May 5, 2022 | By Evan Williams
Needing an SUV instead of a crossover doesn’t have to mean endless pain at the pumps. We’ve found the most fuel-efficient 4×4 SUVs to give you maximum capability with minimum fueling costs.
The line between crossover and SUV can be pretty blurry. Call us old-fashioned, because to us an SUV means there is a separate frame from the body of the vehicle. The suspension and body are bolted to that frame. It’s what gives the SUV its ruggedness — truck-like bones underneath that let it work hard.
Are there some exceptions to that rule? Of course. We’ll include some of them at the bottom of this list, the crossovers that can hide among the SUVs. Their credentials include off-road strength and high-capacity towing, but they still lack that all-important separate frame.
Why do we need the separation? Because we get that an SUV is a completely different beast, meant for different things. But needing or wanting one doesn’t mean you don’t want fuel economy, too.
We’ve used the EPA’s official fuel economy ratings to find the 10 SUVs that offer the best fuel economy and the go-anywhere traction of 4×4 or all-wheel drive (AWD). Some of these surprised us, for their efficiency and for the variety of powertrains on the list.
Here they are, ranked from number worst to best, sorted by the EPA combined-cycle fuel economy rating.
(If trucks are more your thing, check out The 10 Most Fuel-Efficient 2022 4×4/AWD Pickups.)
The QX80 is Infiniti’s luxury off-road brute. This big, three-row SUV comes with a 5.6L V8 that makes 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic does its best to help fuel economy, but it is working with a lot of vehicle.
Despite luxury features like quilted leather seats, it offers real off-road capability. It also offers Hydraulic Body Motion Control suspension that can send pressure to the inner or outer shocks to help reduce roll.
Infiniti’s QX80 can tow up to 8,500 pounds. Its EPA estimate says it should return 13 mpg city and 19 highway. The QX80 starts from $74,200 with four-wheel drive.
The Lexus GX460 is a rugged off-road SUV that has been on sale since model year 2010. Off-road credentials include full-time four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case, and a Torsen locking center differential. It can tow up to 6,500 pounds.
Powering the GX460 is a 4.6L V8 that makes 301 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. The combination returns an EPA-estimated 15 mpg city and 19 highway. It starts from $56,700.
One of the newest vehicles on this list is the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, equipped with a new Hurricane 3.0L inline-six. The twin-turbo engine will offer 510 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque, a big boost over the 471 that the 6.4L V8 offers.
The Grand Wagoneer is a serious luxury model, getting buyers special treatment at their Jeep dealer. It comes only as a 4×4 and offers 9,750 pounds of towing capacity. Low-range gearing, Selec-Terrain traction management, and an available electronically controlled air suspension with adjustable ride height are all part of the equation.
With the I6 engine, Jeep Grand Wagoneer offers 14 mpg city and 20 highway. It starts from $89,995.
The Toyota 4Runner is very similar to the Lexus GX listed above — 4×4 and Kinetic Dynamic Suspension are both offered, as is a locking rear differential. And 4Runner comes in TRD special versions that add even more impressive off-road capability features, including off-road shocks and springs.
Unlike the Lexus, the 4Runner comes with a V6 instead of a V8. It means slightly less power, at 270 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. Combined with a five-speed automatic, the Toyota is able to offer slightly improved fuel economy.
It can manage an EPA-estimated 16 mpg city and 19 highway. A 2022 Toyota 4Runner 4×4 starts at $39,980.
The Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator look like very different vehicles from the outside and from behind the driver’s seat. But underneath, they’re nearly the same. That includes the same rugged frame, which also underpins the F-150 — the bestselling pickup in the world.
Though it is body-on-frame, using aluminum for the bodywork helps cut weight out of the two big SUVs. That can help save fuel. Instead of a V8, the two use an EcoBoost 3.5L V6 with two turbochargers.
The Lincoln’s version of the engine makes 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, while the Ford makes 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. Both use a 10-speed automatic transmission.
More power helps give the Navigator 200 pounds more towing capacity (at 6,200 total) but doesn’t negatively affect fuel economy. The two are both estimated to return 16 mpg city and 22 highway. A Ford Expedition starts from $54,700, and the Lincoln from $80,000.
The Lexus LX 600 is all-new in 2022. The luxury version of the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser is based on the same platform as the all-new Toyota Tundra. That means it gets that truck’s new powertrain, a 409-horsepower twin-turbo 3.5L (says Toyota; it’s actually 3.4L) V6, and a 10-speed automatic.
In the LX 600, you’ll find full-time 4×4, active height-adjustable suspension, and even crawl control. It doesn’t look like an off-roader, but don’t let the spindle grille fool you. This big ute can wheel. It has an official estimate of 17 mpg city and 22 highway. The LX 600 starts from $88,245.
