Most Affordable Practical Tow Vehicles of 2014

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Most Affordable Practical Tow Vehicles of 2014

The price range on some vehicle models can be incredible. Take the humble 2014 Ford F-150 as a case in point. Ford’s website lists the starting MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) as $24,445. But step onto your local Ford lot, and you’ll find F-150 models with stickers that total well over $50,000. What is a shopper to do?

We’ve put together a list of practical tow vehicles with all of the features and equipment that you really need, and none of the fluff that drives sticker prices through the stratosphere.

Each vehicle on this list is capable of towing at least 4,000 lbs as equipped, and can carry a payload of at least 1,200 lbs. We’ve specified vehicles that are body-on-frame and rear-wheel drive, with automatic transmissions and gasoline-powered V6 engines. Though some base models can tend toward the Spartan, we specified power door locks, keyless remote entry, power windows, power mirrors, at least an AM/FM/CD stereo and Bluetooth for modern comfort with a minimum level of complexity and added cost. Perhaps most importantly for this list, each vehicle on this list comes in with an MSRP under $30,000, including destination charges and options necessary to meet our qualifications.

We’ve ranked our vehicles by price. The top ranked vehicles are the Most Affordable Practical Tow Vehicles of 2014.

2014 Nissan Xterra X 4x2
2014 Nissan Xterra

2014 Nissan Xterra X 4×2

Engine: 4.0-Liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 261 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 281 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 5,000 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): N/A
Base MSRP: $23,110
Options: Nevada Tow Package ($480)
Total (including destination): $24,450

Xterra isn’t the first vehicle that comes to mind when it comes to towing, but it is the least expensive body-on-frame tow vehicle on the market for 2014.

2014 Nissan Frontier SV V6 King Cab 4x2
2014 Nissan Frontier V6

2014 Nissan Frontier SV V6 King Cab 4×2

Engine: 4.0-Liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 261 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 281 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 6,500 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): 1,447 lbs
Base MSRP: $23,200
Options: Bedliner and Tow Package ($625)
Total (including destination): $24,685

Frontier nips Tacoma at the finish line with an impressive list of standard features and a price tag from the 1990s.

2014 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab PreRunner
2014 Toyota Tacoma

2014 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab PreRunner

Engine: 4.0-Liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 236 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 266 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/21 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 6,500 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): 1,500 lbs
Base MSRP: $23,560
Options: Convenience Package ($1,005), Tow Hitch Receiver ($550)
Total (including destination): $25,975

The venerable PreRunner surprises with a bargain price and big truck capability.

Read More Most Affordable Practical Tow Vehicles of 2014 >>

Disclaimer: Photos are accurate for year, make and model, but may not reflect the exact trim level described on this list.

  • TheSeaward

    The Ram pictured is not a Tradesman and the F-150 doesn’t have the 3.7.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Hey, The Seaward –

      F-150 does have a 3.7-Liter V6, naturally-aspirated, available in the XL, STX and XLT trim levels.

      Sorry about the photo — Ram doesn’t even bother taking pictures of the Tradesman, it’s so affordable. That’s as close as I could get from the press site.

      • josh

        I would say “What about the ram Express? short bed but it has the proper v8, and is about the same price as the trademan.” but they jacked the price up 6k. in 2011 you could get the short bed v8 ram for right around 20k.

      • TheSeaward

        I meant that the F-150 pictured was the 3.5 Ecoboost, It even said it right on the side of the truck.

  • Jason Kritter

    The Xterra pictured is the fully loaded Pro4X. Comes in at about $31k. I own one and it is a great vehicle. It hauls all my toys, dogs, gear. The only drawback is I can’t get better than 18mpg’s.

    • Piglet2010

      Where are the diesels that Nissan and Toyota sell is other markets?

      • Jason Fogelson

        Those would be great tow vehicles, Piglet2010. But since they’re not available in the US, they didn’t make the list.

        • Piglet2010

          That was a complaint about the US divisions of said companies, not the article.

          • Jason Fogelson

            Thanks, Piglet2010. I’m on a hair trigger.

      • Riedl

        2015 Chevy Colorado has an optional 4 cyl Duramax. In foreign markets the engine supposedly makes something like 200hp 380 lb-ft, its going to be awesome.

        • Piglet2010

          So about twice the power the truck really needs.

    • Jason Fogelson

      You’re right, Jason — that’s the only Xterra picture that was available. Doesn’t exactly match the vehicle described, but has the same powertrain.

  • Riedl

    As much as I like small pickups. I can’t imagine why someone would buy one when you can get a full size for a couple grand more and the same fuel mileage. The deal breaker for me is not being able to haul plywood/drywall.

    Also it would be interesting to see the same list with 4×4 mandatory, 2wd trucks are about worthless in the midwest.

    • Piglet2010

      Until you drive in inner city traffic, park in a garage, go off-road, etc, where the smaller size of a compact pick-em-up truck makes driving much more pleasant.

