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So, then........    Just what is a
for a small caravan?

If you only have a small, single-axle, pop-top caravan, say 1000kg - 1200kg,  and need a vehicle for other day-to-day usage around town, then the choices become a bit tricky.......    Let's assume the all up weight including your food and belongings, comes to 1300kg - 1500kg.  In our case, a Gazal little Nova, but it could be any 12'-15' poptop styled caravan.

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         .......  and where might you take it?

here's a  few aspects you may have overlooked......   from a 'towing' point of view.

Let's see, you'd probably want:

- the comfort of a car or SUV. 
You don't tow all the time.
- the economy of a car, most of the time,
   like under 10L/100km around town,
      and not too much penalty when towing.

- but also: safety and towing capacity!
- not too big a vehicle
    (unless you have more than 2-4 passengers...)
- easy rear access to the wagon,
      particularly when the caravan is connected
- low cost.  (now, later at resale, & servicing)
- good rear-vision for around-town driving
- demonstrable warranty/servicing ability
- rear wheel drive for towing
- selectable 4WD with limited slip
or brake assistance for recreation
    in interesting places

As just two people, we specifically also want:
- cargo space for job-related activites
(6 toolkits)
- no need for rear-seat passenger space
- 50% of usage (20,000km)around town,
   whilst 30% of time - country/vanning/outback.
   and 20% recreational use - some off road

So, the ideal features would have to be:

- efficient diesel engine.   A "common rail" simple, reliable design.
- with plenty of torque and low gearing  (say 350Nm +, and 5 or 6 gears)
- automatic for easy take-off up hills with a load, and for backing
- clearance for going up steep driveways (no towabll drag!)
- a way of avoiding getting bogged - the right type of diff(s).
- ensuring you don't get stranded when two opposing wheels slip
- low range for some off-road enjoyment at your camping destination
- lift back door providing weather protection to your cargo in the back
    (and clearance from towbars and a-frames,  to get the van on!)
- spare wheel out of the way - easier to see out back when backing.
    (say underneath, where it is always accessible, in emergency)
- confidence that spare parts and servicing is available out of town
- selectable 2WD (rear wheel only), with 4WD when desired
- ability to drive all four wheels - not just both tail shafts!
- we're towing/braking  under 1500kg, so lets not pay for a big truck.....
- How much to spend?   $30K, $40K, $50K, $60K or nearly $70K?
  On paper, the tested models offer a solution,  at each of these price levels.

something not much bigger than the Subaru 4-cyl Outback's we're used to, at around that price bracket   (mid $40's.....), but that tows 1300kg comfortably, and offers some off-road ability with departure clearance......


So......   Can say, a KIA Sorento EX, Diesel, (5sp Auto) step up to the task?
We took a few others for a spin too,  to compare........    
Here's what we experienced.

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Here are our towing obstacles:

a)  Angled driveways over culverts......
         2 opposing wheels in the air ?
b)  Deep gutters, losing rear end traction.
c)  Steep driveways causing
      towball bottoming out.
d)  A Low towball  prevents you leaving hitches on.
e)  Wide / tall vehicles can limit access
f)   Sideways opening doors prevent
            access when towing
g) rear wheels on doors, may prevent
           towbar to  towball access
   (and extending tongues can reduce departure angle !)

Does our own HITCH KIT fit the car?
50x50mm shafts vary from different car makers!
We have a genuine Hayman Reese from the last car, and the caravan has been setup with three jockey wheel connectors and gas bottle located to suit - so we don't want to change all that again!


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Looking at the above photos:
Check out the towball position, door opening and spare wheel situation in terms of how you connect and lower the drawbar of your caravan to the vehicle.
Also, notice what happens when you tow something up a steep hill, if your towbar is positioned too low on the car.

Some important differential issues:

"There are many approaches out there, many compromising on off-road assistance and on-tarmac economy....."

a) Viscous Coupling or transfer case/centre diff?
b)  Selectable 2WD / 4WD
c)  Optional diff locking
d)  Limited slip rear differential, to ensure
     both rear wheels provide traction.
e) Diff-lock in the front diff to force
     both wheels on the front
     tailshaft to provide traction to that
     'pairs of wheels'
f)  Assisted braking methodologies, whereby
     spinning wheels are 'braked' leaving
     the other wheel for traction.  (1WD then!)
g)  When on flat tarmac, ensuring that there
     is no differential 'wind-up'.....
h)  Who/what selects changing 2WD to AWD ?

