When the time comes to buy your next vehicle, you will likely consider an SUV. American consumers love the utility, versatility, and high seating position an SUV offers them. But one issue that has traditionally kept some folks from buying an SUV is fuel economy. Traditional SUVs have a reputation as fuel-thirsty. These days, though, that reputation no longer applies, as this roundup of the best fuel-economy SUVs demonstrates quite clearly. Since we believe utility and economy are two of the biggest factors involved in purchasing high-fuel-mileage SUVs, we intentionally left out pure electric sport utilities and high-end luxury models. They are typically too expensive to be a high-value choice when those parameters are paramount. With those ground rules in place, here are the best fuel-economy SUVs of 2021.
1. 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime
The Toyota Rav4 Prime seems like the best of both worlds. Not only does it provide absolutely stellar fuel economy, but it also is the fastest RAV4 and one of the fastest current Toyota models overall. Driving the RAV4 Prime is a delight because of its elevated driver's position, excellent 360-degree visibility, and reasonably short overall length in addition to its high power and torque. The RAV4 Prime uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine teamed with three electric motors to create a unique all-wheel-drive system. The gas engine produces 176 horsepower, while the electric motors contribute to the total output of 302 horsepower. Powering the electric motors is a sizable lithium-ion battery pack that offers an electric-only driving range of around 40 miles. The EPA pegs its fuel economy as 94 MPGe, and that economy is enhanced by the RAV4 Prime's Predictive Efficient Drive system that reads the road to optimize hybrid battery charging and discharging operations.
2. 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Although the Toyota Rav4 Prime is a headline-stealer, the RAV4 Hybrid has its own elevated fuel economy credentials. The RAV4 hybrid drivetrain includes a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine, two electric motors, and a lithium-ion battery pack that fits under the rear seat. Like the RAV4 Prime, it is an all-wheel-drive vehicle with virtually all the cargo space, interior room, and utility of the conventional RAV4 compact SUV. Fuel economy is 41 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway, and 40 mpg combined, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One of its key attributes is the ability to travel more than 600 miles on a single tank of gasoline. Standard safety equipment includes Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 that features adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system, lane-departure warning with steering assistance, lane-tracing assistance, and road sign recognition.
3. 2021 Toyota Venza
The Toyota Venza has returned to the Toyota lineup for 2021, but instead of the frumpy almost-station-Wagon that it used to be, the personal-luxury SUV now has a style and verve that will come as a very pleasant surprise. It is equipped with the familiar 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine aided by two electric motors. The combined power output is 219 horsepower, which is a far cry from the RAV4 Prime's 300-plus horsepower but it still results in sprightly acceleration. One big reason is the instantly available torque from the electric motors. Range on a tank of gas is more than 500 miles, which makes for efficient highway cruising. It is rated 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for a combined figure of 39 mpg, according to the EPA. The Venza has an attractive body, and inside there is comfortable seating for five.
4. 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid
Toyota has been selling the RAV4 Hybrid for years, and with the Honda CR-V Hybrid, Honda finally has a heads-up competitor. In fact, the CR-V's hybrid powertrain sounds a lot like the RAV4's. It uses a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine teamed with two electric motors. The system offers 212 combined horsepower and 232 lb-ft of peak torque, which adds to the CR-V Hybrid's drivability. All CR-V Hybrids have all-wheel drive. The CR-V has a comfortable interior that will accommodate five adults, audit offers good cargo space. Its 33.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 68.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded is one of the most expansive in the class. The available infotainment system includes a 7-inch touchscreen, integral navigation, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay, but it can be a bit balky to use.
