Downsizing engines in larger vehicles is here to stay.
Downsizing has now reached beyond compact crossover SUVs. It turns out there is a replacement for displacement, and it’s forced induction or electric hybridization. While you still can’t beat a V8 for delivering a lot of consistent torque and sound, for less demanding applications a 4-cylinder engine with a turbo, supercharger or, indeed, both can deliver enough power along with a weight and fuel saving to better a 6-cylinder engine. If you really want to better the displacement, then an electrical assist can bring a lot of instant torque to the powertrain.
These downsized engines in modern compact crossovers are now standard, but are also starting to become popular in the larger sized vehicles that would normally have a V6 for base trims. Whether or not it spells the end of the V8 is another matter but right now these are the pick of the larger crossovers on the market powered by small engines.
Volvo’s XC90 doesn’t have a 6 or 8 cylinder option for the engine. Instead, there’s a choice of 4-cylinder powerplants. All of them revolve around Volvo’s 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo engine. The base model gets just the turbo-4 on it's own, then one gets an extra assist from a battery pack and two electric motors, and the T6 model gets a supercharger on top of the turbo. The supercharger and turbo combination nets a healthy 316 hp while the plug-in hybrid version boasts 400 hp combined.
Audi’s surprisingly lithe crossover comes standard with all-wheel-drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission. However, the engine choices are between a turbocharged 4-cylinder or a supercharged V6. The 4-cylinder engine makes a healthy 248 hp with 273 lb-ft of torque and will happily pull 4,400 lb of weight. Surprisingly, the 4-cylinder and the 6-cylinder engine have the same EPA estimated fuel economy.
Jeep’s long-awaited new generation Wrangler was always going to get a nice smooth V6 engine with plenty of low down torque. But people were wondering how the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine hooked to an electric motor would work out. The answer is that it’s more than up to the job off-road and real-world fuel economy numbers have generally been 2 or 3 mpg more then the EPA’s estimated 24 mpg combined.
Range Rover has always been heavily associated with muscular V8 engines but the new plug-in hybrid models are putting the torque of electric motors to good use. The Range Rover Sport P400E uses a 296-hp version of the JLR 4-cylinder 2.0-liter Ingenium turbo engine matched to a 114-hp electric motor. Combined, the total system output is 398 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. That makes the plug-in Range Rover Sport more powerful than both the diesel and V6 options.
VW’s no-nonsense approach to the midsize crossover keeps everything plush, but simple. There are just two engine choices and that’s between a 276-hp V6 and a 235-hp 4-cylinder. They both come with an 8-speed automatic transmission, but if you want all-wheel-drive then you have to choose the V6.
The current GLE350 is getting long in the tooth, but the much needed 4th generation GLE is on its way. The GLE350 is set to get its power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 255 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The GLE450 will use Mercedes turbocharged new inline-6 making 362 hp and 369 lb-ft, and using the 48-volt starter/generator system will add an extra 21 horses.
The often forgotten and surprisingly good GMC Acadia has gained a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to join the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder and 3.6-liter V6 for 2020. The base 2.5 liter 4-cylinder makes 193 hp and suffers in towing capacity at just 1,000 lbs. The new option should do better with its 230 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Although the Land Cruiser Prado is effectively rebadged here in the US as the Lexus GX 460, we don’t have the 4-cylinder diesel option that’s available elsewhere in the world. That engine is the larger of Toyota’s inline-4 diesel options and, with variations depending on the transmission and market, develops just 175 hp but a more than respectable 332 ft-lb of torque.
In the three-row crossover segment, the V6 has been practically compulsory until recently. Mazda has made very little compromise with the CX-9 though, and made the decision to only offer a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Mazda's confidence in the engine is justified as with premium gas it makes 250 hp and a potent 310 lb-ft of torque.
Ford was early into the downsizing and turbocharging game with its Ecoboost V6. The twin-turbocharged V6 found in the Sport and Platinum trims is worth finding the extra cash for if you want to hustle. However, there is a 4-cylinder turbo option for the Explorer and it's surprisingly punchy at 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque
The Outlander is one of the few places Mitsubishi is interesting at the moment. The plug-in hybrid version has a state of the art drivetrain, and the V6 comes standard with Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control system. However, when mixed with the CVT the 4-cylinder becomes both lethargic and annoying.
The Subaru Ascent has plenty of options but the drivetrain in all trims features a 4-cylinder boxer engine being mated to Subaru's CVT transmission. While the Ascent has a lot of other things going for it, including Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, the engine and transmission combination isn't perky and is noisy when you try to get anything out of it.
While the Highlander is a more than capable three-row crossover, the base models 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine is lackluster. For those wanting a Highlander but are worried about fuel economy, it'll probably be worth waiting for the 4-cylinder hybrid set to land at the end of 2019.
The Tiguan isn't as big as the Atlas, but it grew by an extra foot when the new generation showed up a few years ago. Like Mazda's CX-9, VW put all of its confidence in a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine through the range. It makes 184 hp and 221 lb-ft, which is less than the CX-9, and it shows in a crossover of this size.