By: Keith Burton

f you have a boat or trailer to tow, forget about buying a car. These days, its either a pickup truck or sport utility vehicle is needed as most automakers no longer build cars with enough horsepower or torque to pull anything over 2,000 pounds, which means most family boats are too heavy for a car to pull.

That is not a bad thing. Today’s trucks and SUVs drive and are as comfortable as cars just a few years ago and are powerful and strong enough to tow with ease. There are even some compact SUVs that can do the job. The following is our choice of the 10 best tow vehicles for 2003.

Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500

Here’s a series of pickups with brand new styling plus outstanding features ideal for towing, including a wide choice of engines. Standard is a 200 hp Vortec 4300 V6, optional are a 270 hp Vortec 4800 V8, a 285 hp Vortec 5300 V8 and a stump-pulling 300 hp Vortec 6000 V8.

How much can you tow? The 1500HD version of the Silverado and its stablemate GMC Sierra HD are equipped with a standard 300 hp Vortec 6000 V8 engine can pull a hefty 10,300 pound rig.

As you might expect, a wide choice of body styles and bed lengths are available from standard two-door cabs to four door versions including two-wheel and four-wheel drive. Among the new features for 2003 are more comfortable cabins with dual-zone air conditioning, a sophisticated multiplexed electrical system to handle today’s advanced automobile electronics, and improved traction and safety controls.

Also available in the Silverado and Sierra is General Motors new Quadrasteer four-wheel steering. This system dramatically improves the turning of these large pickups. With Quadrasteer, the turning circle is comparable to a compact car.

Price Range: $18,000 - $44,000

Ford F150

There is a reason why the Ford F-150 is America’s best-selling truck for over 25 years. It’s popular because it is good looking, powerful, and has a reputation of durability that has repeatedly won over fans year after year.

For 2003 Ford has tackled one of the biggest complaints of pickups in general, which they are noisy inside and out. Ford attacked the noise with an aggressive 75-point noise-limiting program that has resulted in the 2003 F-150 being among the quietest trucks ever.

Available is a wide choice of cabins and bed lengths; there is an F-150 for most any need. The popular four-door Crew Cab offers a host of standard features, including electrically adjustable pedals, which are popular with lady drivers.

Standard engines include a 4.2-liter OHV V-6 engine producing 202 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque. A 4.6-liter SOHC Triton V-8 is standard with F-150 SuperCrew and optional with Regular Cab and SuperCab models. That engine delivers 231 horsepower and 293 foot-pounds of torque. Also available is a 5.4-liter SOHC Triton V-8 engine that puts out 260 horsepower and 350 foot-pounds of torque.

Several factory custom-styled models are available including the King Ranch and Harley-Davison F-150’s for folks looking for something a bit different in a pickup.

Properly equipped with the 5.4-liter V8 and automatic transmission, the F-150 can tow up to 8,600-pound boat and trailer.

Price Range: $18,000 - $37, 500

Chevrolet Tahoe

The Chevrolet Tahoe is America’s best selling large SUV. For 2003 Chevrolet ups the ante with additional new safety enhancements for 2003 include a passenger-sensing system and dual-level air bags. The passenger-sensing air-bag system automatically deactivates the passenger-side air bag under certain conditions to protect children. The system assesses whether the occupant in the seat is an adult or child, based on the measured weight in the seat cushion and tension in the belt system. An updated StabiliTrac traction enhancement system also improves the Tahoe’s safety.

Two engine choices are available, a 275 hp Vortec 4800 V8 with 290 foot-pounds of torque, and a 285 hp Vortec 5300 V8 with 325 foot-pounds of torque. Properly equipped, Chevrolet says the Tahoe can tow up to a 7,700 boat and trailer. 4x4 models are also available.

The Tahoe is a comfortable, easy-to-drive SUV. While the dash design is a bit dated compared to some vehicles, the Tahoe offers a roomy interior with the features most people want in an SUV. Chevy also now offers motorized adjustable pedals, an option first popularized in Ford vehicles.

Price Range: $32,000-$36,000

Ford Explorer

Redesigned for 2002 models, the Explorer remains one of the most popular SUVs in America. Sized just about perfect for most families, the Explorer is comfortable, well-equipped and ranks as a great tow vehicle for most situations.

Available in two-wheel and all-wheel-drive models, the Explorer makes transporting a family and a boat to your favorite launching site very enjoyable.

Two engine choices are available including a powerful 210 hp 4-liter V6 with 239 foot-pounds of torque, or a 254 hp 4.6-liter V8 with 282 foot-pounds of torque.

Equipped with an optional Class III hitch, the V6-powered Explorer can pull up to 5,380 pounds. The V8 version with a Class III hitch can tow a boat and trailer rig up to 7,000 pounds.

Price Range: $21,000-$35,000

Dodge Ram 1500

Daimler/Chrysler’s Dodge Ram 1500 was dramatically restyled in 2002 and not much will be changed for 2003. Still, if you are looking for a powerful tow vehicle with big-truck styling, look no further.

The Ram 1500 features a large, comfortable cabin even in the two-door version. The Quad Cab is among the largest available in a pickup truck. Instrumentation and fit and finish are excellent. Gauges are easy to read and the center console is large enough for a lap top computer.

There are three engine choices available in the 1500, a 215 hp 3.6-liter Magnum V6 with 235 foot-pounds of torque is the standard engine. Also available is a 240 hp 4.7-liter Magnum V8 with 300 foot-pounds of torque, and a 245 hp 5.9-liter Magnum V8 with 339 foot-pounds of torque. All are available in either two-wheel, or four-wheel-drive configurations.

