Before now the term "fuel-efficient" has rarely been used in conjunction with "truck" or "SUV." Fortunately, automakers are finding ways to transform our beloved behemoths into fuel-pump friendly rides. With rising gas prices and reports of environmental doom-and-gloom, many drivers have turned in their SUVs for small commuter cars and 40-50 mpg hybrids. But there will always be those who need superior utility, from contractors to large families to the seriously snow-bound. So for those who refuse to go small but want to go green, here are a few fuel-efficient suggestions for you.
34 City / 31 Hwy
The first SUV hybrid is also the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market. Ford's hybrid powertrain technology, also employed in its cousins the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute, can deliver 34 mpg city/31 mpg highway. Those numbers are good enough to land it on the EPA's list of overall fuel-efficient vehicles. This hybrid owes its success to two electric motors and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that keeps the vehicle's 2.5-liter 153-hp 4-cylinder engine running at its best. The Escape seats a family of five easily and offers a cutting-edge infotainment system.
32 City / 28 Hwy
The RX450h offers the best of all worlds to those who want to have their cake and eat it too. Redesigned for 2010 as the first hybrid luxury SUV, the RX offers more power, improved fuel economy and a top-notch interior. A larger 3.5-liter V-6 Atkinson-cycle engine converts more energy and produces 10% more power (a combined 295 hp), contributing to an increased fuel economy rating of 30 city/28 highway. But the cushy interior is where it's at. Real wood and buttery soft leather provide a polished look and feel. All the standard and available features are what you'd expect from a luxury vehicle, plus there are a few extras, like a Mark Levinson sound system and a "Remote Touch" mouselike controller on the console that replaces the touchscreen setup.
23 City / 28 Hwy
If your lifestyle requires some serious off-roading every now and then, your best "green" bet is the crossover Jeep Patriot. Although the Patriot is engineered for off-pavement and light towing capabilities, it's based on the Dodge Caliber's platform. This gives the Patriot carlike fuel economy (23 city/29 highway), so it's a win-win for more "outdoorsy" folk. The Patriot offers decent space for seating and cargo and has improved upon its plasticky interior. The price is good, too. But the thing we love most about the Patriot is its resemblance to the classic boxy Jeep Cherokee.
21 City / 22 Hwy
Now here's a greener ride for the die-hard SUV driver. GM paired a V-8 with two electric motors in the Tahoe and its cousins, the Yukon and Escalade hybrids, to give a big bump in fuel economy. This 2-mode "full hybrid" system was jointly developed by GM, BMW and Daimler-Chrysler. Although no gas sipper by any standard, the nearly 6,000-pound vehicle is big-truck capable, ready to transport eight people, go off-road or tow a trailer. Fuel mileage is 25% better than the conventional Tahoe, which translates to averages in the low twenties. But at $50 grand plus, you in fact have to give up a lot of green to drive this hybrid king of road, trail and soccer practice.
17 City / 25 Hwy
The Q7 TDI offers economy and elegance. At 25 mpg highway, the direct-injection turbodiesel Q7 gets nearly 50% better highway mileage than the gas V-6 Q7 and can go 600 miles on a fill-up. The diesel engine is quiet at idle and cruise, and thanks to Audi's AdBlue urea-injection system, clean-burning, too. Like all Audis, the interior of the Q7 is both luxurious and intuitively designed, with superb materials, fit and finish. Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard on the Q7. This diesel is long on utility, whether you're hauling up to seven people, carrying gear with the rear seats down or towing a 3-ton trailer.
21 City / 22 Hwy
A hybrid pickup truck? That's kind of like a farmer picking up cattle droppings with a little plastic bag. But, hey, even farmers care about fuel economy. At 21-22 mpg, this hybrid has the best fuel economy among full-size pickups in the U.S. And with traditional pickup truck functionality, the Silverado Hybrid is the ideal vehicle for the environmentally minded adventurer, craftsman or, yes, farmer. Power comes from the same 2-mode hybrid system of the Tahoe Hybrid and the Silverado's cousin, the GMC Sierra. This hybrid pickup is sold only as a 4-door crew cab for maximum utility. Both 2-wheel drive and 4-wheel drive models are available.
19 City / 26 Hwy
Over the past decade diesel has cleaned up its image. Diesel engines now provide a quiet, clean and powerful performance, and they can deliver fuel economy at or near that of hybrids. This diesel-burning BMW is no exception. Of all our suggestions on this list, the X5 is the performance-oriented choice. Superb handling and brakes grace this machine just as they do BMW's sedans. Systems contributing to the X5's performance include xDrive all-wheel-drive, which constantly adapts to road conditions, and Electronic Damping Control, which reigns in body roll. The heart of the BMW's performance is the 3.0-liter inline-6 diesel engine that delivers the same 265 hp and 425 lb.-ft. torque as the 335d. The diesel fuel economy is 19 city/26 highway mpg.
27 City / 25 Hwy
The popular family crossover of choice has all the versatility, refinement and spaciousness of the regular Highlander but with superior gas mileage (27 city/25 highway). The hybrid's fuel economy makes this seven-seater an especially good choice for parents with long commutes or families who travel a lot. The gas-electric powertrain is similar to that of the Toyota Prius. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) connects to a 3.3-liter V-6 and two electric motors, and the hybrid can be driven in electric mode, gas mode or a combination of the two. The Highlander Hybrid comes with the same amenities and options as the regular Highlander and has standard four-wheel drive.
17 City / 23 Hwy
With the Pilot, Honda produced the first crossover and set the benchmark for the emerging midsize SUV market - and it's still keeping its competitors busy. Redesigned in 2009, the Pilot went slightly bigger to create more space for third row seating and cargo while managing to improve in fuel economy (17 city/23 highway). Honda's evolving cylinder deactivation technology allows the engine to deactivate and reactivate 3, 4 or 6 cylinders based on the power requirement. You get V-6 power when accelerating or climbing and the efficiency of a smaller engine when cruising. This Honda offers a lot of functionality: The high roofline and boxy shape maximize headroom and cargo space while the 8-inch ground clearance enables light off-roading. All Pilots are equipped with a trailer hitch.
Despite an environmental shift and topsy-turvy fuel costs, many Americans still want the versatility of an SUV and simply love that commanding view of the road. Luckily, with hybrid powertrains, clean diesel and other evolving technology, automakers are offering more fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs - so we can ultimately see less of the fuel pump.
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