Towing in OVERDRIVE ?

Be sure to see how possible it is, to control keeping the car OUT OF overdrive when doing lots of towing in non-flat areas. 

Sports-shifting to a 'hold gear' usually requires you to manually select back up thru the gears again (a lot!) when starting from the next corner/set of lights.  A nicer solution is a button to simply avoid top gear - leaving the car to use all the others when it wants to (or when you force the pedal to change down).

Many SUV's offer "All Wheel Drive" and this is usually front-wheel-drive with rear-wheel drive assistance when needed.   In other words, its a front wheel drive until you get into trouble.  If that's the case, then this is not ideal for towing.  For towing, the weight and traction should be on the rear wheels of the vehicle, particularly when going up hills.   Arguably, AWD, if done correctly could help with cornering, but not at the expense of front wheel spin, or wear and tear on couplings/LSD.  So, in my opinion, a RWD is best for towing.

Many lighter SUV type vehicles use a viscous coupling rather than a transfer case/centre differential.  If the system in use, tries to equalise the traction for and aft of the coupling (say a 50/50 type split) all the time, then any variation in wheel diameter or tyre preseure (or over weight) can cause the coupling to be always in use - to the point it can even seize up - very expensive.

Some systems just get (one of) the rear wheels to match the traction needs of (one of) the front wheels.  It is possible to get bogged with two opposing end wheels spinning.   With no braking or LSD or proper diff locking - you're stuck.

On the one hand, around town, you want to be able to do a U-Turn without forcing a rear-end limited slip diff, and definitely don't want diff 'wind-up' by inappropriately being in more than 2WD.  Many AWD vehicles are in fact only 1WD at the front and 1WD at the rear - making only a total of 2 wheels driving.

To get all 4 wheels driving, is to lock them all up. But many systems, instead, just   provide some computerised/controlled braking system whenever a spinning wheel is detected.  But a braked wheel is not driving the car - the 'non-braked' wheels are the only ones still attempting traction.  So is it 2WD or 4WD?  And, which 2?

Meantime, when off the beaten track, you want to be able to drive thru culverts, up steep hills, in the mud/gravel/wet.  So you need 4WD when you ask for it (or when the vehicle has determined you need it).  

"........  Just be sure the vehicle doesn't decide to turn it all on, when it is not needed.  ie: when turning on a dead smooth, dry solid surface, around town."

Traction Control
- just what wheels use it?

(and realistically, when must you predict the need?)

Some vehicles do not immediately make it clear how many wheels, traction control is applied to.  And you'd be surprised to discover that some leading brands don't actually provide traction control to al the wheels, in all the modes!

** For caravanners, think about situations where you are in need of traction from the FRONT wheels, if you are driving a 4WD that has 2WD on the rear wheels.  ie: slippery manoeuvering where rear wheels are both in trouble.  Say, when you are backing a van onto a slippery grass area.. 

Checkout: Can the vehicle engage an LSD type scenario to the alternative FRONT wheels for a moment?

Of course an LSD on both front and back would sort this lot out - but that would be a mongrel to drive around town or on flat surfaces........  So what's the best compromise?  It depends on what you really want to do with the vehicle "off road" and what percentage of the time.

In serious off roaders, the optional fitting of a DIFF LOCK that locks the FRONT DIFF, seems to be the only way to get serious front wheel traction in addition to rear wheel traction.  Such vehicles are best used mainly off road though.


