SUVs and pickups dominate this year’s new flat-towable vehicles and, for the very first time ever, we pick our favorite dinghy towables!
Quite apart from being towable, a new dinghy vehicle has to look good and fit your needs and lifestyle. Sure, a used mail truck might be a great buy, and may even accommodate your kayak, but wouldn’t a new SUV look better? Plus, no one will accost you for the package they never received. Well, we’re glad you agree, because our 2020 Guide to Dinghy Towing is chock-full of new vehicles that can accommodate just about any need, lifestyle or budget. This year, we’re doing things a little bit differently and calling out our favorite new dinghy vehicles based on features, towability and overall coolness.
Ready to shop? Let’s go!
Favorite Full-Size SUV
Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe
If you’ve always wanted a new Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe SUV, this is your year. Because soon, you’ll be able to choose from the outgoing 2020 model and the all-new 2021 Suburban and Tahoe, which will make their way to dealer showrooms by late spring/early summer. Though it was too early at press time to get our hot little hands on an owner’s manual, GM’s engineering team tells us that the new models will be dinghy-towable when equipped with 4WD and a two-speed transfer case, just as in previous years.
As you might expect, the new Suburban and Tahoe will have more of everything than ever before. An all-new chassis featuring independent multi-link rear suspension offers a longer wheelbase (more than 4 inches for the Suburban and nearly 5 inches for the Tahoe) along with increased overall length (1.3 inches for the Suburban and nearly 7 inches for the Tahoe). The changes result in more leg- and cargo room, especially for the smaller Tahoe; it gets 3 extra inches of legroom in the second row, and a whopping 10.1 inches in the third row, plus an additional 10.2 inches of cargo room behind the third-row seat. In total, Suburban gets an additional 23 cubic feet of maximum cargo room, while the Tahoe gains 28.2 inches. An entirely new “SUV specific” interior offers up to five display screens, including a standard 10-inch diagonal central color touch screen (the largest in its segment); an available 8-inch diagonal instrument cluster; an available 15-inch Heads-Up Display; and available dual 12.6-inch diagonal rear-seat LCD displays, part of the rear-seat media system. There will be more to watch, too, including HD Surround Vision, up to nine camera views and a Hitch Guidance with Hitch View feature, part of the available Max Trailering package. Power options include the venerable 5.3- or 6.2-liter V-8, as well as a new addition: the 3.0-liter inline six Duramax turbodiesel, which made its debut in GM full-size trucks last summer. All three engines will be backed by the 10L80 10-speed automatic transmission. In addition, the all-new models offer both the Air Ride Adaptive Suspension system and Magnetic Ride Control, along with 30 safety and driver convenience features, including automatic emergency braking and rear pedestrian alert.
Favorite Small SUV
Ford Escape Hybrid
Introduced last fall, the Ford Escape bears no resemblance to its predecessors, and forgoes any off-road pretensions in favor of enhanced on-road manners, greater flexibility, increased utility and improved performance. A new architecture incorporating high-strength steel is lighter and more rigid than before, and combined with an aluminum hood, control arms, mini spare and other weight-saving tricks, reduces weight by up to 200 pounds over the outgoing model, according to Ford. This is also the most aerodynamic Escape ever, owing to a sleek new profile and wind-cheating features like active grille shutters, front tire spoilers and redesigned fog light pockets/sideview mirrors.
The Escape has two new engine offerings: a 1.5-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost and 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission, but these models are not towable. Ironically, however, the hybrid and plug-in models, with a CVT transmission (usually the enemy of dinghy towing), are. (We’re told the plug-in models will be towable, but further information was unavailable at press time.) We’re not complaining, as motivation comes from a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine that generates 198 hp in the hybrid, and 209 hp in the plug-in. Both models are available in front- or all-wheel-drive and come standard with Co-Pilot360, Ford’s suite of safety technologies that includes the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, pre-collision assist with Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), auto high-beam head-lamps and a rearview camera. Available features include Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go and Lane Centering, Evasive Steering Assist, which aids in emergency lane changes; and Active Park Assist, which allows the driver to park in a parallel or perpendicular spot with the touch of a button.
Favorite Midsize SUV
Ford Edge ST
Dinghy vehicles can be convenient, practical or rugged, but rarely are they as cool as Ford’s Edge ST. Completely redesigned for 2019, the Edge model line got a facelift that made the Edge, well, edgier. Gone are the appliance-like styling cues, replaced with a sportier new front and rear fascia, grille, hood and lift gate. More importantly, 2019 marked the introduction of the stonking Edge ST, the first Ford Performance SUV. Even more importantly, Ford approves it for dinghy towing.
In the timing that often accompanies new-vehicle launches, the Edge ST didn’t make it into last year’s guide, but we’re here to inform you that the 2019 and 2020 models are towable. Powered by a hot-rodded 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 with 330 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque, the Edge ST puts its grunt to the ground with an eight-speed SelectShift automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive. Performance-tuned suspension conspires with Sport Mode, selectable traction control and 20-inch wheels for confident handling, and purist features like bigger brakes and summer-only tires are available.
Favorite Full-Size Truck
Ford F-150 Raptor
Any four-wheel-drive pickup can take you to out-of-the-way places, but if you want to get there at a high rate of speed, the bonkers Ford Raptor is the way to do it. Looking like a refugee from a stadium off-road event, the Raptor is a special addition to the F-150 lineup, with a high-performance version of the ubiquitous 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 that generates 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, delivered to all four wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s available in either SuperCab or SuperCrew configurations, and is approved for towing four-down. There’s plenty of off-road gear included as well, such as Fox racing shocks that automatically adjust for terrain and speed, Trail Control for navigating the rough stuff, and Terrain Management System, featuring seven modes that can be adjusted for various surface conditions. Of course, you’ll also get skid plates to protect the expensive bits underneath, BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires and available features like bead lock wheels and a 4.10:1-geared front axle with a Torsen differential.
Favorite Midsize Truck
Introduced last year as a 2020 model, the Gladiator is everything you’d expect from a Jeep-branded truck, with hardcore hardware such as Command-Trac or Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electronic front and rear axle lockers, Trac Lok limited-slip differential, sway bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires. And just like the legendary Wrangler on which it’s based, the Gladiator is towable with either a manual or automatic transmission. The Gladiator boasts up to 7,650 pounds of towing capacity and up to 1,600 pounds of payload, and offers a choice of a standard 285-hp 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or a third-generation 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine (available by the time you read this) that produces 260 hp along with 442 lb-ft of twist. Jeep hasn’t forgotten the fun factor, either — the Gladiator features a fold-down windshield and dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations, plus practical storage solutions like rear seats that can be folded flat for larger items. Available in Sport, Sport S, Overland and the no-holds-barred Rubicon, the Gladiator offers equipment and capability unmatched by any of its competitors.
Favorite Luxury SUV
If you own a luxury motorhome, it makes sense that you probably want to continue the theme with the dinghy vehicle you bring along for your journeys. Introduced in the 2019 model year as a replacement for the aging Lincoln MKX, the midsize Nautilus continues Lincoln’s elegant new design language and brings with it a wide range of over-the-top luxury features. Among these are available Ultra Comfort seats, which were developed with input from orthopedic surgeons and can be adjusted up to 22 ways; a 19-speaker Revel audio system; and more. The top-of-the-line Black Label trim is even offered in different “themes,” such as Gala, which “showcases deep colors and rich textures, inspired by the high fashion and atmosphere of excitement and anticipation inherent at New York’s Met Gala,” according to Lincoln. Then there’s Chalet, which “evokes the contrasting pleasures of pulse-pounding mountain slopes and the inherent comfort of an après-ski lodge.” Finally, there’s Thoroughbred, which “celebrates the distinguished and elite lifestyle of horse racing, offering a reflection of traditional American history.” Oookay … well, now that’s out of the way.
More importantly, the Nautilus is towable when ordered with the available 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (otherwise known as the 2.7-liter EcoBoost), which is the only version that is approved. That’s OK, though, because this engine knocks out 335 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque and is backed by an eight-speed Select-Shift automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
A suite of standard/available driver convenience and safety features include a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) cross-traffic alert, pre-collision assist with automatic emergency braking, auto high beams, a lane-keeping system, rearview camera, Evasive Steer Assist, lane-centering technology and adaptive cruise control. Nautilus drivers can also stay connected through a standard embedded 4G modem with Wi-Fi hotspot capability and an available concealed wireless charging pad for compatible smartphones. Naturally, Ford’s SYNC 3 comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Favorite Compact Car
Nissan Versa S
Nissan’s humble Versa made new-car ownership possible for millions of people with a starting price just north of $12,000, but its styling left something to be desired. That changes for 2020 with an all-new Versa, which shares the design language of its bigger siblings, Altima and Maxima, and offers more features than ever. The base Versa S, with its 1.6-liter, 122-hp engine and five-speed manual transmission is towable, and comes with some impressive standard features such as front and rear power windows with driver’s one-touch auto up/down, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering column, remote keyless entry push-button start and RearView Monitor. It doesn’t scrimp on safety either, with standard automatic braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, high beam assist, hill start assist, stability/traction control and more. With an MSRP that’s still less than $15,000, it’s an unbeatable value.
For a complete list of all the 2020 manufacturer-approved dinghy vehicles for recreational towing, visit our Dinghy Towing page.