Most Fuel Efficient SUVs [Gas, Hybrid, & Electric Picks]
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John’s focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of an academic team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of the battery thermal control designer. After earning his engineering degree, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University. For 20 years, he applied his engineering and sales talents in the worlds of semiconductor manufacturing, biopharmaceutical production, and automotive electronics supply chain. Always a writer, John has published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to online publications such as Car Talk, John’s work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers, and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites.
For many decades a big downside for SUVs was fuel efficiency. The great news for today’s shoppers is that SUVs now come in very fuel-efficient versions.
Automakers use a wide variety of technologies to improve SUV efficiency. Transmission technology and hybrid-electric technology were the two prime movers of mainstream EV efficiency improvements. Battery-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric powertrains have taken those improvements to a new level.
Here is our tally of the most efficient SUVs one can drive home today.
Check out our full list of the best SUVs here >>
Table of Contents
Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs
|Model||Type of Powertrain||EPA Rating|
|EPA-Estimated Annual Fuel/Energy Cost (15K miles)||Range|
|Nissan Rogue||Conventional Gas|
|Chevy Tahoe Diesel||Conventional Diesel|
|Ford Escape Hybrid FWD||Hybrid|
|Ford Explorer Hybrid RWD||Hybrid|
|Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD||Hybrid|
|Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD||Hybrid|
|Toyota RAV4 Prime||Plug-in Hybrid-Electric|
|Ford Mustang Mach-E RWD||Battery-Electric|
*MPGe = Miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent (Measures fuel efficiency of hybrid and electric models)
**RAV4 Hybrid owners report the range before the low fuel light illuminates is approximately 440 miles.
Best Hybrid SUVs
Although we feel that any proper SUV should have all-wheel drive, we understand that driving two wheels works fine for many owners in some temperate climates. Combining two-wheel drive with hybrid technology results in amazing efficiency.
Ford has taken full advantage of this fact with its small SUV with front-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid and rear-wheel drive Explorer Hybrid.
Although we suspect that Ford builds relatively few Escape Hybrids, the EP numbers are impressive and worthy of mention. The Escape Hybrid offers an astounding 44 MPG in the city. The Explorer is rear-wheel drive, which many SUVs owners prefer. The large Explorer Hybrid earns a 28 MPG Highway rating, surpassing even the diesel Tahoe.
Ford has cornered the market on two-wheel-drive hybrids for those who want great fuel economy, never want to plug in, and live in temperate areas.
See all our picks for the best hybrid SUVs »
Best AWD Hybrid SUVs
The funny thing about “Sport Utility Vehicles” is that nobody can nail down a definition of what one is.
Mazda tops our list in the compact or small SUV category for those who put on-road driving satisfaction first, and the Ford Bronco Sport is the best for those who value utility and all-road or off-road capability. Both earn the highest possible safety score, an important consideration in this very popular family vehicle segment.
The CX-5 is a lot like the slightly smaller CX-30 from Mazda, except a smidge bigger. Those who relish backcountry touring should start with Mazda. While we don’t think many owners of CX-5 are going to shovel compost into the back, we bet a lot will carry firewood in the cargo area. We’ve driven the CX-5 in some pretty severe winter weather to know it can get the job done and earn the title SUV.
See all our picks for the best AWD hybrid SUVs »
SUVs With the Best Gas/Diesel Mileage
Among conventionally-powered SUVs, advances in transmissions, cylinder deactivation, and other technologies have pushed the highway mileage of roomy two-row SUVs close to what Hybrids offer.
Case in point, the 2021 Nissan Rogue. This great new midsize SUV is one of our favorites to drive and offers outstanding bang for the buck. The Rogue earns a 35 MPG Highway rating in 2WD.
Those searching for a large SUV with great fuel efficiency should check out the Chevy Tahoe Diesel. While you may pay a bit more for diesel in some areas of the country, this big vehicle has an impressive highway mileage and would make a great vehicle for those that tow heavy loads across great distances.
See all our picks for the best gas mileage SUVs »
Best EV Crossover SUV
Electric crossover SUVs come in many styles and are powered by two main technologies. The first is battery-electric. These EVs use only electricity for propulsion. Advantages include lower maintenance requirements compared to conventionally-powered vehicles, lower cost for energy, and performance.
Having driven many of the top-selling BEV crossover SUVs, our favorite is the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Ford offers similar performance to the equivalent Tesla model, a price point somewhat lower due to current federal EV incentives, and a much more refined ride and interior. We would suggest shoppers check out the Volkswagen ID.4 as an alternative to the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
The second type of electric crossover SUV is plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle technology (PHEV). Using both electric drive and also a state of the art hybrid-electric powertrain technology, PHEVs can nearly match the efficiency of BEVs and also benefit from reduced maintenance and repair costs.
Among the PHEVs offered today, the RAV4 Prime is the benchmark. With 42 miles of EV range and over 600 miles of hybrid-electric operating range, it offers real-world flexibility for those who travel long distances but want to commute on electricity every day.
See all our picks for the best EV crossover SUVs »
What Brand Makes the Best Fuel-Efficient SUVs?
Toyota has twenty-five years of hybrid experience. The brand makes hybrid commuter cars, hybrid performance cars, and a wide array of fuel-efficient SUVs and crossovers offered by its two brands. Toyota is the brand that makes the “best” fuel-efficient crossovers if one measures safety, reliability, and sales results.
Subjectively, we also feel that Toyota does the best job of making the fuel efficiency as “pain-free” for the owner as possible.
What SUV Has the Best Gas Mileage?
The SUVs with the best gas mileage may technically be the Ford Escape Hybrid in FWD. However, we have never seen one or tested one. Practically speaking, Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid is the industry benchmark for SUVs with the best gas mileage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there an SUV that gets at least 40 MPG?
Yes, multiple SUV models now offer 40 MPG. Start with the RAV4 Hybrid and also consider the Ford Escape Hybrid.
Are hybrid SUVs slow?
Hybrid SUVs tend to be the most powerful and quickest SUVs one can buy. For example, the 300 hp RAV4 Prime offers 94 MPGe and can run from 0-60 MPH in under 6 seconds.
Are battery-electric SUVs available yet?
Tesla, Ford, Audi, and Volkswagen offer battery-electric crossover SUVs right now. Some new brands are planning more rugged “true” SUV models starting in 2022.
Which SUV offers the lowest annual energy cost of operation?
Tesla’s Model Y crossover SUV has an annual energy cost of under $600. Ford has a model within $100 of this cost.