New car buyers are almost always concerned about gas mileage. Over the past five years, rising gasoline costs have put new car and SUV gas mileage ratings under a much brighter spotlight. Combined with looming government regulations concerning average fleet fuel economy, car companies have scrambled up the funds to invest in fuel-saving technologies and install them in almost all of their vehicles. The result has been a 12 percent increase in average fuel economy across the entire industry since 2005.
What is perhaps most surprising about this figure is that it's not solely the result of an influx of small, fuel efficient cars flooding the marketplace. In fact, some of the most notorious gas guzzlers showed the greatest improvements when it came to miles per gallon ratings. For example, mid-size SUVs went from a 2005 average of 14.6 miles per gallon to a 2010 average of 18.6 miles per gallon (an increase of 27%).
Let's take a look at three SUVs which made the most surprising jumps in fuel economy between 2005 and 2010. All figures use revised EPA MPG estimates.
2005 vs. 2010 Toyota 4Runner
In 2005, the Toyota 4Runner offered five passenger seating, good off-road capabilities and as much as 75 cubic feet of cargo space. It was motivated by a 4.0-liter V-6 engine that generated 245 horsepower and 282 lb-ft of torque, and in two-wheel drive trim consumed fuel at the rate of 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 20 miles per gallon on the highway.
Flashing forward to the 2010 Toyota 4Runner, it is impressive to see just how far the vehicle has come in only five years. Representing a new generation of this venerable SUV, the 2010 Toyota 4Runner is longer, wider and taller than the previous version and it also tacks approximately 260 additional pounds to the vehicle's curb weight. The bigger platform also increases total available cargo space to just under 90 cubic feet, while keeping seating at five passengers.
Its V-6 engine has also been improved. The 4.0-liter unit now offers 270 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, but manages to squeeze out 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 miles per gallon on the highway when ordered with two-wheel drive. The 2010 Toyota 4Runner is bigger, heavier and more powerful than its predecessor, but also significantly more efficient.
2005 vs. 2010 Honda CR-V
The 2005 Honda CR-V was a popular SUV that offered enough interior room for five occupants and a total of 72 cubic feet of cargo room. Available with front-wheel drive, the Honda CR-V was matched with a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine good for a healthy 160 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. Its fuel economy rating in this particular version came in at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 26 miles per gallon on the highway.
The 2010 Honda CR-V actually rides on a somewhat smaller platform when compared against the 2005 model. The updated SUV is also only marginally heavier than the older version, and cargo and passenger space remain the same. That being said, its four-cylinder engine, while displacing the same 2.4-liters, has gained 20 additional horsepower. All of that extra grunt also comes with a nice uptick in gas mileage, with the 2010 edition gaining one mile per gallon around town and an additional two miles per gallon during highway cruising.
2005 vs. 2010 BMW X3
The 2005 BMW X3 presented compact luxury SUV buyers with an attractive package. Gifted with room for five passengers and an appreciable 71 cubic feet of cargo space along with its premium features, the X3 also had a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine installed under its hood. This unit was tuned to provide 225 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque, and when mated to an automatic transmission the all-wheel drive SUV turned in gas mileage rated at 14 miles per gallon in the city and 21 miles per gallon on the highway.
Five years later and riding on the same, although somewhat refreshed platform, the 2010 BMW X3 shows the most dramatic gas mileage improvement of our trio. With weight and size almost identical, the biggest change has been made in the engine bay where a redesigned 3.0-liter inline-six now resides. This new engine blows past that of the older model thanks to its 260 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque - but it also trumps it in terms of fuel efficiency with an EPA estimate of 17 miles per gallon in stop and go driving and 24 miles per gallon on the highway. Considerably more power with far better fuel efficiency demonstrate just how impressive BMW's engine technology development has been in the past five years.