      Agreed that 4×2 trucks are near worthless when the roads are snowy or icy.

      • Stuki

        All that ease of city driving falls apart quickly if you have to add a bike trailer to the compact truck, but the full size can carry the bike in the bed. And dittio even more so for going off road.

        • Piglet2010

          Most full-size P/U trucks just have wider beds than compacts, not longer.

          And all 4WD P/U trucks are no fun to load a bike into the bed solo – I would rather use a hitch rack for a bike that weighed 400 pounds or less, and a trailer for anything heavier.

    • Justin McClintock

      Also, you can get a 4 door compact/midsize for relatively little money. A 4 door full sized with any kind of equipment at all (aka, similarly equipped to the compact/midsize) will cost you both arms and one leg.

      BTW, I would argue about the uselessness of a 4×2. They’re actually fine in most of the midwest. Most of the midwest honestly doesn’t get that much snow and is pretty flat. That said, if you live in the snow belt or in a hilly area, then yeah…4×2 sucks.

      • Piglet2010

        Upper Midwest then. Right now a 2WD truck would not be going anywhere without chains or studs on the rear tires, since we had nearly a quarter-inch of freezing rain.

        • Justin McClintock

          Well, to be fair, I wouldn’t be driving a 4WD truck on ice without chains or studs either. You’ve still got to stop.

          EDIT: For full disclosure, I learned to drive in Cleveland, OH…in a RWD 1976 Pontiac Ventura followed by a 2WD 1998 Dodge Dakota…both with manual transmissions. 2WD worked fine there because it was flat as a pancake on the west side of town. East side of town was a COMPLETELY different story.

          • Riedl

            Where I live you would have just missed an entire week of work then. I had to go 4 wheel to make it up my driveway this week.

            • Justin McClintock

              Well, that’s honestly not representative of most of the midwest. I’ve lived in MO and OH and been to everywhere in between and most of it is pretty flat. There are certainly exceptions, but when it’s flat, if you can’t get around with 2WD, you probably shouldn’t be trying to get around anyway. Especially on ice. Nothing like trying to stop on an icy downhill to make a person realize they should have stayed home.

          • Piglet2010

            Yes, on can get around most of the time with 2WD, but it is highly annoying if there are many stop signs or red lights – creepy slowly up to speed due to a lack of traction is no fun.

            • Justin McClintock

              My feelings on the matter are that if you really have to accelerated THAT slowly in a 2WD vehicle, you probably shouldn’t be out at all. There’s no 4WD equivalent for your brakes. And no, ABS doesn’t count.

              • Piglet2010

                Since the vehicle has a brake on every wheel, driving every wheel is just evening things up, eh? And braking distances are reasonable at 20 mph in the snow with proper tires, in conditions where a 2WD vehicle may not be able to get going again if stopped even on a 3 or 4% grade. In addition, (in general) pick-em-up trucks have much greater stability on slippery surfaces in 4WD compared to 2WD – I run mine in 4WD on gravel roads for that reason, even though I do not need the extra traction to accelerate at a reasonable pace.

                • Justin McClintock

                  No, not really. You’ve got brakes on all 4 wheels in the dry. In the snow…your braking just plain sucks. Like I said, I learned to drive in the snowbelt in 2WD vehicles. 4WD isn’t necessary. The only thing we ever used it for was purposely getting my buddy’s truck stuck in snow drifts, then throwing in in 4WD to get it out. On the roads in NE Ohio, you’re far more likely to find a 4WD vehicle stuck in the ditch than a 2WD one. In flat areas, it’s just something that makes you forget how bad the roads really are until it’s too late. If you NEED 4WD in a flat area, you NEED to stay home.

                • Piglet2010

                  No, most times a person does not *need* 4WD. Of course, one does not need a stereo system, A/C, cloth seats, power anything, blah, blah, blah in a vehicle, but they can make the experience a lot more enjoyable. I commuted across Milwaukee for several winters in 2WD vehicles without once getting stuck to the point I could not dig myself out, but after a while the constant battle for traction to get moving became very annoying.

    • Jason Fogelson

      4×4 pretty much puts us over $30K, which would require a new list.

      • Jack S

        4×4 is the way to go

  • Justin McClintock

    BTW, if you lower than required tow rating to 3500 lbs, you can add most minivans to the list.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Yes, that would be a different list.

    • Ryan Kiefer

      If you’re towing a single motorcycle, or two non-hogs on an open trailer, you can add most sedans to that list, for that matter. Most of them have at least a 1500lb tow rating, moreso if they’re RWD and of European origin. I recall being shocked looking in the owner’s manual for my 1996 Volvo 960 sedan (2.9L I6, AWA4 auto) and seeing that Volvo claimed it was safe to tow something like 1500lb, or 3300lb with trailer brakes. I never had occasion to tow with it, but knowing that I could if I wanted made me feel a bit more chest-thumpy about my RWD sedan.

