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Trailer Thrash: the best tow-car combos ever?
Without SUVs selling fast, there would be no supercars. Who makes the best of both worlds?
Images: Mark Riccioni
A £160,000-plus Lamborghini with a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and 641bhp. Carbon-ceramic brakes, 23in alloy wheels, an Anima selector to flick between Strada, Sport and Corsa modes, four-wheel steering and active stability control, optional Pirelli Corsas for track work. Launch control, obviously. And a towbar.
I beg your pardon?
Yup, leaf through the specifications of the Lamborghini Urus and you will discover, as a quirk of its shared heritage, it can come equipped with the fixings to tow an Elddis Buccaneer. Or a trailer filled with grass clippings set for the local recycling centre, a situation likely to atomise the rearguard on first application of decent throttle, like a hot-air balloon basket strapped to the bottom of Falcon Heavy. In fact, pretty much any mundane use of an Urus towball feels a little… implausible. Like finding a convenient carrying handle on a bomb. Why does a Lamborghini have a towbar? What would you tow with a Lamborghini super-SUV? Unless you have a pressing need to yank a trawler into dry dock, or drag the Moon from orbit, there’s a delicious amount of overkill here, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if anyone makes track tyres for trailers.
But then it dawned like the yawn of a lazy cat – the most appropriate thing to tow with a Lamborghini would be another Lamborghini. The ultimate single-manufacturer rig. You can see how we did, here. But one thing led to another and a few other towball options were discovered. Very fast towball options, for a different kind of drag race. The kind of things that beg for a Top Gear shakedown of the most OTT tow rigs in existence.
Which is how I come to be driving a Porsche with seven axles, 14 wheels, an engine in the front and one in the rear, 14 cylinders and 1,055bhp. Mind you, next to me, editor-in-chief Turner is casually piloting a Merc with 16 cylinders – a pair of identical 4.0-litre V8s – the same 14 wheels and 1,154bhp. Tom Harrison has 1,159bhp, Ollie Marriage has turned up with “something like” 1,050 horsepower and enough wing to humble Boeing, and Jack Rix has missed the memo completely and speared off into an intellectual space all of his own.
We have become a rolling affront to efficiency, each ridiculously powerful sports SUV towing a racier product of the same manufacturer, on a massive, gleamingly galvanised trailer. And the list is properly bizarre, and utterly brilliant: Porsche Cayenne Turbo mated to GT3 RS, Mercedes-Benz G63 allied to AMG GT R, Land Rover SVR wedded to Jaguar Project 8. Then comes a Bentley Bentayga V8 towing Bentley’s newest GT3 racer and Ariel’s sort-of SUV Nomad towing an Ariel Ace motorbike. Which just goes to show you can’t trust Ollie Marriage or Jack Rix to play by the rules.
Of course, the towball option on most of these things is more likely to be used as a mounting point for a carrier for some obscenely expensive carbon-and-diamond-dust pedal bike, but on first impressions, people are missing out not towing with upwards of 500bhp. Because, unsurprisingly, it is really, joyously easy. Even with the biggest of race trailers on the back – except for the Nomad, which we’ll get to later – every single tow car here makes short work of pulling their respective charges. Which they should, really, seeing as the least powerful of them (the Range Rover Sport SVR) still musters well north of 500lb ft. In fact, our traditional-type tow cars all feature forced-induction V8 engines, manage 62mph in 4.5 seconds or less and have top speeds on the very far side of illegal. When towing, therefore, they act like there really isn’t much holding them back at all. Which isn’t true, because these are the kind of rigs you need to pass a test to drive, or be suitably old to have the correct licence for.
The trailers themselves are Brian James T-Transporters, essentially a five-grand-plus-VAT triple-axle race trailer without a shell. The high-end way to transport something precious and car-shaped. With a hydraulic bed-tilt and proper space, they hold up to 3,500kg, weigh around 900kg and haul pretty much anything you can imagine – the only disadvantage being that they are not small, and you’d better be pretty confident on the reverse. According to the DVLA, in the UK, if you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997, you can drive with one on your car, as long as the combination of vehicle and trailer doesn’t exceed 8,250kg MAM (maximum authorised mass). Post ’97, you’re limited to a trailer of 750kg (towed by a vehicle up to 3,500kg) or a heavier trailer, as long as the total rig weight is no more than 3,500kg. Otherwise, you’re looking at the official trailer test. And things get heavy quickly when you’re talking big SUV+trailer+sports thing. The Mercs, in combination, weigh in at over five tonnes (G63 at 2,560kg, GT R at 1,630kg, plus the 900kg trailer), the Range Rover and Project 8 just under five, the Bentleys – even with the ‘lightweight’ racer – 4.6 tonnes. The lightest, Jack’s decidedly not OEM towball-shod Nomad and Ace bike, weighs just over a tonne, bike trailer included. Told you he was cheating.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the G-Class, Range Rover and Bentley that immediately feel the most comfortable with a loaded trailer, mostly to do with the inherent weight of the tow car. With a big trailer, some mass to the tow vehicle really does help, and although the Cayenne isn’t bothered – the GT3 RS being relatively light in this company – it just doesn’t feel as dense and solid as the other three. Rolling around the Top Gear test track in a wholly unscientific test of performance, the Range Rover bellows blue murder – it’s by far the loudest thing here, including the sports cars – the G63 emits a kind of saw-toothed burble and the Bentley, even in V8 format, feels a bit like an EV, solid torque and church quiet. The Cayenne is relentlessly efficient and surprisingly rapid once it gets going. But they all, without pause, tow like absolute champions, stop like they aren’t connected to anything at all, and provide neat little reversing cameras that allow you to hook the rigs up solo. This matters if you have to do such things regularly.
