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Ford Escape vs. Subaru Outback for towing 13' camper

I’m thinking of buying either a Ford Escape SE FWD 2.0L 4 cylinder ecoboost with factory installed tow hitch rated to tow 3500 # or a Subaru Outback AWD 2.4L 4 cylinder CVT rated at 2700# to tow a 13 foot Scamp trailer weighing in at 1350 pounds (unloaded). I’ll be doing a tour of our National Parks so lots of mountains and will be on the road for a year or more. Which vehicle would do the best job of getting me back home ? And should I consider ordering the Scamp with electric brakes ? I need some unbiased opinions here. Will the longer Outback wheelbase add to towing stability? Will the Escape’s air cooled transmission save me heart ache in the Rockies ? Is the construction of the Escape inferior ? I’m sitting on the fence here and need some help.

Personally, I would hesitate to tow a trailer with any 4 cylinder vehicle, but between the two choices posted, I would advise the Outback for one simple reason, namely because it has AWD.

When the weight of a trailer is placed at the rear of a FWD vehicle–like that Escape–the traction of the front wheels is going to be reduced. This may not be apparent when driving on a dry, flat, paved road, but on a wet road or when driving uphill on a dirt/gravel road, the reduction in traction for the Escape’s drive wheels could be…dramatic.

The bottom line:
I just can’t recommend any FWD vehicles as being suitable for towing.

If I was going to undertake this type of adventure, I think that I would want to use a full-frame pickup truck with at least a 6-cylinder engine–and preferably with an 8-cylinder engine. RWD would be fine if an AWD pickup is not in the budget.

I agree 100% with @VDCdriver . You will be doomed to fail if you purchase either one of these vehicles. I’ve seen this scenario hundreds of times as I worked for a large RV dealer for many years. In addition, I lived in the Seattle, WA and Fairbanks, AK area for years. Vehicles like yours usually spent much of their time over the mountains driving slowly on the shoulder. They were there to let the long lines of traffic behind them pass so they could get on with their vacations. Don’t be that person…buy a vehicle that’s suitable to tow a vehicle reasonably and safely.

On the road for a year or more, towing a camper, in the mountains, you would be crazy to go with anything less than a V8. Get yourself a used V8 F150 truck or similar. They’re plentiful, inexpensive, and easy to repair. Rear wheel drive is fine with decent tires. Put a cap on the bed for extra storage space.

In the Rockies you will be hating life with a 4 or even 6 cylinder vehicle. Don’t do it.

Of course, you could just get the AWD Escape and the FWD dilemma disappears.

I also don’t recommend the Escape - not only because it’s FWD, but because it’s an Escape. Those things are terrible. They’re unreliable, and the ones we have at work have been in for serious recalls (as in: “it might catch fire”) on 4 separate occasions since we got them 1 year ago.They’re just atrociously-built cars.

On the road for a year or more, towing a camper, in the mountains, you would be crazy to go with anything less than a V8.

I do a lot of camping and towing my 3000lb pop-up with my V6 4runner. The 4runner V6 has MORE then enough power…and I wouldn’t hesitate to do that trip with my trailer with the 4runner. Not all V6’s are created equal.

I just read on an Outback forum that Subaru rates the Outback with CVT at 1350# max if the climb is greater than 5 miles or the temperature is over 104F. But the poster really like towing with his 2014 Outback with CVT. Page down to Subiesailor’s post.

For mountain towing you need a V6, minimum, even with that light weight camper. A tow package is also a requirement (including the transmission cooler). Like Mike said, a V6 4Runner should do fine.

Count me in with the crowd. For a drive that long involving mountains, I’d want a vehicle with more towing capacity and more power.

“Not all V6’s are created equal.”

That’s very true. My 2002 Dakota with the 3.9 V6 was a weakling compared to my 2005 Dakota 3.7 V6. The 3.7 knows it’s limits as well…it had a tough time pulling my brother-in-law’s pontoon boat out of the water but my wife’s 4.3 V6 Blazer did the job with power to spare. If you get a V6 make sure it’s a powerful one.

