Pinning down five crossover vehicles with great fuel economy is difficult. Not because there aren't any -- there definitely are -- but because the crossover segment itself is hard to pin down. One person's crossover vehicle is another's small SUV or station wagon. Some manufacturers helpfully put an "X" in the model name to tell the consumer that it's a crossover, but most don't.
The Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines aren't any help on this point, either. Though the EPA lists the miles per gallon for every passenger vehicle sold in the United States each year, it does not include "crossover" in any of its vehicle categories. The agency has its official EPA classes, which include midsize station wagons and sport utility vehicles. The Web site fueleconomy.gov also lists cars by market class, which are categories closer to what car-shopping consumers would use, like hatchbacks and SUVs. But there's not a crossover classification to be found.
Which leaves the call up to manufacturers. With the popularity of the true SUV on the wane, and the rising price of gasoline, the crossover vehicle is a bridge between off-road trucks and around-town cars. Most crossovers are built on a car platform, which is lighter and easier to drive than a fully boxed off-road truck frame, which is what traditional SUVs were (and some still are) built on.
And now, without further ado, the five crossover vehicles with the best fuel economy -- including one little hybrid surprise.
The Honda CR-V is no newcomer to the crossover scene, having been marketed as a small SUV since the 1990s. It was never really meant for off-roading, though, and the crossover segment seems to fit it well. The two-wheel-drive Honda CR-V gets better mileage than the four-wheel-drive version, with an EPA rating of 21 miles per gallon (8.9 kilometers per liter) city, 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) highway and 24 miles per gallon (10.2 kilometers per liter) combined. That's with a four-cylinder engine that produces 180 horsepower, room for four adults, and a spacious cargo area behind the back seats.
The small size, SUV styling, and great gas mileage have made the Honda CR-V the best-selling SUV for four years in a row -- starting its streak before the crossover category had even gained traction. The base model, which gets the best gas mileage, starts at about $21,500 [source: Honda.com].
A car this big from a maker called Mini may seem like an oxymoron, but that's how badly manufacturers want to get into the crossover game. The Mini Cooper Countryman was a brand-new model for 2011, with a longer, taller body than the original Mini Cooper and a first-ever optional four-wheel-drive system. The two-wheel-drive Countryman with the manual transmission gets highest marks from the EPA, though, at 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) city, 35 miles per gallon (14.9 kilometers per liter) highway and a combined 31 miles per gallon (13.2 kilometers per liter). This particular model gets the best mileage of any crossover on the list.
There are a few pleasant surprises in the Countryman, like a three-person rear bench seat and being named a 2011 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Mini Cooper Countryman will set you back about $22,000 to start, with options adding to the price -- and possibly lower fuel economy [source: MiniUSA.com].
While the world "rogue" might conjure up pirates and thieves and good guys gone bad, the Nissan Rogue crossover plays by the rules and gets great gas mileage in the process. The two-wheel-drive version of the Rogue gets a very respectable 22 miles per gallon (9.4 kilometers per liter) city, 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) highway and 25 miles per gallon (10.6 kilometers per liter) combined.
One of the features helping the Rogue to achieve these mileage numbers is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Rather than shifting through gears, the Nissan Rogue uses a belt and pulley system to transmit the power of the engine to the wheels. Nissan was the first manufacturer to use CVTs in its passenger cars, and it's worked out so well that several of its vehicles use the technology. A CVT won't crawl over boulders or pull a trailer through the mud, but it's perfect for the crossover category. Like other crossovers, the Rogue has a base price of about $21,000 [source: NissanUSA.com].
The only hybrid to make the list of best crossover fuel economy is the Toyota Highlander hybrid. Like the Honda CR-V, the Highlander has been around a few years and was marketed as a very light-duty SUV -- that is, until the crossover category caught on. As a hybrid, the Highlander gets 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) city, 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) highway and a combined 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) -- which is very consistent, but not tops on the list. That honor goes to the Mini Cooper Countryman.
