Today, we’re breaking away from our usual Throwdown structure and picking vehicles based on one metric and one metric alone: towing capacity. For those who tow, and do so regularly, quite often the capacity of the vehicle to pull a load is the most important figure on its spec sheet. Perhaps you don’t tow a huge trailer that matches that capacity, but those who tow regularly know that having more is better than not having enough.
For the most part, it can be assumed that for modern vehicles with towing capability, the other factors of pulling a trailer are already in place. We can generally assume that a truck capable of pulling a 15,000 pound trailer will have the proper hitch connections, as well as the trailer brake control and sway control necessary to keep the load safely behind the truck where it belongs.
This requires a bit of buyer beware for the consumer, as a half-ton truck rated to tow 10,000 pounds, for example, may not necessarily be equipped to do so. The vast majority of half-ton trucks sold today, in fact, have a standard ball kit that is only rated at around 5,000 pounds as-is. A specific load-distributing hitch, not often sold at dealerships, is required if the vehicle is to pull more than that. This is why, in our vehicle reviews section, you’ll often see a truck pulling a load in trailer testing at under 5,000 pounds despite having a towing capacity far higher than that.
For our Throwdown today, we will look at heavy-duty pickup trucks, light-duty (half-ton) pickup trucks, full-size SUVs and crossovers. We’ll choose those with the highest towing capacities as our benchmark.
Heavy-Duty Truck: 2014 Ram 3500
This category is dominated by diesel engines, dual axle configurations, fifth wheel and gooseneck trailer hitches and lots of chrome trim (not necessarily in that order). Those who work their trucks daily are very familiar with the three-quarter and one-ton pickups in this category. As you’ll see from our breakdown, towing capacities often verge on the territory of the big rigs that ply the highways “jammin’ gears and haulin’ freight.”
Our pick in the heavy-duty category is the Ram 3500 with the big 6.7-liter diesel engine under the hood. The 2014 Ram 3500 regular cab model (in ST or Tradesman trims with two-wheel drive and a long box) has a tow rating of 30,000 pounds. Opt for a crew cab model with four-wheel drive, and the 2014 Ram 3500 can tow about 29,000 pounds, depending on a few factors. We averaged three different trim levels that ranged from well over 28,000 to just over 29,000 pounds. Equipment options in the truck create a lot of variance. The next-best competitor is a Chevrolet Silverado 3500 with a rating of 23,200 pounds.
Half-Ton Truck: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500
In this category, we get into some very close shaves. All three major U.S. manufacturers (Ford, GM, and Ram) have claims for dominance here. As a result, we chose based purely on which package from each offered the highest towing capacity and went from there. Most of theses trucks can tow within five hundred pounds of one another, so your choice is likely to be based on something other than pure tow ratings.
Our choice among two-wheel drive models is the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and its twin, the GMC Sierra 1500 (both with a crew cab and a standard box) which have tow ratings of 12,000 pounds. For reference, a Ford F-150 regular cab with a long bed has a maximum rating of 11,300 pounds.
In four-wheel drive models, we again go to the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. These trucks are rated to tow 11,800 pounds with equipped with a crew cab and a short box. A comparable F-150 rates 11,100 pounds.
Full-Size SUV: 2014 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator
In full-size SUVs, which are truck-based, the choice was much easier, though we did have a tie. We’re again splitting into two- and four-wheel drive configurations.
The 2014 Ford Expedition and its Lincoln Navigator twin have tow ratings of 9,200 pounds when equipped with two-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive models can tow slightly less, with a rating of 9,000 pounds. The four-wheel drive 2014 Nissan Armada is also rated at 9,000 pounds if you choose the SL or Platinum trim. All three of these SUVs offer three rows of seats to maximize people-hauling as well.
Crossover: 2014 Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne
This is another fun list. Most crossovers that are powered by large-displacement V6 and V8 engines have towing capacities that rival some lower-end half-ton pickups. Many, like the Audi Q7 and Dodge Durango, have tow ratings of 6,000 pounds or more.
Hitting the high point for our list, however, is the 2014 Volkswagen Touareg and its premium twin, the Porsche Cayenne, both of which can tow more than 7,700 pounds. The nearest competitors aren’t far behind, however, as the 2014 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee are both rated to tow 7,400 pounds when equipped with a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive.
A Note About Towing Capacities
Manufacturers’ best towing capacities are often tied to a specific trim level. Where possible, we have listed the specific model and configuration for the tow rating we’re using here.
Starting with the 2015 model year, all pickup truck manufacturers use the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard J2807 for towing capacity testing. This SAE standard is only used in vehicles that are expected to tow up to 13,000 pounds, so most heavy-duty vehicles are excluded.
As of the 2014 model year, this standard was not universally used, with Toyota being the only major half-ton pickup truck manufacturer utilizing it to establish tow ratings for its 2014 models.