Can I Have the Best of Both Worlds? Fuel Efficiency AND an SUV?

A Girls Guide To Cars | Can I Have The Best Of Both Worlds? Fuel Efficiency And An Suv? - 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 007 46257 2524 Low

2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 007 46257 2524 LowDear SBC:
I live in a place where sometimes in the winter (not too much), there is snow on the ground. I drive a Prius. I love my Prius — I love the gas mileage, the size and I was an early adopter — first one was a 2003. This is my second.

Problem: My husband wants a car that handles in the snow better. Granted, the Prius does not handle well in the snow. He also wants more space. He wants a car with bad gas mileage. I think that if we get a hard shell on top of the Prius and better tires, the Prius can do anything.

Or: is it just that I’m ignorant to the car that can do this? I want to get minimum 30 miles/gallon. Am I living in the future?

Elizabeth, Boise

Dear Elizabeth,

You are right, the Prius is a great car, but the ground clearance and all-wheel drive of an SUV can’t be matched by better tires, and a car top carrier isn’t the same as a bigger load floor (think about bringing home plants from the nursery, taking the recycling to the transfer station or taking extra chairs to your sister’s for Thanksgiving: a car top box probably won’t do the trick). 

Unlike a few years ago, today there are some great choices in SUVs and crossovers that will give both you and your husband what you want.

2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 003 46245 2524 LowHybrid SUVs
These popular cars try to make everyone happy, and often do: they combine better gas mileage with low emissions, lots of cargo space, a high stance and off road ability. The Toyota Highlander is the original hybrid SUV, and it gets about 28 MPG both city and highway. Another good option is the Ford Escape Hybrid, which was discontinued after the 2011 model but you might find it used, which is said to get nearly 30 MPG. The Lexus RX 450h, a luxury hybrid SUV, gets about 29 MPG combined city and highway. 

GM produces hybrids under the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade brands; these full sized SUVs get about 20 MPG in the city and about 23 on the highway. 

Modern, More Efficient SUVs
Car makers have focused on making engines more efficient, developing driver feedback systems that help you to drive more efficiently, and building SUVs and cars that weigh less, thereby getting better gas mileage. Among the better mileage achieving SUVs are the Mazda CX 5, which gets about 26 MPG city/32 highway; Toyota’s RAV 4, at 22 MPG city/29 highway, and  the Nissan Rouge with 22 MPG city/27 highway. 

Subaru has some very fuel efficient models, including the CrossTrek, which boasts 25 mpg city/30 highway and the Forester 23/27. And the Audi Q5 Hybrid gets 24/30. Jeep Patriot 4WD 5- speed gets 22/28.  The Ford Escape EcoBoost quotes 22MPG city/30 highway–not too bad for an SUV and these are very luxe cars loaded with great technology.

You might also consider a clean diesel SUV. Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes have been working diligently to develop clean diesel engines that have a reduced fuminess at the tailpipe but allow for greater efficiency on a tank of gas. The Volkswagen Touareg Diesel gets 23/29, (while the Touareg hybrid gets 21/24), and the Audi Q7 TDI clean diesel gets 19/28. 

You can find fuel mileage numbers by make and model on the US Department of Energy’s site, the link is here.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss