It can be hard to combine family transport and fuel efficiency. But those are two things many shoppers would like to have, since family haulers usually spend a lot of time on the road. To help, we've listed the most fuel-efficient SUVs and minivans with 3-row seating.

1. Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient 3-row vehicle on the market. While several rivals have better highway gas mileage, no one can touch the Highlander Hybrid's 28 miles per gallon in the city -- a figure that rivals many economy cars. Since much family hauling is done in city traffic, that's a major benefit for most moms and dads who have to shuttle their kids around. Unfortunately, hybrid technology doesn't come cheap: The Highlander Hybrid starts around $41,000 with shipping.

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2. Mitsubishi Outlander

The recently redesigned Mitsubishi Outlander boasts a whopping 31 mpg in highway driving. That, combined with its 25 mpg city rating, makes it the second-most efficient 3-row vehicle on the market -- and we're not even talking about the plug-in hybrid Outlander scheduled to go on sale next year. Instead, these impressive mileage figures apply to the Outlander ES and SE models, which start around $24,000 with shipping. The SUV boasts a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic mated to a 166-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine.

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3. Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid

The Pathfinder Hybrid is due out later this summer. Shoppers who can wait a few more months to pick up their new crossover will get a reward, as the Pathfinder Hybrid returns 27 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. It also boasts a brand-new design that will help you stand out from the typical minivan and SUV crowd. Pricing has not yet been announced, but Nissan says it should command $3,000 over a standard Pathfinder. That suggests a base price of around $36,000 with shipping.

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4. Mazda5

The Mazda5 is a compact minivan with dual sliding doors and a standard 4-cylinder engine. That engine, a 2.5-liter that makes around 160 hp, returns an impressive 22 mpg city/28 mpg hwy. And while the Mazda5 offers a standard manual transmission, the available automatic actually boasts its best gas mileage. For some drivers, a major drawback is that the Mazda5 only seats six; however, others will be hard-pressed to find a better 3-row deal, considering its base price of around $21,000 with shipping.

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5. Ford Explorer 2.0-Liter

The newly redesigned Ford Explorer is available with two powertrains. Shoppers looking for more muscle can choose the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, which returns 290 hp or -- in Sport form -- a robust 365 hp. For drivers interested in fuel economy, Ford offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder model. That version returns 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy, placing it among the most fuel-efficient 3-row vehicles on the market. And despite only four cylinders, the engine's 237 hp means it feels adequate for nearly all situations. Choosing the 4-cylinder engine adds $1,000 to an Explorer's base price, for a starting price of around $31,000 with shipping.

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6. (tie) Audi Q7 TDI

The diesel-powered Audi Q7 TDI is an expensive 3-row SUV, with base prices starting around $53,000. But shoppers who get one will be rewarded with a spacious, high-quality interior and a long list of luxurious equipment. Standard features include leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats and a power tailgate. Most important, the 240-hp diesel V6 returns 19 mpg city and a whopping 28 mpg on the highway, though it can sometimes feel labored powering the 5,500-lb SUV.

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6. (tie) Honda Odyssey

The Honda Odyssey is powered by a 248-hp 3.5-liter V6. The model's lower trim levels -- LX, EX and EX-L -- return 18 mpg city/27 mpg hwy, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the Touring and Touring Elite models use Honda's variable cylinder management system to gain a little extra power. The result is 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy, which ties it with the Q7 TDI among the most fuel-efficient 3-row vehicles. As a bonus, the Odyssey seats up to eight passengers, compared to seven like its SUV rivals. The Odyssey starts around $29,500, though upgrading to a Touring model for improved gas mileage adds more than $10,000 to that figure.

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7. Kia Sorento

The Kia Sorento is a midsize crossover with available 3-row seating. The Sorento was recently updated for the 2014 model year with revisions to its interior and exterior. While the Sorento's V6 provides ample grunt, its available 191-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder is the engine to have if you're looking for gas mileage. It returns 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy while still offering an acceptable 0-to-60 time of around 8.5 seconds. Sorento pricing starts around $25,000, while 3-row seating is an $800 option.

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What it means to you: Our list of fuel-efficient SUVs and minivans with 3-row seating proves you don't need to spend a fortune on gas to carry your whole family.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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