Once dominated by small cars, the hybrid category has expanded to include sport utility vehicles. It started with the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004 and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid in 2005. Their numbers – today there are only seven — hasn’t kept pace with the proliferation of hybrid cars. But more hybrid SUVs are coming as car companies maneuver to meet federal regulations that increase fleet-wide fuel economy averages to 54.5 mpg by 2025 — nearly twice the current standards.
Every hybrid SUV is a version of a conventional gas-powered SUV. And each is a crossover, defined as vehicle that combines body and frame as a unit. In other words, they’re built like cars, not trucks. Compared to old-school body-on-frame construction, crossovers are more space-efficient and lighter, for better road manners and higher fuel economy. Hybrid crossover SUVs have the same functionality as their non-hybrid siblings, but with better mileage and reduced carbon emissions.
SUVs in this Buying Guide combine a conventional internal-combustion engine with at least one electric motor and a battery pack. Onboard computers automatically mix and match gas and electric power to balance acceleration and fuel economy. None are plug-ins; they’re covered in our 2014 Electric Vehicle and Plug-in Hybrid Buying Guide. Other Buying Guides profile Hybrid Cars and premium-priced Luxury Hybrids. For our top overall hybrid picks, check out CarPreview’s The Best Hybrid Vehicles of 2014. Please note that base prices in this guide do not include options but do include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee, which averages about $850.
Here is the CarPreview 2014 Hybrid SUV Buying Guide
Audi Q5 Hybrid
Base price: $52,195
Fuel-economy rating: 24/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined
For its first hybrid endeavor, Audi’s Q5 Hybrid sport utility is impressive. Motive power is provided by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and a 40-kilowatt electric motor that together produce 245 horsepower and a prodigious 354 pounds-feet of torque promising acceleration to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. Power is directed to the standard all-wheel drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 1.3-kilowatt lithium-ion battery can propel the Q5 for around two miles on electrons only and speeds up to 37 mpg. Mash the go pedal and electric will take you 62 mph before the gas engine joins in. In Audi fashion, the Q5 Hybrid is skewed towards performance and is the sportiest hybrid sport utility on the market. Inside, the cabin is the essence of German luxury: elegant in appearance with superb build quality. It’s a given that all of the power convenience features are standard as is leather seating. Despite its compact size, the Q5 Hybrid feels roomy in both front and rear, and rear cargo space of 29.1 cubit feet is adequate. Fuel economy of 24/30 mpg city/highway which is decent for a small SUV, but not great for a hybrid. But that’s the trade off for sporty performance.
Infiniti QX60 Hybrid
Base-price range: $45,995-$47,395
Fuel-economy ratings: 26/28/26 mpg city/highway/combined (front-wheel drive), 25/28/26 mpg all-wheel drive
Beginning with the 2014 model year, Infiniti renamed its vehicles, and the seven-passenger JX premium sport utility was rechristened QX60. Along with this change, the automaker also launched a hybrid version. Like the standard model, the QX60 Hybrid’s fluid, curvy design and recognizable face is instantly identifiable as an Infiniti. The hybrid system sports a supercharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 15 kilowatt electric motor, good for a combined 250 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) manages output to either front- or all-wheel drive models. Three-row seating is rare for hybrid SUVs, and a flat floor chips in for an abundance of second and third row roominess. This is a classy interior cabin in every way that pampers with well-appointed features. The fusion of gasoline and electrons result in a 24 percent increase in fuel economy over the standard V-6 gas powered QX60, no small potatoes. But Infiniti adds $3,000 for the added circuitry and electronics, also no small potatoes.
2014 Lexus RX 450h
Base-price range: $47,320-$48,720
Fuel-economy rating: 32/28/30 mpg city/highway/combined (front-wheel drive),
30/28/29 mpg (all-wheel drive)
The Lexus RX 450h is the gas-electric hybrid version of the five-passenger RX 350 crossover sport-utility vehicle. By any measurement, it has been a striking success for the luxury automaker since it first launched as a 2006 model. Both versions received a mild face lift last year, and for 2014 a new 115-volt power outlet for the rearseat and the Siri Eyes Free feature for iPhone owners are added. The full-hybrid system is a combination of a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 engine and electric motors. Front-drive models have two electric motors; one acts as a starter-generator, the other works with the engine to deliver power to the front wheels. The all-wheel-drive RX adds a third motor to drive the rear wheels. A continuously variable transmission makes good use of the hybrid system’s combined 295 horsepower. Inside, the RX 450h is everything you would expect in a luxury SUV, but some features you think should be standard cost extra. Standard 10-way power front seats are shaped and cushioned for long-haul comfort, while rear seats mimic the fronts’ comfort plus, they move fore and aft and recline. Exciting performance may be absent but the RX 400h delivers what most drivers are looking for: a fuel efficient, comfortable and safe ride.