If you like adventure, this year’s crop of manufacturer-approved dinghy-towable vehicles offers something for everyone
Adventure. It’s what happens when you shake off society’s norms, throw a little caution to the wind and open your mind to new possibilities. As an RVer, you probably already know that – but it applies to your towed vehicle, too. Gone are the days when subcompact cars with manual transmissions were the only choice; today there are much bolder statements to make. And while the number of new dinghy-towable vehicles seems to shrink each year, some manufacturers still recognize a motorhome owner’s need to take a vehicle with them on their travels, and approve certain models for four-down towing.
That’s an important consideration, as not all vehicles are approved – either because drivetrain (transmission or other components) damage will occur or because the manufacturer hasn’t conducted its own testing to determine if dinghy towing is possible. Either way, dinghy towing a vehicle that is not approved can have the same consequence: a voided warranty. That’s why it’s important to always reference the vehicle’s owner’s manual and look up “recreational towing” in the index – sometimes also listed as “flat” towing. Thankfully, most owner’s manuals are available online for free; simply Google the model followed by “owner’s manual.” If a vehicle isn’t approved for dinghy towing by the manufacturer, can’t be towed at least 55 mph and/or has a distance limit of less than 200 miles before some maintenance procedure is required (starting/running the engine, etc.) then it doesn’t make our list.
That doesn’t necessarily mean an unlisted vehicle can’t be towed – there are products such as driveshaft disconnects, lubrication pumps, etc., that make dinghy towing possible but, again, it might be at the risk of voiding the manufacturer’s warranty, so buyer beware.
Finally, make sure the aftermarket offers the equipment you’ll need for the vehicle you’re considering. You might find that a baseplate or other application-specific hardware isn’t available yet, which could put off your travel plans for an indefinite period of time. It’s also a good idea to ask what is involved with the installation of the baseplate; some require minimal (if any) modifications, while others may require the whole front fascia to be removed and/or modified.
With all that in mind, here are some of the newest vehicle choices for 2018.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Throughout the years, the venerable Jeep Wrangler has been through many changes – but thankfully for those with a wanderlust for roads less traveled, it has remained towable for as long as anyone can remember. It was also voted #1 by MotorHome readers in the Top-10 Most Popular Dinghy Vehicles. For 2018, Jeep Wrangler JK is all new, featuring high-strength aluminum doors, hinges, hood and fenders – plus two engine options: a first-ever 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder and the standby 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. And, in what Jeep reports is in response to overwhelming demand, a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 will be on the options list next year. All engines can be had with either a new eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. The rest of the drivetrain promises to be robust as well – a Command-Trac 4×4 system routes power to solid Dana front/rear axles with a 3.45:1 ratio on most models, while the hardcore Rubicon version gets a Rock-Trac 4×4 system, an electronic front sway-bar disconnect, Dana 44 axles front and rear with Tru-Lok locking differentials, 4.10:1 gearing and 33-inch tires, standard.
Part of the fun of Jeep ownership is dropping the top and letting nature in, and this year Jeep offers dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations. A four-bolt mounting design allows the windshield to fold down easily, and a new half-door design will be available in 2019, according to Jeep. Also new is the Sky One-Touch Power Top, which lets the driver drop the soft top with the push of a button (coming second quarter 2018).
Wrangler Sahara and Rubicon models offer a body-color hard top option, and all models can be ordered with a three-piece hardtop.
While the Wrangler has always been capable, it’s never laid claim to being high-tech, but that changes with the 2018 model. An available 7- or 8.4-inch Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-compatible touchscreen (the largest and most advanced ever offered on Wrangler) sits atop the center stack and comes loaded with the fourth-generation Uconnect system for quicker start-up time and better resolution. Two USB ports, front and rear, connect to the media center, and there are also multiple 12-volt DC accessory outlets and an available 120-volt AC receptacle.
In last year’s dinghy guide, we detailed all we knew about the upcoming 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, but it was too early to find out if it was towable. Well, we’re happy to announce that it is – in two- and all-wheel-drive configurations. The new Equinox offers an all-turbocharged four-cylinder engine lineup: a base 1.5-liter, an available 2.0-liter, and for the first time ever, an optional 1.6-liter diesel. The 1.5-liter and the diesel are matched with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the 2.0-liter gets GM’s new nine-speed auto box. Owing in part to a weight reduction of approximately 400 pounds, according to GM, the base model achieves 26 mpg city/32 highway, while the diesel model delivers 28/39 mpg. An all-new interior features technologies such as 7- or 8-inch MyLink infotainment systems (depending on model) compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus available OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and Bluetooth connectivity. Available in L, LS, LT and Premier grades, buyers are offered a wide array of other available features, such as high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, hands-free power lift gate and heated leather seats. An impressive host of standard safety features includes front, side and head-curtain air bags; StabilTrak stability control, OnStar and Rear Vision Camera.
There are trucks, there are 4WD trucks, and then there’s the Chevy Colorado ZR2. Designed from the outset to handle the unexpected, the ZR2 rides 2 inches taller than a standard Colorado 4×4 and has a front/rear track that’s 3½ inches wider. Model-specific gear includes class-exclusive front and rear electronic locking differentials, a segment-first off-road application of Multimatic Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve (DSSV) shock absorbers, functional rock sliders and modified front bumpers (with integrated skid plate) for a better approach angle off road. Exclusive 17-by-8-inch aluminum wheels with 31-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires and a more aggressive grille and hood (with a black insert) complete the hardcore look. The ZR2 is powered by a 308-hp 3.6-liter gas V-6 or a 186-hp 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline four.
Admittedly, not many motorhome owners tow full-size SUVs, but the all-new Expedition and Navigator stand ready for service. As with the F-150 and Super Duty pickups, the sleek new bodies are made from aluminum, but ride on a high-strength steel frame. In fact, these full-size SUVs are on the same platform as the F-Series pickup, but with design changes to accommodate SUV proportions and styling, according to Ford. As with its truck cousins, the weight saved (Ford claims 300 pounds on the Expedition) was reinvested in other areas to make the vehicles better equipped and more capable. Two wheelbase options are available: Expedition/Expedition Max; Navigator/Navigator L. Expedition trim levels include XLT, Limited and Platinum, and a new FX4 Off-Road Package available for XLT includes upgraded shocks, a heavy-duty radiator, 18-inch Magnetic-painted cast-aluminum wheels, an electronic limited-slip differential and underbody skid plates. The Navigator, meanwhile, is offered in Premier, Select, Reserve and Black Label trim levels. The only engine available in either Expedition or Navigator is the venerable 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, however, and power output varies depending on the model. For example, the base Expedition gets 375 hp, while the Platinum trim is boosted to 400 hp and the Navigator generates 450 hp. The engine features direct and port fuel injection as well as start/stop technology and is backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission.
If you’re looking for something smaller and more manageable, Hyundai has two new offerings for 2018 . The Accent, Hyundai’s least expensive model, now gets a much more upscale exterior design as well as a sophisticated interior featuring a standard 5-inch TFT LCD display. An available 7-inch display features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, and standard features include a rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, air conditioning, power windows/locks, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, USB/auxiliary input jacks and more. The Elantra GT is all-new for 2018 as well, and is a welcome departure from the previous model in a number of ways. First, just look at it. The European styling is a welcome departure from Hyundai’s previous effort, and the stance is lower and wider. A new chassis, which is 22 percent stiffer and 61 pounds lighter than before, promises better structural rigidity and more confident handling. And it’s roomy, too, with 55.1 cubic feet of volume with rear seats folded (25 cubic feet when they’re up). Two models are available: the base GT with a 162-hp 2.0-liter four cylinder, or the racier GT Sport with its 201-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. Both models are towable with a manual transmission.