Frequent readers of our blog might remember a post we wrote a while back about which vehicles offer the most horsepower per dollar. The possibility of getting the absolute most of a certain spec or feature per dollar intrigues us, perhaps because we’re a consumer-focused site, or maybe just because it’s fun to have a purely data-driven glimpse into car shopping. It’s easy to buy a car based on looks, or branding, or a particular set of features that you’re simply dying to have. It’s harder to figure out exactly where the best value lies.
With that in mind, we present the new vehicles with the best towing capacity per dollar. Towing capacity can depend on multiple attributes, such as the engine or optional towing packages. For our list, we looked at the average price (based on actual listings, not MSRP) for each trim level in each category (one-ton truck, half-ton truck, van, etc.) and divided this by the manufacturer’s stated maximum towing capacity, giving us a cost per pound of available towing weight. Our emphasis naturally fell on cheaper trims, seeing as the price of flagship editions (even for pickup trucks) has soared thanks to widely available options like leather interiors and advanced technology packages, and that towing capacity does not always vary quite as much as price. We also chose to focus on consumer (not commercial) trucks, and our figures are for hauling value only, not payload capacity. And with that in mind, we made sure to choose vehicles from seven different categories, so you don’t have to buy a pickup truck just because you want to tow a small fishing boat on your weekend trips to the lake.
One-ton pickup trucks represent the pinnacle of towing capacity, bar none. As well they should, too. While it’s true that a fully loaded Ram 3500 Laramie Longhorn can run well into the $60,000 range, it can also pull close to 17,000 pounds before you add a second set of wheels to the back. That’s an important distinction, by the way. While dual-rear-wheel trucks (duallys) have the hands-down greatest towing capacities, they don’t necessarily suit the needs of the average consumer. Sure, some duallys can tow up to 30,000 pounds, but to put that in perspective, maxing out that towing capacity would mean hauling somewhere between 15 and 20 horses. So when looking at the best dollar-per-pound tow value in the one-ton segment, the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 is your best bet. Chevy’s range of Work Truck trims will all pull between 16,900 and 17,500 pounds, averaging to an astounding $2.59 per pound. If you buy one of these monsters, it’s very likely that you’ll pay more per gallon of gas than you’ll pay per pound of towage.
Although the one-tonners deliver the biggest all-around numbers, it’s not really a surprise that a three-quarter-ton truck is the best overall deal on this list. Bringing together the perfect balance for your money and hauling needs, a three-quarter-ton pick-up offers a solid amount of power while hanging only just above its half-ton counterpart in price. And when it comes to the best deal among the American three-quarter-ton pickups, the Ford F-250 Super Duty just beats out the competition. The F-250 Super Duty XL has the best dollar-per-pound ratio, measuring in at right under $2 ($1.90). Although it’s true that the F-250 is just a couple of cents more than the average price-per-pound of the Ram 2500, Chevy Silverado 2500HD, and GMC Sierra 2500HD, those pennies add up over the tens of thousands of pounds these trucks can haul. And seeing as some pickups have a ratio well above $6, you can’t go wrong with one of the best pickup options on the market–and with the variety that the XL trim level offers, your larger-than-average towing needs will be fulfilled for the lowest price available.
Ford’s F-150 has been America’s best selling vehicle for 32 years. Given the popularity of towable toys (boats, ATVs, etc.), the hordes of folks who relocate semi-regularly, and the popularity of weekly Home Depot trips here in the U.S., we’re not surprised. And the 2015 version’s mostly aluminum body, which helped it shed 700 pounds of curb weight, marks a potentially important evolutionary step for trucks. That weight savings might be part of why the 2015 Ford F-150’s XL trim level provides the most towing capacity per dollar of any half-ton truck available in the U.S. Offered with three bodies, three bed lengths, four engines, and either 2WD or 4WD, the XL also offers a wide range of towing capacities, from 9,200 to 12,100 pounds, and prices, from just under $28,500 to almost $42,000. Given those numbers, we arrived at an average rate of $3.07 per pound of towing capacity. Ram’s 1500 Tradesman and Chevy’s Silverado 1500 Work Truck aren’t far behind–but dollar for dollar, the F-150 XL is the top of the heap for towing.
The United States has slowly regained its position as bastion for the compact pickup truck. In the late 20th century, trucks like the Toyota Tacoma (and before it, Marty McFly’s Toyota Pickup), the Ford Ranger, and the Chevy S-10 offered the convenience of a pickup without sacrificing the usability of a vehicle smaller than the state of Rhode Island. The Ranger is dearly departed, but after a 3-year hiatus, the S10’s replacements, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, have returned to bring the U.S. compact truck market back to its former glory. The 2016 Chevy Colorado offers far and away the best towing capacity per dollar in this segment, with the base trim towing up to 7,000 pounds at a low rate of just 3.62 dollars per pound. Not only that, but with the Tacoma and Nissan Frontier desperately in need of a refresh, the Colorado (and the even more luxurious Canyon) offer a level of refinement currently missing in the competition.
Let’s face it, if you’re looking for the most anything per dollar in a van, you’re going to end up with the most stripped-down, utilitarian, white cargo van on the market. And wouldn’t you know it, the 2015 Chevrolet Express Cargo is your best option if you need a ton of space in addition to towing capacity. With up to 284.4 cubic feet of cargo space, the Express is as utilitarian as they come–not much more than a large box on a steel frame with an engine that can tow up to 10,000 pounds. The cargo van has a dollar-per-pound towing cost of just under $3. But a white cargo van isn’t for everybody, and if you’re looking for something a little more modern, the Nissan NV Passenger will bring 8,700 pounds of max towing with an interior that seats 12. That’s pretty good, seeing as how the best minivan in terms of dollar per towing is the Dodge Grand Caravan, which comes in at only 3,600 pounds. The moral of the story here is, if you want a van specifically for a utility function, you’re going to end up with a utility van.
For those driving around a large group, or a lot of cargo, or who just want something with a little more driving capability than a van, there are always SUVs to consider. And if you’re looking for some decent towing capacity too, you might consider the 2015 Nissan Armada SV. This 2WD base trim offers an 8,200-pound towing capacity for just $4 per pound. Its 5.6-liter V8 engine offers plenty of power, but those looking for even more towing capacity (and good value) might also want to check out the Armada SL 4WD, which offers a 9,000-pound towing capacity at just over $5/lb, better than pretty much all other SUVs or crossovers out there.
Cars wouldn’t be an experienced tower’s first choice for hauling a trailer for good reason. Because fuel efficiency and performance are important considerations for most car shoppers, many car chassis and engines simply couldn’t handle hauling a significant load that is safely attached to the rear end. But there are exceptions to this rule, and, unsurprisingly, the more a car costs, the more likely it is to offer exceptional features. The car with the highest towing capacity? Porsche’s Panamera, which is rated to tow up to 4,850 pounds. Of course, with the cheapest version starting at over $80K, you’d pay about $16.50 per pound. The best car for towing price-wise is still a not-inexpensive vehicle, but it does offer a better towing rate. All versions of Volvo’s 2015.5 V60 wagon can tow 3,300 pounds, and with prices averaging a little over $44K, they cost about $13.35 per pound of towing capacity. That’s significantly better than the Panamera, but more than 5 times the rate offered by a one-ton truck.
What vehicle would you buy for your hauling needs?
–Chase Hammond, John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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