Eight Guilt-Free SUVs

img1848441491 1458325591471 jpg 2016 Subaru Forester | Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Sales of SUVs and crossovers are booming, but a big caveat with SUVs is how they’re known to devour fuel. There’s hope, though: There are several SUVs and crossovers that meet the cargo- and passenger-carrying needs of shoppers without drinking their wallets dry. Gas may be less than $3 a gallon today, but it probably won’t always be.

Related: Best Gas Mileage By Vehicle Class

To make this list, an SUV had to achieve a 25 combined mpg rating from the EPA and have at least 60 cubic feet of cargo space. The new crop of subcompact SUVs (Honda HR-V, Chevrolet Trax, etc.) hit the fuel mark, but not storage. On the flip side, full-size SUV contenders weren’t fuel efficient enough to make the cut.

In the end, we found eight SUVs that offer that intriguing mix of cargo room and fuel economy. As you might expect, this list skews heavily toward alternative fuels and diesel models. We created a formula that gave double weight to mpg to lower our gas-guzzling guilt. The scores represent how these cars fare against each other in cargo room and combined mpg.

No. 8: 2016 BMW X3 xDrive28d Diesel

img 728284322 1447965446412 jpg 2016 BMW X3; | Manufacturer image

Maximum Cargo Room: 63.3 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 27/34/30 mpg city/highway/combined
Score: 82 points

The diesel versions of the X3 and X5 came up right next to each other in our research, but the X3’s  combined mpg edge (30 versus 27) gave it a leg up. Even though they’re in different size segments, their cargo-room numbers are similar. In fact, the X3 has more room behind the backseat (27.6 cubic feet to the X5’s 22.9) and almost the same maximum cargo room (the X5 has 66 cubic feet).

No. 7: 2016 Nissan Rogue Front-Wheel Drive

img 23169954 1458325543489 jpg 2016 Nissan Rogue | Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Maximum Cargo Room: 70 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 26/33/28 mpg
Score: 84 points

The Rogue is one of four compact SUVs to make this list. Interesting note: Midsize SUVs don’t offer a huge cargo advantage over their compact counterparts. Nissan redesigned the Rogue in 2014, adding a third-row seating option that expands capacity to seven. At 39.3 cubic feet, the Rogue also offers more cargo room behind its second-row seat than any of the other compact SUVs on this list.

No. 6: 2016 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid Front-Wheel Drive

img543459577 1450212707945 jpg 2016 Infiniti QX60; | Manufacturer image

Maximum Cargo Room: 76.5 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 26/28/26 mpg
Score: 85 points

The QX60 Hybrid is one of two luxury SUVs on our list and the first hybrid. The batteries don’t hurt rear cargo room; the hybrid version carries the same cargo as the gas-only version. And if you have to have all-wheel drive, the good news is that moving up to that drivetrain will cost you only 1 mpg in the city, leaving the combined rate at 26 mpg.

No. 5: 2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i

img375980031 1453740379949 jpg 2016 Subaru Forester | Cars.com photo by Angela Conners

Maximum Cargo Room: 74.7 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 24/32/27 mpg
Score: 87 points

With standard all-wheel drive, the 2016 Forester is a great choice for families or shoppers who put a premium on safety. Its 74.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo room is also tops among its segment, which is impressive considering that it still returns more than 30 mpg highway, even with all-wheel drive.

No. 4: 2016 Honda CR-V Front-Wheel Drive

img 1655644079 1447966030833 jpg 2016 Honda CR-V; | Manufacturer image

Maximum Cargo Room: 70.9 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 26/33/29 mpg
Score: 88 points

The CR-V got a continuously variable automatic transmission and a new engine for 2015, and improved its fuel economy by more than 10 percent, enough to earn a spot high on our list. Although the transmission isn’t our favorite when it comes to performance, it’s hard to argue against its fuel efficiency. It also has one of the easiest folding second rows we’ve ever used, which makes getting to all that space nice and easy.

No. 3: 2016 Land Rover Range Rover Td6 Diesel


img1376346268 1448320601650 jpg 2016 Land Rover Range Rover; | Manufacturer image

Maximum Cargo Room: 82.8 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 22/29/25 mpg
Score: 89 points

In addition to offering tons of cargo space and decent fuel economy, the Range Rover is also the most luxurious (and capable) vehicle on the list. Models with the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine and the eight-speed automatic transmission manage to get 25 combined mpg, which was enough to meet our cutoff, but the Range Rover’s cavernous cargo room numbers helped place it near the top of pack.

No. 1 (tie): 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

1036829244 1428003325021 jpg 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid; | Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Maximum Cargo Room: 70.6 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 34/31/33 mpg
Score: 100 points

The RAV4 Hybrid is new for 2016 and adds a dash of electricity to the compact SUV class. Adding its battery pack does affect cargo room: The gas version has an extra 2.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat and overall. But the gas version is rated at only 26 combined mpg, 7 mpg fewer than the hybrid.

No. 1 (tie): 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

img1633385675 1458325555628 jpg 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Maximum Cargo Room: 83.2 cubic feet
Fuel Economy: 27/28/28 mpg
Score: 100 points

Our No. 1 choice for a guilt-free SUV is another Toyota hybrid, the midsize Highlander Hybrid. It offers great fuel economy for its size and excellent cargo room. In fact, it offers the most cargo room of all of the SUVs under consideration that met our fuel-economy criteria (the gas versions of the Highlander did not come close, topping out at 22 mpg combined). Its top-notch interior quality doesn’t hurt either, as you can carry and drive in comfort.

Photo of Brian Wong
Former L.A. Bureau Chief Brian Wong is a California native with a soft spot for convertibles and free parking. Email Brian Wong

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