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.