If you’re looking for a roomy, fuel-efficient vehicle, compact SUVs are a smart choice. They combine good fuel economy with the passenger space and ample cargo room at a reasonable price.
SUV buyers have a wide variety of fuel-efficient models to choose from. While compact and midsize gas-powered models still constitute the bulk of crossover sales, hybrid models, diesel models, and subcompact models offer even more choices and greater fuel economy.
In this article, we look at ten compact SUV models with the best fuel economy. Most of the models featured are offered in both all-wheel and front-wheel drive for more choices and greater fuel economy.
The CX-5’s base 2.0-liter 155 horsepower engine four-cylinder engine uses Mazda’s highly efficient SkyActiv technology for a fuel economy rating of 26-mpg city and 35-mpg highway with front-wheel drive, making it the most fuel efficient compact SUV among gas powered only models.
However, because some drivers are wanting more power, Mazda is also offering the CX-5 with a 2.5-liter 184 horsepower four-cylinder engine. With all-wheel drive and the 2.5-liter SkyActiv engine, the CX-5 has a fuel economy rating of 24-mpg city and 30-mpg highway.
The Rogue was introduced in 2008 and Nissan has done a good job of enhancing the 2.5-liter 170 horsepower four-cylinder engine reducing weight to increasing fuel economy. The Rogue has introduced an Eco model for 2015. The model’s top fuel economy is 26-mpg city and 33-mpg highway with one mpg lower with all-wheel drive.
The CR-V, the best-selling compact SUV, hasn’t rested on its laurels. For 2015, Honda has introduced a refined 2.4-liter engine mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission. The CR-V’s fuel economy is rated at 25-mpg city and 33-mpg highway with one mpg lower with all-wheel drive.
Mitsubishi has added a Continuously Variable Transmission into the Outlander which has helped boost fuel economy and performance. With the base 2.4-liter 166 horsepower four-cylinder engine, the Outlander has a fuel economy rating of 25-mpg city and 31-mpg highway with front-wheel drive.
The Outlander is also the of only a few compact SUV with a V6 engine offering. With a 3.0-liter 224 horsepower V-6 engine with all-wheel drive, the fuel economy drops to 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway. The V-6 power gives the Outlander a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
Subaru introduced a new generation Forester in 2014 and it went onto win the Motor Trend SUV of the Year. With a 2.5-liter 170 horsepower engine, it’s fuel economy is rated at 24-mpg city and 32-mpg highway with all-wheel drive only.
For more spirited performance, go with the powerful Forester XT, which features a 2.0-liter 250 horsepower turbocharged engine. The Forester XT’s fuel economy is rated at 22-mpg city and 29-mpg highway. The model is the fastest SUV under $30,000.
Surprisingly, the larger Subaru Outback gets better fuel economy than the Forester with a 2.5-liter engine. The midsize Outback is rated at 25-mpg city and 33-mpg highway with all-wheel drive.
The RAV4’s fuel economy is rated at 24-mpg city and 31-mpg highway with mpg of two less with all-wheel drive. The model is offered with a 2.5-liter 176 horsepower engine. The RAV4 EV is an all-electric version of the model and it offers incredible fuel economy of 74/78 mpg-e. However, the RAV4 EV has a price in excess of $50,000.
The Escape offers three engine choices, the most in the class. The Escape’s most fuel-efficient engine is the 1.6-liter EcoBoost, which produces 178 horsepower. The Escape with this engine has a fuel economy rating of 23-mpg city and 32-mpg highway.
With the powerful 2.0-liter 240 horsepower EcoBoost engine, the Escape has a fuel economy rating of 21-mpg city and 28-mpg highway.
The Jeep Cherokee comes with a 2.4-liter 184 horsepower engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission in base form. The model has a fuel economy rating of 23-mpg city and 30-mpg highway with front-wheel drive. With the optional V-6 engine and all-wheel drive, the Cherokee has a fuel economy rating of 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway.
With three available 4WD systems, V-6 power, and the Cherokee Trailhawk® model, the Cherokee is a good-choice for off-road enthusiast. The Cherokee with the 3.2-liter 271 horsepower V-6 engine has a best-in-class towing capacity of up to 4,500 pounds.
The Tucson features a 2.0-liter 164 horsepower base engine and it has a fuel economy rating of 23-mpg city and 29-mpg highway with front-wheel drive. Hyundai has also released a Tucson Fuel Cell model, which is an emission-free vehicle offered only in California. The Tucson Fuel Cell has a fuel economy rating of 49/51 mpg-e.
Little has changed with the Equinox since the second generation debuted in 2010. The Equinox has a 2.4-liter 182 horsepower four-cylinder base engine. With the four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, the Equinox has a fuel economy rating of 22-mpg city and 32-mpg highway.
The Equinox does offer a most powerful in class 301 horsepower V-6 engine but it’s prodigious power comes at the expense of fuel economy. V-6 models with all-wheel drive are rated at 16-mpg city and 23-mpg highway, which is worst the worst fuel economy in the compact SUV class.
Didn’t Make the List/Takeaways
With all of the top six models listed being from Japanese automakers, Japanese brands are doing best in term of fuel economy in the compact SUV segment. Other less fuel efficient models are the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. Check out our post on the most fuel efficient luxury SUVs for information on more upscale models.
While compact SUV models are similarly prices and have similar power, it’s interesting to see how greater fuel economy is extrapolated. Compact SUV models should continue to get more fuel-efficient, especially as new fuel cell powered models debut.