  • Dan

    After a few new tow vehicles that just didn’t get great mileage or offer anything (for me) further than an older vehicle can provide (including reliability; even with a warranty, heading to the dealer numerous times per year kinda sucks)… i gave up on new vehicles. My current tow rig, parts chaser, family hauler and vacation driver is a 1994 Chevy Suburban 1/2 ton 4×4. 189k miles and the total repairs in the past 60k miles that I’ve had it have totaled $4.80. It gets 14mpg around town, 15-16mpg on the highway, it’s fully loaded with all the glories of the mid 90s and reliable as a rock. About cheap as one, too… leaves more $ for motorcycles :)

    • Piglet2010

      Yeah, maybe I will go one fixing the little things on my 2002 Frontier XE King Cab 4WD for another 5 to 10 years – $30 to $40K for an occasional use vehicle turns me off.

  • Piglet2010

    I wish trucks were available with the same types of interiors as UTV’s for about $5K less. Carpet in a truck is just stupid – give me something I can hose out, please.

    http://lh5.ggpht.com/_qvuHzKHLd-0/Sh9tPNA1CeI/AAAAAAAABD4/CDJoQSaOej4/s576/500cc%204WD%20XUV%20Farm%20Cart%20Interior.jpg

    • Ryan Kiefer

      They are — sort of, but probably not for such a nice discount. To get such a truck, you either need to special order, or shop at a fleet dealer. Don’t judge based on the options you see online, though. Fleet sales generally deal business-to-business, so they expect someone to call and have a chat when they want to discuss a purchase.

      Personally, I think this is the direction Honda should have gone with the Ridgeline, and should go with the teased redesign. Make a truck that relates more to Honda’s ATVs and others ORVs than their car/CUV lineup. Something with a more traditional engine/transmission layout for a truck. Keep the V6 as base, but for the gods’ sake add a couple of pistons to the most powerful current J37 V6 in the MDX and you’ll have a 4.9L V8 making around 400hp/365lbft, which wouldn’t be world-beating, but would at least be more competitive. Do whatever witchcraft Honda’s doing with it’s “earth dreams” engines to that, and it could probably get another 35/35.

      //Shameless Honda fanboi

      • Piglet2010

        Time for the government to raise CAFE standards on light trucks, and revise the test procedures to make them reflect real world driving. Also a graduated tax based on SAE horsepower numbers. No one needs 400-HP in the light truck – 30 years ago we got by with 130-HP and 230 lb-ft (or so) in a full size.

    • charlie

      I know you can hose out the back of the Xterra. I don’t remember if it’s the same up front though.

      • Piglet2010

        I wish my Frontier had rubber matting instead of carpet.

  • DrRideOrDie

    Do you guys want to throw in your two cents on a used vehicle list with similar concept of being able to get a bike around? I’m sure some of you guys that have had years experience moving bikes around have a preferred vehicle choice.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Great idea, DrRideOrDie. If you’re concerned about the environment, used vehicles have an additional bonus — no new environmental impact from the manufacturing process. Also, a used vehicle can be less expensive to insure, and you can usually get a better equipment list on a used vehicle than you can afford on a new one. Financing is generally more expensive on used than new — but not by much.

      • DrRideOrDie

        Great points. I was actually looking into a diesel so I could covert to bio-diesel. There are so many used vehicles out there I’ve never understood the point of buying new.

    • NextTurn

      On the used vehicle side of things… .My wife and I picked up a fully loaded 2003 4Runner Sport Edition w/ 4WD a little over two years ago for $10K. Wtih the included transmission cooler, oil cooler, and wiring for an optional brake controller, it tows anything and everything we need it to – from our bike on a small trailer to a double axle 18 foot trailer with a 1972 LandCruiser on it (with the optional brake controller, of course). Plus the cushy interior hauls the kid and the dog and luggage with ease. We have put 50,000 miles on her in 2 years with only an oxygen sensor going out (at 145,000 miles). However, the best part is driving (slowly and carefully) past jack-knifed semi’s in last month’s snow storms while still getting 19 MPG in 4 wheel drive. It will be paid off this year, and I don’t think we will be getting rid of it anytime soon.

  • Ryan Kiefer

    This will be a very interesting list in a few years, when I suspect we’ll see a few more compact/midsize diesel trucks on the market. With GM rumored to be bringing a 4cyl diesel to the upcoming Colorado/Canyon, Ram offering the V6 diesel (BTW, moving to the 8′ bed in the Tradesman bumps the two capacity to over 7k without adding much cost), and Nissan planning to offer a V8 Cummins diesel, I suspect we’ll see a trend towards more affordable diesel offerings in the coming years. They just make more sense for a vehicle designed to tow and haul.

  • charlie

    Nissan :)