Which Hyundai SUV for Towing a 1300kg Boat?

New Hyundai Tucson SUV


John, we are only new converts to your forum and are delighted to hear and read your perspectives and the advice you provide - always based on fact. A revelation compared to some forums we have looked at!

This might come across as a dumb question, but I'm trying to balance what I want to do sometimes, against our usual driving requirements - all while meeting our budget.

We are looking at buying either the Hyundai Santa Fe or the Hyundai ix35. We have a boat that weighs about 1300kg loaded and only tow it to and from the boat ramp - approx 14km round trip. We don't do this often, but want the ability to do so as required.

At the extreme we would tow Canberra to NSW south coast - approx 220km each way, but can't see the need for this is the near future. We have been comparing the specs between the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Hyundai ix35 and they don't really seem them as being that far apart for what we need. Seating for five people is OK for us, and boot space is not really a concern.

Mostly the car would be used for around town and trips to the coast and being around 194cm tall interior room is a consideration. From the online research it appears that the price difference between the two cars is around $10,000-$15,000 depending on the options and model - these are not locked down yet, but tow pack is a must.

We would appreciate your views as to whether or not the Hyundai ix35 has the capacity to provide what we want without either damaging the car long term, or worse compromising safety.

Once we make up our minds I will certainly be following your guidance regarding negotiations with dealers, or using the broker you speak so highly of. Thanks, Dave.


This is a very logical question. Obviously you want a vehicle mainly used as a runabout, but which will - in extremis - tow the boat 440km. I’m mindful that the run to and from the South Coast to Canberra is also challenging - because of the elevation change and the winding nature of the descent and return ascent respectively. Diesel is going to be the best powerplant for that because it offers lots of low-rpm and mid-rpm power. With petrol, the majority of the good performance occurs at high revs, which are difficult to exploit.

Hyundai has some traditionally good (and sometimes overlooked) strengths for this application. The five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty is a real plus pr private owners, who tend to hold onto their vehicles for some time. The 12-month/15,000km service interval means only one service per year for average drivers, and the service is capped price for life - another plus. (Most Japanese are locked into 3yr/100,000km warranties, and 6mth/10,000km service intervals). Hyundai SUVs also have full-sized spare wheels and tyres, which are a real asset for towing. Space-saver spares are not something I'd want to drive on with a big boat, van or trailer behind.

Mazda CX-5 and Nissan X-TRAIL are two otherwise good SUVs that come standard with space-saver spare tyres. My Mazda CX-5 review >> and Nissan X-TRAIL review >>

There are some salient differences between the ix35 and Santa Fe. The Santa Fe is bigger and heavier, which will be a plus for stability. The ix35 is smaller and lighter - and importantly, cheaper.

The Hyundai ix35 is about to be replaced by the new Hyundai Tucson - which is essentially the new vehicle in the same segment as the ix35. This means there will be some good deals on ix35 (run-out sales) in the next few weeks. (It goes on sale August 1, 2015.) Because of this imminent replacement scenario (we've known about it for 12 months or so) I haven’t devoted too much time to reviewing the ix35.

Given your proposed towing application, I think you should forget the front-wheel-drive versions of both the ix35 and Tucson. Front-wheel drive and slippery boat ramps are not a completely happy combination. AWD is better.

Hyundai ix35

For ix35 this means you are looking at the AWD SE, Elite or Highlander variants. (All ix35 Elite and Highlanders are AWD, and there are both FWD and AWD versions of SE.) My preferred engine for the towing application you propose is the 2.0-litre turbodiesel, which is an extremely strong performer. Read my report on petrol versus diesel here >>

Recommended retail price for the ix35 is $35,990 (Elite, auto AWD 2.4-litre petrol) to $40,990 (Highlander 2.0-litre auto AWD turbodiesel). These prices do not include on-road costs like registration, stamp duty or dealer delivery fee. On a budget I'd go for the turbodiesel AWD auto SE (rrp: $37,190).

Hyundai Tucson

The new Tucson is slightly bigger (30mm wider, 65mm taller and 30mm longer in the wheelbase) and is similar in its lineup. There are four versions: Active, Active X (replacing ‘SE’), Elite and Highlander. Active and Active X are front-drive only, so they’re scratchings in your situation. The recommended retail price for the Tucsons you would be looking at is $38,240 (Elite AWD petrol auto) to $45,490 (Highlander AWD diesel auto) - so there is going to be a substantial price jump if you wait and purchase a Tucson. Obviously this will be offset against better technology and equipment levels.

