If you’re considering getting a travel trailer full-time or just for the weekends, you’re probably wondering about the tow vehicle too. Should you tow the camper with a pickup truck or would an SUV be enough?
All full-size SUV’s have impressive towing capabilities and can pull trailers in the 7,000-8,000 lbs. However, for best in class, Ford offers the best tow vehicle with their Expedition model. With its 3.5 L eco engine, the Ford Expedition can tow over 9,300 lbs! That’s more than enough for an average travel trailer – with gear and full tanks.
Keep reading as we evaluate the leading full-size SUV’s in the market, see what they can pull – and what you need to be looking for when looking for that perfect tow vehicle for your travel trailer.
Determining your needs – 5th wheel vs. travel trailer
If you’re new to RV’s then this may be the first thing we need to lay down. If you’re even considering a 5th wheel as your towed RV, SUV’s are off the table.
Because SUV’s can’t tow 5th wheels.
It’s that simple. A 5th wheel is a type of trailer which can only be pulled by a pickup truck. Its shape just calls for that. The front end of the 5th wheel is higher above the ground than the rest of its body. That part needs to be hitched to a bed of a truck, so that its basically resting on top of the truck, like so –
There’s just no way for you to hitch a 5th wheel to any vehicle other than a pickup truck. Which pretty much rules out any SUV, as strong and sleek as it may be.
5th wheels are also larger and heavier than your average travel trailer. Which means you need more horsepower to pull them. In fact, half ton trucks like the Chevy Silverado 1500, Ram 1500 or Ford F-150 are likely to struggle when pulling anything but a small 5th wheel. Average and above – you’re going to need a heavy-duty truck.
While this is another reason why SUV’s are not a good match for 5th wheels, it’s really all down to the shape of the trailer.
5th wheels are not only larger and more spacious. They also offer a more stable towing experience as they’re less prone to sway.
And why am I talking about them in a post about SUV’s towing capabilities? Because if you were not aware of the situation with 5th wheels, you may just want to stop here and re-consider if you’re even going for the SUV+travel trailer combo. You should probably read this post about towing with SUV vs. towing with a pickup truck first.
Determining your needs – how much can you really tow?
So, you have your mind and heart set on towing a travel trailer with an SUV?
Fair enough – that’s a common choice these days. A full-size SUV can be a great family vehicle for everyday use and yet pull a nice-size travel trailer when you leave home for a camping vacation.
It all depends on the size of your travel trailer.
As I mentioned earlier, the towing range for full-size SUVs is 7,000-8,000 lbs.
That does not mean you can buy a travel trailer that weighs 7,500 according to the manufacturer, hitch it up to your SUV and merrily go on the road. Not at all. For two reasons –
- The towing capability declared by the manufacturer is the most your vehicle can tow under optimal conditions.
- The travel trailer’s declared weight is “dry weight”. That means with empty tanks and without the hitch or any of your gear.
Since travel trailers are prone to sway, you really should stay well below the maximum towing capacity for your vehicle. Leave some margin for less-than-optimal conditions. Going uphill or downhill, driving over a wet road, or – worse of all – getting significant side-winds, will all hurt your towing capability and need to be taken into account in advance.
Taking hitch and tongue weight into account
When towing with an SUV, you’re pulling more than the weight of your fully-loaded RV. You’re also towing the hitch itself – which can weigh around 100lbs in itself. Don’t skim on the hitch either – a good weight-distribution hitch can literally save your life as it reduces sway significantly.
You should also learn how to adjust the weight within your trailer to create the right amount of tongue weight.
Tongue weight is the amount of pressure your hitch puts on the tow vehicle. Which matters. A lot.
Generally speaking, the tongue weight should be roughly 12% of the total weight you’re towing. You can adjust that by distributing the heavyweights inside the trailer. I won’t go into too much detail here as this topic deserves its own post. Just wanted to mention it here before we discuss the weight of the trailer itself.
So, how much does a travel trailer actually weigh?
At this point, you may be wondering what size a travel trailer can yo even pull with an SUV. Since we mentioned the 7,000-8,000 lbs weight range, let’s see what kind of travel trailers we’re even talking about.
