10 Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs You Can Buy

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The SUV is more efficient than it's ever been, but that doesn't mean it's completely crossed over from being terrible on a tank of gas.

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards are inching toward the Environmental Protection Agency's goal of a combined 54.5 miles per gallon for company fleets by 2025, but moving the trucked-up SUV to a car's frame and dubbing it a “crossover” has helped immensely. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that cars and light trucks purchased in 2014 got an average of 25.4 miles to the gallon. That's still less than halfway to the EPA and Department of Transportation's goal that it set back in 2012, but it beats the roughly 19 miles per gallon that the Department of Transportation measured for the same pool of vehicles in 1995. It's also closing in on double the average mileage of the light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads in 1980.

Give crossovers a whole lot of thanks for that. Automakers sold more than 2.5 million of them in the U.S. through July -- with a big assist from fuel prices that are down an average of 90 cents per gallon from this time a year ago. That makes crossovers the single largest class of vehicle ahead of midsize cars (2.1 million sold through July), small cars (1.9 million) pickups (1.4 million) and all non-crossover SUVs combined (970,000).

Crossover sales are up 14% year-to-date over last year, but that doesn't mean every SUV is exactly a lean, green machine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the six-cylinder, supercharged Volkswagen Toureg Hybrid -- a car that doesn't even rely on its gas-powered engine 100% of the time -- still only manages a scant 21 miles per gallon combined. That's the same mileage as a four-wheel-drive Nissan Pathfinder, which isn't exactly a bastion of fuel economy.

With help from the EPA's FuelEconomy.gov site, we compiled a list of the most fuel-efficient SUVs currently being sold. Models with limited availability like the BYD e6 or the Toyota RAV4 EV didn't make the list this year but may when they become more widely available in the future. There are hybrid and diesel vehicles on this list, but as we'll make clear, hybrid engines and alternative fuels are no guarantee of fuel efficiency:

10. 2016 Hyundai Tuscon Eco

Starting price: $24,150

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 29.5 mpg

Hyundai knows its way around lightweight aluminum and has made a name for itself by offering cars with incredible mileage at minimal cost. However, this four-cylinder turbocharged engine manages 175 horsepower while minimizing fuel intake.

As a result, the all-wheel-drive version of the Tuscon Eco gets the same 27 miles per gallon as the premium front-wheel-drive versions. Yet that efficiency still comes with the same 61.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats down, side-mirror turn signals, fog lights, LED daytime running lights and ten-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty as some of the more expensive, less efficient options.

9. 2015 Chevrolet Trax

Starting price: $20,120

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 30 mpg

What's a Chevy Trax, you ask? Don't worry: if this compact SUV isn't exactly familiar, it's because it only arrived during the 2015 model year as the downmarket complement to the Buick encore -- which is built on the same frame.

It looks like a Chevy Sonic, because it's basically a beefed-up version of Chevy's subcompact. Like the Sonic, however, the Trax gets by on its fuel-sipping 1.4-liter engine and on a laundry list of tech perks. The OnStar communicationsystem comes standard and turns the Trax into a rolling 4G hotspot, while the Chevrolet MyLink gives drivers access to a host of apps via a 7-inch touchscreen. Combined with Apple's Siri Eyes Free voice texting, an OnStar remote link app for your smartphone and 48.4 cubic feet of storage with the seats down, all of the above makes the Trax the efficient urban wagon Chevy's been dreaming of. Just know that if you decide to go with the all-wheel-drive version, that mileage drops to less than 25 mpg.

8. 2015 Honda CR-V

Starting price: $23,445

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 30.5 mpg

We end up writing about this car and its competitors, the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, a lot. But station wagons received a lot of press in the '70s, minvans soaked up a whole lot of ink in the '80s and far larger SUVs garnered attention in the '90s for much the same reason... they're the family cars for their time.

The CR-V is the top-selling small crossover in the country (194,000 through July, just ahead of the Escape's 175,000 and RAV4's 170,000) because it just does its job well. It has a reasonable-for-its-class entry price, it's incredibly fuel efficient -- though all-wheel drive drops that to 25 miles per gallon -- and it gives families everything they're looking for. After the popular crossover's 2012 overhaul, it's it added a leather interior, moonroof, Pandora-connected information display, heated seats and rearview windows and navigation system with controls mounted on the steering wheel. Oh, and there's still 70 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. This list surrounds the CR-V with similarly efficient competition, but this vehicle is still the small crossover standard.

7. 2016 Mazda CX-5

Starting price: $21,795

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 30.5 mpg

You don't see a whole lot of tiny SUVs that look this sporty, but don't let that exterior fool you. Under the hood is a 4-cylinder, 155-horsepower engine that is every bit befitting a lightweight compact.

