Intro to Top 10 Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
Despite the rise in fuel costs, people still need and desire the versatility of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Kids must be ferried to school and football practice, the dogs continue to require occasional trips to the veterinarian, and weekly trips to Costco remain a necessity. Minivans, though extremely useful, lack the style of most SUVs, and sedans, while typically more fuel-efficient, have yet to replicate the commanding view of the road found in an SUV.
Hybrid powertrains, available in sedans and small cars for the past several years, will soon be widely available in SUVs. Ford was the first to introduce such a vehicle to the market, the Ford Escape Hybrid, but others are close behind. Choices will include the Saturn VUE with BAS (Belt Alternator Starter Hybrid System), Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Lexus RX 400h, a hybrid Mazda Tribute and undoubtedly others. While hybrid alternatives offer a substantial jump in fuel economy, they also require a commensurate jump in price to cover the expense of developing this new technology. That’s something to consider when evaluating overall ownership costs.
In addition to hybrids, there are other thrifty SUVs on the market that help to offset the price of gas, but as with everything, there are concessions to be made. The most economical vehicles tend to be small or midsize, either front- or two-wheel-drive (rather than all- or four-wheel-drive), feature the smaller engine (less horsepower, four cylinders instead of six) and have manual as opposed to automatic transmissions. As the list of standard and optional equipment increases, fuel mileage conversely decreases.
Using the most current EPA data, we compiled a list of the most fuel-efficient SUVs, while also considering base sticker price and cargo capacity. For comparison, fuel mileage for all- or four-wheel-drive is provided (where applicable). These ratings are estimates only. If your right foot is made of lead or you let your car idle for fun, start deducting.
10th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Hyundai Tucson
New for 2005 is the Hyundai Tucson, powered by a standard 140-horsepower, 2.0 liter four cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. The front-wheel-drive variant measures 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. With the selectable four-wheel-drive system tacked on you'll lose one mpg in the city and on the highway, bringing you to 21/26 mpg. The 2005 Hyundai Tucson provides up to 65.5 cubic feet of cargo space, and prices start at about $18,000.
9th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Toyota Highlander
Achieving 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, the Highlander matches the smaller Hyundai Tucson for fuel mileage, though its 15 additional feet of cargo space (80.6) and 20 extra horsepower (160) rank it higher on our list. But, be aware that at about $25,000, the Highlander demands a substantial premium for that extra utility. To get the relatively frugal fuel ratings, you'll need a two-wheel-drive Highlander brought up to speed by the 2.4-liter four cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Piloting the four-wheel-drive version will yield an estimated 21/25 mpg.
8th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Mitsubishi Outlander
When equipped with front-wheel-drive and a five-speed manual transmission, the 2005 Mitsubishi Outlander, priced at about $18,500, achieves 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The standard 2.4 liter four cylinder engine is good for 160 horsepower and 60.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Opt for all-wheel-drive with your manual transmission and mileage drops to 21/27 mpg.
7th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Subaru Outback Wagon
Thanks to an increase in ground clearance for 2005 the Subaru Outback, with up to 66.2 cubic feet of cargo room, is now classified as an SUV by the EPA. When delivered with the standard five-speed manual transmission and all-wheel-drive, the $25,000 Outback returns 23 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Mated to the optional four-speed automatic, the 168-horsepower Outback Wagon still sees 28 mpg on the highway, but city mileage dips to 22 mpg.
6th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Saturn VUE
The front-wheel-drive Saturn VUE, which stickers for about $17,600, holds its own against the Honda CR-V in regard to fuel efficiency, equaling the rating of 23 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway when equipped with the 2.2 liter four cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. Yet, the 143-horsepower 2.2 liter motor is light in the hoof when compared to the CR-V, and its 63.8 cubic feet comes out about eight cubic feet short. And, when comparably equipped (adding the automatic transmission package to the VUE), the smaller VUE ends up costing about $500 more than the Honda CR-V. The all-wheel-drive VUE achieves 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
5th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Honda CR-V
When outfitted with the standard 160-horsepower four cylinder engine, a five-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel-drive, city mileage for the CR-V is listed at 23 mpg and highway mileage is 29 mpg. Adding all-wheel-drive brings mileage down to 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Prices start at about $20,500. Cargo capacity is rated at 72.0 cubic feet, second only to the Toyota Highlander among the most fuel-efficient SUVs.
4th Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute
In standard guise, these front-wheel-drive twins feature a 153-horsepower, 2.3 liter four cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission and 66.3 cubic feet of available cargo room. The EPA estimates mileage to be 24 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Four-wheel-drive versions of the Escape and Tribute are a bit less thrifty, registering only 22/26 mpg. Expect to pay about $20,000 (before incentives) for the base model Ford Escape or Mazda Tribute.
3rd Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Subaru Forester
Due in part to a lower curb weight, Subaru's Forester beats its sibling, the Outback Wagon, to the #3 slot on our list. In order to achieve the EPA rating of 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, you'll need to skip the turbocharger and opt for the five-speed manual transmission. At 64.1 cubic feet, cargo capacity is about average for this group. Bidding for the base model starts at about $22,000.
2nd Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Toyota RAV4
Housing the same standard engine as its big brother, the Highlander, the front-wheel-drive RAV4 ranks #2 on our list of fuel efficient suvs. In the RAV4, the 2.4 liter four cylinder engine (in this case with a five-speed manual transmission) travels 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. The EPA expects a RAV4 with full-time four-wheel-drive to cover 22 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Cargo capacity is a respectable 68.3 cubic feet, and the base model starts at about $19,000.
1st Place - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
Climbing to #1 on our list is the first hybrid SUV on the market, the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid. Your only choice here is either front-wheel-drive or full-time four-wheel-drive. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard. As a front-wheel-drive model, the 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid polishes off a gallon of gas every 36 miles in the city and every 31 miles on the highway. Add on the weight of the four-wheel-drive system and those ratings fall to 33 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway. Sticker price for the two-wheel-drive model starts at about $27,000, and registers 65.5 cubic feet of cargo room, just 0.8 cubic feet less than the regular Escape.
FAQs - Most Fuel Efficient SUVs
Does my driving style affect my gas mileage?
Absolutely. If you're an aggressive driver, one of the best ways to improve fuel mileage is to avoid sudden starts. That means forfeiting all of those stoplight-to-stoplight races around town, and putting the "pedal to the metal" a little less often. By gradually accelerating, the engine doesn't have to work as hard at getting the vehicle's heft up to speed, thereby increasing efficiency. Can I save money by using regular grade gas instead of premium?
Manufacturers make sure to note (in owner's manual, on gas cap or fuel door) what type of gas you should use. Typically, sports cars require premium fuel for optimum performance. In these cases, the vehicle may end up running a bit rough if you run it on regular. Conversely, many people believe that filling their tanks with premium fuel is "better" for the car, even if it isn't necessary. Not true. If the manufacturer doesn't suggest or require you to buy high-octane gas, stick with less expensive, 87-octane regular.
How can I get better mileage from my older vehicle?
As cars get older and rack up mileage, it's inevitable that they will become less efficient. But, there are a few things you can do to abate that problem. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance (friction) and require more effort from the engine to maintain momentum. Also, stick to the manufacturers maintenance schedule. Something as simple as replacing a dirty air filter can help to improve fuel economy.