Subaru’s latest AWD model ups its MPG
The Wheels You Need with the Fuel Economy You Crave
So the scientists announced this last week (ed note: we originally wrote this three years ago–and updated it since–but the climate change news has not gotten any brighter in the intervening years) that the world has hit another milestone. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has hit a concentration not seen for millions of years. While many in the environmental community might see this as the point at which personal transportation should be curtailed–starting with SUVs or Crossovers–it is clear the automotive market is not going to make such a quick shift.
Sport utility vehicles and crossovers (crossovers being sport utility vehicles based on a car rather than truck chassis) are more popular than ever in 2017, even as the general trend toward higher MPG vehicles moves forward. The reason is simple: they are functional. One trip to Costco is enough to convince many families that a Prius won’t cut it. Regular trips up to the mountains in the winter to ski could similarly motivate a car buyer to look for an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than the front-wheel drive found on most high-mileage hybrids. Cars don’t always cut it.
Winging it…on electricity
All of which leaves the environmentally conscious consumer with some tough choices. If your lifestyle points you toward an SUV or crossover, you still want to do what you can to minimize your contribution to further CO2 in the atmosphere. The first electric SUV has appeared (after one short-lived version, the RAV4 EV was on the market for a brief time), but the Tesla Model X is out of most buyers’ price range. Plug-in hybrids are just hitting the market this year and more are promised, but again most are luxury first and SUV second. A few hybrid and clean diesel models are out there, so the key is to check out the most fuel efficient models that fit your needs. Since one of those needs with this class of vehicles usually entails a good amount of distance travel, we’re use the highway fuel economy as the benchmark for our Top 10 list.
While cars, especially smaller ones, appear to be able to top the 40 mpg mark without much difficulty and are pushing even higher with plug-in models, AWD and 4WD models, with extra hardware and usually a larger size, have historically found 30 mpg on the highway a tough mark. No more. We’ve got an EV and several plug-ins that boast sophisticated technology that offers welcome progress on the MPG front. The downside is all this new hardware comes at a serious premium. But not far down the list are gasoline-powered models delivering mid-30s fuel economy.
The numbers are based on the federal fuel economy tests, so of course your mileage will vary. We’ve updated this list and pruned out some of the two-wheel-drive interlopers. We expect this list to keep growing, offering mpg-conscious car buyers even more options.
The Top 10 SUVs/Crossovers
1. 95 MPGe – Tesla Model X EV – So how does almost 100 mpg sound for an SUV? Is that worth $70 or $80,000? Tesla’s foray into the SUV space is an all-wheel-drive, all-electric crossover with seating for seven adults and their luggage. It is based off of Tesla’s Model S sedan (which it now outsells) and features two electric motors (of varying sizes depending on the model) and a variety battery pack sizes and performance levels. Oh, and it also has gull-wing (falcon in Tesla parlance) doors. And loads of tech features, including fairly sophisticated self-driving capability. The car will deliver about 250 miles of range in the high-end model; 220 in the “entry-level” model. When we did a brief test drive, we were impressed. The Toyota RAV4 EV was the first SUV with a plug, but in two iterations it only had a brief run and totaled about 3,000 vehicles. Tesla passed that mark in its first year on the market and continues crank them out of its Fremont plant.
Tesla Model X
2. 56 MPGe BMW X5 xDrive40e PHEV – BMW took its most popular SUV and added a plug. It seems simple, but the process entailed added technology. Thankfully, BMW has not subtracted any of the positive attributes of its all-wheel-drive SUV. Forget to plug in and you’re back to mid-20s fuel economy. It has 14 miles of all-electric range augmented by more than 300 horsepower of gasoline-fueled power, which is helpful if you’ve carrying a full three rows of passengers. We have a review of this model.
3. 53 MPGe – Volvo XC90 AWD PHEV – The first plug-in Volvo has arrived. We saw it some time ago and are pleased that it has been delivered intact with great fuel economy along with all of the usual Volvo safety equipment and great wagon space. Without plugging in the fuel economy drops to the mid-20s. It’s all-electric range is about 14 miles. A week in the wagon reinforced out initial impression.
