Best Fuel Economy SUV Segment Leaders

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

It’s no secret that fuel prices are at unfathomably high levels right now, with no major relief in sight.

This has a lot of consumers putting higher emphasis’ on fuel economy when deciding on their next vehicle purchase. The most sensible choices would be to buy a small electric car, or a hybrid at a minimum, but not everyone’s wants, needs, and/or finances will allow them to purchase something along those lines. And let’s face it, the SUV is still the ruler of the North American market, grabbing the lion’s share of the new vehicle sales each year.

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But just because someone wants a SUV, doesn’t mean it has to be inefficient. The days of 6,000 pound monsters returning single digit fuel economy figures are long gone. Granted a utility vehicle still isn’t going to match a comparable car in terms of fuel economy, but SUVS have come a long way. Full-size SUVS can now achieve over 20 mpg in the city and the most efficient plug-in hybrids see MPGe figures in the triple digit range.

To highlight the most fuel efficient SUV options on the market today, we’ve rounded up the segment leaders in gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrids for four different vehicle sizes. Note, we have not included pure electric vehicles in this list as this has to do with fuel efficiency, not vehicle range. An article on the best all-electric SUV range will be coming soon.

Most Fuel Efficient Subcompact Gas SUV – Nissan Kicks

31 mpg city / 36 mpg hwy.

We probably need to split the subcompact segment into two classes. It’s not really fair comparing the fuel usage of the much larger Subaru Crosstrek and Volkswagen Taos against a Hyundai Venue or Nissan Kicks. But when looking at official fuel ratings for the smallest of SUVs, nothing beats the front-wheel drive only Nissan Kicks. Surprisingly, the next most efficient small SUV is the Lexus UX 200 FWD which at 29 mpg, can’t match the Kicks in the city, but the Lexus beats the Nissan on the highway with a 37 mpg rating. Third in line is the Hyundai Kona FWD with a rating of 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.

Most Fuel Efficient Subcompact Hybrid SUV – Lexus UX 250h

43 mpg city / 41 mpg hwy.

In the world of small hybrid SUVs there is just a field of one; the Lexus UX 250h. Powered by a 2.0-liter engine, it’s mated to an electric motor for a total system output of 181 hp. It is also technically an all-wheel drive vehicle thanks to an independent electric motor that operates the rear wheels. However, it can only operate at speeds up to 43 mph, at which point it will disengage and the UX 250h becomes front-wheel drive only.

Most Fuel Efficient Subcompact Plug-in SUV – Volvo C40 Recharge

87 MPGe

Surprisingly, there are more subcompact plug-in hybrid SUVs than there are just regular hybrids. Whereas the Lexus UX 250h is in a class of one, there are three small-scale plug-in SUVs. Most efficient of the bunch is the crossover coupe-like Volvo C40 Recharge which achieves an additional 2 MPGe compared to its more SUV-like sibling, the Volvo XC40 Recharge. Rounding out the group of subcompact plug-in SUVs is the MINI Cooper SE Countryman that can still achieve a respectable 73 MPGe.

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Most Fuel Efficient Compact Gas SUV – Nissan Rogue

30 mpg city / 37 mpg hwy.

Stepping up a class, we see another Nissan on this list. The Rogue received a new engine for the 2022 model year and what an engine it is. The 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder unit incorporates variable compression that allows it to not only make a peak 201 hp, but also achieve 30 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for front-wheel drive models. This is also all achieved on regular grade gasoline. The next most fuel efficient compact non-hybrid SUVs are the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. When equipped with front-wheel drive, both vehicles are rated at 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

Most Fuel Efficient Compact Hybrid SUV – Kia Niro

53 mpg city / 48 mpg hwy.

