Friday, September 13, 2013

Motor Trend-ing Tiny Tow Car of the Year

The trips of summer are in the rearview mirror, so it’s time to refocus on the next stop on the tiny retirement highway.

As our daughter jumps into her senior year in high school, the lure of the open road is looming larger. We still picture ourselves in a camper van down the road, but we’ve decided to hold off for now. It would sit in our driveway much of this year, with the fumes of depreciation acrid on the evening air.

But we still have Lizzie, our teardrop trailer, and the Florida weather is getting nicer every day. Our old tow vehicle was starting to show its age, so we decided to upgrade to something with better gas mileage that will carry us into retirement.

An April Fools joke from Mini, as seen at Motoring File
I’d love to have a Fiat 500 or a Smart Car or a Prius C ... any of those tiny cars that look like Tonka toys. But we need a little more power to get up the North Carolina mountains I’m hoping to climb with Lizzie. I know people tow with tiny cars and hybrids, but I’m compulsive and I want something rated to tow. I also need a place to put more gear when we go on extended treks.

Don’t try this with your home, as seen here
Thus began the search for a tiny, but not TOO tiny, tow vehicle. I learned it’s a challenge to find a car with good gas mileage AND a license to tow. First, we ruled out sedans. Boring, and not flexible enough. Small hatches like the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit are rated to tow in Europe, but not the US. Same for the cubist Kia Soul and classic Mini Cooper. See why here

This led us to a car category I had never heard of before: the compact crossover. Turns out I see them all the time. (Think Honda CR-V.) Some, like the Honda, Subaru Forester and Ford Escape have been around for a while. Others, like the streamlined Mazda CX-5 and Subaru Crosstrek, are new. But even the long-standing versions have replaced their boxy shape with svelte aerodynamic styling.

Mr. Otterloop's car, from Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson • Source
Personally, I think that’s a loss. I love square cars that look like they belong in a cartoon. But compact crossovers, with both SUV and passenger car features, are the new minivans. They’re basically smaller SUVs, but most use unibody construction like a passenger car instead of body-on-frame like original SUVs and trucks. Body-on-frame is better for towing, but teardrops are so light it appears to be a non-issue. See here for details. 

Our new tow vehicle • 2013 Ford Escape SE

So we narrowed down the crossovers to five based on ratings and gas mileage: Subaru Forester, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. The prices all run about the same with similar options.

On five desired features, the scorecard looked like this:
4/5 Escape- solid, lots of cargo space, plenty of pickup, fair visability, killer tech/nav
4/5 Forester-solid, lots of cargo space, plenty of pickup, good visability, average tech/nav
3/5 CR-V- solid, lots of cargo space, plenty of pickup, fair visability, average tech/nav
1/5 CX-5-somewhat solid, medium cargo space, plenty of pickup, poor visability, average tech/nav
0/5 Crosstrek- somewhat solid, medium cargo space, underpowered, poor visability, average tech/nav

Ready to Share the Road
We went back and forth on the Forester and the Escape. In the end it came down to life’s essentials: money, music and color. To get a Forester with the new improved gas mileage, you had to buy a brand new 2014. The Escape was redesigned last year. Lots of ’13s on the lot next to the 14s meant there were deals to be had. And the Escape came in a delicious aqua and synced with our iPhones in seconds.

We, and Lizzie, are tow-dally happy.

A shout-out to Henry Rowe and the rest of the team at our locally owned Bozard Ford. Thanks for the genteel service, thorough knowledge and willingness to go the extra mile to find our color. 

No comments: