Whether you’re new to towing or looking to upgrade your current vehicle, the key to choosing the right tow vehicle is that it should meet the needs of your RV and lifestyle.
It’s important to not just look at towing capacity, since RVs are more susceptible to wind resistance and have a higher tongue weight than other types of trailers. The key metric to look for is payload capacity. This measurement is the vehicle’s capacity for all passengers (including pets), any gear inside the vehicle, and the tongue weight of the RV you are going to tow.
The payload capacity can be found on the driver’s side door jamb and will be the make-or-break number for the vehicle you are looking at. This number will also vary between trim levels.
Choosing the Right Type of Tow Vehicle for You
If you’re still deciding on which type of tow vehicle is best for your lifestyle, here are a few pros and cons to minivans, SUVs, and trucks in relation to towing.
Reasons to Consider a Truck as Your Tow Vehicle:
- Trucks are more luxurious and versatile than ever before. Trucks used to be more utilitarian and not as good on gas, however, their fuel efficiency has improved almost as much as their comfort and luxuries.
- Cabin sizes can accommodate families of five or less comfortably.
- Trucks tow RVs and carry cargo better than other options.
Reasons to Consider an SUV as Your Tow Vehicle:
- SUVs can typically carry more people than trucks.
- The comfort of the ride and fuel efficiency are better than trucks.
- Your cargo is not exposed to the elements as it would be in the bed of a truck.
Reasons to Consider a Minivan as Your Tow Vehicle:
- Minivans offer the highest capacity to carry people, while also providing more cargo room than SUVs.
- They offer the most comfortable rides and have the best fuel efficiency compared to pickup trucks and SUVs.
Other Important Features to Consider When Purchasing a Tow Vehicle:
- Does your vehicle have a towing option? Typically, this means your tow vehicle has advantageous features like a 7-pin trailer wiring harness, trailer brake controllers, and additional cooling for the engine and transmission. If this is offered as an option on your vehicle, we highly recommend you opt for it. Buying a version of your vehicle without it is a disadvantage as it can be pricey to install in the aftermarket. In a truck, a towing option could also mean a better rear end ratio for a smoother towing experience.
- Many new trucks have camera connectivity or trailering features with blind-spot monitoring for the trailer. Make sure to check whether this is an option with the vehicle you’re considering.
The Best 2021 Tow Vehicles for Towing a Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel
These are our recommendations for tow vehicles that stand out in 2021, as well as any notable updates to the vehicle categories.
The Best 2021 Trucks for Towing
These are just a few of your options for consideration. If you’re interested in trucks specifically, check out our best trucks for towing a travel trailer guide for a comprehensive look at the top trucks for towing fifth wheels, pop-ups, and other RVs.
2021 Jeep Gladiator
- Max. towing capacity: 7,650 pounds
- Max. payload: 1,600 pounds
Jeep released the Gladiator in 2020 into a segment that’s been dormant for some time. The competition is now heating up, but the versatility of the Gladiator is why we selected it for 2021. It tows well and is extremely capable. With the recent addition of the EcoDiesel engine, it provides a lot of choices to buyers. And, as a bonus, it’s also a convertible for your off-the-grid adventures.
2021 Ford F150
- Max. towing capacity, conventional: 14,000 pounds
- Max. towing capacity, hybrid: 12,400 pounds
- Max. payload, conventional: 3,325 pounds
- Max. payload, hybrid: 2,100 pounds
The F150 is scheduled to receive some new updates for the model year 2021, which makes it the winner in this competitive segment. It will receive a new hybrid powertrain that’s based on the 3.5L Ecoboost engine, with the expectation that it will deliver higher power and torque (due to the electric motor) and also higher fuel efficiency.
This hybrid model will have between 1,800 and 2,100 pounds of payload and between 11,000 and 12,400 pounds of towing capacity, which is highly capable for this segment. Another RV-friendly feature is Ford’s new PowerBoost, which is only available on the hybrid powertrain. This feature is like having a generator on board and allows you to use a multitude of electric items from the bed of your truck. The other engine options, which are plentiful, will remain for 2021 and the interior has received updates that will make for more comfortable travel while towing.
You can’t go wrong with any of the major truck manufacturers in this category for towing, but in our opinion, GM gets the nod due to its recent release of the new generation HD Silverado and Sierra.
2021 Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra 2500
- Max. towing capacity, conventional: 14,500 pounds
- Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 18,840 pounds
- Max. payload: 3,979 pounds
2021 Chevrolet Silverado / GMC Sierra 3500
- Max. towing capacity, conventional: 20,000 pounds
- Max. towing capacity, fifth wheel: 35,500 pounds
- Max. payload: 7,442 pounds
These new GM models come with a multitude of integrated cameras, plus have the ability for RV cameras to integrate with the infotainment system, providing up to 15 views. Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) sensors from the RV tires also display on the infotainment screens, providing alerts for low air or high temperatures. And, a heads-up display allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road more often. The only feature that’s slightly lacking is that the interior design is a carryover from the last generation.
