You can save money at the pump and minimize your carbon footprint without sacrificing utility

Crossover and SUVs are the vehicles of choice among a growing number of new-car buyers and it’s easy to see why. Their tall and upright designs typically afford added passenger room and cargo space, with a higher driving position and easier access than small cars, as well as the added foul-weather security of all-wheel drive. But while their utility is undeniable, they’re far from being the most fuel-efficient rides on the road.

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According to the EPA’s ratings for the 2017 model year, the best non-electrified SUVs in this regard can be found within the burgeoning subcompact and compact crossover segments. We found 10 fuel-sipping SUVs rated as high as 29/34 miles per gallon (city/highway), which is for the class-leading Mazda CX-3. That’s a far cry from the lofty ratings attached to some non-hybrid or EV passenger cars like the Mitsubishi Mirage at 37/43 mpg or the diesel-powered version of the Chevrolet Cruze at 31/47 mph. Why the discrepancy? It’s partially due to vehicle aerodynamics; despite become curvier over the years, a typical “two box” SUV still pushes more air than does a lower and more sleekly designed passenger car, which tends to especially affect its highway mileage.

Weight is also an issue. While the subcompact Honda HR-V crossover SUV tips the scales at 2,902 pounds and is EPA rated at 28/34 mpg, the Honda Fit hatchback the upon which it’s based weighs in at a more svelte 2,544 pounds and is estimated to achieve a more frugal 33/40 mpg (both with the optional CVT transmission). What’s more, fuel economy ratings are typically one or two mpg lower for all-wheel-drive (AWD) models versus those with standard front-drive (FWD), again because of the added weight.

10. Subaru Forester: 26/32 mpg

2017 Subaru Forester

Though it may not be the most expressive vehicle on the road, the compact Subaru Forester features a roomy interior, good overall performance, and many features for the money (including an inexpensive suite of optional high-tech crash-avoidance systems), with all-wheel-drive standard. The base four-cylinder engine is the most fuel efficient and should suffice for most motorists; a quicker turbocharged engine is offered, and but it’s costly and takes a modest hit at the pump. Our listed mpg is based on the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with the optional CVT automatic transmission and standard AWD (it’s 23/27 mpg with the 2.0-liter turbo four). Annual fuel cost is $1,300.

9. Hyundai Tuscon Eco: 26/32 mpg 

2016 Hyundai Tucson

The compact Hyundai Tuscon is nicely styled, sufficiently roomy inside, and handles well enough around town. Avoid the base SE and SE Plus models with the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of the livelier 1.5-liter turbo-four that comes with the rest of the line and is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. The mpg rating is based on the optional 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the seven-speed automatic transmission and front drive (Eco AWD and base Tuscon FWD are rated at 25/30 mpg). Annual fuel cost is $1,300.  

8. Subaru Crosstrek: 26/33 mpg

2017 Subaru Crosstrek

The compact Subaru Crosstrek crossover SUV is essentially a Subaru Impreza four-door hatchback with a higher ground clearance and specific exterior elements added to help make it look more like a burly SUV than a small station wagon. Whatever you want to call it, the Crosstrek delivers well-mannered car-like driving dynamics and comes standard with AWD at an affordable price. The mpg rating is based on the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with the optional six-speed automatic transmission and standard AWD. Annual fuel cost is $1,250.

7. Nissan Rogue: 26/33 mpg

2017 Nissan Rogue Dogue concept

It’s a fairly safe bet that either your mom or one of her friends drives a Nissan Rogue, not at all for the way it drives (which is dull as dishwater) but for its roomy interior, agreeable road manners, and its sheer value for the money. Listed mpg is based on the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with the standard automatic transmission and front drive. (it’s 25/32 mpg with AWD). Annual fuel cost is $1,250.

6. Jaguar F-Pace 20d: 26/33 mpg

Jaguar F-Pace

An unlikely model – the Jaguar F-Pace – winds up among the 10 most fuel-efficient crossovers by virtue of its frugal, but authoritative, turbodiesel engine. It’s quick, nimble, and accommodating, though this first-ever Jag SUV is a good bit costlier than the other models featured here. Suffice it to say, it feels nothing like the typical family minded crossover. Rated mpg is based on the 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine with the standard eight-speed automatic transmission and AWD. Annual fuel cost is $1,350 with diesel fuel required.

5. Buick Encore: 27/33 mpg

2017 Buick Encore

The subcompact Buick Encore again comes by way of South Korea, but is revamped for 2017 with freshened exterior and interior styling and added features. It’s not especially quick or sporty, but it’s surprisingly roomy and well-finished inside and features the quietest cabin among small SUVs, thanks to an onboard noise-reduction system. Our stated mpg figure is based on the standard 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the standard six-speed automatic transmission and front-drive (it’s 26/31 mpg with AWD). Annual fuel cost is $1,200.

4. Nissan Juke: 28/32 mpg

2017 Nissan Juke

The first in the current wave of subcompact crossovers, the Nissan Juke remains among the sportiest, with energetic handling and lively acceleration that makes the vehicle stand out on the open road, and eccentric bulbous-looking styling that makes it stand out in a crowded parking lot. You can ratchet up performance a notch by choosing the top NISMO version, but you’ll sacrifice a few mpg (25/29 mpg) and several dollars in the process. The mpg here is based on the standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with the optional seven-speed automatic transmission and front-drive (it’s 26/30 mpg with AWD). Annual fuel cost is $1,500 with premium-grade fuel required.

3. Honda CR-V: 28/34 mpg

2017 Honda CR-V Review

Nearly as fuel efficient as the smaller HR-V, the compact Honda CR-V is attractively designed on the outside, delivers a roomy passenger compartment with plenty of cargo space, and is effortless – if somewhat numb-feeling – to drive. Rated mpg is based on the optional 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the standard CVT automatic transmission and front-drive (it’s 27/33 mpg with AWD). Annual fuel cost is $1,200.

2. Honda HR-V: 28/34 mpg

2017 Honda HR-V

Based on the Fit four-door hatchback, the subcompact Honda HR-V features that model’s second-row “magic seat” split seatbacks that can fold completely flat or tumble forward for maximum cargo carrying versatility. Though not particularly entertaining to drive, the HR-V is a more practical and comfortable alternative to a small sedan. The mpg is based on the standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with the optional CVT automatic transmission and front-drive (it’s 27/31 mpg with AWD). Average annual fuel cost is $1,200.

1. Mazda CX-3: 29/34 mpg

2017 Mazda CX-3

One of the most fun-to-drive small SUVs on the road, the subcompact Mazda CX-3 affords crisp handling and just-peppy-enough acceleration that can make even a short errand run entertaining. That makes it an enthusiast’s affable alternative to a small coupe, and while it’s nicely styled inside and out, back seat room is at a premium, with cargo room minimal without folding down the rear seatbacks. This winning mpg is based on the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with the standard six-speed automatic transmission and front-drive (It’s 27/32 mpg with AWD). Average annual fuel cost is $1,200.

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