Features, Spotlight

CaravanTimes’ Dan Cartwright on Towcar of the Year 2022

The SEAT Leon Estate

The winners of the Caravan and Motorhome Club’s Towcar of the Year 2022 have just been announced and we’ve got the inside scoop from our very own Dan Cartwright, who just so happens to be one of the judges.

Dan spent a week at the Technical Union for the Automobile Motorcycle and Cycle Industries’ (UTAC) Millbrook Proving Ground helping to put the vehicles through their paces.

He has been a driving judge at the awards for four years and explained to CaravanTimes why these awards are so useful for caravanners.

The importance of Towcar of the Year

Towing is an issue that affects caravanners specifically and it’s very hard to understand whether a vehicle will be a good towcar just by looking at it.

Dan told us: “I also judge things like the Caravan Design Awards and the Motorhome Innovation Awards, and this one to me is probably the single most important for caravans. The reason is that as much as you can test drive a vehicle, you very very rarely get the chance to test drive towing.

“The difference in each class between winners and cars that don’t win can be huge. There’s no way of telling from statistics or from power-weight ratios, torque ratios or gearing whether or not a particular car will be a good tower.”

It’s up to the experts on the Towcar of the Year judging panel to put the vehicles to the test and answer the questions caravanners have when looking for a new towcar, because it can make or break a holiday.

Dan added: “The disparity between having a car that tows well and a car that doesn’t is huge. With some of our winners, you don’t even notice that you’re towing and it’s an absolute joy. Whereas with some cars, it can make the start of your holiday actually quite cumbersome and annoying if they’re not a good towcar.

“We’re doing this because members and caravanners can’t actually go and test a new car and a caravan together.”

Comprehensive testing

Dan praised the way that the tests are run, stating that all caravans are weighted and assessed to exactly their towing limit. They’re scrutinised in detail in what can only be described as a comprehensively complex and fair trial.

“The test itself involves doing different laps of the Millbrook Proving Ground. So we do everything from mountain routes to see how these things cope on extreme highs, lows, turns and very steep gradients, both up and down; through to how they perform in motorway situations around a high-speed bowl,” he told us.

Dan’s highlights

As an experienced judge in multiple caravan awards over the years, Dan explained what he considers to be his highlights from Towcar of the Year 2022.

“What stands out for me about this year’s awards is the range of manufacturers and vehicles that have actually won. And if you look at the winners here, we’ve got a Skoda, a SEAT, a VW, a Nissan, another VW, a Volvo, a Porsche, two Fords and a SsangYong.

“It’s really promising that while in previous years there have been certain manufacturers that have dominated multiple classes, whereas what I really like about this is there are cars here that tow really well that are really accessible. These are cars that people probably already have sitting on their driveway.”

“These are cars that people have not only as towcars; you can get a towball fitted and try caravanning. It feels that there are a lot of accessible cars in this. It’s not dominated by huge expensive 4x4s; there are a lot of cars that people could potentially already own and would want as a non-towcar anyway.”

This helps to banish the idea that holidaymakers need to go and buy a large 4×4 to tow their caravan.

“The right weight caravan on a small car is actually a joy to tow with,” Dan summarised.

What do this year’s awards say about the industry?

Towcar of the Year offers an interesting insight into the caravan industry as a whole and the trends manufacturers are tapping into.

With 2020 and 2021 seeing a huge boom in caravanning, towcars have become more of a consideration for many people than ever before, so looking ahead to 2022 and what’s on offer is truly fascinating.

Dan told CaravanTimes: “The key this year is that the whole industry has got more options available, depending on your licence restrictions and things like that. There are more small, lightweight caravans and there are more small, lightweight cars that are really good at towing.

“We know that not everybody here is going to run out and buy a brand new car. The Club’s been doing this for 15 years, so you can go back and look at the listings from previous years. If you’re looking at a three or four-year-old car as a towcar and you want to see what was a good towcar that year, you can go back and all the information is on the Caravan and Motorhome Club site.”

This allows caravanners to select a towcar that suits their budget knowing it will be up to the task, because it was among the best towcars in the year it was released.

Dan said: “With more smaller cars and more caravan manufacturers making more small, light and family-orientated caravans, it’s becoming easier and easier and easier for anyone to hook up and go!”