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Best Four-Cylinder SUVs [Ranked for 2021]

Best Four Cylinder SUVs

Best Four Cylinder SUVs

SUVs are all the rage these days. Vehicles the size of the Toyota RAV4 now make up the single largest segment in the auto industry by sales volume.

This story will highlight the best four-cylinder-equipped SUVs on the market today. We’re going to warn you upfront that every vehicle on the list “cheats". Each adds either electrification or turbocharging to fill in the gaps where a conventional four-cylinder would not be right for the job. One important note; Every four-cylinder engine on this list will work just fine on regular unleaded. No engine that requires premium fuel is worthy of any recognition, in our opinion.

Here is our list of the best four-cylinder SUVs in the American market today.

Check out all our picks for the best SUVs >>

Read about how we rank our vehicles >>

Best Four-Cylinder Crossover SUVs Comparison

ModelEngine TypeMPGPowerTorque
Toyota RAV4 Prime
4-Cylinder, 2.5-liter Plug-in Hybrid
94 MPGe
302 HP
N/A*
Mazda CX-30
2.5-liter Turbo
26 MPG
277 HP
310 lb-ft
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2.5-liter Hybrid
35 MPG
243 HP
N/A*
Acura RDX
2.0-liter Turbo
23 MPG
272 HP
280 lb-ft
Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
2.0-liter Turbo
23 MPG
250 HP
277 lb-ft
Honda CR-V
1.5-liter Turbo
29 MPG
190 HP
179 lb-ft

*Toyota does not offer a combined torque rating for hybrids and plug-in hybrids.

Best Four-Cylinder Engine Overall: Toyota RAV4 Prime Plug-in Hybrid/Electric Vehicle

Toyota RAV4 Prime Four CylinderNo brand has more experience with hybrid technology and green vehicles than Toyota. With over 30 years of development under its belt, Toyota rolled out the new 2021 RAV4 Prime last summer, and it quickly became one of America’s fastest-selling models. The reason is its four-cylinder plug-in hybrid powertrain in a compact SUV form.

Toyota starts with one of the most efficient gasoline engines ever offered in any automobile. This 2.5-liter engine incorporates an Atkinson cycle combustion process with many other technologies to offer a clean, powerful, and fuel-efficient engine. To this, Toyota adds multiple electric motors that are part of the transmission. With no gears to change and instant electric torque, the RAV4 Prime has run a 5.5-second 0-60 MPH sprint in independent testing. That makes it quicker than many V6-equipped premium vehicles its size. With an MPGe rating of 94, the RAV4 Prime is also as efficient as many battery-electric vehicles but has a 600-mile range. Best of all, this vehicle feels fast and can tow up to 2,000 pounds.

Current Toyota RAV4 Prime Deals & Incentives

You may qualify for deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals here.

Best Premium Four-Cylinder Engine: Mazda CX-30, CX-5, CX-9 (with 2.5-Liter Turbo)

Mazda CX-5 Four CylinderMazda has a long history of turbocharged four-cylinder engines in its sports cars like the legendary MAZDASPEED3. A few years back, Mazda revealed a new 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that it would use across its lineup. Unlike turbos from the past, this one is tuned to provide diesel-like torque at low RPMs and provides Mazda’s crossovers with a very satisfying pull from a stop.

We’ve tested the Mazda 2.5-turbo in the CX-30 (three times), in the CX-5, and in the CX-9 (twice). Our feeling is that the Mazda 2.5T is the best turbocharged four-cylinder engine in production today for this mission. With over 300 ft-pounds of torque and the ability to operate happily on regular unleaded fuel, this engine is the ideal match for Mazda’s upscale crossover SUV lineup.

Current Mazda Deals & Incentives

You may qualify for deals and incentives, check out this month's Mazda deals here.

