Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: Redmond, Washington
Trailer: 2015 19' Escape
I have some amount of experience towing with a 2012 4Runner Trail, which has the same drive train as your 2013: 4.0 liter V-6, 270 HP @ 5,600 rpm and 278 ft.lb. @ 4,400 rpm, and the Aisin A750E/F 5-speed automatic transmission. The power specs would suggest that you need to keep the revs up to get much out of the engine, and my experience agrees with that. Happily, the 4.0 liter V-6 seems to have a good reputation for durability, so I wouldn't hesitate to keep it spooled up.
A nice feature is that the transmission has the ability to limit the upshifts, by which I mean that you can selectively lock out certain higher gears. By using the "S" option, you can e.g. select "3", and that will make the transmission not shift any higher than 3rd gear, useful for manually keeping up the revs going up hills, as well as keeping it in lower gears for engine braking going down hills.
I believe that the tow ratings for our respective 4Runners are the same: 500 pounds tongue and 5,000 pounds trailer gross weight. I've towed a 2001 Chalet Alpine A-Frame 6,900 miles and a 2015 Escape 19' (2,850 pounds empty, dry, with options) over 8,100 miles with the 4Runner, and am quite happy with its towing performance. I know that you're asking about the Escape 21', but I think that my experience with the 19' might be useful to you. Per the Escape web site, the (2nd generation) 19' has a tongue weight of 256 (generally considered to be an understatement) and a total dry weight of 2,950, and the 21' has a tongue weight of 360 and a total dry weight of 3,210, so the 19' gives us an extra cushion on the weights. One thing to keep in mind is that the 4Runner (mine at least) has a GVWR of 6,300 pounds, with limits of 3,000 pounds on the front axle and 3,446 on the rear axle (slightly de-rated due to the e-locker rear differential). The load carrying capacity (including passenger(s) and driver) is 1165 without locking rear differential (SR-5 and Limited), and sadly only 835 with locking rear differential (Trail). So when the trailer tongue and driver weights are factored in, there is really only a small amount of available capacity for passengers and cargo. This was one of the reasons we went with the 19' rather than the 21' - we really wanted to keep the tongue and total weights as low as we could, and for us at least, the size benefit if the 21' wasn't worth the weight penalty; we really didn't want to upgrade our paid off and very low mileage tow vehicle.
Issues and Concerns
1 - Transmission Cooler - As far as I know, in 2012 and 2013 at least, there was no 4Runner "tow package". They all came standard with the hitch, 7-pin wiring harness, tranny cooler (built into the bottom of the coolant radiator), and a small engine oil cooler. With only the standard tranny cooler, I was seeing excessive ATF temps when towing up even moderate grades with mild ambient temps. I was even seeing ATF temps approaching 230* when climbing long steep grades when not even towing anything. Installing an external tranny cooler dropped the ATF temps by 20* - 25*, so I could take on even the steeper and longer passes in the Washington Cascade mountains and generally maintain towing temps < 220*, although I still stop "to take pictures" and let the tranny cool down by idling in neutral for a while when gets up to 220*, just to be nice. Interestingly, the ambient temp seems to make little difference: Going upstream along the Columbia River on Highway 84 in Oregon, I was seeing the same tranny temps with ambient temps of both 68* and 97*. Stay out of 5th ("D"), even with the mpg penalty, unless the tranny is running nice and cool - in 5th the torque converter unlocks and the ATF temps shoot up 20* right away. Another thing that's really apparent is that it really helps to keep the engine reved up - I'm guessing here, but it seems like the pump that circulates the ATF through the cooler is driven by the input side of the tranny, not by the output side, so the ATF circulation rate through the cooler is a function of the tranny input speed (i.e. engine rpm's).
2 - Rear Suspension Sag - The rear suspension of the Trail version sits a bit higher than the other models, but even with that I was getting too much rear suspension sag when hitched. I ordered a set of Timbren bump stop / helper springs which eliminated the problem. Once the suspension is compressed 1" or so, the Timbrens contact the differential housing, thereby increasing the spring rate. With the Timbrens, the 4Runner sits dead level when hitched. I was initially planning to go with air bags, but being in the middle of dealing with a ruptured disc in my lower back at the time I didn't want to mess with the rear suspension to install them, so went with the Timbrens instead - glad I did.
3 - Trailer Sway - I had experienced some pretty bad sway problems with the Chalet trailer, and was somewhat concerned about the Escape swaying - more weight and more side surface area. I even bought a friction anti-sway device and installed it before our first trip. Turned out to be a waste of time and money. I have never had any sway issues with the Escape, presumably largely due to the inherent anti-sway characteristics of the dual axles. We've towed in pretty dicey conditions - 65 mph on 2 lane highways with oncoming semi's in 40 mph crosswinds by the Salton Sea, a handful of evasive maneuvers, etc. Even with the relatively short wheelbase, the 4Runner stayed put, the trailer following directly behind, with not even a hint of sway.
4 - Mileage - Keeping the revs up and generally using lower gears, the gas mileage sucks. We average about 14.8 on the level, and if it's ups and downs it can fall to 12.5. Might be an argument for a tow vehicle with more power that doesn't have to be gassed up as much. Or a diesel...
5 - Power and Brakes - No real concerns with power - we might have to wait for a larger gap in traffic when merging from a stop sometimes, but generally more than adequate. Mountain grades not a real problem, unless you make it into a problem. Patience is a virtue, just latch onto the back of a semi and enjoy the ride. Of course we've never towed above 7,500', so Colorado and Canadian Rockies might not be so good. Keep the trailer (and of course tow vehicle) brakes adjusted and otherwise maintained, should be no problem.
Sorry to have written a book, but hopefully there's some stuff in here that will be of use.
Conclusion: Real happy towing Escape 19' with 5th generation 4Runner, but would have some reservations about towing a 21'.
Discretion is the better part of boredom.
Tow Vehicle: 2012 Toyota 4Runner Trail, KDSS, BFG A/T KO's, ScanGauge, B&M Tranny Cooler, 20" Opt7 LED Light Bar, LED DRL's, Prodigy P2 Controller, Timbren Rear Springs