The 5 Best Hybrid SUV and Crossover Vehicles: A Buyer's Guide

March 15, 2012

Hybrid car owners have always scoffed at SUVs' poor fuel efficiency, but things are starting to change with the new hybrid SUVs and crossovers.

SUV Gone Camping

One of the most popular recent trends in the automotive industry has been toward the manufacturing of hybrid SUVs and crossovers. These vehicles were previously large size cars that got poor gas mileage. They are powerful and have ample room for seating, but the hike in fuel prices and a growing

The best hybrid SUV and crossover models take advantage of hybrid technology to overcome the growing concern over the environmental impact of large vehicles with poor gas mileage. They are powerful and have ample room for seating, but the hike in fuel prices has prompted manufacturers to begin making them with hybrid engines and technology. Here are some of the top selling and best hybrid SUVs and crossovers currently on the market.

  • Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid. The Tahoe is one of Chevrolet's top selling SUVs, and the hybrid version lowers the fuel usage rating of the vehicle. While the Tahoe hybrid is more environmentally friendly than the standard version, it is still not as green as many of the other vehicles on this list. Nonetheless, the ample space and excellent design of the interior make this vehicle an outstanding choice.
  • Ford Escape Hybrid. Ford's Escape hybrid is one of the best crossover vehicles available today in terms of fuel efficiency. In fact, with a combined highway and city mileage of 32 miles per gallon, this vehicle gets better gas mileage than many smaller cars out on the road, especially those that have standard engines. The Escape lacks a bit of the power that you'll find in the larger, heavier vehicles on this list.
  • GMC Yukon Hybrid. The Yukon is a popular SUV and has been for several years. Recently, GMC released a hybrid version of this vehicle to help draw in new owners and customers. The result is a powerful vehicle that can haul three tons of materials and carry eight people, while it still gets over 20 miles per gallon on the highway.
  • Lexus RX 450h. Lexus has been a dominant player in the hybrid SUV scene since it first released a hybrid version of its popular crossover SUV series several years ago. These vehicles are not cheap. They are certainly marketed toward the higher end of the spectrum, but they come outfitted with an assortment of amenities and the latest technological advances. These ensure that the vehicles are cutting edge inside, while the excellent hybrid engine and handling keep them cutting edge outside. It gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway and 28 miles per gallon in the city. It has a 3.5 liter engine, which is much more powerful than the other models on the list.
  • Saturn Vue Hybrid.The Saturn Vue gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 miles per gallon in the city, for 29 miles per gallon combined ratings. This is being done with a 2.4 liter 4 cylinder engine.
  • Toyota Highlander. The Highlander is a popular option for a hybrid crossover vehicle. This smaller version of the larger Toyota SUVs on the market is known for its excellent handling and interior design, as well as a highly competitive fuel economy rating. However, the fact that it is somewhat more expensive than its competitors makes it a tough sell for some people. The Toyota Highlander gets 27 miles per gallon on the highway, but 32 miles per gallon in the city. This is rare for any vehicle, but it should definitely be appreciated. What makes it more impressive, is that the Highlander has a 3.3 liter V6 engine with supercharger.

Hybrid SUVs vs. Standard Engine Models

If a hybrid SUV and a standard SUV were placed side by side, it would be hard to tell them apart.

The hybrid SUV combines a standard fuel engine with multiple electric motors, and a substantial battery pack (typically with a 288 volt capacity). In some versions of the hybrid SUV, one of the motors is used in conjunction with the standard engine to power the front wheels, while the other motor is used to augment power to the rear wheels when extra traction is needed. Still others use the primary motor to start the vehicle's fuel burning engine and charge the battery pack.

The use of electric motors is what allows hybrid SUVs to be so fuel-efficient. The vehicle relies more heavily on the electric motor at slow speeds and during stop and go driving, and relies mostly on the fuel burning engine at speeds over 25 miles per hour. Because of the way the electric motors are put to use in hybrid SUVs, the most typical configuration found is all wheel drive (AWD).

Some of the more popular vehicles' pricing and mpgs are compared below:

  • Chevrolet Tahoe. Standard: $36,000 with 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Hybrid: $49,000 with 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.
  • GMC Yukon. Standard: $38,000 with 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. Hybrid: $58,000 with 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.
  • Lexus RX. Standard: $36,000 with 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Hybrid: $41,000 with 32 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
  • Toyota Highlander. Standard: $28,000 with 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. Hybrid: $34,000 with 27 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
  • Ford Escape. Standard: $24,000 with 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Hybrid: $30,000 with 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Hybrid SUV Advantages and Disadvantages

As with any purchase, there are pros and cons to buying a hybrid SUV.