4. 50 MPGe – Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e – The latest addition to the plug-in SUV crowd comes from Mercedes-Benz. This five-passenger SUV can shut down its 400+ horsepower V-6 biturbo engine and move on electric power to maximize fuel economy. Its default mode is a hybrid drive that will shift from gas to electric power.
5. 47 MPGe – Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid PHEV – To offset some performance models with less-than-stellar fuel economy, Porsche is leading the way by offering plug-in versions that promise enhanced MPG. The company’s SUV adds an electric motor than can give 16 miles of EV range. On gas alone the car is in the low 20s MPG.
2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
6. Tie 34 MPG – Nissan Rogue Hybrid/Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – In case there was any question about the competitive nature of the automotive market, these two models should settle the debate. Locked into a battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the hot compact class of crossover, both companies have added hybrid systems to their hot-selling small SUVs. Its working as both effortlessly deliver stellar fuel economy a the no-fuss hybrid system that makes most of the decisions for the driver. The market loves them, too, (in hybrid and non-hybrid mode) as in early 2017 both models are among the top-selling models in the U.S. We tested both here, here and here.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Lexus NX 300h – A new entry takes a top spot as Toyota fields a hybrid version of the RAV4 with a Lexus badge. The fuel economy numbers are for city driving. As is typical of hybrids, it gives you more MPG around town than out on the highway (31 highway and 33 combined). These numbers are for the two-wheel-drive version; moving all four wheels knocks off one or two MPG. We tested it when it first came out and found it a competent machine.
Lexus NX 300h
8. Tie 33 MPG – Honda CR-V – Honda’s best-selling crossover tops 30 MPG with all-wheel-drive on board. We’ve driven this compact utility several times and find it a real winner in its class, coming in only a shade below hybridized versions of its competition. Since it isn’t a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, it also has an edge in affortability.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Jaguar F-Pace – It’s highly unusual for a Jaguar to show up on the best-MPG list, but the F-Pace is something a little different. Jaguar added an efficient clean diesel engine to bump its fuel economy into the range of usually more efficient but smaller crossovers. We’ve experienced the engine in a sedan and believe it should deliver some solid performance for this new entry.
8. Tie 33 MPG – Subaru XV Crosstrek – Subaru continues to test the market with vehicles that depart from its typical cars. The Crosstrek has a 2-liter version of the traditional (for Subaru) horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine producing 148 horsepower when paired with the CVT automatic. It bumps up the MPG of the popular Crosstrek.
Just missing the Top 10 mpg mark are a half-dozen models
Not that long ago 30 mpg for an all-wheel-drive vehicles was unheard of. As you can see above, it is quickly becoming the ticket of entry in this class of vehicles. The variety of models is astounding and the range of features runs the gamut from affordable small crossovers to SUVs capable of carrying more than a family of four and taking the group well off the highway.
We used the federal fuel economy numbers from the EPA at to rank these models. Lurking just below the Top 10 (which of course is actually 11 models) are a variety of vary capable cars, all of which come in 4WD with a variety of engine options. Ones to check out are the Mazda CX-3, Lexus RX 450h Hybrid, Honda HR-V, Nissan Murano Hybrid, Buick Encore, Subaru Forester, Mercedes-Benz GLA250, Infiniti QX30, Subaru Outback, Audi Q5 Hybrid, Chevrolet Trax, BMW X1 xDrive, Jeep Renegade and Toyota Highlander Hybrid for some other 30+ MPG cars. The variety has never been greater.
And coming soon:
The onslaught of new models focused on fuel efficiency will continue as automakers strive to reach fuel economy and greenhouse gas targets set by governments around the world. Models announced, but not yet introduced include plug-in versions of several more BMW and Mercedes SUVs. We’ve also been waiting for the U.S. introduction of the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, which is already on the market in Japan and Europe. It’s expected to have 20-25 miles of all-electric range and could turn in mpge (mileage factoring in the electric range) well above 50.
