Can a 4 cylinder SUV pull a trailer?

Four Cylinder SUV towing trailer

We’ve all been in the situation before. You need sand for the garden, so you head down to your local soil shop and they offer you a trailer to take it home with. But you only have a 4-cylinder SUV.

The question immediately pops into your head – “Is my SUV going to be able to tow this trailer?”

And it’s a reasonable question, too. Traditionally, four cylinder motors were put into small cars and hatchbacks because they didn’t need a lot of power or torque. They don’t weigh much, so why put in a huge engine?

Today, though, more and more SUVs and crossovers are being fitted with four cylinder motors. It’s a trend that has emerged because of emissions regulations, particularly in Europe.

You see, taxes are imposed on large engines, which is why vehicles are using smaller engines and employing turbochargers to reduce fuel use; the smaller the engine, the less tax is paid.

So surely having a tiny engine is a bad thing, especially for an SUV. After all, they are larger vehicles than small hatchbacks and have a lot more weight to carry.

Normally it would be, but like we said, turbochargers are becoming more prevalent. These tiny little fans use the exhaust gases to compress more fuel and air, shoving it into the engine with more force.

The result is more power and more torque, and that’s a very good thing for lugging a large vehicle around.

What about towing?

Well, that extra grunt not only helps to move your SUV around, but it also helps the vehicle to pull a trailer.

Four-cylinder SUVs are more than capable of towing a trailer, with many commercial vehicles being fitted exclusively with four-cylinder engines. And these have plenty of torque, perfect for pulling a large trailer.

There are two ways to get that extra torque. One is to have a smaller engine with a turbocharger, and the other is to make a much larger engine that’s naturally aspirated.

Clearly the turbo route is the favoured option for European brands, but the Japanese tend to go with the larger motor.

Some examples are the Mitsubishi Outlander with its 2.4-litre four-cylinder, and the Nissan Terra with its 2.5-litre four-cylinder. The Toyota RAV4 and its 2.5-litre engine is in the same boat.

They’re relatively large four cylinder engines, compared with their turbocharged counterparts.

And then there are the four-cylinder turbo-diesels. These are the kings of four-cylinder torque. Diesel tends to produce a lot less power, which is why the turbos are fitted, and that also bumps up the torque.

Look at the Isuzu MUX (pictured at the top), the Toyota Prado and the Chevrolet Colorado. Lots and lots of torque, and pulling just about any trailer is a cinch.

Towing capacity is a decent 6600lbs, which covers just about any home-use trailer and plenty of travel trailers as well.

Need to carry a tonne of bricks? It’ll do that, too.

But what about the Terra, RAV4 or the Outlander mentioned before? They’re rated for around 3500lbs, so that trailer load of sand is easy enough to carry.

Braked or unbraked capacity

So while we’ve mentioned that yes, four cylinder SUVs are able to tow most things you’ll need, the small tag-along trailers you see carrying that sand can actually overload the vehicle.

Hang on – you just said that they’ll be fine, so what gives? It comes down to the difference between braked and unbraked capacity.

There are two types of trailers. Those with brakes built in to them, and those which rely on the SUV to do the braking for them.

If you delve into the spec sheets of any vehicle, you’ll find there are two towing capacities rated: braked and unbraked.

The name describes the setup on each trailer, and usually the unbraked figure stipulates that the SUV can’t pull more than 1650lbs (750kg).

That’s consistent across just about every vehicle, because the load it puts on the towball when braking could disengage it from the SUV. Dangerous stuff.

Braked trailers either use hydraulic or electric actuation to activate brakes which are attached to the trailer’s wheels. This slows the trailer down when the vehicle slows down.

Because they’re self-braking, they allow the SUV to carry more weight, because it’s not doing the braking itself. And because it slows itself down, there’s less load on the towball.

You don’t need a full-size SUV for towing

As you can see from what we’ve considered above, towing with a four-cylinder is possible, and it’s even possible with hatches and saloons, though the overall weight rating is reduced.

But it means you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars more to get a larger SUV to make sure you can occasionally tow a trailer. In fact, most crossovers on the market today will do the job.

Make sure you sit within the weight limits for the trailer and for the vehicles’ towing capacity and you’ll be fine.

About Karl Peskett 416 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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