Best Four-Cylinder Engine for Three-Row SUVs: Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Four CylinderScan a few of our Best Of lists related to midsize SUVs and family vehicles, and you will find that the Toyota Highlander - specifically the hybrid version - lands on many of our lists. With much of the same basic technology that the RAV4 Prime offers, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is remarkable in that it can save an owner $14,000 in fuel costs over its lifespan compared to a V6-equipped SUV like Honda’s Pilot.

Best of all, the 243 hp produced by the Highlander Hybrid’s 2.5-liter hybrid engine is more than enough to get the job done that the Highlander is asked to do. It is smooth and quiet in normal driving, but it can also scoot when you need to be quick for a sprint into a difficult merge. The Highlander Hybrid offers 35 MPG when equipped with all-wheel drive.

Current Toyota Highlander Hybrid Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021ToyotaHighlander Hybrid$5001.90%$359/month for 39 months, $3,999 due at signing11/30/2021

You may qualify for deals and incentives, check out this month's Toyota deals here.

Sportiest Four-Cylinder Engine: Acura RDX (2019 and Newer)

Acura RDX Four CylinderAcura’s RDX is a compact crossover SUV that likes to be pushed. Acura is Honda’s sporty premium brand, and the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the RDX is perfect for this mission. Did we like the V6 in past RDX model years? Sure we did. Until we drove the 2.0-liter turbo.

The RDX’s four-cylinder engine has 280 lb-ft of torque, and that torque is provided lower in the rev band than most V6 engines. The RDX has guts when you start off, and it can also rev when you want maximum velocity. Try the RDX with its new turbo. You won’t miss the old V6.

Current Acura RDX Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021AcuraRDX1.90%1/3/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Acura deals here.

Best Four-Cylinder Engine for Off-Roading: Ford Bronco Sport (Badlands & First Edition)

Ford Bronco Sport Four CylinderThis small-size SUV from Ford comes with two turbocharged engines. The base and second-step trim have a 3-cylinder engine which is novel, but our favorite in this vehicle is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo found in the top two trims. Making 250 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque, the 2.0-liter turbo provides the Bronco Sport with the power and pull that is deserving of a model with ‘Sport” in its name.

When off-roading or towing, this extra punch is why we have named the Bronco Sport to so many of our Best-Of lists. If you are shopping for a Bronco Sport, we suggest driving trims with both engines. It will take you no time at all to feel the difference.

Current Ford Bronco Sport Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021FordBronco Sport$5005.90%$335/month for 39 months, $3,206 due at signing11/30/2021
2022FordBronco Sport6.90%$363/month for 39 months, $3,239 due at signing11/30/2021

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Ford deals here.

Best Standard Four-Cylinder Engine: Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V Four CylinderHonda’s 1.5-liter turbocharged engine in the CR-V is the base engine. In its class, this makes the CR-V unusual, and in our opinion, a standout. The 190 hp small turbo is gutsy enough for daily driving.

We also think it offers more than ample passing and on-ramp capability. The real reason the CR-V’s 1.5-liter turbo is on this list is that it is simply the best base engine in the midsize SUV segment.

How could we ignore that?

Current Honda CR-V Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2021HondaCR-V1.90%1/3/2022

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Honda deals here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I buy a four-cylinder SUV?

Yes, a four-cylinder engine is more than ample for all but the largest SUVs. Today’s four-cylinder engines combine turbocharging and electric motors to provide more power than many V6 engines.

What is the most reliable four-cylinder engine in an SUV?

Toyota’s four-cylinder hybrid and plug-in hybrid engines used in its RAV4 and Highlander SUV lines have earned a solid reputation for reliability and durability.

Which four-cylinder SUV has the most power?

Among the four-cylinder engines available in popular SUVs, it is hard to top the Toyota RAV4 Prime’s 302 hp. This power is combined with a whopping 94 MPGe rating.

Which four-cylinder SUV has the best fuel economy?

The Toyota RAV4 Prime earns a 94 MPG rating from the EPA.