Frankly, this price hike is also going to make the Santa Fe more attractive. (I would not be surprised if Hyundai wasn’t forced to pump up the spec level on Santa Fe in the latter part of the year, both to keep up with, and also justify its premium pricing in relation to Tucson.)

Once again, the 2.0-litre diesel engine, which is a carry-over from the ix35, is the one I would shoot for, and the cheapest of those is the $40,240 Tuscon Elite diesel auto (AWD). Again these are all recommended retail prices.

Hyundai Santa Fe

When it comes to Santa Fe, the first thing I’d bear in mind is that there are no front-drive Santa Fes - they’re all AWD. I’d be forgetting about the price-leading 2.4-litre petrol Active model, and running with the diesels, because that 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine is simply superb. Unless you have extremely heavy towing to do (and, trust me, you don’t) I’d scratch the manual and go with the auto. (Manual Santa Fes have a 2500kg tow capacity, but you will be fine with the auto’s 2000kg maximum tow capacity.) Automatic and diesel are superbly combined in the current Santa Fe.

The price range you are thus looking at for Santa Fe is $43,990 (Active, auto, AWD) to $59,990 for the SR. Personally I think the sweet spot for value remains the Elite (diesel auto AWD) for $48,490. It’s a really solid value proposition. Compared with the Highlander it's around $5000 cheaper and all it misses out on are 19-inch alloy wheels (it has 18s) nor does it get the big glass roof and automated reverse parking system. I've reported extensively on the Hyundai Santa Fe (see links below).

Hyundai Santa Fe long term test part 1 >>
Hyundai Santa Fe long term test part 2 >>
Hyundai Santa Fe long term test part 3 >>
Automated reverse parking system test >>
Hyundai Santa Fe towing report >>

Towing the Boat

Let’s talk about towing the boat. I’m assuming 1300kg is the all-up weight (or GVM) of the boat plus the trailer, plus fuel in the boat and your gear. The total weight.

All this chat about load limits and GVMs, etc, is easier to digest after reading my report on towing and load limits for SUVs and utes >>

I’m also going to assume the static towball download imposed by the loaded boat onto the towball is 10 per cent of the boat’s GVM (or less). This means the boat on the trailer presses down on the towball with a static load of 130kg or less (which you can measure at a tow specialist’s facility or using a weighbridge).

It’s also possible to tweak the towball download by moving some of the movable load in the boat. More on the basics of towing >> but suffice to say that in all towing applications the two things you really must do are conform to two manufacturer-specified limits:

  • Don’t exceed the maximum tow capacity
  • Don’t exceed the maximum static towball download

CONCLUSION: Choosing the Right SUV

Objectively, the Hyundai ix35 will do the job - it has a 140kg maximum towball download and 1600kg maximum tow capacity. The new Tucson offers the same towing capacity as the ix35 it replaces.

The Santa Fe will do it better, because of its greater size and weight, and increased engine performance. There is more safety margin in the Santa Fe (with its 2000kg maximum tow capacity against the ix35’s 1600kg) but the 100kg towball download limit on the Santa Fe could be a problem. If your boat imposes a load greater than 100kg on the Santa Fe you will need to purchase the Hyundai Genuine Load Assist Kit (essentially a new set of rear springs) which increases the towball download limit to 150kg, and should more than meet your requirements.

In terms of outright tow capacity, ix35 represents a 23 per cent margin of safety when towing a 1300kg boat, and Santa Fe (auto) offers a 54 per cent margin of safety. (In other words, an ix35 can tow a maximum of 24 per cent more than your boat, and the Santa Fe can tow 54 per cent more.)

In relation to being 194cm tall: manufacturers generally accommodate the 90th percentile of humans. I think you’re in that range. In any case you’re easily able to assess the vehicles based on comfort and convenience by test driving at any dealer. Before you do this you should read my golden rules for test driving >>

Personal preference is a significant factor in any purchasing decision.

Once you’ve decided what you want, fill in the contact form here >> and I’ll get the broker engaged. Most people save thousands when they buy a car this way.