The idea of “your mileage may vary” is real — everything from tire pressure to weather to driving style to terrain can affect how efficiently your vehicle burns fuel. The idea that a lighter vehicle with a smaller engine will be more efficient isn’t always true — and that’s exactly what we observed when we tested seven three-row SUVs on a 200-plus-mile fuel-economy loop to see which of these popular family haulers had the best gas mileage. The fuel-economy test was part of our 2020 3-Row SUV Challenge that included the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas.
2020 3-Row SUV Challenge
Results | Winner | How We Tested | Mileage Drive | Cargo
Our MPG Test Results
1. 2020 Kia Telluride: 24.5 mpg
2. 2020 Hyundai Palisade: 23.9 mpg
3. 2020 Honda Pilot: 23.6 mpg
4. 2020 Ford Explorer: 23.3 mpg
5. 2020 Subaru Ascent: 23.1 mpg
6. 2019 Volkswagen Atlas: 21.5 mpg
7. 2020 Chevrolet Traverse: 21.0 mpg
Engines varied in size and equipment, and transmissions ranged from automatics with eight-, nine- or 10-speeds to a continuously variable automatic. Each SUV had all-wheel drive, ran on regular octane gasoline and all but one of our test vehicles were based on front-wheel-drive platforms. Here’s how the competitors stacked up.
The Best MPG: 2020 Kia Telluride: 24.5 MPG, 30 Points (Out of a Possible 30)
Our mpg winner was the Kia Telluride, which is EPA-rated at 19/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined, meaning its observed 24.5 mpg came in above even its official highway mileage rating (our observed mpg is an average of trip-computer mpg readout and calculated fill-up). The Telluride comes with a big 291-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6; an eight-speed automatic transmission; and no turbochargers to be found. But the V-6 is something called an Atkinson-cycle engine, which is rather unusual — it uses a slightly different combustion scheme to create a more efficient engine that’s usually down a bit on low-rpm power, but generally more efficient overall; the mechanically identical Hyundai Palisade had the same engine. The eight-speed transmission was on the low end of the gear spectrum, with a number of competitors having nine-speed units and even a 10-speed in the Ford, but it still worked in the Telluride’s favor.