As driving becomes the preferred way to travel this year, SUVs that can haul the entire family and tow the outdoor toys are in high demand. Anyone with serious towing requirements knows pickup trucks can pull the most, with many full-size models posting maximum tow ratings beyond 10,000 pounds. But pickups lack abundant occupant capacity — so if you need to carry lots of people and tow a heavy trailer, an SUV is your best bet.
Which models have the highest capacity? We ranked the top 10 best SUVs for towing for 2021 by advertised maximum trailer ratings, using minimum trailer ratings and lower base price, in that order, as tiebreakers where necessary. Note, all capacities on our list should be comparable because all 10 SUVs are rated using SAE International’s J2807 methodology — which stipulates a battery of tests with two occupants aboard, among other things — for apples-to-apples specs. That hasn’t been the case in years past.
With an optional heavy-duty trailer package, the Ford Expedition maxes out at 9,300 pounds (9,200 pounds with four-wheel drive). That’s the highest rating for any model-year 2021 SUV. The Expedition Max, an extended-length version of the Expedition, tops out at 9,000 pounds with the same package, regardless of driveline. Without the packages, towing capacity falls considerably, to around 6,000 pounds for each SUV. Ford’s Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package includes a heavy-duty radiator, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, blind spot warning system with trailer coverage, integrated trailer-brake controller and two-speed automatic four-wheel drive.
You need not get a full-size SUV for serious towing capacity — nor, for that matter, must you leave the driving fun behind. The Dodge Durango R/T gets a 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8, while the SRT boasts a 6.4-liter V-8 with 475 hp. The new Durango SRT Hellcat, meanwhile, gets a rip-snorting 710 hp from a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, enough to scorch 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 180 mph, Dodge says. It won’t post such numbers with a trailer in back, of course, but maximum capacity with the Hellcat is a stout 8,700 pounds — and the lesser V-8s will pull just as much when properly equipped. A new Tow N Go Package boosts the Durango R/T’s towing capacity to match the SRT’s 8,700 pounds. Drop down to the Durango’s 3.6-liter V-6 or 5.7-liter V-8 without the Tow N Go Package and towing capacity falls to 6,200 and 7,400 pounds, respectively. For a three-row mid-size SUV, that’s still very good.
A luxury sibling to the Expedition — Lincoln is Ford’s luxury division — the Navigator maxes out at 8,700 pounds (8,300 pounds with 4WD). The extended-length version, called the Navigator L, maxes out at 8,400 pounds (8,100 pounds with 4WD). You have to opt for a heavy-duty tow package in both SUVs to get such ratings; without it, towing capacity ranges from 6,200 to 6,600 pounds for the pair. Opting for the Heavy-Duty Trailer Tow Package adds a heavy-duty radiator, Pro Trailer Backup Assist, Smart Trailer Tow, and trailer brake and sway controllers.
Restyled for 2021, the full-size Nissan Armada, has a standard 5.6-liter V-8 that makes 400 hp and 413 pounds-feet of torque; it works with rear- or four-wheel drive. Maximum towing capacity works out to 8,500 pounds regardless of driveline. For 2021, the Armada adds a tow hitch receiver and trailer brake and sway controllers that’s standard on higher trim levels and available on lower trims.
A corporate sibling to the Armada (Infiniti is Nissan’s luxury division), the QX80 shares the Armada’s 5.6-liter V-8 for 400 hp and 413 pounds-feet and offers the same maximum towing capacity: 8,500 pounds regardless of driveline.
Chevrolet’s full-size SUV siblings, the Tahoe and Suburban, received a complete overhaul for 2021 to offer more space and engine options. The Tahoe and Suburban are similar SUVs with slightly different towing specs. Maximum towing capacity for the Tahoe, which requires the SUV’s 5.3-liter V-8, is 8,400 pounds (8,200 with 4WD); the Tahoe’s 6.2-liter V-8 tops out at 8,300 pounds (8,100 with 4WD). Maximum towing capacity for the Suburban, meanwhile, also requires the 5.3-liter V-8. It’s 8,300 pounds (8,100 with 4WD); the Suburban’s 6.2-liter V-8 tops out at 8,200 pounds (7,900 pounds with 4WD). The available Max Trailering Package is required to hit these capacities.
Corporate cousins to the Tahoe and Suburban (Chevrolet and GMC are both GM brands), the GMC Yukon and extended-length sibling Yukon XL have also received significant redesigns for 2021. The truck-based SUVs offer big V-8 engines that can take on challenging towing demands. Maximum towing capacity comes with the standard 5.3-liter V-8 on both models, and it tops out at 8,400 pounds in the Yukon (8,200 pounds with 4WD) if you get a Max Trailering Package. The Yukon XL tops out at 8,300 pounds (8,000 pounds with 4WD), which also requires the package. The optional 6.2-liter V-8 tops out at 8,200 pounds (8,000 with 4WD) in the Yukon and 8,100 pounds (7,900 with 4WD) in the Yukon XL, but it doesn’t require the trailer package to achieve that rating.
Sibling SUVs to the Chevrolet and GMC models above (Cadillac is GM’s luxury brand), the redesigned Escalade and extended-length Escalade ESV share a standard 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood. Maximum towing capacity is 8,200 pounds (8,000 with 4WD) in the Escalade and 8,100 pounds (7,900 pounds with 4WD) in the Escalade ESV. The Heavy-Duty Trailering Package is required to achieve these capacities.
Land Rover’s Defender boasts towing capacity to match the No. 10 Discovery’s with 8,201 pounds when equipped with a supercharged V-6. With the Defender’s base engine, a turbo four-cylinder, towing capacity is still 7,716 pounds — more than that of many SUVs with twice as many cylinders.
After receiving a face-lift and new engine options for 2021, Land Rover’s Discovery three-row SUV remains an excellent choice for towing. The Discovery boasts 8,200 pounds’ maximum towing capacity when equipped with its turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine. The vehicle’s base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which lowers capacity to a still-impressive 6,613 pounds. Just don’t confuse the Discovery with the Discovery Sport — a separate, smaller SUV.
Achieving max towing capacity typically requires an optional trailering package, and advertised ratings don’t necessarily dictate the maximum for your situation. Even under J2807, max trailer weight assumes relatively little mass from occupants and luggage. Cargo, extra passengers or certain optional equipment will reduce how much your SUV can tow, so if you plan to load up on people or luggage and hitch a trailer, don’t expect to hit the maximum towing figure.
How much can you tow for a given situation? Answering that question is a three-step process:
1. First, determine your vehicle’s curb weight, including accessories added since the car left the factory. Manufacturer-published curb weights are a good starting point, but your SUV may not match that exact figure. Our colleagues at Cars.com sister site PickupTrucks.com recommend visiting a local truck stop or department of motor vehicles to get your vehicle weighed.
2. Subtract that weight from your car’s gross combined weight rating, or GCWR — a figure sometimes printed on a label in the driver’s doorjamb — to see how much it can carry and tow. Let’s call this number the total available capacity.
3. Now that you have the total available capacity, subtract your SUV’s anticipated payload: all occupants and luggage, plus the trailer tongue weight (simply, the amount of weight the trailer is applying to the back of the vehicle). What remains is your towing capacity for the given situation. You could also go the other way around, subtracting trailer weight from the total available capacity to see how much payload is left.
You can shift the balance one way or the other, but never exceed the maximum rating for either side of the equation — either your vehicle’s maximum towing capacity or its maximum payload. The latter figure is usually printed on the tire label in your vehicle’s doorjamb, often expressed as the maximum weight for occupants and cargo. Again, remember to include the trailer tongue if you’re towing.