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AWD vs FWD hatchback/crossover for pulling teardrop camping trailer over rough terrain or snow

I’m looking to purchase a new or used hatchback or crossover that I plan to use on a cross-country camping trip. I haven’t yet purchased the trailer, but we’re looking at teardrop style trailers that have enough room to stand up in. I would love to have a nice Subaru Forester, Crosstrek, or even Impreza hatchback so we can handle snow and ice when we go North. However, if we decide to travel South at some point (Amazonian Brasil or Northern Argentina), I want to make sure repairs are not a headache. It looks like Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford, and Honda would be a wiser choice in terms of available parts and knowledgeable mechanics in those areas, but I’m not entirely certain. To keep price point low and mpg high, I started leaning towards a hatchback, but nearly all of them are FWD. I like the Toyota Matrix for ground clearance and popularity, but it’s hard to find an AWD available for a test drive.

  1. What’s your opinion on FWD for pulling a trailer through snow and ice?
  2. Which models would be easiest/quickest to repair throughout North and South America?
  3. Overall, what models would you recommend for this kind of trip, taking into consideration fuel economy and long-distance driving comfort?

Thanks for your help!

Have you checked out the road condition in the “Darien Gap” in Central America. Most people planning to drive to South America have 4 wheel drive SUVs with plenty of road clearance. I’ve never heard of anyone trying to pull a trailer through this very difficult area.

Please check with you automobile association on those roads. Once you are in Colombia you can pick up the Panamerican Highway.

I would think a RAV4 equipped with good all season tires (research on would be a good compromise for AWD traction and ease of repair/availbility of parts in both NA ans SA. Possibly a Honda CRV, too.

I am with @DocnickPersonally, I would get a crew cab Tacoma v6 4 wd. They are cheaper and tougher then car based SUVs and have plenty of room. If you think a Matrix has ground clearance, you need to reevaluate your needs. They are totally unprepared to do what you want. Compact SUVs like RAV and CRV are incapable too. No matter what you buy, economy will not be an issue pulling a trailer. Bigger Motors then 4 cylinder are more economical.

My opinion? If you plan on pulling a camping trailer through snow & ice on a cross country trip you had BETTER have either AWD or (preferably) 4WD, preferable with limited slip. FWD will definitely NOT do the job.

And you’d also better have good winter tread. When I say “good” I mean like as in new tires. Tires that are 60% worn out will probably end up with the whole vehicle + camper rolled over in a ditch. Think of the extra cost as cheap insurance in both the vehicles and in your life.

Prepare for the worst. Then hope for the best.

Oh, and Doc and Dag have given excellent advice also…as per usual.

I agree with the comments already posted. FWD vehicles are simply not suited for towing in any environment.

Any camper with enough room to stand up in will need something larger than a car. You might be able to find a crossover that can handle it though.

You might be able to get away with front wheel drive if you have a weight distribution hitch and the weather is fair, but I’d opt for all wheel drive.

I’m sorry, but, IMHO if you need to ask this question you shouldn’t be pulling any kind of trailer over anything but smooth level pavement.

One thing to keep in mind is that you not only have the weight of the teardrop camper but all your luggage/supplies so you will be looking at more like 2,000lbs+ which is within the tow ratings of the Forester but not by very much. A 4cyl Highlander or a V6 would be better. I don’t believe the Impreza’s are recommended for towing at all. The Previous generation of Rav4 could be had with a v6 and AWD and might be an option. But make sure you stay below the tow rating of the vehicle.

Something like a Tacoma pickup would be best for everything you want to do, don’t know if they still make campers that fit in the bed and are light enough but that would be my pick. Towing a trailer can be tricky in parking lots and particularly in snow and ice where it might be tricky just controlling the tow vehicle never mind the trailer.

If you’re going to tow in snow, you need to prioritize adequate towing capacity over good fuel economy. I don’t think you’ll find both in one vehicle.

If I were in this situation, I’d most likely be buying a Toyota 4Runner.

@dagosa. I would agree that a truck based vehicle with lots of ground clearnace is most suited. Last year I took a Spanish refresher course at the university. A retired couple took the same one, and were preparing to retire Costa Rica or some other Central American country. They were driving down and their vehicle was a crew cab light truck based 4 wheel drive. Either a Tacoma or 4Runner; they knew exactly what type of vehicle was suitable for their needs.

