NEWS

Which Compact SUV Gets the Best Mileage?

CMS_Challenge_Mileage.jpg Cars.com photo by Evan Sears; Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

Our Challenge judges racked their brains over scoring the quality, driving refinement and comfort of each SUV, but fuel economy observed over a real-world mileage drive also factors into each SUV’s overall score. A 100-mile driving loop on the streets and highways in and around Baltimore served as our testing grounds for fuel economy.

$28,000 Compact SUV Challenge
Index | Results | What The Judges Said

Fuel economy plays an important role in our testing as contenders were required to meet or exceed an EPA combined city/highway rating of 26 mpg to take part in our Challenge. Mazda’s CX-5 easily trounced our requirement with the group’s highest 29 mpg combined rating, but the highest-observed fuel economy came out of left field with the all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester scoring an impressive 28.2 mpg average, according to the trip computer. The Forester was one of two SUVs with all-wheel drive tested; the Honda CR-V was the other.

Our fuel economy route was split into seven legs; at the end of each leg drivers swapped cars to account for varying weights and driving styles. Many of the SUVs featured economy modes that eke a few more miles per gallon from a tank of gas, but we left them off to create an equal playing field, in part because that’s the way many are tested by the EPA.

The Forester started off dominant on the first two legs of congested city driving where speeds averaged 25.8 and 30.2 mph, respectively, during morning rush-hour traffic, and it remained the cream of the crop in every segment. Speeds increased to as high as a 54.7 mph average on leg 4, which consisted predominantly of highway cruising. The mileage route’s overall average speed measured 36.4 mph using GPS data logging equipment from Racelogic.

With the exception of the second-place Mazda CX-5, three of the top four all use a continuously variable automatic transmission: the first-place Forester, third-place Rogue (26.5 mpg) and fourth-place CR-V (26 mpg). Making the CX-5’s second-place ranking even more noteworthy is that it was a favorite in the fun-to-drive department with its more powerful optional 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and spritely handling.

Latest expert reviews