There was a time in the not so distant past when the terms “good fuel economy” and “sport utility vehicle” were mutually exclusive. SUVs were largely based on very heavy body on frame trucks with thirsty (but powerful) V8 engines.
The four-wheel drive systems they employed were, of necessity, quite heavy because of their mechanical complexity and their need to move a lot of weight. Folding in the luxury features most people wanted to make SUVs seem more like the cars they were deserting in droves created a formula for exceptionally poor fuel economy.
Thus, back then a list of the most economical SUVs didn’t really make much sense.
Today, of course, things have changed considerably.
Most sport utility vehicles are smaller and use lighter weight unit bodies now. Also, in this configuration the suspension and drivetrain components are bolted directly to the vehicle—instead of to a separate chassis, which the body is then bolted to.
Additionally, engine technologies have emerged to enable the achievement of higher horsepower and torque outputs from smaller displacement engines. These developments have brought about the prospect of having your cake (good power) and eating it too (with good fuel economy).
What follows is our list of the 10 most economical 2012 sport utility vehicles, ranked in order of fuel economy. The mileage listings in the header for each model are quoted thusly: city miles per gallon (MPG)/highway MPG/combined MPG.
It took the American manufacturers a minute to get up on creating a contender in the compact crossover class, but they solidly have the formula down pat now. Chevrolet’s Equinox, one of the ten most economical SUVs, is an excellent example of that fact. With its smooth ride, exceptional spaciousness, strong fuel economy, and considerable refinement, the Equinox is one of the most competitive vehicles in the segment.
Stand equipment for the base model includes alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a sliding and reclining rear seat, cruise control, power windows, mirrors, and door locks; a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel incorporating audio controls, Bluetooth telephone and audio connectivity, OnStar, and a six-speaker sound system fed by a CD player, satellite radio, and an auxiliary audio input jack.
Chevrolet fits the Equinox with a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 172 ft.-lbs. of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are the standard powertrain configuration; all-wheel drive is optional.
GM’s upscale truck division’s entry-level crossover sport utility vehicle is graced with bold and dynamic styling, great fuel economy, outstanding ride comfort, and handling its larger GMC stablemates can’t match. A close relative of the Chevrolet Equinox, the stylish GMC Terrain’s brawny appearance is definitely a standout in its category.
The base model GMC Terrain comes standard with alloy wheels, fog lights, heavily tinted privacy windows, heated exterior mirrors, and cruise control. This entry on our list of the most economical sport utility vehicles for 2012 also features a sliding and reclining backseat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a rearview camera system. The Terrain’s electronics suite incorporates OnStar, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system operated through a touchscreen interface. Feeding the audio system are a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input jack, and an iPod/USB port for portable audio devices.
The 2012 GMC Terrain’s base engine is a 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 172 ft.-lbs. of torque. Feeding the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, this is the heart of the standard powertrain. All-wheel drive is optional.
The crossover most people envision when they think of the term crossover suv, the Honda CR-V was one of the pioneers of the segment when it was introduced back in 1997. It was also Honda’s first SUV to be designed in-house by that company’s engineers. Prior to the CR-V, Honda sold rebadged Isuzu SUVs.
Graced with wonderful handling, exceptional fit and finish, and outstanding reliability, the Honda CR-V, one of our ten most economical sport utility vehicles, benefits from a very loyal following of repeat purchasers.
Standard equipment like automatic headlights, keyless entry, power windows, mirrors and door locks; along with, air-conditioning, cruise control, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel make the CR-V a very well equipped vehicle. It also comes with 60/40-split rear seats, a rearview camera, a multi-information display, and steering wheel audio controls. But wait, there’s even more—Bluetooth phone and streaming audio connectivity work with the four-speaker sound system, which is fed by a CD player, Pandora internet music compatibility, an auxiliary audio input jack, and a USB/iPod interface.
The 2012 Honda CR-V’s 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 163 ft.-lbs. of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive comprise the standard powertrain—while an all-wheel drive system is optional.
Ford’s small SUV is slated for a remake for the 2013 model year. Meanwhile though, the current model is one of the top economical sport utility vehicles for 2012. With its delightful combination of tidy size, cool technical features, and better than average performance, the 2012 Ford Escape is a remarkably attractive small SUV.
Standard equipment for the base model Escape includes alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors and door locks; cruise control, and air-conditioning. A CD player fronts Escape’s four-speaker sound system, which also has an auxiliary audio input jack. The Microsoft-developed Ford Sync system includes an iPod interface in addition to Bluetooth audio streaming and telephone connectivity.
