NEWS

Which Subcompact SUV Gets the Best Mileage?

Subcompact_SUV_Challenge_Mileage_Drive.jpg Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — Good news: Fuel-economy leaders in the subcompact SUV class are knocking on the door of a combined 30 mpg with all-wheel drive; four of the seven SUVs tested are EPA-rated an identical 29 mpg combined, with a fifth rated 28 mpg combined. Despite those similar combined ratings, there was an appreciable spread among the competitors in our gas mileage test, and the leader took the top spot decisively.

The Subcompact SUV Challenge

Results | What to Expect | Mileage Test

Our models with all-wheel drive included the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade; the Fiat 500X and Chevrolet Trax both had front-wheel drive (remember: a requirement for this Challenge was that they have all-wheel drive available, not necessarily present). We drove these small SUVs more than 200 miles in and around the Denver area, through Colorado’s mountains and surrounding highways, encountering an altitude difference of 3,600 feet from the lowest point (4,401 feet) to highest point (8,007 feet), according to Racelogic VBOX GPS data. Speeds averaged a brisk 55 mph overall, though the winding mountain roads saw a much slower 40 mph average.

The wide range of engine, transmission and drivetrain technology in these small SUVs makes them drive very differently from each other; a welcome surprise for an economical-type segment where they can often all drive, and look, alike. Under-the-hood technology featured turbocharged engines, nine-speed automatic transmissions, continuously variable automatic transmissions, selectable all-wheel-drive systems and various sporty or economical driving modes.

Map_overall_3.2[2].jpg Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan; Map data: Google, Image Landsat

The Juke’s selectable all-wheel-drive system went through our mileage drive in two-wheel-drive mode, while the Jeep was driven in its automatic all-wheel-drive setting; the other all-wheel-drive systems aren’t configurable. EPA testing of cars with various driving and economy modes varies depending whether the vehicle defaults to a certain driving mode, so we played it even across the board and drove all the SUVs in their default driving mode, or Normal, where applicable. Editors were thankful for that when it came to some contenders, such as the Honda HR-V; it was already struggling in the mile-high altitudes when it was in its most responsive Sport mode, and it would likely have been even more of a slug with the Econ button pressed.

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The sluggish HR-V was also the most efficient of our contenders by a long shot, hitting 35.3 mpg easily, and beating the next-best Juke’s 33.9 mpg and XV Crosstrek’s 33.4 mpg. Our fuel-economy results came from averaging our own fill-up calculations with each SUV’s trip-computer readings.

The top three vary greatly in engine type with the HR-V using a 141-horsepower, 1.8-liter inline-four-cylinder; the XV Crosstrek using a 148-hp, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder; and the Juke using a 188-hp, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder. It’s interesting that the most efficient contenders, despite similar EPA ratings, both have CVTs. Bemoaned by many editors and the family for odd driving characteristics, the SUVs with CVTs sure delivered on their promise of improved fuel economy.

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