5. 2021 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the high-fuel-economy version of the extremely popular three-row mid-size SUV that populates most suburban neighborhoods around the country. In hybrid form, the Highlander's powertrain combines a 2.5-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine with two electric motors in a system that is more compact and efficient than the hybrid system used in the previous generation. The capture of electric power through regenerative braking contributes to the system's efficiency, but the gasoline engine is remarkably high-tech without the hybrid additions. For instance, it has variable valve timing activated by an electric motor on the intake camshaft, and the engine also features an electric water pump, an electric thermostat, and a variable oil pump to increase its efficiency. The rapid application of electric-motor torque is a boon for passing, although you hear a bit of electric motor whine. Total system horsepower is a robust 243, and the estimated combined fuel economy is 36 mpg.
6. 2021 Lexus NX 300h
As the single luxury-brand vehicle on this list, the 2021 Lexus NX 300h offers the quiet, cushy ride you'd expect from the brand plus a handy size that is useful in urban driving. You might be a little tired of hearing this by now, but like many of its Toyota hybrid stablemates, the NX 300h uses a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in combination with three electric motors. The combined output in the NX's case is 194 horsepower. This results in pleasant rather than stirring acceleration, but in this context that's OK. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, resulting in a 31 mpg combined figure. The 8- and 10-inch infotainment displays, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa seem promising, but the displays are not touch-activated. Instead, they use a console-mounted control surface that might send you immediately to voice-command.
7. 2021 Hyundai Venue
The Hyundai Venue is a good-looking and likable subcompact SUV that offers a great deal versatility in addition to high fuel economy at a low purchase price. The Venue is nominally a five-passenger vehicle but it is actually more suited to just four. While the front seats are comfortable and spacious, the rear seat is a bit cramped for three, and cargo space is limited. It has only 18.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat and 31.9 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The limited cargo space is probably just as well because the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces a mere 121 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque. With the continuously variable transmission, acceleration is moderate, but the fuel economy is good at 30 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined. Another upside is the easy-to-use infotainment system that features an 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a USB port.
8. 2021 Mazda CX-3
Don't confuse the Mazda CX-3 subcompact SUV with the Mazda CX-30 subcompact SUV. They are two different vehicles with similar exterior styling and similar attributes. The CX-3 is the one that gets slightly better fuel economy — 29 mpg city, 34 mph highway, and 31 mpg combined. The CX-3 is powered by a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the CX-30 offers 38 additional horsepower. The CX-3 is a bit less expensive than its CX-30 stablemate, yet the CX-3 also has worthwhile features like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and automatic climate control. The CX-3 offers seating for up to five, but four is a better number. Its compact overall size is easy to park but passenger and cargo space is limited — 17.8 cubic feet of luggage area behind its rear seat and 42.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
9. 2021 Kia Seltos
One big advantage of the Kia Seltos is the fact that for a high-fuel-economy subcompact SUV, it is big. Its interior offers very accommodating seating for five, and its cargo hold is also commodious. The 26.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats is among the biggest in the class, as is the 62.8 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded. With the most thrifty four-cylinder engine, power is not its strong suit, however. In that form, the Seltos offers only 146 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine that is teamed with a CVT automatic. So equipped it offers 29 mpg city, 34 mph highway, and 31 mpg combined fuel economy, according to the EPA. With all-wheel-drive, fuel economy dips by about 2 to 3 mpg. A turbocharged version is available that ups power significantly without a big penalty in mileage.
10. 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer
The outdoors-oriented Chevrolet Trailblazer is a new model in the crowded subcompact SUV segment. In addition to offering good fuel economy, its claims to fame are a sizable interior and an exciting exterior shape. The standard infotainment system has a 7-inch display and is among the easiest in the segment. A version with an 8-inch screen is available as well. We are impressed with the Trailblazer's passenger space, and cargo-carrying ability. It offers 25.3 cubic feet of cargo space with both rows of seats in use and 54.4 cubic feet with the second row folded away. The two engine options are a 137-horsepower 1.2-liter turbocharged three-cylinder and a 155-horsepower 1.3-liter turbocharged three-cylinder. Counterintuitively, the 1.3-liter offers better fuel economy than the smaller-displacement engine. It turns in EPA numbers of 29 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined.