There was a time “fuel efficient” and “SUV” couldn’t be used in the same sentence without a qualifier — such as “not very.” But advancements in design, engineering, and technology mean modern crossovers and SUVs can achieve car-like gas mileage and still retain the tall driving position and flexible interior accommodations people love.
Better still, exploiting these advances doesn’t require a king’s ransom. This guide highlights the five most fuel-efficient SUVs priced under $40,000. The base prices we list include manufacturer destination fees, which average about $900, but not options. And the fuel-economy numbers reflect the EPA’s combined city/highway rating with all-wheel drive. Indeed, most SUVs are purchased with AWD, a vital advantage in snowy climates.
The average combined city/highway fuel-economy rating for an SUV today is 21 mpg. Those on our list average 28 mpg. Interestingly, just two are hybrids; the others are laudable examples of highly efficient conventional engineering. And the only one with a base price over $31,000 is the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid SV. None qualifies for the premium class, though. If you’re after great fuel economy in a more upscale package, check out CarPreview’s 2014 Best Mileage Luxury SUVs.
Here are our top Five Top Fuel-Efficient SUVs Under $40,000
Subaru XV Crosstrek and XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Base-price range: $23,820-$30,120
Fuel-economy ratings span: 28-31 mpg city/highway combined
It might not look like a traditional crossover or SUV, but the Subaru XV Crosstrek has room and capability that meets or exceeds its contemporaries. Launched for the 2013 model year, the Crosstrek is essentially a Subaru Impreza hatchback on stilts. AWD is standard along with a Jeep-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance, making this little crossover more capable off-road than most. Crosstrek’s lineup expands for 2014 with the addition of Subaru’s first gas/electric hybrid. It pairs Subaru’s trademark horizontally opposed “Boxer” four-cylinder engine with a battery-powered electric motor to produce a total of 160 horsepower. Like most hybrids, the XV Crosstrek can operate on one or both of its power sources to balance acceleration and fuel economy. Its 31 mpg combined rating is tops among SUVs of any stripe. If you don’t fancy a hybrid, the conventional XV Crosstrek rates a similarly impressive 28 mpg when paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission. It’s not the fastest, roomiest, or quietest vehicle in its class, but it rides and handles very well. Subaru also has a good reputation for reliability and strong resale values. Don’t expect to get much off the sticker price, however, as demand for the XV Crosstrek continues to outstrip supply, and this is something we don’t expect to wane with the new hybrid model.