Here's a couple of comments that we've confirmed in discussions with technical representatives, on relying on electronically controlled BRAKING to facilitate LSD type operations.   But note, they rely on BRAKING the spinning wheel, rather than providing physical TRACTION to both wheels.
- The KIA Sorento has ESP (for oversteer/understeer) and Traction Control for controlling spinning wheels in say, off road situations.  But if you select 4WD mode, then the ESP aspect is disabled, BUT traction control remains applied, and  to the ALL FOUR wheels.  In 2WD mode, if you manually switch OFF ESP, then you also disable traction control, thus leaving no controlling mechanisms to drive both wheels on the back.  But in normal operation, in 2WD or 4WD, you have traction control on at least the rear wheels.  The good feature of this vehicle, is that you enjoy traction control to the front wheels too, when in 4H or 4L, unlike the bulk of other manufacturers who only brake either of the rear wheels.
One subtle difference, is that torque reducton occurs in 2WD, but not so in 4WD, where of course, you do need plenty of torque.  So this is very well thought out by Kia.    Let's compare it to a similar vehicle:
- The Pathfinder ST-L has ABLS to assist with BRAKING spinning wheels when off road, but ABLS only comes into operation if you select 4L.   To select 4L you must stop the vehicle and engage neutral before engaging 4H to 4L.  This is not a realistic problem if you need to engage say reverse and rely on the front wheels backing up hill in reverse, but if you desire to remain moving forward and discover a need for ABLS operation around a corner, it is not possible (unless you stop and engage 4L).  There seems to be a difference between the R50 model prior to 2005 which required a complete stand-still of the vehicle before engaging 4L, and at first reading this requirement was stated to not exist for the more recent R51 models since Dec 2005 - where you could supposedly   select 4H to 4L whilst still moving.  But the finer print stipulates < 4km/h.  That is so slow, you may as well stop, and frankly, that's probably a good idea anyway, to protect the diffs from any sudden grabbing - but why not say so. Also, the question of ABLS availability in other than 4L in recent models, needed lots of clarification. The brochures say it is only 'low range', but technical contacts have said is 4H and 4L.  What neither sources show though, is that it is on the rear wheels.  So, check if you need to already be in 4L.   Interesting, because the o'seas, earlier versions of this model, had ABLS and ABS operatonal in both 4H and 4L, unless you disabled the VDC feature......... so check it out with a test drive and confirm for yourself!  Different models offer different features!  **Paperwork can be misleading, and at best, be limited in the technical information you need, for making a fair evaluation of facilities.**     We're just raising the question here.  
So....  what's available on the market?
(October 2007, Melbourne, Australia)

Here's what we've test driven - new vehicles AUG-OCT.
**legal towing subject to provision of trailer brakes
NOTE: we've deliberately left out Toyota Landcruiser and Nissan Patrol, on the basis that the caravan being considered is under 1500kg, single axle, and there is no need for really serious off-road 4WD activities.  These two fine heavy-duty vehicles are considered overkill for the modest  needs under review in this article.  They also represent a style of vehicle that we beleive is uneconomical for non-towing day-to-day use around the suburbs.
Pricing and negotiations

In the end, you will need to have servicing and you will undoubtedly need to talk about adding things like UHF radios, towing brake controllers, and so forth.  In our case we also  wanted additional wiring for special accessories.  So a good relationship with the dealership you finally do business with, must be a balanced decision based on initial costs, courtesy, service and future costs.

So obtain 3 or 4 quotes, meet the service manager and their team - and talk to existing owners of the car you are looking at.  Particularly, talk to owners that have used one for say 100,000kms to see how they've gone.

Here's a list of cost related matters to consider:

a) Are you eligible for a fleet, or ABN discount for purchase?
b) Negotiate the dealer delivery charge
c) Compare the real content and value to you, of any extended warranties.
   For us, who travel out of town a lot, then a warranty that requires attendance
   to a specific  dealership is impossible to avail of - so we chose a manufacturer
   AUST WIDE warranty
d) Document to the dealer, what you intend to use the vehicle for.
    Then you can compare the value of their servicing/warranty offers.
e) Clearly document and compare all the options you want.
   Towbars, wiring, tinting, protection strips, nudge bars etc etc. It all adds up
f)  Be sure to get estimates of future servicing costs (say 3-5 yrs)
    It is the major services, and the intervals that must be clearly compared
g) Check that the dealership quotation lists all your options and
    also outlines estimates of future servicing costs - no surprises!
h) Take note of any trimmings - like a free tank of Deisel - its all your money!
i)  Compare the on-road cost - with GST, stamp duty, rego, TPI and D/Del.
j)  Then consider the adjustment for any trade-in - shop around or sell private.