Properly equipped, a Ram 1500 can tow up to an 8,100 pound boat and trailer rig.

Price Range: $17,000-$35,000

Dodge Durango

Nicely styled, the 2003 Dodge Durango is a mid-size SUV that offers the room and towing abilities of full-size SUVs.

Two engine choices are available. The Durango’s available 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 is the largest engine in the compact SUV class. It provides 245 horsepower and 335 foot-pounds of torque. The standard 4.7-liter Magnum V-8 engine produces 235 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. Properly equipped, the Durango can tow up to a 7,550 pound rig.

Options are plentiful with the Durango, which means if you want leather, bigger wheels and more, they’re available. Standard is a five speed automatic, and if you live in inclement areas 4x4 models can also be ordered.

On the road, the Durango is easy to drive, offers a firm but stable ride, and is quiet. Instrumentation is excellent and the seats are comfortable for long trips to the dock.

Price Range: $25,000-$37,000

Ford Expedition

The Expedition is all new for 2003 and features many innovations not found in most other large SUVs, such as a fully independent rear suspension. The new suspension makes the Expedition much more stable on the road and allowed the designers to increase interior space since there was no need to provide room for a live axel, such as on most other SUVs.

But the new suspension is only part of the story. The 2003 Expedition has a fully boxed frame that uses hydroformed rails that is approximately 70 percent stiffer in torsional rigidity than the previous frame – dramatically improving ride and handling.

Safety feature are plentiful, including what Ford calls their “Safety Curtain” side airbag system to protect passengers from side impacts. There is also a brake assist system that supplements the driver’s force on the brake pedal in emergency situations. Ford says the system reduces stopping distances up to 20 percent.

The 2003 Expedition offers tons of room for both passengers and cargo. Though a large vehicle, it is surprising nimble on the road and around town, with handling that is truly outstanding for such a big vehicle. The interior is nicely styled with easy to read instruments. The Expedition can sit two full-sized adults in the third row seats with ease. The new suspension allowed Ford designers to lower the rear floor height, which allows for much greater leg and knee room.

One cool feature that is available is the motorized third seat. With the touch of button, you can individually lower the third row seats. They fold completely flat, so there is no need to remove them when you have a lot of cargo to carry.

You have two engine choices, which include a 232 hp 4.6-liter V8 with 291 foot-pounds of torque, or a 5.4-liter, 260 hp V8 with 350 foot-pounds of torque. Both engines are extremely smooth running and feature advanced electronic controls for both performance and environmental concerns.

Properly equipped, the 2003 Expedition can tow up to an impressive 8,900 pound rig.

Price Range: $30,000-$42,000

Lincoln Navigator

The 2003 Lincoln Navigator is perhaps the ultimate towing SUV. Extremely luxurious replete with enough gadgets for even James Bond, the Navigator remains a vehicle with serious towing ability. That is partly due to the fact that it is a cousin to the 2003 Expedition, but there are numerous differences between the two vehicles.

In other words, when you buy a Navigator, you are not buying an Expedition with more options though they do share the basic platform. Styling, features, electronics and suspension setups are completely different.

The results add up to a luxury SUV that can tow up to 8,300 pounds with the ease of much more plebian vehicles.

The standard and only engine for the Navigator is a 300 hp 5.4-liter V8. This is more than enough power for most situations. The engine is smooth and virtually silent from the Navigator’s well-appointed cabin.

Leather and real wood trim out the interior. A brushed-aluminum center console hides the climate and radio controls. It all looks terrific. And if your day on the water was hot, you will enjoy the Navigator’s air conditioned seats to cool your tush.

Price Range: $48,000-$60,000   

Toyota Tundra

The Tundra is the only full-size pickup truck from a Japanese-based company, but it is built in America, and American’s were what the company had in mind when it was designed. That means room, power and towing abilities were forefront.

Two engine choices are available, a 190 hp 3.4-liter V6 with 200 foot-pounds of torque, and a 245 hp 4.7-liter V8 with 315 foot-pounds of torque. The V8 is notable as it is basically a cast iron version of the all aluminum engine that motivates the big cars in Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus.

Properly equipped, the Tundra can tow up to a 7,200 pound rig. The Tundra has gained a reputation as a safe and fun-to-drive pickup and ranks as a top pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety  as the best performer among full-size pickups in a 40-mile per hour front offset crash test.

Price Range: $15,500-$31,000

Honda Pilot

The 2003 Pilot is Honda’s answer to what an SUV should be like. It is more of a cross-over vehicle than a true SUV in that it has design elements of both a minivan and SUV, but drives more like a real car than either of those other vehicles.

The Pilot’s driving abilities are what set this tow vehicle apart from most others. It is swift on the road, has remarkably handling and can tow most runabouts and ski boats with ease.

Motivating the Pilot is a powerful and innovative 240 hp 3.5-liter VTEC V6 producing 242 foot-pounds of torque. Standard is an all-wheel-drive drivetrain that can vary the power to each wheel, handy for pulling a boat up on a slippery ramp at the harbor. The Pilot can tow a 4,500 pound boat and trailer.

Typical of Honda, inside the Pilot is comfortable place to be with easy to see instrumentation and room for 8 passengers. Outside, the styling is conservative but distinctly Honda. We expect the Pilot to follow most Honda products with excellent resale value over the years.

Price Range: $27,000-$31,000

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