Like most hybrids on the road today, the Toyota Highlander hybrid has a gasoline engine -- this one is a V-6 with 231 horsepower -- plus an electric motor powered by batteries. The system has a total of 280 horsepower when the two power sources work together, more than most other crossovers. This hybrid will set you back a bit more at the outset, too -- the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) is $37,490 [source: Toyota.com].
Toyota has the distinction of earning two spots on the list of five crossover vehicles with the best fuel economy. The Toyota RAV4 with a four-cylinder engine and two-wheel-drive gets 22 miles per gallon (9.4 kilometers per liter) in the city, 28 miles per gallon (11.9 kilometers per liter) highway and 24 miles per gallon (10.2 kilometers per liter) combined. That's the same highway mileage that its hybrid Highlander sibling gets. (Of course, the hybrid does a little better around town.)
Like the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 has been around the block a few times -- it was launched a decade and a half ago. It too was considered a light-duty SUV until the crossover category caught on, which is where the RAV4 is most at home. Opting for the four-wheel-drive system only drops its EPA mileage rating by 1-mile per gallon (0.4-kilometer per liter), making it one of the more fuel-efficient vehicles with on-demand four-wheel-drive. The Toyota RAV4's price is in line with its competitors, at about $22,000 to start [source: Toyota.com].
For more information about crossover vehicles and other related topics, follow the links on the next page.
What are the best reasons to buy a crossover vehicle? Read about 5 reasons to buy a crossover vehicle at HowStuffWorks.
- Top 10 Green Driving Tips
- 5 Alternative Fuel Ideas That Never Made It Out of the Lab
- 5 Ways Hybrid Battery Packs are Being Improved
- 5 Strangest Vehicles Ever Made
- How to Get Better Fuel Economy
- How Four-wheel Drive Works
- How the BMW X6 ActiveHybrid Works
- How the Ford Escape Hybrid Works
- How the Veritas RS III Hybrid Will Work
- What are the benefits of crossover vehicle design?
- What's the difference between a crossover and an SUV?
- AOL Autos Staff. "Best Selling Crossovers: March 2011." AOL Autos. April 24, 2011. (April 26, 2011) http://autos.aol.com/gallery/best-selling-cuvs/
- BMW Group. "Fun Has No Limits. The MINI Countryman." PressClub Global. July 12, 2010. (May 4, 2011) https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/pressclub/p/pcgl/pressDetail.html?outputChannelId=6&id=T0082042EN&left_menu_item=node__2310
- BMW Group. "IIHS Names MINI Countryman as a '2011 Top Safety Pick' Winner." PressClub USA. March 7, 2011. (May 4, 2011) https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/pressclub/p/us/pressDetail.html?outputChannelId=9&id=T0099196EN_US&left_menu_item=node__5528
- Honda Automobiles. "2011 Honda CR-V Serves Up SUV Versatility with Style and Refinement." Honda Media Newsroom. (May 4, 2011) http://www.hondanews.com/channels/honda-automobiles-cr-v/releases/2011-honda-cr-v-serves-up-suv-versatility-with-style-and-refinement
- Nissan. "Redesigned 2011 Nissan Rogue Crossover SUV Debuts at 23rd Annual International Z Car Convention." Nissan Official U.S. Media Newsroom. July 30, 2010. (May 4, 2011) http://www.nissannews.com/pressrelease/1815/130/redesigned-2011-nissan-rogue-crossover-suv-debuts-23rd
- Roy, Rex. "Crossover 101." AOL Autos. Aug. 13, 2010. (April 26, 2011) http://autos.aol.com/article/crossovers-101/
- Toyota USA Newsroom. "2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Product Information." Sept. 23, 2010. (May 4, 2011) http://pressroom.toyota.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=2706
- Toyota USA Newsroom. "2011 Toyota RAV4 Offers New Extra Value Package." Sept. 3, 2010. (May 4, 2011) http://pressroom.toyota.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=2064
- U.S. Department of Energy -- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (April 26, 2011) http://fueleconomy.gov/