SUVs with the best mpg

Looking for an SUV but don't want to pay through the nose in fuel bills? Check out these eight economical SUVs that offer great mpg

James Wilson
Jun 14, 2022

SUVs are very popular but they can use more fuel than similarly sized hatchbacks and estates, with some models costing an arm and a leg in petrol or diesel bills. That needn't be the case, though, if you choose one of the models with the best mpg.

Compared with lower, more aerodynamic and lighter cars, high-riding SUVs typically have worse fuel economy. Despite this, many motorists are happy to stomach the increased running costs in exchange for the perks of an SUV. One of the biggest selling points is the raised ride height, which can make getting in and out easier and loading children less strenuous.

Happily, driving a high-mpg SUV can bring fuel bills that are a fraction of those that come with the most fuel-hungry SUVs. Below there are eight of the best options with a range of fuel choices - two are diesel models, two are petrol models, two are traditional hybrids and two are plug-in hybrids.

The main differences between traditional and plug-in hybrids are that conventional hybrids have a much smaller battery pack, do not need to be plugged in to charge and their battery-powered range is significantly shorter. Plug-in hybrids, meanwhile, offer better on-paper fuel economy, but need to be plugged in regularly and driven on mainly short journeys to get anywhere their official economy figures. Fail to charge a plug-in hybrid and you'll get nowhere near the claimed mpg figures, which will cost you far more in fuel.

When cars are developed, they are put through official fuel tests - these are independent of car manufacturers and the figures they come up with are the ones that car makers quote in brochures and adverts. Even very small changes to a car can impact the claimed fuel economy, such as changing the size of wheels or whether or not air-conditioning is fitted.

The most recent fuel economy test is referred to as the 'WLTP' test. Before this was a previous setup called the 'NEDC' test. NEDC figures are much less realistic, providing best case figures that you're unlikely to match with normal driving. That said, all fuel economy figures can be considered optimistic, though generally speaking, they are still a good benchmark with which to compare different cars - although there is one exception. This is plug-in hybrids - often shortened to 'PHEVs'.

PHEVs can come with official fuel economy figures that exceed 200mpg. Without doing lots of sub-50-mile trips and charging religiously, most drivers won’t even get close to half of this. The reason being, plug-in hybrid batteries and electric motors are heavy and as soon as the batteries are flat they act as a huge paperweight, which means that the petrol or diesel engine has to use extra fuel just to keep the car moving - with little electric assistance.

In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that the official battery-powered range of a PHEV is typically longer than what drivers will achieve in the real world, in the same way that official fuel economy figures are optimistic. Cold weather in particular plays havoc with battery efficiency.

However, whichever type of fuel suits you (petrol works for low-mileage drivers, diesel for high-mileage drivers, hybrids for those who do a reasonable amount of town and relatively low-speed driving and plug-in hybrids for those who do a lot of short journeys and have the discipline to charge the car regularly), there should be a car to suit you below.

SUVs with the best mpg

1. Seat Ateca

Small petrol-powered SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Seat Ateca 1.0 TSI 115
Efficiency 46.3mpg
Used deals from £11,690
Monthly finance from £0*

The Seat Ateca is a compact but capable SUV. This is no easy task as this type of car has to be practical but not too large, well equipped but not too expensive and easy to drive but not too boring to drive. Happily, the Ateca manages to be all these things and more. Take the touchscreen media system - it is very simple to use and it responds quickly to inputs.

The most economical models are those with a 1.6-litre diesel engine but if you would rather have a petrol-powered car then look for a 115hp 1.0-litre 'TSI' petrol version. Fuel economy isn’t the only area in which an Ateca scores highly, as it achieved a full five-star crash test safety rating.

If you have kids to transport, you'll be please to know that the Ateca scored 84% for child occupant protection in a crash, which is a strong rating; the fourth-best score of all cars tested in 2016. Considering it's neither the biggest nor most expensive car, that's impressive.

SEAT ATECA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Peugeot 5008

Large petrol-powered SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Peugeot 5008 1.2 PureTech 130
Efficiency 46.7mpg
Used deals from £20,400
Monthly finance from £0*

Let’s get one thing straight; the Peugeot 5008 is a pretty big car, though still smaller and easier to drive than a number of large SUVs. It comes with seating for seven and the rearmost seats have enough space for adults, provided the middle row is slid forward a little. Being able to slide these forward has another benefit, as it makes access to the rear better than in a number of similarly sized cars. The front and middle seats have plenty of room, too. In short, the 5008 has a spacious and usable cabin.

What is unusual with the 5008 is that, while large cars normally have large engines to haul them down the road, the 5008 is available with a tiny 1.2-litre petrol engine, which is small no matter what size of car you are considering. Regardless, the 1.2-litre engine is surprisingly punchy - even in a car this size - and promises to be very economical. There is a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes with the manual being ever so slightly more economical.

PEUGEOT 5008 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Citroen C5 Aircross

Comfortable diesel-powered SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Citroen C5 Aircross 1.5 BlueHDi 130
Efficiency 57.7mpg
Used deals from £16,995
Monthly finance from £0*

The C5 Aircross shares a lot of engineering with the Peugeot 5008 above. This is thanks to Citroen being part of the same conglomerate as Peugeot. So are they basically the same car? No. The C5 Aircross is only available as a five-seater and tends to be a lot more affordable. Citroen has tuned the suspension of the C5 Aircross in a bid to make it very comfortable, too, doing without any notions of being sporty, since sporty cars normally have firm suspension.

