For many buyers, fuel efficiency is a huge deal. Though there are other reasons like safety, functionality, or the latest tech features that might prompt you to buy an SUV, for many out there a critical factor in deciding which SUV to buy is fuel efficiency.
Efficiency meets Versatility with these SUVs
We all know there are plenty of reasons to bag a SUV – safety, style, space, and swagger on the road – but, in fact, for many buyers what they really care about is fuel efficiency. They want to know they’re not being fleeced. Sure, they care about other things too, but they – and you – really care about getting some decent mpg. Otherwise, you’re throwing money away.
Fortunately, if you’re after an efficient SUV, there are plenty of great options out there. Some are optimized for fuel economy, albeit sometimes at the expense of acceleration power, but others are able to deliver great thrusts of power along with terrific fuel economy. Nearly all of the options on this list are hybrids, and in our view almost all of them do a great job of combining fuel-saving attributes with the versatility and functionality that make SUVs so enduringly popular.
2023 Nissan Kicks
33 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.8/10
The Nissan Kicks is the only SUV or crossover we’re reviewing here that is not a hybrid. To be honest, it’s as much a hatch as a SUV, given its size and the fact that it does not offer AWD as an option. Its engine is underpowered in most driving scenarios, but the upside is decent fuel economy.
You get a 4-cylinder engine, with power directed to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. The Kicks also offers fine cargo and passenger space for its size, as well as a low starting price.
2023 Santa Fe Hybrid
34 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.3/10
The Hyundai Santa Fe has presence. It’s a spacious and great value midsize SUV with plenty of room for passengers. It also offers an excellent 72.1 cubic feet of cargo space, accessed via its optional hands-free power liftgate.
Unsurprisingly, the most efficient version of the Santa Fe Hybrid is the entry-level Blue trim. It combines a four-cylinder engine with an electric motor to put out a combined 226 horsepower. It’s an all-round effective drive and has more than enough accelerating heft.
2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
36 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.1/10
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is a mid-luxe, comfortable midsize three-row SUV. It provides a relaxed ride, as well as a long list of standard safety features, including the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assistance features. For 2023, the Highlander Hybrid also gains a newly updated infotainment system that supports Apple and Android.
With the Highlander Hybrid you get a 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors, routing power through a continuously variable automatic transmission. It puts out a combined 243 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. Power at the low end is superb, but power at upper speeds is sometimes a tad underserved.
2023 Kia Sorento Hybrid
37 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.0/10
The Kia Sorento Hybrid is a nicely designed and sharply drawn midsize hybrid SUV with an upscale interior and a long list of standard features. The Sorento Hybrid provides three rows of seating with decent space, if tight in the third row. Its cargo space is good enough, but it’s less than some others.
A turbocharged four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor brings a combined 227 horsepower into play. The Sorento Hybrid’s six-speed automatic transmission is good and provides a dynamic driving experience. Like most others, it comes with an intuitive infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
2023 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid
38 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.7/10
The Hyundai Tucson Hybrid features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that offers up 226 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Power is directed through a six-speed automatic transmission, and it delivers very impressive acceleration around town and on the open road.
The most efficient version of the Tucson Hybrid is the entry-level Blue trim. It’s well-equipped and comes with a hands-free power liftgate, push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control and an intuitive 8-inch touch screen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also comes with a long list of standard driver-assistance features.
2023 Toyota Venza
39 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.6/10
The 2023 Toyota Venza is a refined hybrid SUV, and this version gains an updated infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also comes with a super 12.3 inch digital instrument panel, which looks great amid what is otherwise an upscale interior with five USB ports and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The Venza comes standard as a hybrid with all-wheel drive. It combines a four-cylinder engine with two electric motors, delivering 219 horsepower routed through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Power is solidly and effectively delivered at all speeds.
2023 Lexus NX Hybrid
39 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.2/10
The Lexus NX Hybrid is a sweetly fuel-efficient and luxe small SUV. Its powertrain combines a four-cylinder motor and a trio of electric motors. They make a combined 240 horsepower, resulting in plenty of power for most driving scenarios. This is a really lovely engine.