Advantages

  • Functionality. Hybrid SUVs offer their owners similar, if not identical, functionality to their non-hybrid counterparts. People who buy SUVs typically purchase them for the added size, space and utility offered by the larger body style. Since hybrid SUVs are built on the same platform and with many of the same components as their non-hybrid siblings, buyers do not generally lose out on functionality by purchasing a hybrid.
  • Safety. Due to the fact that SUVs are higher off the ground than cars and minivans, many buyers feel safer in an SUV. In fact, many SUVs (hybrid and non-hybrid) have similar crash test ratings to cars and minivans. All hybrid SUVs come standard with many technologically advanced safety features, and most also include some sort of traction control or rollover prevention system to keep the top-heavy SUV planted firmly on the ground.
  • Increased MPG. As compared to non-hybrids, hybrid SUVs offer buyers better fuel efficiency, allowing more miles to be accumulated on a single tank of gas. Over the long term, this translates to less time and money spent at the gas pump.

Disadvantages

  • Higher cost. Generally speaking, hybrid SUVs have a higher purchase price than non-hybrid SUVs. This cost can be significant, adding a premium of $3000 to $5000 or more to the price. This added cost can take several years to recoup. Unless the hybrid SUV will be kept for at least five years, the extra cost of hybrid technology may not outweigh the benefits.
  • Fuel efficiency.True, hybrid SUVs increase an owner's real world gas mileage as compared to non-hybrids, but it is still considerably less than a hybrid car. It is not uncommon to see hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius get EPA-estimated mileage somewhere in the 50 MPG range, but many hybrid SUVs struggle to break 25 MPG. Much of this discrepancy is due to the SUVs added size and weight.
  • Reduced abilities. While hybrid SUVs may look similar to their non-hybrid siblings, they are not designed with the same utility in mind. One example of this is that hybrid SUVs are generally not able to tow as much as a non-hybrid counterpart. Case in point: a non-hybrid 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe is rated to tow up to 8500 pounds, while a hybrid 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe is only rated up to 6200 pounds. Buyers with serious towing or hauling needs should consider a non-hybrid or diesel SUV, if available.

Related Questions and Answers

How Does Hybrid SUV Mileage Compare to Diesel SUVs?

It's interesting to note that hybrid SUV mileage averages about 25 mpg overall on the highway, and that diesel SUVs also average roughly the same mileage. Even though they are heavier, tend to bog a bit, and have fewer cylinders. Actually, that's probably a large part of the reason that hybrids and diesels have about the same highway mileage. With four cylinders, the diesel will use less fuel than a hybrid SUV with a 6-cylinder engine, that powers not only the electric motor, but also doubles as part of the power team under high acceleration. The one problem with a diesel is that fuel is not easy to find in many smaller towns.

What is the Most Popular Hybrid SUV and Crossovers?

The top-rated hybrid SUV and crossovers are a mix of both imported and domestic models. It's funny when you think about it because one would assume that the imports would have a leg up in the hybrid world. However, it is apparent that the domestics know how to compete. The top-rated SUVs and crossovers are the Lexus RX 450H, the Toyota Highlander, the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid (Traverse is in this mix, too, although it is far smaller than the Tahoe), the GMC Yukon Hybrid and the Ford Escape Hybrid. Interestingly, the Ford Escape Hybrid has been in short supply for about two years, and near the top of everyone's shopping list for that time.

What is Considered the Top Rated Hybrid SUV?

There's an interesting mix of the top rated hybrid SUV vehicles on the market. They range from the Lexus RX 450H to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. At this point, the domestic models enter the top-rated vehicles with the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, followed closely by its stable mate, the GMC Yukon Hybrid. Closing out the field is the Ford Escape Hybrid. Interestingly, the top SUVs compete in a rather rare atmosphere between $30,000 and $50,000, and they are selling quite strongly. The best of the best, the top rated hybrid SUV is still the Lexus. Lexus has been Toyota's luxury division, since its introduction in the late 1980s, and has built a strong track record the 450H continues.

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