Here's some indicative comparisons..... PROS CONS


Toyota Prado GX (Diesel)

Pros: proven, excellent wheel travel, good gears/diff abilities (4WD-L).  Tank: 180L. 
410Nm @1600.
Cons: most expensive, rear door opens outward, has wheel on door,  No security blind for rear cargo (not even an option). Length: 4850. Turning: 11.4m.  Towing: only 2500kg - small for its size.


Nissan Pathfinder ST-L (Diesel)

Pros: nice ride (independent suspension all round),
less truck-like,
good rear-door setup (rises), ABLS and LSD.  
6-sp manual option. 
403Nm @2000.
3000kg capacity.
Cons: also expensive.   Length 4740.  Circle:  11.9m.   Tank: 80L

ABLS does NOT work when in 2WD.
ABLS is only applied to REAR wheels.

Awaiting confirmation if ABLS works in 4H.
R51 models since 2005 require 4H to 4L at under 4km/h - effectively stop to change.


Mitsubishi Pajero GLX 5-door (Diesel)

Pros:    358Nm @2000
Tank: 88L.  Favourably priced against Pathfinder and Prado.
Cons: rear door opens outward, with wheel on door.   Test vehicle went into ECU limp mode, requiring return to dealership to reset.


Kia Sorento EX (Auto) (Diesel)

(new: Spicy Red: Nov'07)

Note: For caravanners:  If you are backing a van onto wet slippery grass with the front wheels still on gravel or tarmac, the EX model still has traction control on the front wheels too, which means you can use the torque and traction on any remaining front wheel to still move the vehicle into position on the wet grass!    great advantage!

Note:  In 2WD, if you manually choose to de-select ESP,
then you lose Tracton Control too. But just don't de-select it!

Pros: great value for money, simple 2WD or 4WD hi/lo selection,  Small compact size (only 4590L x1884W x 1810H), 392Nm@2000. Security blind (std). tight turning circle: 11m
Tow: 2800kg / 280kg ball
Ladder frame.

to all 4 wheels.

4H to 4L via switch.
Traction control in 4H or 4L leaves full torque if needed.

Super low speed (4L) down-hill assist - great!

Brilliant lights for night.
Tank 80L.
Clearance 208mm
Servicing outlets in country areas.
(yet say, VIC has 45 dealerships versus Nissan who has 46 - so check the locations).

Slightly firmer ride, but to be expected for a live rear-axle - worth it for towing ability.


Jeep Cherokee Sport (Diesel)

Pros: small size, good price, 400Nm @1800-2400.
Towing: 2800kg / 280Kg ball.
size: 4496L x 1817H x 1819W
angles:  36d(A)/31d(D)

Selec-Trac® NV242 full-time 4WD system
ride, side opening rear door, spare on door. 
tank:  76L
Uniframe construction.


Hyundai Terracan  (Diesel)

Pros: Tremendous value for money. 345Nm @1750 thru 3000 range.  2500kg towing Cons: limited color range.   Unfortunately, now a  discontinued line (only Euro III compliant - not current Euro IV)
Landrover Discovery TDV6 (Diesel)
  Cons:     Price
viscous coupling, servicing costs and injectors, large size, rear door opening style (sideways)
Toyota Kluger (Petrol Only)
  Cons: Price, petrol only, AWD
Mitsubishi Outlander  VRX Petrol only
Pros: Compact/comfortable. 6 speed auto or manual Cons: only 1600kg towing.   276Nm @ 4000.  No deisel.
Subaru Outback 3.0R (std) (Petrol Only)
Pros: Nice car to travel in - but undersized for towing. Price for non-premium model. Cons: AWD is FWD.  No LSD or Assisted braking.  Viscous Coupling.  6cyl is 1800kg capacity.  Very   expensive for Premium models.   No deisel.
Nissan X-trail  ST-L (Petrol only)
Pros:  Low cost for around town as a  non-towing vehicle Cons:       towing 2000kg.
AWD (really FWD),   no diesel,
Suzuki Grand Vitara (Petrol only)
Pros:  Cons:
(Not for towing)
Max towball weight only 85kg
Holden Captiva   SX  (Diesel)
  Cons:  FWD bias with itsAWD design. Towing only: 1700kg for diesel.
Ford Territory TX  (AWD) (Petrol Only)
  Cons: AWD is FWD. (RWD only model - n/a)
towing: 2300kg / 230kg (comparatively low)
Subaru Forester   XS Wagon (Petrol Only)
Pros: great light off-roader (but not towing) Cons: no 6 cyl.  no low torque. AWD is FWD.  Viscous coupling.
ALSO: Not considered by us
(UTE shape not desired - but others may like)