I’m going to Mexico in February and my friend there who manages rental properties drives a Nissan crew cab 4wheel drive pickup.

In the US or Canada a Dodge Durango or similar vehicle would do, but repairs and service will be difficult for that in South America. Japanese manufacturers like Toyata and Nissan are well represented there.

Fuel econoomy should be the last of OP’s worries; just getting there in one piece without destroying the trailer will be a challenge.

The world has been waiting a long time for a vehicle that can tow a camper, has great ground clearance, plenty of room, is reliable, can go off road, cruise comfortably cross country and gets as good mileage as a Forester ( 30 plus) while doing it all. The world is waiting for that vehicle…and waiting and waiting and…
Why don’t we get the easy questions like, " who makes silver vehicles ?"

What is the gross (fully loaded) weight of this trailer?

I’ve done a lot of towing in my life…And I would NEVER tow anything heavier then 1000lbs with a fwd vehicle. I don’t know of any camper that weighs less then 1000lbs.

Rwd is far better for towing then fwd. And RWD that you can switch to 4wd is the BEST.

Thank you everyone for your opinions and info! This combined with some advice I’ve gotten from family and friends has led me to focus on the Toyota RAV4. Any thoughts on what to look for when buying used? Is there a specific year I shouldn’t go beyond, etc.?

I don’t disagree with the others however I towed a a pop up camper with with FWD full sized Buick and Rivieras with no problem. Through ice, snow, etc. and never had a problem with gross weight around 2000 pounds. Braking was also not a problem with disk brakes. Don’t know anything about South America but for normal freeway driving it was not a problem. Also used RWD and didn’t see much of a difference.

For the Rav4 just get the newest or lowest mileage one you can afford, service history is important, regular oil changes and the like. The V6 was optional for 2006 and newer although it seemed to be less popular in later model years.

What is the trailer gross weight?

Towing a 2000 trailer with fwd in snow ? Don’t go off the interstate and don 't attempt to climb much of a hill; especially from a dead stop. You can’t even get started.
Either you are giving us the wrong information or you are being mislead by those giving you advice or you are just out for an after noon “troll”. I have a RAV. It will not tow any thing over 1000 lbs for extended trips without lots of effort and it certainly won’t manage that weight on rough roads going south through Central America.It’s essentially a small compact car with awd and your chances of finding a decent v6 used are slim. I have a 4 Runner as well though and that would fit the bill. Set your sights higher. That’s why I recommended a Tacoma. Used, it should be cheaper then a 4 Runner.

In addition to what dagosa stated from his experience with a Rav-4, I think it is important to point out some additional information about that vehicle.

While a Rav-4 is nominally an AWD vehicle, Toyota took an approach that is…less than ideal…with its design in order to maximize fuel economy, and that…less than ideal…factor is the reality that the AWD cuts out once you reach 25 mph.

I frequently drive my friend’s Rav-4, and I always have to remind myself when it is snowing that–unlike my Subaru–I have to engage the AWD Lock button in order to activate the AWD. But, even after activating it, the AWD will revert to just FWD once the vehicle reaches 25 mph.

And, each time that I stop at a traffic light, I have to engage the AWD Lock button again, only to have it cut out again once I reach 25 mph. This does help to boost the vehicle’s gas mileage…a bit…but it is certainly less than ideal when you are driving on a snow-covered road.

Please bear in mind that it is possible that Toyota has improved their design in recent years. My friend’s Rav is a 2008 model, and I know that this…lightweight…AWD design existed for at least a couple of years after that, but I am not knowledgeable about the very newest RAVs, so it is possible that this design compromise is not present in the newest RAVs.

If you are going to do towing in Central America & South America, you really need a vehicle that combines the following factors:

A full frame, rather than unitized construction (The RAV fails on this count, as do all of the other small crossovers)
AWD that can be engaged “permanently”. (The RAV fails on this count)
Being easily repaired–which means a vehicle that is commonly found in those areas, and which has a good parts supply in those areas (The RAV also fails on this count).

Combining all of the above, I agree with whoever said that your best bet is a Toyota or Nissan pickup with 4WD.