Slightly off topic…But once as a young lad I took a spring break trip to see family just northwest of Denver, CO. At the time, I was driving a 1997 Nissan 2WD pickup with the 4 cylinder engine. The only cargo was me and my bag, basically. I’ll never forget desparately trying to get up the interstate mountain roads, foot flooring the gas, and that little truck was struggling to stay above 50 MPH. Meanwhile…large SUVs and trucks with V8s were just flying up the mountain.

Good luck.

The Dilemma is that although this is a really tiny trailer as far as they go and pretty light, you add all the stuff you’re bringing along. The Escape with AWD might be the slightly better choice. The Ecoboost probably has roughly the same power/torque as the V6 in our old Grand Voyager but you have to consider the brakes and suspension,not to mention the cooling system.

We’ve learned especially with the steep hill climb between home and the marina with our 1700lb+ skiboat plus the rather steep climb that feels like going up a mountain pass that the more power/towing capacity you have the better. There might be reviews by a camping trailer or boating magazine as far as how well the Escape and the Outback do with a load behind them.

Am completely with @VDC. You found a fwd car rated to 3500 lbs that can successfully tow that kind of weight up hills ? Good grief. How unbelievable can the stats of some of these things be ?

As far as the Toyota v6 is concerned, it is one heck of a capable motor compared to other intermediates for towing and arguably, one of the best as it’s still used in the new ones rated to tow 5k. But still, a larger motor would be my preference in the Rockies and when weights with cargo get that high, IMHO, the Toyota 6 becomes marginal on steep hills. I towed a 3500 lbs pontoon boat with no problems with mine. I would not want to drive through the Rockies with it (that weight) with weights anywhere near it’s limit.

But,a Scamp trailer that light, (1300) I see no problem if the other loads are reasonable and under 1000 lbs. for a 4runner designed for it. I think we are talking apples and oranges.

This discussion is like all towing we have had and is going to extremes on both ends. Just don’t use a freakin fwd compact SUV to tow anything but a bag of snot through the Rockies.

Where I might disagree is, there are a ton of intermediate vehicles including a Highlander and Pilot that are frameless that could easily handle the weight you are talking about. You need not get a truck framed vehicle and a diesel or a humongous v8. Just keep the overall weight in check and the south of 3k lbs.

Thanks so much for all your responses. It was a bit of a wake up call but better now then half way up the Rockies. The only towing limit information I had came from the 2014 “Guide to Towing” which lead me to feel comfortable about my possible car purchases. Of course, no salesperson tried to disabuse me of my plans. Thanks to the input I have a better understanding of the limitations of these cars. Unfortunately my budget can’t stretch to the V6 or a bigger SUV or AWD and a truck just won’t do it for me unless it’s a 1947 Ford or Chevy in the classic green with oak slat railings. Not sure what I’ll do next - at 67 a year of tent camping would indeed be rough but so would a burned out transmission. Thanks everyone.

you can get a reliable used vehicle for a fraction of the cost

You could get a 2012 Honda Ridgeline RT with around 30,000 miles for about $25,000 from a dealer. If you look at 2010/2011 models you can save even more.

Polly, why give up on a once-in-lifetime trip just because you don’t like pickup trucks? You can buy a perfectly good used F150 for five grand, tow your camper for a year with it, then sell it and buy something else when you get home.

a used jeep Cherokee might fit your need too.

OMGosh, Thanks again for your concern. I’m not giving up on my dream, just have to find another way. Used vehicles for a year of traveling alone - ice cold - I need the warranty. I had #1 nightmare come true this spring in West Palm - brake failure on I-95 followed by a ruthless mechanic who held my car hostage until I paid cash for triple what it should have cost. But I also don’t want nightmare #2 to come true - sliding down a slippery incline while towing a trailer, totally out of control, ending in a jack-knife accident involving several cars. I’ll keep thinking - maybe one of those new mini cargo vans - I can install a sleeping platform (like I did in my 2000 Corolla), maybe some other amenities - having tackled many remodeling projects over the years. It won’t be like the Scamp trailer but at least I’ll be dry and safe.