The Wheels You Need with the Fuel Economy You Crave
So the scientists announced this last week (ed note: we originally wrote this two 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 with the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hitting 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 popular 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.
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 using 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.
The Top 10 SUVs/Crossovers
1. 90 MPGe – Tesla Model X EV – So how does almost 100 mpg sound for an SUV? Is that worth $70 or $80,000? At the end of 2015 Tesla started deliveries of its third model 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 and features two electric motors (of varying sizes depending on the model) and two battery pack sizes. Oh, and it also has gull-wing (falcon in Tesla parlance) doors. The car will deliver about 250 miles of range in the high-end model; 220 in the “entry-level” model, which they haven’t even started building yet. 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.
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 1 miles of all-electric range.
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.
4. 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.
5. 37 MPG – Volvo V60 – It’s a whole new ballgame when two Volvos join the top of the MPG list. This wagon in 2WD trim delivers exception fuel economy from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Switching engines and adding 4WD drops the numbers by 8 MPG.
6. 35 MPG – Lexus NX 300h – A new entry takes the number two 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.
6. 35 MPG – Honda HR-V – OK, this is the highway fuel economy of the two-wheel-drive version, but it still tops 30 MPG with all-wheel-drive on board. We’ve driven this new little utility several times and find it a real winner in the subcompact SUV class. This is also the first vehicle on this list that has finally dropped into the affordable range.
6. 35 MPG – Mazda CX-5 – Mazda’s been doing great things with its Skyactiv technology that boosts performance and fuel economy. That’s something that’s all good in our books and when they drop it in a good-looking package, well-priced model like the CX-5, all the better.
6. 35 MPG – Mercedes-Benz GLA250 – Another new entry comes from the Mercedes gang as they fill in the lower end of their offerings with a front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive crossover that delivers great fuel economy from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It also features start-stop to squeeze out additional MPG.
10. 34 MPG – Toyota RAV4 Hybrid – This is the sister model to the Lexus NX 300h, a little less posh but full of the same level of Toyota quality and tech. We’re looking forward to taking it for a spin and expect all of the great things of a Toyota RAV4 with better MPG.
10. 34 MPG – Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid – Another relatively new entry in this category comes from Subaru, which 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 regular Crosstrek.
10. 34 MPG – Buick Encore – If you’re paying attention, you’ll note that this list is populated with models that didn’t exist a year ago. Buick added this subcompact SUV with its thrifty four-cylinder powerplant and has not looked back. We found it to be a competent small utility in our tests. The AWD version loses four MPG compared with the front-wheel-drive model.
10. 34 MPG – BMW X3 xDrive28d – Rounding out the Top 10 is a peppy diesel that delivers power and well as fuel economy in BMW’s compact SUV. For those of you following the Volkwagen emissions scandal, this and other BMW models was not found to have any software issues so all of the performance is legit.
10. 34 MPH – Chevrolet Trax – This is where this segment is moving as it chases higher fuel economy numbers. A small wagon-like vehicle that has a trunk-full of advanced technology and car
-like attributes. We were impressed with its capabilities when we tested it.
Just missing the Top 10 mpg mark are a half-dozen models
We used the federal fuel economy numbers from the EPA at www.FuelEconomy.gov to rank these models. Lurking just below the Top 10 (which of course is actually 15 models) are a variety of vary capable cars, most of which come in 4WD and 2WD models with a variety of engine options. Ones to check out are the BMW X1 xDrive28i, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Outback, Lexus 450h Hybrid, Fiat 500X, Ford Escape 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 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:
Road Test: 2015 Lexus NX 300h
Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V
Road Test: 2015 Mazda CX-5