Best SUVs for gas mileage

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It is an oxymoron when you write about fuel efficient SUVs. They are just not built to be economical to operate. They push more wind, have greater weight, and frequently have less efficient engines because they don’t have to meet the same economy standards as other vehicles. However, there are a few that provide better gas mileage and still offer the attributes of a SUV.

Before we start please note that Saturn, Ford and Toyota have hybrid SUVs that give well over 26 mpg in mixed driving and more into town. . If you really want the best fuel mileage and like the Saturn Green Line, Ford Escape, Lexus RX, or Toyota Highlander they are the best in this regard.

The new General Motors hybrid SUVs are very, very expensive, costing several thousand dollars more than the gas only version. How these vehicles earned any Green awards is beyond us. It is much better to get the very good GMC Acadia unless you need to tow on a daily or weekly basis. And, don’t forget the upkeep of those new hybrids in terms of replacing the battery packs and the extra maintenance costs. With gas prices heading upward almost daily and both the safety and insurance concerns with owning a large SUV it only makes sense to consider one if you need the extra towing capacity.

BEWARE. The Hummer, Hummer H2, Lincoln Navigator, and Ford Excursion all weigh over 6000 pounds and are illegal to drive on many residential streets and some older highways such as the Pasadena Freeway in Los Angeles. Before you even consider one of these fast depreciating vehicles check your community’s weight restrictions.

You might also be interested in knowing that The Car Family was the only group that selected the Toyota Prius as the outstanding car both the year it came out and this year. We believe strongly in economical, family friendly vehicles. We can’t tell you about the latest Ferrari or V10 powered two-seater pick-up truck, but we have reviewed every station wagon.

Sports utility vehicles come in three varieties. Those built on a passenger car platform such as the Toyota Highlander. Those built on a truck chassis such as the Ford Excursion. And, those built on a dedicated frame such as the Land Rover, Range Rover vehicles. They also vary in size so it is only going to be natural that the lighter, smaller sedan based SUVs are going to go further on a gallon of gas. Furthermore, those SUVs powered by four cylinder engines are going to rank higher.

Before we get into listing specifics remember that all figures are from the government.

Best Mileage SUVs

The best fuel mileage SUVs that get over 20 mpg on regular fuel are the four-cylinder, two wheel drive Toyota RAV4, Saturn Vue, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, and Toyota Highlander. We have tested all of them and like the Highlander the most, although it is more costly. Another new player is the Nissan Rogue which is well worth a look, although not in the top grade. Review at

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the all wheel drive Subaru Forester ranks nearly as high in fuel mileage as the front wheel drive only competition. This makes it a best buy and we highly recommend it if you need the traction. All of these SUVs should provide you with nearly 25 miles per gallon on the highway or better. Following the high mileage Subaru in the four-wheel drive category are the Honda CR-X and Toyota RAV4. Of these we adore the Subaru most and, if equipped with the optional turbocharged engine and a manual transmission it is a joy to drive anywhere. Don’t overlook this vehicle or its sister, the Subaru Baja with its small pick-up bed, but beware of fast depreciation. By they way check out my open source servers and computers built to your specifications at You might note that I owned a Subaru for several years and found them very reliable, but the cost of parts and upkeep were extremely high.

Another surprise is how efficient our favorite SUV is with the two-wheel drive. That is the improved Lexus RX 330 that gets nearly 24 mpg in mixed driving. The luxury competition simply cannot match this worthy vehicle and when the hybrid version comes out you can expect even higher demand. Not as expensive, and a relative bargain as its priced under $20,000 is the Hyundai Santa Fe. We like this car when equipped with the 3.5 engine. However, the best gas mileage only comes with the four-cylinder engine. We doubt you are going to like this combination if you haul a family around.

A good new car to consider, and one of our recommendations, is the new Chevrolet Equinox. We averaged 22 mpg on regular and were impressed by its space and utility. Don’t pass this one by if you need a smaller SUV that runs under $25,000.

Moving down to the 20 mpg overall average range you get the trim Jeep Liberty/Cherokee 4WD and the new BMW X3. From there on down the mileage figures drop dramatically.



On the bottom on the list are the luxurious Mercedes-Benz G500 and Land Rovers that barely crack 14 mpg. They are not alone at this end of the environmental friendly graph either. The list is loaded with heavy SUVs that don’t offer either the room or utility of many other SUVs and cannot be recommended by The Car Family in this regard. The good news is that these very expense vehicles are well equipped to tackle any terrain.