Note: In our caravanning travels, Hilux and Navara both feature very highly, but you need to decide if you want a UTE type shape.
Toyota Hilux Diesel,   Nissan Navara Diesel,  Holden Rodeo
Mitsubishi Triton,   Ford Ranger Diesel,  Mazda Bravo
ALSO: Not considered,
(IN our case, a Wagon shape preferred)
An honorable mention should be made for the FORD BA Sedan, which is a well known and respected tow vehicle, but the writer's needs are for a 'wagon' shaped vehicle to suit day-to-day business use.
** availability of demo vehicles with proper 50x50 Hayman Reese type towbar, 7-pin wiring and brake controllers. ** ABS is looking to use portable brake controllers for aiding in the availability of vehicles for demonstrating towing abilities of more than 750kg capacity.  It is rare to find demos with legal 1500kg brake systems fitted

Views and opinions expressed here, are personal, and based on the needs of the reviewer for the intended vehicle usage described,
and as such may not reflect the requirements of all readers. 
The topics and points raised are for the purpose of illustrating the many variations in designs and features offered by car makers.  Additional research was often needed to find out  more about the capacity, mechanical operations, suspension and 2WD/AWD/4WD methodologies of the models considered. 
This required calls direct to the manufacturer themselves, in order to get additional technical information.   All errors or omissions excepted.


(updated:  12th Dec 2007, with outcome of the exercise:)

Read what the forums say about KIA Sorento:

KIA Sorento: Adelaide to Sydney 1330kms on one 80L tank of deisel!

Australian4WD - The Four Wheel Drive and Camper trailer resource  

KIA Forum:


PPS:  So, what did we buy in the end?  
A Sorento EX Auto Deisel Spice red.   delivered:  6th December 2007.

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A letter of thanks and recommendation of DANDENONG KIA, Victoria:    http://www.dandenongkia.com.au/  Phone: 9792 9922     Fax: 9792 9355

(Extract of email written to Dandenong Kia 21st November 2007, after placing official order for new Kia Sorento Ex. WDI385  subsequently delivered, as promised on 6th Dec 2007).

To who it may concern.

As for my dealings with Dandenong Kia, I have been most impressed.  Firstly with Nazir Maniyar, who has demonstrated a continued, polite, professional and prompt followup to every query and commercial question placed to him.  He provided us with a fair quote, complete with all the features and after-sales service cost queries we required.   As it is our practice to independently seek quotations on a confidential basis, Nazir's initial quotation has been accepted and order placed yesterday.  

We had opportunity to meet with Steve Passick, KIA Sales Manager for Dandenong Kia, who we found attentive to our needs and interests, and was a pleasure to deal with, in completing the purchase of the car.  Of great importance, was the evaluation of the servicing facilities and the calibre of service management.  A number of in-warranty, post warranty, technical and after market matters were discussed with Robert Maglicic (Service Manager) who provided excellent support and answers to what were some fairly ununsual technical queries we had, due to the nature of what our business needs to do with the vehicle.   When local in Victoria, we look forward to availing ourselves of his rregular service in the future.

I look forward to a long and satisfactory working relationship with the dealership, and a successful delivery in the coming days.

Gary Pope

Alchester Business Systems Pty Ltd
e:  gaz@alchester.com.au
w: www.alchester.com.au

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