For drivers doing lots of motorway journeys, Citroen has largely succeeded, as the suspension helps the C5 Aircross to glide along the tarmac. The windows are double glazed - which is something of a hallmark for particularly upmarket luxury cars - and there is plenty of soundproofing to shield driver and passengers from intrusive road noise. Things are less impressive when driving at slower town speeds, though, as lumps and bumps become more apparent. Still, the seats are comfortable at all times, making this a relaxing car to drive.

CITROEN C5 AIRCROSS BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Vauxhall Grandland

Easy-to-use diesel-powered SUV with the best mpg

Vauxhall Grandland front three quarters view

Our pick Vauxhall Grandland 1.5 Turbo D 130
Efficiency 54.3mpg
Used deals from £13,295
Monthly finance from £0*

The Vauxhall Grandland was originally launched as the Grandland X, though the two cars are pretty similar under the skin. It was in 2021 that Vauxhall dropped the ‚ÄėX‚Äô at the same time as refreshing the styling and tweaking the interior. One of the more obvious changes being the addition of a large black trim between the headlights. If lower prices are more important to you than the sharpest looks, however, going for the older version could still be a wise move.

Aside from a plug-in hybrid version, the most economical Grandland model uses a 1.5-litre diesel engine. The Grandland is an appealing all-round car, offering good comfort and driving well. All models are five-seaters with a boot rated at 514 litres, which is significantly better than hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus but on a par with similarly sized cars such as the Peugeot 3008.

VAUXHALL GRANDLAND (X) BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Toyota RAV4

Long-warranty traditional hybrid SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Toyota RAV4 2.5 Hybrid
Efficiency 50.4mpg
Used deals from £29,550
Monthly finance from £0*

The latest Toyota RAV4 is no shrinking violet thanks to bold, angular styling, which helps it to stand out. Another strength of the RAV4 is how it drives; it is surprisingly good at zipping around corners on 60mph roads while remaining comfortable. If we had one criticism of the RAV4 it would be that the media system isn’t as slick as those in certain rival cars. That said, this is something of a moot point as all RAV4 models now come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, so you can use this instead.

Build quality in the RAV4 is first-rate. Plus, Toyota recently launched a 10-year or 100,000-mile (whichever comes first) warranty for all of its models. This is the longest of any car manufacturer, though there is the requirement that after three years or 60,000 miles you must get your car serviced at an official Toyota garage every year for the warranty to be extended on a rolling 12-month basis.

TOYOTA RAV4 BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Hyundai Tucson

Striking traditional hybrid SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDi Hybrid
Efficiency 51.4mpg
Used deals from £22,100
Monthly finance from £0*

Hyundai makes some of the best hybrids in the business. Its latest Tucson is a prime example. There are quite a few different hybrid options but it is the traditional hybrid version being highlighted here. This uses a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 1.5kWh battery pack. kWh is the unit that battery packs are typically measured in, and generally speaking the bigger the number the longer the range. Currently, the best fully electric cars have battery packs between 50kWh and 100kWh in size.

All hybrid versions come with an automatic gearbox (the same is true of all mainstream hybrids) which means driving is very easy as there is no worry about stalling or having to change gear. The Tucson feels quite upmarket and the build quality is great - supporting this is a better-than-average unlimited mileage, five-year warranty offered by Hyundai. The 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is another highlight, as its graphics are crisp and the screen responds quickly to inputs.

READ MORE ABOUT THE HYUNDAI TUCSON

7. Volvo XC60

Luxurious plug-in hybrid SUV with the best mpg

Our pick Volvo XC60 2.0 T8
Efficiency 117.7mpg
Used deals from £31,990
Monthly finance from £0*

Few plug-in hybrid SUVs are quite as classy and cool as the Volvo XC60. Well, there is the larger Volvo XC90, but we shall gloss over that for now, as it's more expensive and uses more fuel. Depending on the age of the plug-in XC60 you are looking at, it will either be referred to as an XC60 T8 Twin Engine or an XC60 T8 Recharge - Volvo had a bit of a rebrand a little while back and in the process changed its naming structure.

There have been some important updates to the hardware of the XC60, too. In 2022 the battery got a boost in size so that with a full charge it can - in theory - power the Volvo without help from the petrol engine for up to 47 miles. As a result, if charged regularly the XC60 should be very economical and also incredibly fast - overtaking slow-moving traffic with the T8/Recharge is a breeze. Unlike some fast cars though, this Volvo is still comfortable as the suspension and seats successfully smooth out bumps in the road.

VOLVO XC60 BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Ford Kuga

High-range plug-in hybrid SUV with the best mpg

Ford Kuga front three quarters view

Our pick Ford Kuga 2.5 Duratec PHEV
Efficiency 282mpg
Used deals from £23,470
Monthly finance from £0*

Why choose a Ford Kuga as your next car? It depends, but there is no doubt that its combination of practical cabin, good build quality and enjoyable driving experience make it appealing to a wide variety of drivers. In trims such as ST-Line, the Kuga looks quite sporty, thanks to relatively large 18-inch alloy wheels, plus there is a good amount of standard tech. One example is the digital display that replaces traditional dials used for information such as speed.

Plug-in hybrid versions have the added benefit of high claimed fuel economy and can travel up to 39 miles on a full charge, according to official tests. Do bear in mind that the precise range can be impacted by specification, with larger alloy wheels normally reducing range and making fuel economy worse. If you need to tow, PHEV Kuga models can tow up to 2,100kg which is a decent amount. Many hybrid and plug-in hybrid models aren't well suited to towing, so the Kuga stands out here.

FORD KUGA BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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