Other SUV gas-guzzlers are these four-wheel drive models and they have two elements in common. First, they have powerful engines many putting out over 300 horsepower. Secondly, they are loaded with features that the more fuel-efficient models don’t even offer as an option. Look for real life gas mileage under 14 mpg with these rigs. In no particular order in this category are the Toyota Land Cruiser, Lexus LX470, Lincoln Aviator, GMC K1500, Yukon XL, Ford Expedition, Cadillac Escalade, Lincoln Navigator, Dodge Durango, Nissan Armada, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Infiniti QX 56, Mercedes G, Toyota Sequoia, Volkswagen Tourareg, the quality control bothered Range Rover, and the Chevrolet Suburban. Of these, we find the Toyota Sequoia the best in real life gas mileage situations. We have tested all of these except the ultra expensive G55 and find them all ponderous and fuel hungry. The best handling are the Porsche and Volkswagen with the Porsche having poor quality scores until recently. Not mentioned is the BMW X5 which gets slightly better mileage than the others and is a better handling vehicle than most. However, it has very little storage space.

Without doubt the vehicle we fault the most because of its poor gas mileage, you’re going to be lucky to break 12 mpg, is the Hummer H2 with its huge blind spots, high noise levels, and a very questionable handling. In fact, this $52,000 plus block of steel had the lowest ranking of any vehicle after three months of ownership, according to the J.D. Powers study. This was largely due to complaints about its notorious bad gas mileage. I have no idea what these buyers expected, but The Car Family does not recommend this vehicle regardless of where you live. There are far better off-road vehicles. We won’t even mention the military based Hummer because they just are not family transportation based on their long stopping distance, high noise level, lack of storage, limited seating arrangements, and diesel fuel mileage of 8 mpg. Luckily it had two large fuel tanks.

In the middle

There are a great many SUVs in the middle especially those using the Chevrolet Trailblazer six cylinder engine and chassis and the new crossover such as the Saturn Acadia. These are comfortable, large, six cylinder powered SUVs that get about 20 mpg in real world driving. One of our favorites is the Buick Rendezvous, which is very roomy, and the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot. The latter two have exceptional rides. These vehicles are in the middle in terms of gas mileage because they are neither excessively luxurious nor spartan in nature. If you don’t drive a lot of miles and truly need a SUV there are some good family oriented vehicles here. But, before you drive check out the insurance rates and roll over results.

Family conference

We do not recommend SUVs to anyone unless there is a strong need for their heft and traction. However, the best ones in each category for us are the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester as the most friendly and fuel-efficient. The Ford Escape, Highlander, and the Lexus RX 330 all with V6 engines are excellent. We also suggest you consider the new BMW X3 and Jeep Liberty if you need more serious off-road tendencies and still care about fuel mileage. As for the extreme gas users only the Sequoia is of note and they make one that carries seven people, too. We are currently testing the new Cadillac SRX V8 and find it very powerful and a great ride for the $56,785 price. However, we have not been able to get over 15 mpg in mixed driving. The good news for Cadillac is that we like it much better than the Volkswagen Tourareg and the Cad seats seven, too. We urge you to think carefully before buying a SUV. A fairly loaded Mercedes E Class wagon with room for seven and more cargo space than almost any SUV is rated at 27 mpg on the highway and costs less than the Cadillac Escalade and the all wheel drive Volvo wagons are even less expensive. As for the least desirable SUV from the standpoint of fuel mileage and interior space there is little question that the Hummer creates the heaviest carbon footprint especially when it can only carry five with very limited usable cargo room. For the same price get the Saturn Acadia.

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Calculating fuel mileage

When fuel was $1 a gallon the difference between a vehicle that got 10 and one that averaged 20 miles a gallon during normal driving was not going to save you much in fuel perhaps ten dollars a week. With gas prices well over $3 and rising still the difference is a thousand dollars a year. However, even at these high rates research has indicated that people would not be willing to change their driving habits or get rid of inefficient vehicles until the price reached over $5 per gallon. Please remember that these figures are at 10,000 per year. According to studies most Americans are traveling 20,000 miles per year and have commuting times from 30 to 45 minutes daily. If that is the case you can double these costs. In other words, driving a Ford Excursion with gas at $2.50 a gallon is going to set you back about $4000 a year while driving a Toyota Highland is going to save you nearly $2000 and return a much higher resale figure.

For our calculations we have used a yearly driving average of 10,000 miles. If you drive more it would be easy to multiply the costs accordingly. Using this table you can quickly see that paying $20,000 for a Honda CR-V that gets 22 mpg in mixed driving and

What is gas really costing you (based on 10,000 miles)

Cost per year for gas in dollars round off

Gas price

$2.50 $5000 2500 1665 1250 1000 832

$3.00 $6000 3000 2000 1500 1200 1000

SUV mpg 5 10 15 20 25 30