Once considered eco-enemy number-one, today’s SUVs, crossovers and even pickup trucks have come a long way in winning back Greenies. Rather than those lumbering brutes with gas-chugging powerplants we saw throughout the 1990s, a select crop of practical, all-wheel-drive adventure vehicles is nowadays touting fuel economy and carbon-output rivalling some compact cars.
Sure—an even newer group of all-electric SUVs is en route, but if you’re not quite ready, willing or able to make the switch to full-EV, read on. Because in this era of climate change, the time for inaction is over. Even if a stiff at-the-pump outlay doesn’t bug ya—your tailpipe emissions should. So it’s not just mileage we’re looking at today, it’s also CO2 output. Even the wealthiest of us can’t deflect that number.
We’ve done the research for you and come up with six fuel-efficient, off-road-ready vehicles that will get you to the ski hill, campsite or trailhead with ease and frugality. (Oh, and at the bottom you’ll find three guzzlers to rethink.)
Methodology: Fuel-economy ratings, CO2 outputs and cost-per-year figures (based on 20,000 kilometres driven annually) are derived from Natural Resources Canada’s Fuel Consumption Ratings Search Tool. All vehicles are the latest model year available (2020 or 2019). Prices are from manufacturers’ websites (base/model specific), in Canadian dollars.
Ford Escape Titanium Hybrid
Average Fuel Economy: 5.9 L/100 km (AWD)
CO2 Output: 139 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $1,534
Ford first rolled out a hybrid Escape earlier this century to moderate success, but their arriving-soon 2020 model takes this whip on a big leap forward in both power and efficiency. It's available in front- or all-wheel-drive; we'd choose the latter for its better ability to lead you into the adventure you crave—and you'll lose just a tick of economy by opting four-wheel power. With 200 horses, seating for five and 878 litres of cargo capacity, Escapees definitely don't compromise practicality for frugality.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Average Fuel Economy: 6.0 L/100km
CO2 Output: 139 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $1,560
It’s hard to believe Toyota first brought hybrid vehicles to the North American market 21 years ago. And by building on more than two decades of tech, this second-gen RAV4 Hybrid might be their best gas-electric yet. Because if you want a non-luxury hybrid SUV that has 20.5 centimetres of ground clearance, full time all-wheel-drive, 219 horsepower and an 800-kilogram towing capacity that also scoots to 100 km/h in less than eight seconds—this is your only choice. We also appreciate the Rav’s standard autonomous and semi-autonomous safety features.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Average Fuel Economy: 3.2 L/100 kmE/9.2 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 108 g/km
Energy Cost Per Year: $1,581
Mitsubishi has the distinction of bringing the first non-luxury plug-in hybrid electric SUV to the North American market. Although a few more contenders are showing up, the PHEV Mitsu is a solid choice with full-time all-wheel-drive, high-tech safety systems, ample interior space and, best of all, an electric range of 35 kilometres when you plug it in at home or at a public dock. (This means if you live in places like Courtenay, Canmore or Collingwood, you’ll hit the local ski hill on electrons alone.) When the battery runs out, the Outlander PHEV switches to a gas-electric hybrid and keeps the motion going 'till your next plug.
Honda CR-V AWD
Average Fuel Economy: 7.7 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 189 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $2,002
Let’s step away from hybrids and see what conventional ICEs are cooking up. A cute-ute pioneer and perennial family fave, Honda’s all-wheel-drive CR-V offers real adventure potential with 21 centimetres of ground clearance as well as 190 horses from its peppy small-displacement turbo. Add a cavernous 1,100-litre cargo-hold plus proven reliability, and the decades-long prevalence of this runabout becomes easy to understand. We think any non-hybrid off-roader that can slide under 8 L/100 km is worth a close inspection.
Average Fuel Economy: 7.9 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 185 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $2,054
Ah, the venerable Subaru, loved by KEEN-wearing canoeists from coast-to-coast. There are good reasons why outdoorsy folks love Subarus—as demonstrated by the compact Crosstrek’s lofty 22 centimetres of ground-clearance and nearly 600 litres of cargo space behind the rear seats. The off-road-specific X-Mode drive-setting makes good use of this car's 152 horses when it comes time to hit the trails. And we appreciate that all this trail-ready capability doesn’t come with a big fuel penalty—it’s one of the thriftiest non-hybrid crossovers in its segment.
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 4WD (3.0L Diesel)
Average Fuel Economy: 8.9 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 238 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $2,314
When you’re hauling big boats or bales of hay, station-wagons simply aren’t up for the task. Yep—sometimes only a pickup truck will do. But adding a cargo bed doesn’t necessarily mean being punished at the pump. Take Chevy's new diesel half-ton Silverado: with a gut-wrenching 460 pounds-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm, this truck can tow up to 4,200 kilograms and carry 850 kilos of payload. All that grunt while delivering car-like fuel economy? We’re impressed.
Three Guzzlers & Their Thriftier Alternatives
Here at Explore, we’re all about good vibes. So rather than a write hit-piece on a bunch of gas-guzzlers, we’re going to look at three SUVs that all have thriftier alternatives from the same brand—each of which fill the same niche.
Jeep Grand Cherokee (5.4L V8)
Average Fuel Economy: 14.1 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 331 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $3,666
The Jeep Cherokee is legendary; a true SUV innovator. But it can be thirsty—especially for buyers who opt for the burly hemispherical V8 (available in the Limited, High Altitude, Trailhawk and others) without truly appreciating the environmental cost of those pointless ponies.
Here’s the fun part: opt for Cherokee models with the standard and still-potent 295-horsepower V6 and you'll achieve an average of 9.6 L/100 km—saving you $700 per year over the Hemi (while giving up just 65 horses)—and the planet will see 66 fewer grams of CO2 for every kilometre you cruise.
Average Fuel Economy: 16.4 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 385 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $4,264
Considered to be the family-hauler-version of the legendary Land Cruiser, it might be time for Toyota to chop-down the Sequoia. Yup, it’s big, burly, comfy and powerful—but for most families its 5.7-litre V8 is just overkill.
If eight-passenger capability in a four-wheel-drive SUV is what you require, consider Toyota’s own Highlander. This school-bus can save you as much as $2,106 in annual fuel costs over the Sequoia while still offering up to 306 horsepower (hybrid) or a 2,200-kilogram towing capacity (non-hybrid). Look for an even thriftier Highlander Hybrid later this year!
Land Rover Range Rover SVAutobiography Long Wheelbase
Average Fuel Economy: 15.5 L/100 km
CO2 Output: 365 g/km
Fuel Cost Per Year: $4,495
I know, right? Big shocker to see a top-of-the-line, 557-horsepower Range Rover in this list. It’s unlikely many buyers of this bourgeoisie British chariot put “cheap on gas” in their must-haves, but we think drinking that much dino-juice is inexcusable.
So here’s the thing—did you know by opting for the Range Rover HSE with a TD6 Diesel you can lower that fuel score to a totally decent 9.6 L/100 km? Seems like a solid option while maintaining your country-club status. Oh, and if it matters—you’ll save about $120K over the top-level Rover, too.