Taking a quick look at the travel trailer collection by a company such as Jayco, it’s easy to see at a glance what average weights we’re talking about –
As you can see, smaller travel trailers can stay under the 4,000lbs mark but larger ones can get up to the 10,000lbs and above range. If you’re willing to settle for a 22-26ft long travel trailer, you should be able to find one in the 5,000lbs range.
That’s dry weight, remember?
Add the following –
- Another 100 lbs for full water and propane tanks.
- 100 lbs for the hitch.
- The weight of your gear – which can be anything between 100 to 1000 lbs. That part is entirely up to you.
Still, you should have no trouble finding a great camper for four people that will weight a total of 6,000 lbs – which is nicely under the top figure for most SUV’s towing capacity.
SUV’s – midsize vs. full-size
Before we start reviewing actual vehicles, it’s worth mentioning that this post focuses on full-size SUV’s as tow vehicles.
That doesn’t mean smaller SUV’s and even crossover can’t tow travel trailers at all. They can, as long as you stick to small trailers. Just as a general reference point, here are some figures for smaller SUV’s stated towing capacity:
- Jeep Grand Cherokee -6,200 lbs
- Ford Explorer – 5,000 lbs
- Toyota Highlander – 5,000 lbs
- Hyundai Santa Fe – 3,500 lbs (Sports edition)
- Subaru Outback – 2,700 lbs
Clearly, the numbers vary significantly between one midsize SUV and another – with the larger ones getting within a 1000 pounds of the towing capacity of full-size SUV’s.
Which means a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee could suffice for towing a small travel trailer, with a stated dry weight of under 4,500 or even 5,000 lbs.
Having said that – the size of the tow vehicle plays a part too. If you want to have a safe and stable towing experience, you should tow a full-size travel trailer with a full-size SUV.
Best full-size SUV’s for towing a travel trailer reviewed
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look into some of the more popular full-size SUV’s and see how much they can tow. We’re going to review the following vehicles –
- Ford Expedition
- Chevrolet Tahoe
- Nissan Armada
- GMC Yukon
- Chevy Suburban
- Toyota Sequoia
Ford is indeed serious when they claim the Expedition has got the Best-in-Class towing. With a towing capacity of 9,300lbs, this one has got the largest towing capacity, making it the champion in the full-size SUV category. So if you’re looking for the Best SUV for towing a travel trailer, your search is probably done.
Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is a notable Expedition feature which is highly important for towing purposes. The BLIS technology comes with a trailer coverage designed to alert you whenever the system detects a vehicle within your blind spot or alongside your trailer.
The 2018 Ford Expedition received a makeover as the latest model. All variants feature a staggering 365 horsepower in a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine with an impressive 470 lb.-ft. of torque.
|2018 Ford Expedition|
|Towing Capacity||9300 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||3.5L EcoBoost engine; 375 horsepower; 470 lb.-ft. torque; around 24 MPG hwy|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||104.6 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||63.6 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||20.9 ft3|
You might also want to check our article on Which Full-Size SUV Has the Most Cargo Space? (Including a Data Table) on which we have compared the cargo volume of the top full-size SUVs in their 2017 versions. In that article, the 2017 Ford Expedition EL was crowned the champ with having the most cargo space among the class. To avoid confusion, note that the 2018 Ford Expedition has no EL version and it received a major makeover from the ground up. With that, the vehicle is no longer the full-size SUV with the most cargo space in the 2018 line-up. While the Expedition is redesigned with a different design and cargo volume, all the other 2017 models in the class retained their cargo space in their 2018 versions.
Coming in second is the popular Chevrolet Tahoe, which actually has a higher towing capacity than its big brother, the Suburban. With the Tahoe, you can haul a travel trailer that weighs up to 8600lbs. After all, the Tahoe and Suburban (and GMC Yukon, apparently) share the same 355-horsepower V8 engine.
This Chevy has got a lot of bells and whistles that improve not just your driving experience, but also your passenger’s comfort and luxury. Tahoe features Rear-Seat Entertainment with Blu-ray playback; now backseat passengers will never get bored even for the longest rides.
|2018 Chevrolet Tahoe|
|Towing Capacity||8,600 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||5.3L V8 Engine; 355 horsepower; 383 lb.-ft. torque; around 23 MPG hwy|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||94.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||51.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||15.3 ft3|
The Nissan Armada is the cheapest full-size SUV, yet its crowning glory is being the most powerful in the class in terms of horsepower – an astounding 390HP.
Armada packs an impressive towing prowess, capable of hauling up to 8,500lbs so this can easily drag a conventional family travel trailer with efficiency. This Nissan features an independent rear suspension and a full-length boxed frame that adds rigidity.
At its core is a 5.6-liter V8 engine that can deliver 394 lb.-ft. of torque and the best-in-class horsepower. You can expect a decent fuel economy and enhanced throttle response. And with the Tow/Haul mode, Armada makes itself the ideal solution for pulling your biggest toys.
|2018 Nissan Armada|
|Towing Capacity||8500 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||5.6L Endurance V8 Engine; 390 horsepower; 394 lb.-ft. torque|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||95.4 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||49.9 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||16.5 ft3|
|Max Payload||1,724 lbs.|
The corporate-looking GMC Yukon has the same towing capacity with the Nissan Armada at 8500 lbs. One thing you’ll always notice is the distinguished presence of the Yukon that makes a lasting impact. It’s sleek, looks premium, and performs impressively.
Every Yukon model features a standard heavy-duty trailering equipment. This includes a hitch platform, as well as a 7-wire harness equipped with independent fused trailering circuits, and paired to a 2” trailering receiver and a 7-way sealed connector.
Note that the 8500lb-capacity is exclusive to the Yukon standard length; while the Yukon XL has a lesser towing capacity at 8300 lbs. You can notice a similar relation between the Tahoe and the Suburban.
|2018 GMC Yukon||2018 GMC Yukon XL|
|Towing Capacity||8500 lbs.||8300 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||5.3L EcoTec3 V8 Engine; 355 horsepower; 383 lb.-ft. torque||5.3L EcoTec3 V8 Engine; 355 horsepower; 383 lb.-ft. torque|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||94.7 ft3||121.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||51.7 ft3||76.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||15.3 ft3||39.3 ft3|
|Max Payload||1690 lbs.||1660 lbs.|
Coming in fourth is the large Chevrolet Suburban with a competitive 8,300lbs of maximum towing capacity. Run by the familiar 355 horsepower engine with 383 lb.-ft. of torque.
Apart from power, this Chevy boasts luxury and functionality in one. For starters, you get a lot of USB ports. Now you can expect zero complaints from your family members about dying phones. You also get to have large screens in both second and third rows; plus HDMI to connect and project your devices.
This full-size SUV can easily become the best wagon for your family on the road. It comes with an embedded 4G LTE Wi-Fi (that you can also find in the Tahoe); now you can seamlessly connect to the internet and keep yourselves entertained even during camping (as long as there’s coverage in the area of course).
|2018 Chevrolet Suburban|
|Towing Capacity||8,300 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||5.3L EcoTec3 V8 Engine; 355 horsepower; 383 lb.-ft. torque; 23 MPG hwy|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||121.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||76.7 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||39.3 ft3|
Representing Asian automotive technology, the Toyota Sequoia certainly does not disappoint. It can haul a travel trailer up to 7400 lbs – enough for most family-size demands. It has that eye-catching look that is distinctly beautiful and can standout against any standard American beaut.
While the Toyota Sequoia does not make it on top of the highest towing capacity, it took horsepower to the next level. At its core is a 381HP 5.7L V8 engine with a multi-mode 4WD system. The nearest competitor next to that number can only boast 365HP.
The brand new Toyota Sequoia offers a spacious interior – with real 8-person seating capacity. You’ll also get impressed by how the third-row seat can recline. Moreover, the vehicle also has a multi-function center console to give your passengers the entertainment they deserve.
|2018 Toyota Sequoia|
|Towing Capacity||7400 lbs.|
|Type of Engine||5.7L i-FORCE V8 engine; 381 horsepower; 401 lb.-ft. torque|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 1||120.1 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 2||66.6 ft3|
|Cargo Volume to Seat 3||18.9 ft3|
Keep an eye on the numbers
Remember – that maximum trowing capacity figure can be misleading.
If you own one of these vehicles, you need to make sure you have the appropriate towing package to even get to that number. And even then, remember we’re talking about the capacity under optimal driving/towing conditions. You’ll be towing your travel trailer in the real world and not in the realm of fantasy, so make sure to leave some margin for that as well.
If you have any experience with towing a travel trailer with an SUV, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment to let everyone know what your own experience was like.