Can a 4-cylinder with all-wheel drive cut it on today’s roads, or do you need a V6 engine?

A decade ago, people may have thought driving an SUV with low horsepower was pointless and a mere impossibility. With the introduction to the crossover and compact SUV body designs, having a V8 soon became pointless, and a major discussion here at Headlights is whether a V6 engine is necessary to power today’s SUVs. 

If you’ve been searching the auto market for a new SUV and you’re unsure if you should spend the extra dollar for a V6 engine, here’s the pros and cons between driving an SUV sporting a four-cylinder or a V6 engine.

Why choose a 4-cylinder engine?

The more that SUVs become fuel-efficient, the smaller the engines are becoming, and less power and torque they offer for commuters. Across the board, four-cylinder engines vary in horsepower and levels of torque, and not all of them are sluggish off the start. That’s not to say all of them are quick either. Small engines offer the peppiness, and car makers like Ford, Mazda, Toyota, and others have designed small SUVs that offer high-level gas mileage and ample pick-up for getting on-and-off the highway.

Four-cylinder engines aren’t all bad when it comes to choosing a crossover or midsize SUV, and if you choose a brand like Subaru or an upper trim option by a foreign or domestic car maker that offers all-wheel drive, you may not need a V6 for your daily commute or towing needs. 

Certain four-cylinder SUV engines may offer a hybrid edition that can optimize fuel-efficiency up to 35-40 MPG on the highway. A huge plus for drivers who are seeking fuel-efficient sport utility vehicles. Having the fuel mileage of a sedan and the practicality of an SUV is what most drivers want on today’s roads and many automakers provide strengthened four-cylinder engines or the extras that provide more traction and control. However, there are some downsides to choosing an SUV that is powered by a four-cylinder engine.

The downside of driving a 4-Cylinder SUV

Typically, four-cylinder engines have less horsepower and torque, but a sacrifice many new SUV buyers make when it comes to affordability and better fuel mileage is power. If you tend to drive at lower speeds and take your time when taking a turn on a busy road, a four-cylinder may be all you need. But a V6 engine brings more to the table when it comes to climbing hills, and large bridges, or when joining traffic on the highway. 

If you live in a hilly environment and your vehicle doesn’t have hill-start assist or all-wheel drive, more than likely you will experience a lag when making it up steep hills behind a four-cylinder engine. Also, a 4-cylinder engine may provide less push from the start. Not all SUVs or crossover models are peppy or offer standard features that optimize control and handling. If your driving style demands performance, below is how choosing a V6 benefits your travels.

The perks and pros of a V6 engine

Though most V6 engines for SUVs give an average of 25 MPG highway, if you’re not commuting long-distances on the highway and only running errands around town or picking up the kids from football and cheer practice, a V6 engine provides strength within horsepower and torque that truly makes you enjoy a traditional SUV. 

A V6 engine usually powers the rear-wheels which provides better control and handling than most front-wheel driven vehicles and with more push-power rather than pull, you handle the off-road terrains better with a V6 engine. V6 powered SUVs may include 4×4 capabilities and, or, all-wheel drive. If gaining power quickly is what you need for the busy road outside of your neighborhood or when catching up to the flow of traffic when entering the on-ramp, V6 engines give a whole different style of driving compared to the less powerful four-cylinder engine.

Is a V6-powered SUV worth it?

Choosing a new SUV is a subjective experience and the final decision should always be made by the driver. Always do what feels right for your driving style and travel needs.

Aside from the differences in hill-climbing power, fuel-efficiency, and a higher price tag, if you plan on towing heavier trailers such as the family deck boat or camper, a V6 makes it simple to tow loads between 5,000 to 7,500-lbs. If you don’t require pulling power of that magnitude, most four-cylinder engines are perfectly capable of hauling up to 3,000-lbs when properly equipped.

However, it’s unwise to test a 4-cylinder engine by attempting to tow more than the recommended towing weight. All-wheel drive and hill-start assist may increase your pulling power. But before you put it to the test, know your engine capabilities. At the end of the day, four-cylinder engines are climbing in horsepower. They’re also cost-efficient, especially when paired with a hybrid motor. If your prospective crossover SUV adds in all-wheel drive, you’ll most likely be better off.

If you’re interested in popular SUVs for 2020, check out the top crossovers and V6 powered SUVs below, as well as our Honda Passport vs Subaru Outback blog to learn more about the differences between V6 powered SUVs and four-cylinder crossover SUVs.

 

Popular SUVs & Crossovers in 2020

Here are some SUVs and crossovers that have either V6 or I-4 engines.

  • Toyota 4RUnner (V6)
  • Toyota RAV4 (I-4)
  • Toyota CH-R (I-4)

 

  • Subaru Forester (I-4 AWD)
  • Subaru Outback (I-4 AWD)
  • Subaru Ascent (I-4 AWD)

 

  • Ford Escape (I-4)
  • Ford Explorer (I-4 & V6)
  • Ford Edge (I-4)
  • Ford Ecosport (I-4)

 

  • Volkswagen Tiguan (I-4)
  • Volkswagen Atlas (I-4 & V6)

 

  • Honda CR-V (I-4)
  • Honda Pilot (I-4)
  • Honda Passport (I-4 &V6)

 

  • Volvo XC-40 (I-4, I-4 Hybrid)
  • Volvo XC-60 (I-4, I-4 Hybrid)
  • Volvo XC-90 (I-4, I-4 Hybrid)

 

  • BMW X1 (I-4)
  • BMW X3 (I-4)
  • BMW X5 (I-4)
  • BMW X7 (I-4)

 

  • Audi Q3 (I-4)
  • Audi Q5 (I-4)
  • Audi Q7 (I-4)

 

  • Mazda CX-3 (I-4)
  • Mazda CX-5 (I-4)
  • Mazda CX-9 (I-4)
Patrick Kirk
I am a full-time copywriter from Naples, FL and living in Austin, TX. I have written for the automotive industry for three years, and enjoy other hobbies such as camping and mountain biking. I received my Bachelors from Florida Gulf Coast University, and served in the U.S Coast Guard.

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    5 Comments

    1. Higher horsepower is great for towing a boat!

    2. It may be awhile before I consider a crossover or SUV. I am on my third car and my first 4 cylinder. It feels like such a difference. My next car will definitely be a V6.

    3. Personally I don’t feel like most 4cyl have the power needed, although they are usually geared well so they feel very quick off the line I find it scary when you are going 35 or 40 MPH and want to pass someone but when you press the gas to the floor the engine makes a lot of RPMs but you don’t really go anywhere. So for me, the V6 or V8 is still the best option.

    4. When a standard version v6 has the same or better horsepower when compared to a turbo inline 4, it is an easy choice to go with the v6. Turbo systems are more complex and will fail over time. Keep in mind any oil, coolant, and charge tube leaks. Also, turbo 4 cylinders generate more heat than a naturally aspirated v6. Towing is going to create even more heat. Buy a naturally aspirated engine that is powerful enough for your needs. Towing with a 4 cylinder is not desirable, since you will negate the fuel savings by overworking the engine and getting poor mileage with a fully loaded vehicle and a small trailer. By a vehicle with a better, more powerful engine. You wont have to strain the engine, and the car will be more desirable if you want to sell it. The resale value is always better for a car equipped with the better engine choice.

    5. For me, it has to feel and sound like a V8 so the V4/V6 question is hard, but I’ll make an exception for an electric vehicle with crazy torque.

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