CARS.COM — Compact SUVs are flying out of dealer showrooms. These popular, car-based utility vehicles provide a great combination of efficiency, a high seating position, passenger comfort, cargo room and versatility. And unlike their truck-based predecessors, they’re not too big or unwieldy. One thing they’re not typically good at, in contrast to their larger ancestors which were, is towing. Whether it’s a trailer full of Jet Skis, a lightweight racecar or a small camper, these SUVs aren’t quite the workhorses that their forebears were.
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And why should they be? Most of these smaller SUVs are powered by small, fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines and are front-wheel drive by nature (though some are all-wheel drive), and their chassis bits are better suited for shopping mall parking lots rather than mountain passes. But head to Europe and you’ll find these little trucklets towing an amazing array of things, from campers on up. During our recent $28,000 Compact SUV Challenge, we found ourselves wondering just how well these popular runabouts rate at actually towing things. Here’s our take on the 10 best compact SUVs to use for towing, in order of decreasing towing capacity.
1. 2015 Jeep Cherokee: 4,500 pounds
There are two powertrain options in the Jeep Cherokee, but the one you’d want for towing is the optional 271-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6. With a nine-speed automatic and the required tow package, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee can haul up to 4,500 pounds, which is enough to cart around a boat or camper with ease.
2. 2015 Audi Q5: 4,400 pounds
Some of the better compact SUVs for towing are luxury models, given their typically more powerful engines. The Audi Q5 is one such beast. Based on the same platform as the A4 sedan, it can tow 4,400 pounds even with its small 220-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Of course, being an Audi, it’ll cost you considerably more than a Cherokee.
The SUV that came in second in our recent comparison challenge, despite its aging looks and interior, is quite capable when it comes to towing. Opt for the powerful 301-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and dealer-installed trailer tow package that includes electronic trailer sway control and hill start assist, and you’ll enjoy a towing capacity of about 3,500 pounds.
4. 2015 Ford Escape: 3,500 pounds
Some small SUVs don’t have an optional V-6 engine, but that hasn’t limited their abilities. The latest Ford Escape can be equipped with a 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and a Class II Trailer Tow Package that lets it haul 3,500 pounds.
5. 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK250/350: 3,500 pounds
The Mercedes-Benz GLK may be overshadowed lately by the new GLA-Class, but it has plenty of merits, including an optional diesel engine and the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. You can do that with either the GLK250 Bluetec diesel or the conventional GLK350 and its 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; both have the same towing capacity.
6. 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander: 3,500 pounds
It may not be one of the more popular SUVs on the market, but it is one of the more capable ones for towing. The Outlander (not the Outlander Sport, the smaller sibling which is not tow-rated) has a 3,500-pound towing capacity, but you’ll need to invest in the top-trim GT V-6 model. That truck’s 3.0-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission combine with its all-wheel-drive system to offer a reasonable towing package, with optional seven-passenger seating to boot.
7. 2015 Lincoln MKC: 3,000 pounds
Another luxury truck makes the list, but this one is tricky. The MKC is rated to tow 3,000 pounds when equipped with an optional Class II Trailer Tow Package, but only with the less powerful 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. If you opt for the 285-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, you’re limited to a towing capacity of just 2,000 pounds. Go figure.
8. 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan: 2,200 pounds
Volkswagen’s compact SUV is a popular towing vehicle in Europe, hauling “caravans” (small campers) across the countryside with its stout turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 200 hp. It’s rated to 2,200 pounds in the U.S., but with the diesel engine available in Europe, it can tow almost 3,200 pounds there.
9. 2015 Kia Sportage: 2,000 pounds
Many compact SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester can tow 1,000-1,500 pounds, but the Kia Sportage is able to drag 2,000 pounds behind it with its 260-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or its less powerful 182-hp, 2.4-liter engine and a proper tow package.
10. 2015 Mazda CX-5: 2,000 pounds
With the Mazda CX-5, you get the ability to haul 2,000 pounds with a fairly small, efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes just 184 hp. When you’re not towing, you’ll get to enjoy the Mazda’s sporty character and recently upgraded interior.