When the engine's job is getting you from here to there without a whole lot of excitement, that's where the inc-car features have to do the heavy lifting. Fortunately, the CX-5 is teeming with wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, HD radio, Pandora Internet radio and navigation system, pushbutton starter and three power outlets. The ample rear seating and up to 65.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats down aren't exactly throwaways, either.

6. 2016 BMW X3 xDrive28d

Starting price: $42,100

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 30.5 mpg

The crossover of choice for America's swankier zip codes likes to call itself a Sport Activity Vehicle, apparently because “utility” is for the help.

With the 4-cylinder, 180-horsepower diesel engine cutting down on consumption and 27.6 cubic feet of shopping-bag space folding out to 63.3 cubic feet of lacrosse-gear storage, the X3 gives the appearance of a Whole Foods-bound grocery getter. However, the leather interior, a panoramic moonroof, automatic front climate control with separate left and right temperature settings, power tailgate, front and rear parking distance sensors, rearview camera, HD radio, Sirius-XM satellite radio, Bluetooth with Mobile Office functions and BMW TeleService, the X3 is as packed with perks as one would expect from BMW. However, given the number of BMW's luxury competitors that appear further up the list, we're kind of surprised this is the only diesel that made the cut.

5. 2015 Lexus RX 450h

Starting price: $47,620

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 30 mpg, 29 mpg all-wheel drive

We'll start off by noting that this is a monstrous vehicle getting this kind of mileage. Despite a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates a whopping 295 horsepower, this still, somehow, manages to get 32 miles per gallon in the city.

It's 11 miles per gallon more efficient than a base, gas-only RX 350, it puts out 20 horsepower more and its has the same 80.3 cubic inches of cargo space with the seats folded. Yes, it's roughly $7,500 more, but the mileage and features including a power rear door, parking sensors, rear camera, heated seats, rear entertainment system and Lexus Enform app system more than make up for it.

4. 2016 Volvo V60

Starting price: $35,950

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 31 mpg

Hey, we think it's a wagon, too, but we aren't the government agency receiving tax dollars to determine fuel economy by vehicle class.

We'll note that the 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine for the front-wheel drive model is the only one that gets anything close to this kind of mileage. The five-cylinder all-wheel-drive upgrade cuts combined mileage to less than 25 miles per gallon, but the base still gets you 43.8 cubic feet of cargo space, 3,500 pounds of towing capacity power driver's and front-passengers' seats, power moonroof and an audio and communications system with a 7-inch touchscreen.

3. 2016 Honda HR-V

Starting price: $19,115

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 31.5 mpg, 29 mpg four-wheel drive

We bid farewell to the wonderful Honda Crosstour wagon -- an inefficient relic of a bygone era -- and usher in the HR-V with tremendous enthusiasm.

The CR-V's little sibling has 58.8 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats down (not including the front passenger's seat, which folds down for longer items), LED brake lights, heated side mirrors, the HondaLink app suite, a 7-inch touchscreen entertainment and communications center, voice texting, wheel-mounted controls, multi-angle rearview camera and options including a power moonroof, heated seats and automatic climate control. It isn't the biggest wagon out there, but it's a nice middle ground between the CR-V and the subcompact Fit.

2. 2015 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

Starting price: $25,995

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 32 mpg

Subaru's first stab at a hybrid was incredibly effective, especially considering that every car it makes comes in all-wheel drive.

This mini-crossover is a throwback to the Subaru Outback's earliest days as a wagon, but with 40 inches of driver headroom, the 43 inches of legroom and combined 52 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats down. The standard multi-function display, Starlink touchscreen communications and entertainment package and rearview camera are all fine perks for Subaru's smallest crossover. But are they worth an extra $4,500 for mileage that's only two miles per gallon better than the all-gas version?

1. Lexus NX 300h

Starting price: $23,660

EPA combined city and highway mileage: 33 mpg, 32 mpg all-wheel drive

A luxurious, hybrid version of the Toyota RAV-4 seemed like a great idea at the time. Almost 18 cubic feet of cargo space, 36 inches of legroom in the back, a smartphone charger, LED lighting a remote touchpad to control your information and entertainment options also sounded fairly pleasant. However the NX 300h is fairly fortunate that its mileage leads the class right now, since naysayers have noticed that there isn't a lot of hybrid competition for it in the luxury sector.

“There aren't many hybrids to compete against the NX, but you should still be aware that we weren't fans of the uneven braking feel or the stiffer than normal ride quality,” said Edmunds.com automotive editor Mike Takahashi. “We had stronger negative reactions to Lexus' remote touch infotainment controller. Outside of those issues, it gets high marks for rear seat space, quality interior elements and a wealth of high-tech features.”

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.

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