Here Come the 30-MPG SUVs

2013 Ford Escape

2013 Ford Escape

Stepping onto a dealer’s lot five years ago and asking for a small SUV that was comfortable, had decent power and returned over 30 mpg would have resulted in a blank stare.

Today, buyers at Chevrolet, Honda, Mazda and Ford dealers can ask that question and will happily be shown the Equinox, CR-V, CX-5 and Escape. Amazingly enough, none of those reach the magic number with the help of a hybrid powertrain.

As of right now, it’s the Ford Escape that has the distinction of being able to say it offers the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the small crossover segment. At least when it comes to vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions.

If you want the ultimate in highway fuel economy from a small SUV, you’ll need to politely ask your Mazda dealer for a 2013 Mazda CX-5. Its 2.0-liter Skyactiv inline 4-cylinder and 6-speed manual are rated at 35 mpg highway. Opt for the 6-speed auto, though, and you sacrifice 3 miles per gallon.

2013 Mazda CX-5

2013 Mazda CX-5

The new Ford Escape doesn’t offer a manual gearbox, but uses Ford’s new 1.6-liter EcoBoost inline 4 to pony up 178 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Combined with a 6-speed automatic transmission, this engine is good for 23 miles per gallon in the city and 33 highway. That’s better than the highway numbers of the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and any other small ute.

Plus, the new turbo-assisted 33 mpg is more than what the outgoing Escape Hybrid managed to offer.

Even better news for buyers, all engines offered in the Escape line meet or exceed 30 mpg on the highway. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter base engine is rated at 22/31, and the top-of-the-line 2.0-liter EcoBoost with 240-hp and 270 lb-ft of torque returns 22/30.

While this is certainly good news for car buyers, you can be sure that things will get even better as Chevy, Honda and Toyota work to take the mileage crown.

Who knows, maybe in five more years we’ll be asking salesmen to see the 40-mpg SUVS…

If I were in the market today for a fuel-efficient SUV, the manual CX-5 might be my choice. Which would you choose?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Ford Escape
Used Ford Escape Hybrid
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  1. I think you’ll find most (if not all) the vehicles mentioned use direct-injection engines, which offer more effiency and better emissions performance than manifold or TB injection. But I wonder how much better you could do with the same vehicles with small Diesels? And even better, Diesels usually offer plenty of torque, which really helps in a small truck. I’ve spent a lot of seat time in the previous version of the Ford Escape, which had our EPS system. I didn’t much care for the knobby, rough styling but it was very well built and ran well.
    As to the comments on EPA numbers, I’ve really been pleased with our new Prius C. It’s not even broken in yet, and from the first go has been exceeding it’s EPA rating of 53city/46highway. We’ve done mainly city driving and it consistently does 54mpg or higher. I guess that’s different from some other hybrid owners, like the Honda owner who won a lawsuit against Honda because her Civic hybrid wasn’t getting anywhere near the promised 50 MPG. There has also been a successful class action suit against Honda on the same issue, but not so for Toyota. From what I understand, Toyota hybrids generally exceed their ratings.

  2. The question is too hard to answer based on your parameters. If one lived in the southwest or perhaps Florida and you were talking about a 2 WD vehicle AND your priority driving habit is highway then your figures might be relevant. On the other hand, if you lived in the Northeast or the Great Snowbelt then a 4 WD would be the choice. Trying to compare a 2 or 4 WD vehicle for highway mileage is one thing, but in a small city or urban area is quite another. An apple to apple comparison might be better.

    A second variable not mentioned often enough by writers is the EPA window sticker numbers versus “real life” numbers. Everyone knows that the EPA numbers are bloated by about 15-20% on the high side. Another factor is your highway/city driving mix. For me here in rural, snowy, mountainous WV my driving mix is 90% city and 10% highway so the highway numbers that you cite are totally irrelevant to me. I look at the city numbers. To the California or Kansas driver their mix might be just the opposite. The last factor I would mention is the price increases consumers might pay to get those extra mpgs. Prices for fuel efficient vehicles have been creeping up the past two years. The Ford Escape you mention is a good example of price bloat. My point is that like the hybrid vs conventional gas powered vehicle debate entails a huge price differential and that is something that must be factored in any buying decision.

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