The Best 2021 SUVs for Towing
These are our favorite SUVs for 2021—you can’t go wrong with these models as your tow vehicles when compared similarly to the capable competition. If you’re set on an SUV as your tow vehicle, our comprehensive towing guide for SUVs and minivans will have even more useful information.
These SUVs are built on the same unibody frames that you will find in sedans and crossovers. For RVs, this means that they are limited in their ability to handle heavy-duty towing at 3,500 pounds or less in towing capacity. But if your camper weighs under the towing capacity, you can purchase a fantastic daily driver with great fuel economy, plus get a comfortable ride to the campground with a light-duty SUV as a tow vehicle.
2021 Toyota Highlander
- Max. towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
- Max. payload: 1,400 pounds
The Highlander wins this category as it recently received an entirely new design and update to the hybrid drivetrain that makes it exciting to RVers. The one we recommend here, as a light-duty, is the hybrid model. This model has a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds and a payload of 1,400 pounds. It also has a third row and, when not towing, will get you about 36 miles per gallon. The non-hybrid version of the Highlander comes with the V6 engine and a 5,000-pound towing capacity.
2021 Ford Bronco
Due for release in the spring of 2021, the Ford Bronco promises to be an exciting vehicle in this segment. It’s expected to have a payload between 1,100 and 1,400 pounds, with the four-door Bronco as the more capable tow vehicle. If you’re considering it as a tow vehicle, you should pair it with a camper that weighs less than 3,000 pounds fully packed. And when you get to the campground, you can remove the doors and roof for a wild adventure.
Don’t confuse this for the smaller version, the Bronco Sport, which will be much less capable of towing than the regular Ford Bronco.
These SUVs are more capable than light-duty ones, while also built on unibody frames. A few, such as the 4Runner are built body-on-frame. These medium-duty SUVs typically range in payload capacity from 1,200 to 1,400 pounds and have towing capacities near 5,000 pounds.
2021 Ford Explorer
- Max. towing capacity: 5,600 pounds
- Max. payload: 1,560 pounds
The Explorer is a great option in this segment because it was recently redesigned with more towing and capability in mind. Ford improved the drivetrain, making it more capable and increasing the capacity to 5,600 pounds for towing. The Explorer also gets positive reviews for a more comfortable third row in this class. Choose this SUV as a tow vehicle if you have an RV that’s under 4,500 pounds with your gear in it.
These SUVs are body-on-frame, derived from their truck versions. They come with trailer options such as integrated brake controllers and the necessary hardware to make towing a safe experience with your family.
2021 Ford Expedition
- Max. towing capacity: 9,300 pounds
- Max. payload: 1,700 pounds
Ford recently redesigned the Expedition model with a combination of luxury and comfort features and capacity. When equipped with the heavy-duty towing package, it’s also the most capable SUV in this segment with a towing capacity above 9,000 pounds.
Another tow vehicle with similarly upgraded features in 2021 worth noting is the Lincoln Navigator, which has a towing capacity of 8,300 pounds and a similar maximum payload.
2021 GM Tahoe/Suburban, Yukon/Yukon XL, and the Cadillac Escalade
- Max. towing capacity: 8,300 pounds
- Max. payload: 1,700 pounds
These GM models are all new in 2021 and offer strong competition to Ford. While these models have a slightly reduced towing capacity at 8,300 pounds, they have some trailer-specific features built into their infotainment system. GM also announced that the Duramax Diesel engine option will be released in 2021—it’s performed well in the Silverado, getting excellent miles per gallon for towing and daily driving.
If we’re selecting just one, it would be the new Yukon XL paired with a camper that weighs around 6,000 pounds with all your gear in it.
Other Types of Towing Vehicles
All types of minivans are all limited to 3,500 pounds of towing capacity and are often compared to light duty SUVs. If you have a camper that’s under 3,000 pounds, a minivan is a solid option for a tow vehicle because they ride better and have more passenger room than an SUV.
An underrated choice for towing to consider is a full-size van. The Nissan NV Passenger van is a top choice as a tow vehicle for 2021. It can be configured to carry 12 people or it can be optioned to tow up to 6,200 pounds with a payload capacity ranging from 2,500 to 2,800 pounds. Owners of full-size vans enjoy the benefits of an SUV for transporting people, but the capability of a truck for towing a camper.
A Note on Electric Vehicles as Tow Vehicles
The future of the EV segment is bright, with innovative concepts such as Tesla’s Cybertruck, the new EV Hummer, and Rivian’s R1T and R1S, which are fully electric vehicles new in 2021. However, EV range with towing is a severe limitation with real-world figures decreasing the mileage range by 60 percent. That means that when towing within its limit, a Tesla Model X (which has a 300-mile range) would only have 100 miles of driving range.
The combined improvements of battery technology and increased availability of charging stations across the U.S. will dictate the adoption of EVs as tow vehicles in 2021 and beyond.
As RVing continues to grow in popularity, automakers are keeping up with integrated features and comforts that make towing your RV not just easier, but more comfortable and enjoyable. We like these options that make the joys of RVing more accessible and less intimidating even for newbies.