Safety is excellent. The NX Hybrid comes with forward collision avoidance; pedestrian and cyclist detection; traffic-sign recognition; blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It also offers as standard synthetic leather upholstery, excellent heated front seats, and a 9.8 inch touch screen with the usual cross-class wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
40 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.2/10
The now semi-iconic RAV4 Hybrid is the first of our list to hit the magic 40 mpg number. It remains a fun and highly functional small crossover. It has a surprising amount of rear-seat headroom and legroom, and it provides up to 69.8 cubic feet of cargo space. For most uses this is enough. Buyers can select a hands-free power liftgate.
The RAV4 Hybrid features a four-cylinder engine combined with two electric motors. They put out a combined 219 horsepower, routed through a continuously variable automatic transmission to Toyota’s standard all-wheel drive. Though the engine sounds rough under hard acceleration, it’s appealing, and many will like it. Acceleration is robust.
2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid
40 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.3/10
The Honda CR-V Hybrid is fresh for 2023. The new version of this compact hybrid crossover features an upscale, spacious cabin, as well as comfortable, composed handling. It also comes standard with the Honda Sensing suite of driver assistance features.
The CR-V Hybrid utilizes a pair of electric motors that work with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The engine offers up 204 horsepower and a chunkily high 247 pound-feet of torque. Though horsepower is a tad down from the previous model, it still provides robust muscle for almost all driving scenarios. However, compared to competitors, the automatic transmission makes more noise under hard acceleration.
2023 Ford Escape Hybrid
41 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.8/10
While comfortable handling is the norm among most vehicles on this list, the Ford Escape Hybrid really does drive like a car. It even feels agile while going through corners. Braking is well-tuned. The Escape Hybrid’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine works with an electric motor to put out a combined 200 horsepower, which is lower than some others. It nonetheless delivers great acceleration, especially around town. In addition to its spacious seating, the Escape Hybrid features the easy-to-use SYNC infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
2023 Lexus UX Hybrid
42 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.4/10
If you seek fuel economy and riding in comfort as your twin pair of top metrics, the Lexus UX Hybrid has to be in your final three. It has a cosseting ride and a truly premium interior. The downside is that its infotainment system is not as well designed as others, though it still includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The UX’s 181-horsepower hybrid powertrain is one of the most efficient among SUVs, though you will be chasing some competitors, whose power is greater. The Lexus can definitely feel under-powered for some settings. Safety wise, you get standard driver assistance features such as forward collision warning, forward automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and blind-spot monitoring.
2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid
42 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: N/A
The Kia Sportage Hybrid is among the top few SUVs in terms of being one of the most efficient SUVs on the market today, and the most efficient SUV that’s not a plug-in hybrid or an EV. It features futuristic styling, backed up by excellent cargo space, with over 70 cubic feet available. It is also great for passengers. The Sportage Hybrid has one of the more powerful drivetrains on this list, as well as the most efficient. A winning combination, for sure. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine works with an electric motor to put out a very respectable 227 horsepower through a six-speed automatic transmission. Unlike many fuel-efficient vehicles, you won’t be wanting more power when making a passing move on the highway. This SUV is very highly recommended.
What is the most fuel-efficient SUV?
The 2023 Nissan Kicks is the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid SUV. It gets an EPA-estimated 31 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway.
What is the most fuel-efficient hybrid SUV?
The 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid returns an EPA-estimated 42 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive models get 38 mpg in both city and highway driving.
What is the most fuel-efficient 3 row SUV?
The 2023 Sorento Hybrid (in the standard front-wheel drive version) gets an EPA-estimated 39 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, while all-wheel-drive models get 36 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.
Powertrains: Gas-only vs. Hybrid vs. PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid)
What are the Pros and Cons of Gas-Only Vehicles
Internal combustion engines alone drive SUVs with conventional gas-only powertrains. If a vehicle isn’t labeled hybrid or plug-in hybrid, it’s likely a vehicle powered exclusively by an internal combustion engine.