The first real competitor to the Jeep Wrangler in years, the Ford Bronco puts the Ford Ranger platform to good use. The stylish off-roader lets you remove the doors, the roof, and even the fenders. It also comes with automatic and manual transmission versions that give you the exact same fuel economy rating.
It’s the shorter and lighter Bronco two-door that gets the best fuel economy. It’s also the only one that offers the seven-speed stick with crawler gear. Fitted with the 2.3L EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder, Bronco offers 275 horsepower and 325 pound-feet. It’ll manage 300 horsepower if you spend extra for premium fuel.
The little engine will give you 20 mpg city and 21 highway. The little Bronco starts at $30,800.
Yes, that’s a lot of vehicles all under one entry. While they all look slightly different, they’re all the same chassis underneath. GM’s big haulers can tow up to 8,000 pounds when fitted with the 3.0L diesel engine and 4×4. The Duramax inline-six makes 277 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, and a 10-speed automatic helps make the most of that.
GM offers luxury versions, family-friendly versions, and even models that are designed for off-roading, letting you pick an SUV that’s almost perfect for your needs, whatever they are.
Official estimates are 20 mpg city and 26 highway. The least expensive is the Tahoe, starting from $54,435. The most expensive is the Escalade, from $79,295.
The ultimate off-roader with a plug. The Jeep Wrangler has been the king of factory off road SUVs for decades, with only Ford’s Bronco attempting to wrestle away the crown. Now the Wrangler offers more than just rugged capability, removable doors, and a top that can be left at home. The Wrangler 4xe lets you off road silently, using only electricity.
A plug-in hybrid (PHEV), the 4xe combines an electric motor and a 2.0L turbo-four. The result is 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet and the ability to drive on electric power for up to 21 miles.
That’s enough to give Wrangler 4xe a miles-per-gallon equivalent of 49. It gets 20 mpg combined when the battery is empty with a price starting from $53,795.
Jeep also offers a 2.0L four-cylinder Wrangler that would have held this spot on the list — if the hybrid didn’t exist — with a 23 mpg combined EPA rating.
The first Rivian R1S SUVs are being delivered to customers now, making this electric vehicle the only body-on-frame SUV EV on sale now. Not 100% traditional, as the frame holds the electric battery and powertrain. But, we say it still counts, as does 14.9 inches of ground clearance and up to 7,700 pounds of towing.
Offered with four-motor AWD making 835 horsepower and 908 pound-feet or dual-motor AWD with 600 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque, the R1S has plenty of power.
With a 135 kWh battery pack, it offers up to 316 miles of range. That’s equal to 69 MPGe, or 73 city and 65 highway. A quad-motor large pack R1S, the only one currently offered, starts from $84,500.
We know that deciding what is an SUV and what is a crossover is tough. That’s why we explained our methodology up top. But we also understand that there are some crossovers that seriously bridge the gap, like the unibody constructed vehicles below.
These vehicles can tow as much as traditional body-on-frame SUVs and some offer truly impressive off-road capabilities. So, here is a quick hit of the ones that we call “on the fence,” listed from best to worst for their fuel economy.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe (56 MPGe): 26-mile all-electric range, 23 mpg combined. The plug-in Grand Cherokee can offer impressive fuel savings.
Ford Explorer Hybrid (25 mpg): 23/26 city/highway. The Explorer is no longer body on frame, but it is still the name that made the SUV category what it is today.
Nissan Pathfinder (23 mpg): 21/27 city/highway. The all-new Pathfinder can tow like an SUV — up to 6,000 pounds — even if it’s a crossover.
Hyundai Palisade/Kia Telluride (21 mpg): 19/24 city/highway. These two brutes are clearly trying to look like an SUV, even if they have a unibody chassis. Still, they’re worth a look here.
Dodge Durango (21 mpg): 18/25 city/highway. The Durango offers one of the highest tow ratings of any crossover — up to 8,700 pounds — an impressive effort.
Land Rover Defender P400 (20 mpg): 18/23 city/highway. Both three-door 90 and five-door 110 models get the same economy in mild-hybrid 3.0L I6 trims.
Evan has been drooling over cars since the time he learned to walk. Since then he’s worked on controlling the drooling and expanded his interests to include hiking, cycling, and kayaking. He went to school for engineering but transitioned into a more satisfying career and has been writing automotive and outdoors news for nearly a decade
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Motors – Car & SUV – The 10 Most Fuel-Efficient 2022 4×4 SUVs – GearJunkie
May 5, 2022 | By Evan Williams