Diving childishly into Hammerhead, you can feel the weight and momentum of the combinations trying to force you wide. But, to be quite honest, the only real issue with towing using a massive sports SUV is that you completely forget you have a trailer on the back and start firing down the motorway. And every time you look in your rear-view mirror and see a sports car nailed to your back bumper, it can be… unsettling. Even the Nomad, the only manual tow car here, feels docile enough, and that’s with the less solid single-bike trailer (and higher centre of gravity) of the Ace strapped to the back.
Inevitably, once the various rigs are deconstructed, things get faster and braking distances reduce considerably. Jack careers off on the angular Ace, wrestling with a 1,200cc V4 and 173bhp on a bike that weighs just 230kg and looks unerringly like the artistic scaffold of the Nomad that delivered it. The GT3 RS and Project 8 spear off together, the 9,000rpm flat-six free-breathing howl of the 911 undercut by the bassy thrum of the XE’s supercharged V8. Corners are taken via wildly different lines, the Porsche neatly sliding, the Jaguar bullying its way through with just a smidgen of oversteer and four-wheel-drive corner-exit punch, while their respective attendant SUVs do their thing. It has to be said, although the Range Rover Sport SVR is hilariously theatrical – mostly due to that noise – and surprisingly flat through corners, nothing here swivels around a track like a Cayenne Turbo. It’s more like a 911 than you’d believe. After that, the Mercs seem to be content on their own, the same song sung at slightly different pitches, the new G63 night-and-day capable compared to the old G-Wagen – albeit like watching a tower block attempting a lap time, the AMG GT R lazily setting fire to its rear tyres as it arcs around it. It’s all lightly hilarious and eminently pointless.
Or is it? Because the weird thing is, whatever brand association you have, whatever innards they might share, there’s a definite feeling from each of the products that they come from a specific manufacturer, even though the products are polar. And we’re not necessarily just talking about switchgear and styling. Both Porsches are clinical, nimble and utterly self-possessed. The Jaguar/Land Rover products are loud, entertaining and slightly brutish. The Mercedes brawny, muscular and hewn. Even the Bentleys feel of a piece, engineered into a place all of their own, and the Ariels could only be from that manufacturer, even though they are, both conceptually and literally, completely different things.
“Although the RRS SVR is hilariously theatrical, nothing here swivels around a track like a Cayenne Turbo”
There is, therefore, a serious point to be made here. And it’s about diversification. When discussing the idea of a tow-rig feature, it became clear that there were several manufacturers capable of fielding cars from very different sectors, neatly demonstrating the need for marques to offer a broad range of vehicles to remain successful. A manufacturer will not survive on extremity alone, and yet needs the ‘halo’ cars to inject the kind of brand awareness that drags people in. Think about the Porsche Cayenne – a car widely ridiculed by traditional enthusiast media at the time of launch in 2002, for not being a “proper Porsche”. No matter how capable it was as a standalone SUV, it offended those who felt kinship with the traditional ideology of the brand. And yet… And yet, the Cayenne over three generations and 16 years of production has undoubtedly propped up the production of the RS models everyone loves, indirectly given birth to the bewinged specials that adorn bedroom walls. If history is to tell us anything, it’s that the Cayenne hasn’t spoiled Porsche’s sports car offering, it has preserved it.
Similarly, while Land Rover might be conceptually based in things like the full-fat Range Rover and defunct Defender, it’s the RR Sport and Discovery Sport that sell, and while Jaguar is traditionally famous for sports cars, spreadsheets are motivated by more prosaic offerings (even if the SVR F-Pace was unavailable for test). Even Ariel, a company famous for its singularity of purpose with the Atom, has broadened its offering to three products: Atom, Nomad and Ace, all using similar skillsets and sharing an ethos.
And that’s why these cars have towballs. Not because there’s a huge demand to tow a trailer down the Autobahn at 150mph, but because they are the products of modern automotive manufacturing. A place where platform sharing and parts commonality, marketing and niche-filling is part of the game you need to play to be solvent. Big manufacturers simply cannot survive on a singular product, and even an entity like Lamborghini – DNA deep in the sports car sphere – needs to produce cars that will sell, and in numbers. Ariel needed to expand on the relatively limited appeal of the Atom, and bigger manufacturers noted that many of their sports-car buyers had at least one big, expensive SUV in their fleet… and they needed a piece of that pie. The Bentayga currently makes up about half of all Bentley sales, and the Urus is already predicted to double Lamborghini’s total figures, bringing with it stability and profitability. Crossovers and SUVs account for two thirds of all US car sales, and we’ll see similar moves from Aston with the DBX, the release of Rolls-Royce’s Cullinan, and even Ferrari with its 2019/2020 “FUV”.
The truth is that you can be as iconic as you like, have brand identity and equity pouring out of your ears, but if you don’t sell enough cars, in enough volume, you will end up selling nothing at all. Which is how this totally pointless test turned into a serious one, and proves that we should all be glad that cars like the Lamborghini Urus have towbars. It’s to secure for the future the ones that don’t.