The market for Hybrid SUVs and Electric SUVs remains smaller than the trad gas SUV market, and most SUVs are powered by gasoline or diesel. This will almost certainly change at a rapid pace though as 2023 and 2024 go on, so it is wise to be looking at Hybrids.
in favor of gas-only SUVs is the fact they’re less expensive and more widely able to be fixed and serviced by independent mechanics. Against them, however, is that they are now not nearly as fuel-efficient as Hybrids and their running costs are higher. Time is not on their side.
What are Hybrid Vehicles
A hybrid SUV employs a combination of a gasoline engine and electric motors for propulsion. The power to charge the batteries that feed a hybrid’s electric motors comes from the gasoline engine and energy reclaimed when the SUV brakes or coasts. You can’t charge a traditional hybrid’s battery from an external EV charging station. The upside is that the charging takes place as you drive.
In their favor is that hybrids have better fuel efficiency than gas-only vehicles. But against them is the fact they’re pricier to buy and more complex to fix.
PHEV (Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles)
The difference between plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and traditional hybrids is the ability of PHEVs to be charged by external charging stations or even standard household outlets. With their larger battery packs, they can travel significant distances on electricity alone, before automatically switching to function like a traditional hybrid.
In many ways, PHEVs are a bridge between today’s gas cars and tomorrow’s fully electric vehicles.
They have a lot in their favor. PHEV SUVs can travel several to dozens of miles on electricity alone. When charged from external sources, they can deliver amazing fuel efficiency. PHEVs also operate as efficient hybrid vehicles even if you don’t externally charge them, and they PHEVs don’t rely on public EV charging stations to travel long distances, as fully-electric vehicles do. Given that electric charging stations are still limited, this matters. They can also come with tax incentives.
Against PHEVs is that they can be seriously pricey and complex to service,
How do I improve my Fuel-Economy? Here are tips:
Check your tire pressure
Underinflated tires are a major cause of poor fuel economy. Inflating your SUV’s tires to the manufacturer’s recommended pressures enhances fuel efficiency and also safety.
Drive to the speed limits
According to the EPA, lowering your highway speed 5 to 10 mph can increase your fuel economy by 7% to 14%. Plus, it’s safer and can save you the cost of a speeding ticket.
Ease up on the AC
An SUV’s air conditioning is a genuine limitation on fuel economy on hot days. You can save anything up to 10% on gas by limiting your air conditioning usage.
Aggressive acceleration and choosing routes with lots of stop-and-go driving are terrible for your SUV’s fuel economy. Use an app to assist you in avoiding this kind of driving.
Use the right oil
Today’s high-tech engines are designed to use precise weights and grades of motor oil. Using the one recommended by the manufacturer not only maximizes the engine’s efficiency, but it can also maximize its life.
Take a load off
Remove any cargo you don’t need and don’t drive around with a roof box on.
Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs
Here’s the summary list of what we’ve been looking at.
- 2023 Nissan Kicks: 33 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.8/10
- 2023 Santa Fe Hybrid: 34 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.3/10
- 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 36 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.1/10
- 2023 Kia Sorento Hybrid: 37 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.0/10
- 2023 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid: 38 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.7/10
- 2023 Toyota Venza: 39 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.6/10
- 2023 Lexus NX Hybrid: 39 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.2/10
- 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: 40 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.2/10
- 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid: 40 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 8.3/10
- 2022 Ford Escape Hybrid: 41 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.8/10
- 2022 Lexus UX: 42 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: 7.4/10
- 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid: 42 MPG Combined | U.S. News Score: N/A
James Diaz here; I’ve been working on cars for over 11 years. I live in Memphis, where I work at a repair shop for motor vehicles, and I have also discovered a deep love for writing blog posts. To better serve my clients, I have created this blog in which I will address the questions I am most often asked. I hope that you find what you are looking for, and if you need to get in touch with me, you may do so using my contact page.