SUV Shootout: Real-World Gas Mileage

We pitted the nine SUVs from the $29,000 SUV Shootout in a mileage competition.

In our 145-mile highway mileage loop, the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson tied for top honors, returning 28.8 mpg on their trip computers. The Kia Sportage came in last, reporting 26.6 mpg. That marks one of the narrowest margins in our mileage evaluations yet, with the spread between nine crossovers amounting to just 2.2 mpg.

Put into perspective, if you drove 15,000 miles a year with such mileage and paid December's $2.95-per-gallon AAA national average for regular unleaded across that year, the CR-V would cost around $1,550 to fuel. The worst-in-test Sportage would add less than $130 to your annual gas tab.

Car EPA mileage Trip computer mpg
2011 Honda CR-V 21/28 28.8
2011 Hyundai Tucson 22/31 28.8
2011 Subaru Forester (AWD) 21/27 28.2
2011 Toyota RAV4 22/28 27.7
2011 Chevrolet Equinox* 22/32 27.7
2011 Nissan Rogue 22/28 27.4
2011 Dodge Journey (V-6) 17/25 27.0
2011 Ford Escape 21/28 26.7
2011 Kia Sportage 22/31 26.6
*Average between Eco and regular modes.

Small crossovers have made some big strides lately. Just two years ago, the most efficient four-cylinder players in the group posted EPA combined mileage ratings of 23 or 24 mpg. None had a highway rating of 30 mpg. Today, three members of our test are EPA-rated at 25 or 26 mpg overall, with highway figures in the low 30s. That's what many four-cylinder family cars get.

Three of our nine crossovers beat their EPA highway ratings, and another two came within 1 mpg of their highway figures. The Sportage and Chevrolet Equinox were the only two that fell well short of their highway figures, down 4.4 and 4.3 mpg, respectively.

All nine cars had automatic transmissions, and most came with four-cylinder engines and front-wheel drive. Interestingly, the two major differentiators — the Subaru Forester's all-wheel drive and the Dodge Journey's V-6 — didn't drive them to the bottom. The Forester comes with standard all-wheel drive, and it returned a third-best 28.2 mpg; our Journey had its optional V-6 but still got 27 mpg, which beat the four-cylinder Escape and Sportage.

Route & Methodology

The route included a mix of two-lane highways, interstates and urban driving.

Our route, which averaged 144.6 miles, took us northwest of Los Angeles and around the San Fernando Valley on two-lane highways and interstates. Editors drove in two legs — half of the cars in the morning, the other half in the afternoon — with four driver changes in each leg to account for any differences in driving style and driver weight.

Thanks to our Sunday schedule, traffic was light all day, and speeds generally ended up between 60 and 80 mph. Per our usual mileage evaluation standards, we filled the tires to their recommended pressure, kept windows and sunroofs closed, avoided cruise control and kept the air conditioning on. To start and end each leg, we filled each crossover full to two clicks, all from the same fuel pump.

Specialized Modes

The Forester offers a Sport mode for its transmission. We've evaluated the effects of Sport modes on gas mileage in the past, but we elected to leave the Forester, like the others, in regular drive mode.

The Equinox was the only car with a dedicated Eco mode, which optimizes various drivetrain components for better fuel efficiency. One GM engineer told us in 2009  it nets another 1 mpg, give or take, versus driving without it. We put Eco mode to the test, taking the Equinox on both legs — the first with it on, the second with it off. The difference was demonstrable but minor: The Equinox returned 27.9 mpg with Eco mode, versus 27.5 mpg without it. For the Equinox's reported mileage above, we split the difference.

© 01/31/2011