Best efficient SUVs with higher gas mileage for 2011

Looking for the best SUV when it comes to good gas mileage and efficiency? Here’s our roundup of some top options for 2011.

Environmentalists have an uneasy relationship with the sports utility vehicle (SUV). Cars are one of the largest contributors to airborne pollution and climate change. SUVs, with their low fuel-efficiency and wild popularity in the last two decades, seem to epitomize a disregard for emissions that troubles environmentalists. No popular model raised more ire than the Hummer (which had an estimated 14 miles per gallon highway and 10 mpg city).

While it can’t be said that traditional SUVs are in any way “green,” they are still a popular choice. With economic conditions improving and new energy-efficient technologies coming to the marketplace, many car manufacturers are making their products more environmentally-friendly in hopes that SUV sales will rebound. Here’s a look at a few options. If you absolutely, positively need an SUV, but want to minimize pollution and the high cost of fuel, these are some of your best options.

Best environmental SUV
CC flickr photo courtesy of tom.arthur - The Ford Escape Hybrid


Here’s the criteria we use to compile this list:

  • Gas mileage (the classic drawback of SUVs)
  • Horse-power, towing capacity, and safety (the signature advantages to SUVs)
  • Any additional features that make these vehicles more environmentally-friendly
  • All statistics mentioned here refer to models with four-wheel/all-wheel drive and automatic transmissions, unless otherwise noted

5. Subaru Forester — The Forester is not fast, flashy or rugged, but it gets high marks for safety and has the capacity to haul your kids, your groceries, and whatever else you might need. While its exterior is boxy like an SUV, it performs more like a tall wagon, an increasingly common development in the world of SUV’s. It features a 2.5 L, 130-horse-power engine and will not break the bank, with a fuel efficiency rating of 21 mpg (city) and 27 mpg (highway), and an MSRP of around $23,000.

4. Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid— Volkswagen has waded into the hybrid market. With its 2011 Tauoreg Hybrid, VW blends great performance with industry-comparable fuel economy. It features a 333-horsepower V6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Car and Driver magazine states that it can travel up to 99 mph on its electric motor alone, although acceleration will start the gas engine, a transition that they state is almost imperceptible. Fuel economy is 20 mpg (city) and 24 mpg (highway). However the Touareg requires premium fuel, which will up your cost at the gas station, and it also comes with a premium pricetag, with an MSRP around $60,000.

3 Toyota Highlander Hybrid – The Highlander Hybrid features seven seats and a luxurious interior. It has a 3.3 L, V6 engine combined with two electric motors, conceptually similar to the Toyota Prius. A crossover SUV (featuring a unibody design like a car), the Highlander is lighter than traditional SUVs. The Highlander gets high marks for torque, assisting acceleration and has a fully-independent suspension, for a smooth ride. Fuel economy is 28 mpg (city) and 28 mpg (highway) with an MSRP of about $38,000.

2. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport—Coming in second in the EPA’s fuel economy ratings, the Outlander Sport is an affordable, shorter and lighter version of the Outlander SUV. It features a paddle-shifting, manual five-speed transmission and a 2.0 L, inline four-cylinder engine. It also features a handsome array of safety features. While not the sexiest or highest-performing “green” SUV, it gets an estimated 24 mpg (city) and 29 mpg (highway) and costs around $20,000, by far more affordable than any hybrid model.

1. Ford Escape Hybrid FWD– This was the first hybrid SUV and the most-heralded, in terms of customer satisfaction and its environmental pedigree. The Escape is also a “parallel” hybrid, meaning it can propel itself with its 2.5 L, 4-cylinder engine, its electrical motor, or a combination of the two. Its interior is also made from recycled materials and employs regenerative braking. Performing identically in this class are similar options: the Mazda Tribute (two-wheel drive), and the Mercury Mariner. The EPA rates the Escape as having the best fuel economy in its class, with 34 mpg (highway) and 31 mpg (city). It’s MSRP starts at about $30,000.

Alternatives to the sports utility vehicle exist. Cargo room can be found in station wagons and minivans that, while less sexy, give you the same passenger and cargo room with a less-severe environmental impact. In fact, many new SUVs are crossovers, designed on car platforms, so, in essence, they are like raised wagons that employ design standards from older SUV models, while decreasing curb-weight. Extra cargo space can also be achieved by storing luggage on a roof rack or pulling a small trailer. If you only occasionally need a vehicle for hauling, renting a truck for specific needs may be a better option. SUVs are also great candidates for a do-it-yourself electric conversion. While this isn’t a commercially-available feature offered by car companies, electric enthusiasts find that the amount of cargo room offered by SUV’s is great for holding battery arrays that can provide great range between charges.

For the casual driver, we need to bring our automotive desires in line with what our environment will allow. Fuel-inefficient cars existed long before SUVs and cars are not the sole producers of pollution, but they are a major contributor. Making responsible choices will help preserve a world that’s worth driving around in.

Check out to easily compare the fuel efficiency of different models.