Other similar stories you might enjoy:
First Drive: 2017 Tesla Model X
Road Test: 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e
Road Test: 2016 Volvo XC90 PHEV
Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Hybrid
Road Test: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Road Test: 2015 Lexus NX 300h
Road Test: 2016 Honda CR-V
Road Test: 2013 Subaru Crosstrek
Adding a smaller hybrid option in the Lexus crossover lineup
Everybody needs a little brother. Isn’t that the automotive theme of the decade? Smaller versions of best-selling models are proliferating and Toyota’s Lexus luxury division is no exception. Its midsize RX crossover has been the pace-setter for the segment since its introduction in 1997. Similarly, the hybrid version of the RX since 2005 has been the green leader for the division — the best-selling hybrid with a Lexus badge.
In the course of its three generations the RX has grown, though, so slotting a model a size below it is a simple exercise. Here comes the 2015 NX, which will play as a compact to the now midsize
A little brother emerges
RX. Of course, those aware of history will note that the NX comes in slightly larger than the original RX in both wheelbase and overall length.
The 2015 Lexus NX 300h we tested is the hybrid version of the compact crossover, joined in the showroom by two non-hybrid models—the NX 200t and NX 200t F Sport. The 300h is available in front-wheel drive (FWD, the model we tested) and all-wheel drive models (AWD), delivering more than 30 mpg in all versions from its four-cylinder engine, electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT) and hybrid system. The FWD had an EPA rating of 35 City/31 Highway/33 Combined, numbers we were able to verify in our drive.
The NX is a classic example of Toyota’s current approach to fuel economy in its internal combustion-engine vehicles. They take a fairly evolved version of a traditional-size gas engine (in this case a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder) with variable value timing (+intelligence in this case, which means an added sophisticated timing adjustments that increase fuel efficiency) mated to Toyota’s long-traveled Hybrid Synergy Drive, allowing bursts of electric-only driving and maximum overall efficiency.
In the NX the 2.5-liter engine combines with an electric motor to produce a total of 194 hp, more than enough to move the 4,055 lb. (4,180 lb. in the AWD model) compact crossover along quite well. It does feature different driving “modes,” an ever-more-popular driver-control method, and in ECO mode, the responsiveness of the engine was noticeably decreased. However, that was the mode that delivered the best fuel economy. The AWD model is the first time the 2.5-liter engine has been used along with a hybrid drive system.
We mentioned the EPA numbers above, but found the real world could make hitting those marks difficult. On a long uphill slog the NX wasn’t able to hit 20 mpg, though it did top 30 mpg on the downhill portion of the trip. Overall, we registered 32.9 mpg on a long (60-mile) mostly highway run that did include some stop-and-go traffic. We found the sweet spot for fuel economy to be 32/33 mpg at freeway speed between 60 and 70 mph. Around down our fuel economy y was not as impressive, rarely breaking 30 mpg and usually in the 24/25 range, even running in ECO mode and driving conservatively. The numbers seem low for a car of this size sporting a hybrid badge, especially when compared to the EPA figures.
The good news with the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is the good suspension comes standard. Lexus recognizes that good handling is key with this class of vehicle since most of the competitors are European and rightly focused on delivering a utility vehicle that also can hold the road.
Starting where the RX did
Starting with the steering, the NX is responsive; it’s an SUV, not a sports car, but it is not soft like the classic Toyota/Lexus vehicles of recent years. Up front the NX has MacPherson struts and coil springs along with gas-pressurized shocks and a stabilizer bar. In the rear is a trailing arm double wishbone and coil springs rear, also with gas-pressurized shocks and a stabilizer bar. The package, topped off with the optional 18-inch wheels and P225/60R18 all-season tires, gives you a good feel and control of the road without any harshness.
The brakes on the NX are four-wheel power-assisted discs with a four-sensor, four-channel antilock braking system (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and regen so braking energy is channeled back to the battery.
Inside the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is where the luxury part of the Lexus equation really shines, particularly in our highly optioned tester. We had the Luxury Package, a $4,505 option that includes the 18-inch wheels and matched tires, Linear Black Shadow wood interior trim, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, power rear hatch, heated/ventilated leather front seats (10-way power driver’s seat; eight-way power passenger’s seat), rain-sensing wipers, premium LED daytime running lights and a power tilt and slide moonroof.
It all looked good and the leather definitely put the luxury feel into the interior along with the upscale wood trim.
The second option package was the Navigation Package, which added the technology expected in a modern luxury car, whether it’s a coupe, sedan or crossover. That $2,140 package included the
From the laptop to next to your lap
navigation system on a seven-inch color display screen with a remote touch pad interface, which for any laptop user is a zero learning curve addition. It definitely challenges those still operating with wheels and knobs and was easy to use with minimum distraction. Also in the package was a one-year trial subscription to the Lexus Enform Destinations that includes navigation assistance, automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, an emergency assist (SOS) button and enhanced roadside assistance. It’s essentially Lexus’ version of GM’s OnStar with some added bells and whistles. The final piece of the Nav Package is the 10-speaker premium sound system, which adds two speakers to the standard system. The system does end up giving the driver a plethora of buttons to navigate his/her way through all this technology.
All tech on board
Then there was the coup de grace of the QI-compatible wireless charger, an option I’m sure will be popping up in more luxury cars since it’s so clearly convenient and an almost universal plus for most drivers.
The last two options are the power-folding 60/40 rear seats ($400) and Intuitive Parking Assist ($500), which adds beeps and a visual depiction of how close you are to another car when parking.
Luxury Augmented By Safety
The NX has eight airbags—three for the driver (front, side and knee); three for the front passenger (front, cushion and side) and two side curtains. Add to that the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert
Warranties and service with the NX include:
- First scheduled maintenance service – Six months/5,000 miles
- Second schedule maintenance service – 12 months/10,000 miles
- Roadside assistance – 48 months/Unlimited mileage
- Basic – 48 months/50,000-miles
- Hybrid system – 96 months/100,000 miles
- Powertrain – 72 months/70,000 miles
- Restraint systems – 72 months/70,000 miles
- Corrosion perforation – 72 months/Unlimited miles
A new Lexus angle
Lexus wants you to compare the NX with some established players in the compact crossover segment, such as the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK 350. Lincoln and Infiniti also have models in the segment. All are similar size and priced within a few thousand dollars of each other, ranging from $35,000 up to the NX 300h’s $39,720 base price.
The Q5 is the only one of the group that also offers a hybrid, though the Audi version doesn’t get as good fuel economy as the Lexus and its starting price is more than $10,000 higher. What the Audi and Mercedes both offer, though, is a diesel option that delivers comparable fuel economy with great performance.
The 2015 Lexus NX 300h Hybrid we tested had a base price of $39,720 but it’s as-tested price rose to $49,195, which includes the $925 delivery, processing and handling fee. The non-hybrid NX
Power hatch, power rear seats–looking for a power user
200t starts $35,405 (with the delivery charge) for a front-wheel drive model powered by a turbocharged engine that offers fuel economy only a few mpg below the hybrid.
The NX clocks in with a 182.3-inch overall length, 104.7-inch wheelbase, 83.9-inch width and 64.8-inch height. Its cargo capacity is 16.8 cubic feet until you fold down the second row of seats and expand it to 52.7 cubic feet.
This adds what Lexus hopes is another volume player for its crossover lineup. It becomes the entry-level model for the SUV side of the brand, slotting below the now-classic RX and allowed an alphabetic step up from NX to RX to GX to LX. Lexus’ goal is clearly to combat its competitors relentless model proliferation and try to regain the luxury sales lead from Mercedes and BMW. Having a competitive vehicle in what many are calling the hottest segment in the luxury market. Sales for the 2015 NX have been strong out of box, but as was mentioned the competition is fierce and each brand has an approach that includes both unique vehicles and features as well as a brand image. It may be a little pricey, but the customers stands to be the winner as they all go head-to-head. We’d suggest making sure the 2015 Lexus NX 300h is on the shopping list if fuel economy and Toyota reliability are high on your shopping list.
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