Memorial Day is nigh, and that means the summer driving season will soon kick off. AAA recently reported that it expects 27 million Americans — that’s 83% of all Memorial Day travelers — to hit the road this weekend. That’s down from 2007 but up nearly 3 percent over last year, when sky-high gas prices took quite a toll on Memorial Day travel.
Gas may be cheap, but gas mileage is still top of mind. That’s why it’s time for another installment of Cars.com’s Mileage Challenge. After last fall’s econocar shootout, we felt ready for something a bit more upscale. So we turned to entry-level luxury crossovers, a segment once dominated by the Lexus RX and BMW X3. With starting prices around $35,000, that segment now includes models from at least 10 premium brands, most of which boast lower prices, better gas mileage and cozier cabins than their larger SUV siblings. We matched one of the latest — Volvo’s all-new XC60 — against the venerable X3 and the Land Rover LR2 in its sophomore season.
Like before, we set some ground rules: No open windows or moonroofs, and no using cruise control. We drove as we normally would — none of this hypermiling business — and filled the tires to their recommended pressure before starting out. Our trip began and ended at the same gas pump in Aurora, Ill., and took us into Chicago on busy city/suburban roads, up to Milwaukee on I-94, down to Rockford, Ill., on I-43, and back to Aurora on I-39 and I-88. All told, the trip totaled 315 miles, 85% of which was highway driving.
The consensus on cabin temperature in past drives was 68 degrees, so we set each car’s automatic climate control there and hit “Auto.” Left to their own devices, the systems doled out mileage-hurting air conditioning: A Volvo spokesman told us the XC60’s Auto mode runs the A/C compressor full-time, and BMW spokesman Dave Buchko and Land Rover product manager Skip Pavlik said the same. (Pavlik said the load on the engine varies depending on how much A/C is needed, though.) Minor variables, probably, but we report them in the interest of full disclosure.
Details on each model:
- 2009 BMW X3: 3.0-liter inline-six, six-speed automatic; 17/24 mpg city/highway (20 mpg combined)
- 2009 Land Rover LR2: 3.2-liter inline-six, six-speed automatic; 15/22 mpg city/highway (17 mpg combined)
- 2010 Volvo XC60: 3.0-liter, turborcharged inline-six, six-speed automatic; 16/22 mpg city/highway (18 mpg combined)
Stay tuned for the results later this week, but feel free to offer your predictions below.