Qualifying for our most economical list with both its gas-only and hybrid versions, the most economical conventional Escape is powered by a 171-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine feeding the front wheels through either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.
The most economical version of the hybrid Escape uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor to produce 177 horsepower. The drive wheels are fed through a continuously variable transmission.
The smart size and aggressive styling of Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport do much to attract attention to the economical 2012 SUV. The Outlander Sport then delivers with a nice ride, a strong feature-set and enviable fuel economy. However it achieves the latter with a somewhat underpowered engine.
In this case, the superior mileage comes at a price. However, if speed isn’t really that big of a deal for you, the Outlander Sport just might be the ride you’ve been looking for.
Outlander Sport’s standard features list includes a host of automatic features including its xenon headlights, windshield wipers, and climate control system. Keyless entry and start are also welcome features in the Outlander Sport’s category. A six-speaker stereo system rounds out the standard offerings.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport’s base powertrain consists of a 148 horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 145 ft.-lbs. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission routes power to the front wheels for the most economical version of the Outlander Sport.
All-wheel drive and a CVT are options.
The facelift of the 2012 Jeep Compass gives a more familial resemblance to the halo Grand Cherokee model. Its mechanical refinements deliver a nice ride and reassuring handling, while simultaneously making suitably equipped versions of the Compass off road capable.
This is an attribute many economical 2012 SUVs can’t claim.
Standard equipment for the entry-level 2012 Jeep Compass Sport model includes alloy wheels, fog lights, heated mirrors, roof rack rails, power windows, mirrors and door locks; keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a tilt steering wheel, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input jack.
A 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 141 ft.-lbs of torque and a five-speed manual transmission comprise the standard powertrain on the most economical version of the Jeep Compass Sport.
When you wear a Jeep badge, you’re expected to deliver off road capability — even if you’re one of the ten most economical 2012 SUVs. Thanks to its name Thanks to its increased ride height, skid plates and a four-wheel-drive system with dual-range gear ratios for low-speed crawling the Patriot lives up to its family name.
Based on the Dodge Caliber passenger car, the Patriot also offers carlike ride and handling attributes. And while it may be a bit less refined than its competitors, the Patriot deliver tractability in the dirt at the lowest price point out there.
Standard features include fog lamps, roof rack side rails, cruise control, an outside temperature display, a tilt steering wheel with audio controls, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input jack.
The base model Jeep Patriot Sport’s front-wheel drive powertrain uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 158 horsepower and 141 ft.-lbs. of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard—while a CVT is optional.
Fresh off of a redesign for 2012, the Kia Sorento moves to a unit body strategy—which means it is now lighter, more rigid and handles better. Further, the Kia is slightly larger than a compact SUV, but a bit smaller than a mid-size SUV. This in-between status means the Sorento appeals to a broader swath of buyers.
And, of course, since it’s a Kia, the standard features value proposition is very strong.
The 2012 Kia Sorento, one of our ten most economical 2012 SUVs, offers as standard equipment; alloy wheels, power windows, locks and mirrors; air-conditioning, cruise control and a multifunction steering wheel. The Kia features Bluetooth connectivity, a CD player, satellite radio, an iPod adapter and an auxiliary audio input jack.
The most economical drivetrain configuration is comprised of a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 169 ft.-lbs of torque mated to a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive.
A six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are options.
Thanks to the design renaissance going on at Kia, the 2012 Sportage is a remarkably good-looking vehicle. The suspension recalibrations for the 2012 model year have made much more fun to drive as well.
The Kia’s standard equipment list is very attractive too. The base model of this entry on our list of top economical SUVs comes with alloy wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, power windows, mirrors and door locks; a trip computer, Bluetooth, a four-speaker sound system with satellite radio, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
A 176-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 168 ft.-lbs. of torque provides power for the 2012 Kia Sportage. A six-speed manual transmission is the sole offering for the most economical front-wheel drive base model.
While there is an all-new 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe waiting in the wings capable of much better fuel economy, the fact remains the outgoing model is good on fuel too. Posting nearly equivalent numbers for both its four-cylinder and V6 iterations rates it a spot on this list of the 10 most economical sport utility vehicles.
Like all Hyundai models, you’ll get a lot of features for the money too.
Standard equipment for the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe includes alloy wheels, dark tinted privacy glass, roof rack rails, heated exterior mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks.
There’s also air-conditioning with rear vents, a split-folding rear seat, a trip computer, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming feeding a six-speaker sound system, which incorporates a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio input jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The base model Santa Fe is fitted with a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of generating 169 ft.-lbs. of torque. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission are standard equipment.