow and stop that trailer just fine. I towed a 4×8 utility trailer from suburban Detroit to Seattle with my 2011 Impreza. The trailer was loaded up with all my tools, some furniture, a spare trailer tire and hydraulic jack. No trailer brakes. I was amazed at how stable everything was. I’m sure I wasn’t winning any races, but driving normally you could barely tell the trailer was there. The vehicle being in the correct gear is important on steep grades, but that’s true without a trailer. It did fine across both the Rockies and Cascades. Here’s a picture from the Columbia River Gorge
    https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-Mn8LvotS5mo/VHwmvFP7KkI/AAAAAAAAM8Q/EVqcynIJXW0/w788-h591-no/IMG_4147.JPG

  • avatar
    salguod

    Whatever you choose, take a look at the manufacturer’s tow ratings and specs. They will tell you what you can tow and what it takes to get the max rating. For example, my 1999 Odyssey only required a transmission cooler to get the max 3500 lb rating, but my Saturn Outlook had to be equipped from the factory with the tow package to go from 2000 lbs to 5200. There’s no way to add parts to increase the rating. Also, remember that everything you put in the vehicle counts against your tow rating. Most ratings assume only a driver on board, although I think the Odyssey rating assumed 2 passengers.

    We towed a 12′ box pop up with both and the Odyssey did fine, the Outlook certainly felt better doing it.

    Your gear can have a profound impact on your weight. We are a family of 5 with a dog. I figured we added about 1000 pounds with us and our gear. Our pop up was probably 2300 empty, so we were close to the Odyssey’s limit.

    Another thing to watch for is the weight rating on the actual trailer you’re buying. It used to be that manufacturers would publish the weight of the base model, every option (spare tire, propane tank, etc.) added weight. I think they are better at giving accurate weights, though.

    Lastly, Reese makes a small weight distribution hitch set up for small trailers called the 350 mini. We used it with the Odyssey and it really made a difference.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Sure, you could buy a minivan or crossover.

    Or, you could pick up one of these and ride in style:

    http://oi62.tinypic.com/16h9g2e.jpg

    Maybe don’t follow what it says about Dexcool though.

  • avatar
    Charliej

    The only time that I have done any long distance towing, was when my wife and I loaded up a five by nine enclosed trailer, and towed it to central Mexico from the Alabama gulf coast. The trailer was filled to the top with books and clothes and computers. We towed it with a 2005 PT Cruise, with an automatic transmission. We had no problems even in the mountains of Mexico. The trailer was somewhat overloaded, as books are heavy I worried about the transmission, as I had heard horror stories about Chrysler transmissions. We did this a little over three years ago and the PT was still running strong when we took it back to the US to give to our son two months ago. People talk about the poor quality of Chrysler products, but we had almost no problems with the PT over a ten year period. That includes three years of driving on cobblestone streets in town, varied with high speed runs on Mexican toll roads, where everyone is cruising at ninety or above. A twenty two hundred pound trailer can be towed by almost anything. Back in the far distant past, I towed a motorcycle trailer behind an Austin 1100, with a four speed manual transmission. It wasn’t fast, but it had no problem with a trailer weighing over a thousand pounds when loaded with three motorcycles.

    • 0 avatar
      zoomzoom91

      “Poor Chrysler quality” seems more often to me to be emphasized by major publications and rating companies like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power.

      Anecdotally, I read and hear from people more and more that Chrysler’s stuff holds up better in the real world, long term, than the ratings claim.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Agreed, zoomzoom91: Then again, judging by a Dodge Sprinter (rebadged Mercedes-Benz Sprinter) I just saw today, Benz itself may have to take the blame for some of that supposed reputation. Never saw such a rusty delivery truck (still with the company logo and ‘How Am I Driving’ sticker on the back). Actual Dodge and Ram trucks around here don’t nearly look that bad despite my living in the so-called ‘Rust Belt’.

        • 0 avatar
          zoomzoom91

          @Vulpine

          Ugh…don’t get me started on either the Sprinter or the Daimler/Chrysler “merger of equals”.

          We had a Sprinter at work that was used for odds and ends, mainly shuttling people around. It was…rough.

          Regarding the Dodge/Ram bit…my cousin had an old-style Dodge Ram van (maybe a 2001,02…I think from the last year of production) that was an absolute tank-he used to be a contractor. Very durable.

        • 0 avatar
          zoomzoom91

          Thanks. I just call it like I see it.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Stick with a long-wheelbase, low-to-the-ground minivan or CUV (we’ve used a Nissan Quest and a Hyundai Veracruz 2WD with good results) if you’re going to log a lot of highway miles and stay in mostly flat, KOA-style campgrounds. It’s more stable, more comfortable, and more fuel-efficient.

    If you’re venturing into hilly or gravelly areas, however, you’re going to want ground clearance, AWD and a tight turning circle. Our Hyundai Santa Fe was great in that respect.

    With 2100 pounds dry just make sure you’re using trailer brakes. Most of these vehicles are limited to towing around 1600 pounds of unbraked weight.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Just – no minivan. They’ll all end up with a transmission issue. You need something more robust. The Escape/Mariner would probably do the trick like shown in the photo. V6 powah.

    And nothing with CVT.

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