Calling the Kia Niro a SUV may be a bit of a stretch as, despite having a tall green house, the vehicle does not offer an all-wheel drive option or much ground clearance. But for the sake of this list, we will include it as most of the smaller SUVs we’ve included were equipped with just front-wheel drive to achieve the quoted fuel economy figures. The Niro is the class leader by a large margin, with the next most efficient compact hybrid SUV being the front-wheel drive Ford Escape which can achieve 44 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Just behind it is the Toyota RAV4 which is rated at 41 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

Most Fuel Efficient Compact Plug-in SUV – Ford Escape PHEV / Kia Niro Plug-in

105 MPGe

After being the second most efficient vehicle in the previous two categories, the Ford Escape finally comes out on top when it comes to compact plug-in hybrid SUVs. Although, it does need to share the title with the Kia Niro Plug-in, both front-wheel drive vehicles achieve the same remarkable 105 MPGe. Next most efficient is the powerful, and all-wheel drive equipped, Toyota RAV4 Prime which is rated at 94 MPGe, followed by its corporate sibling, the Lexus NX 450h Plus AWD rated at 84 MPGe.

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Most Fuel Efficient Midsize Gas SUV – Subaru Outback

26 mpg city / 33 mpg hwy.

Subaru‘s big raised wagon is a bit of a surprise here. Although Subaru SUVs are quite efficient in their own-right, since they come standard with all-wheel drive, they usually can’t compete with inherently more efficient front-wheel drive offerings from other manufacturers. But that’s not the case here as the AWD Outback bests the next most efficient mid-sizer, the front-wheel drive Hyundai Santa Fe with ratings of 25 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Virtually tied with the Santa Fe is the front-wheel drive Kia Sorento that gives up 1 mpg in the city (24 mpg), but is 1 mpg better on the highway (29 mpg).

Most Fuel Efficient Midsize Hybrid SUV – Toyota Venza

40 city mpg / 37 mpg hwy.

Although we have had a Lexus as a segment leader on this list, it’s a bit of a surprise it took this long to see a Toyota on top. Toyota after all is a pioneer in hybrid technology. But it’s the mid-size Venza that final takes a W for Toyota, besting the Kia Sorento Hybrid’s ratings of 39 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. Coming in third place is the Venza’s boxier sibling, the Toyota Highlander hybrid, with official ratings of 36 mpg city and 35 mpg highway.

Most Fuel Efficient Midsize Plug-in SUV – Kia Sorento Plug-in

79 MPGe

You may have noticed by this point that Kia (and Hyundai for that matter) have a strong hybrid game. This is technically the third segment win for Kia, the most of any manufacturer on this list. Rated at 79 MPGe, the Sorento Plug-in has a 3 MPGe advantage over its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in. Rounding out the top three is the powerful and luxurious Volvo XC60 Recharge that is rated at 63 MPGe.

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Most Fuel Efficient Full-Size Gas SUV – Chevrolet Tahoe Diesel

21 mpg city / 28 mpg hwy.

Well this is another surprise, General Motor’s big trio of SUVs are the most efficient full-sizers on the market today. The reason can be summed up in one word; diesel. While all other manufacturers have abandoned diesel in the large SUV segment, General Motors equipped the latest Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade with a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder diesel engine. It’s rated at 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque and sends power through a 10-speed automatic transmission. When equipped to rear-wheel drive vehicles, it’s rated to deliver an impress 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The next most efficient large SUV is the entry level Audi Q8 which delivers 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway – impressive figures in their own-right since the Q8 is all-wheel drive.

Most Fuel Efficient Full-Size Plug-in SUV – Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge

66 MPGe

Every year, more and more full-size SUVs are available with plug-in hybrid drivetrains. It makes a lot of sense since these large, heavy vehicles are not overly efficient and can use any help they can get. Also, being large in size, there is plenty of places to store the sizeable PHEV battery packs. The leader in efficiency continues to be the Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge rated at 66 MPGe. The next best entry is the recently introduced Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe that can return 56 MPGe, followed by the big Range Rover PHEV rated at 42 MPGe.

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Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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  • Fstrdr Fstrdr on Mar 26, 2022

    Bring, except for the German(s)/Swedes, although Q8 is a boat! My 2015 Q5 Diesel, beat the crap out of everything here, city, which is rare for us, does 27.67 mpg and highway between 31 and 39, depending on who's driving. It is tuned to 330 HP, fun as heck in Dynamic mode. I pass all of you that drive anything on here. Unless you want to drive in the right lane, these are for you, if you're a Spirited, enjoy A to B like myself, German is the ONLY way, maybe Italian or British, but they have too many issues.