Proof not all SUVs are out for your wallet
For many Americans, large SUVs are like the richest, most delicious slice of seven-layer chocolate cake imaginable. Introduce that culinary marvel to the palette and every future dining experience might as well consist of crusty bread and warm tap water, but your lean figure suffers as a consequence. It’s kinda like tasting the power of an oversized and thirsty SUV, except in this case, it’s your wallet that takes the brunt. Unfortunately, we can’t save your waistline from caloric temptations, but the following list of spacious, affordable, versatile, and most importantly fuel-efficient SUVs might provide relief for those who have anxiety attacks whenever it’s time to fill up the ol’ family hauler.
When creating this list, we first started with the EPA’s 2007 Fuel Economy Guide, selected all the EPA-classified SUVs, and then sorted them from best to worst by combined fuel economy. Second, the cutoff was set at 24 mpg so as to expand the choices to cars we’d actually recommend. Third, our editors voted for their top picks in order of preference. Fourth, votes were tallied, with the results discussed on the following pages. Of course, your mileage may vary, but the EPA information allows for true apples-to-apples comparisons. All that changes for the 2008 model year, as the EPA implements a new testing system designed to report more realistic (a.k.a. lower) ratings. Look for hybrids to take the most noticeable hit.
It seems that every new Hyundai and Kia we get into, value for the dollar is immediately apparent, including the brands’ little SUVs. Though the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage twins are available with a V6 engine and four-wheel drive, the four-cylinder two-wheel-drive models are the rigs that make the cut for fuel efficiency. With a five-speed manual transmission, these SUVs return an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined; a four-speed automatic returns 22/27/24 mpg, respectively. Power reaches 140 horses at 6,000 rpm and 136 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. Prices range between $16,495 (including destination) for the four-cylinder Kia Sportage LX 2WD and $17,495 (including destination) for the four-cylinder Hyundai Tucson GLS 2WD.
Despite conventional wisdom, which suggests that four-wheel-drive vehicles are inherently thirsty, quite a few rugged trail-riding SUVs made our list for 2007. Among them is the Subaru Outback equipped with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. When coupled with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pushing 173 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 166 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm, the EPA estimates fuel economy ratings of 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. That’s using the automatic tranny in the Outback Sport and the manual in the regular Outback. With a $625 destination fee factored in, starting prices range between $19,820 for the Impreza-based Outback Sport to $29,620 for the Legacy-based 2.5i Limited L.L. Bean Edition Outback Wagon.
Vermonters rejoice! Two of your favorite rides made this year’s list, not only because of efficiency but also their overall versatility. That equates to less guilt when traveling to the Green Mountains and more moola for Ben & Jerry’s. Like the ninth place Outback, the all-wheel-drive 2007 Subaru Forester, which starts at $21,820 including destination charges, makes the cut with a non-turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 173 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 166 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. When mated to a five-speed manual transmission, this engine is good for 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. Dropping in the optional four-speed automatic alters those figures to 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined.
Well, hot damn. Are you as surprised as us to find a Jeep amongst a collection of fuel-efficient vehicles? Sure, they’re known for being capable, but economical is not a term often associated with the brand. For 2007, two Jeep models make the cut – the Compass and the Patriot. But only the Patriot, with optional Trail Rated off-road capability, reaches our Top Ten. With the mildly entertaining five-speed manual transmission bolted in, the four-wheel-drive Patriot returns an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 27 mpg highway; the continuously-variable automatic drops that to 23/26/25 mpg, respectively. Four-wheel-drive Patriots, starting at $16,735 including destination, feature a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that boasts 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 165 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Consider it the sharp little SUV that comes with or without steroids. In two-wheel drive guise with a five-speed automatic transmission, the RAV4 can be packed with a 3.5-liter V6 cranking out 269 horses at 6,200 rpm and 246 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,700 rpm, all while returning 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. Opt for four-wheel traction and see an EPA-estimated return of 21 mpg, 28 mpg, and 24 mpg, respectively. Two-wheel-drive four-cylinder variants, offering 166 horses at 6,000 rpm and 165 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm, come in at 24/30/26 mpg, dropping to 23/27/25 mpg with four-wheel drive. Prices range from $21,595 for a base four-cylinder RAV4 to $27,165 for a Limited V6 four-wheel drive (including destination).
Falling smack dab in the middle of our rankings is the 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, an SUV that promises V6 power and economy better than the four-cylinder gas variant. Using a Hybrid Synergy Drive 3.3-liter V6 with intelligent variable-valve timing (VVT-i), Toyota’s gas/electric SUV offers 268 net horsepower at 5,600 rpm. With a gas engine and multiple electric motors working at different times, a net torque rating is not available. EPA-rated fuel economy comes in at 32 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined in two-wheel-drive dress, while a four-wheel-drive system pushes city mileage down to 31 mpg. Base versions start at $33,135 including a $645 destination charge, with a four-wheel-drive Limited Highlander Hybrid fetching $36,655.
Do you recall ever saying, “It ain’t pretty, but…”? By chance, were you referring to the 2007 Honda Element? Disregarded by many on looks alone, this funky little SUV is immensely versatile, and according to the EPA’s 2007 Fuel Economy Guide, quite efficient. Though available with two- or four-wheel drive as well as manual and automatic transmissions, the only Elements to score at least 24 mpg combined are the front-drivers with the five-speed automatic; city mileage rings in at 22 and highway runs return 27 mpg. All 2007 Honda Elements use a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that ponies up 166 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 161 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm. Prices for the most fuel-efficient Elements range between $19,495 and $24,090, including destination charges.
Like Hondas but not a fan of the fourth-place Element? Consider the similarly efficient 2007 CR-V SUV as an alternative. Drawing power from the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s good for 166 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 161 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm, the CR-V makes the grade regardless of drivetrain. In two-wheel drive trim and utilizing the standard five-speed automatic transmission, the EPA estimates a return of 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined; four-wheel drive drops those figures to 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined. Buyers will be faced with prices ranging from $21,195 for a base LX to $28,595 for a leather-clad, four-wheel-drive EX with a navigation system. Destination is included.
No one ever said that efficiency and luxury had to be mutually exclusive. With the 2007 RX 400h, Lexus has married the Toyota Highlander Hybrid’s technology with its own style and upscale sophistication. Behind the scenes is the Hybrid Synergy Drive 3.3-liter V6 with VVT-i that generates 268 net horsepower at 5,600 rpm. Available with front- or all-wheel-drive traction, the RX 400h features a continuously-variable automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is rated at 32 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined for front-wheel-drive models, while four-wheelers see only 31 mpg in the city. With the unavoidable $715 destination charge added in, base prices register $41,895 for the base RX 400h and $43,295 for the all-wheel-drive version.