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Find Pickups and SUVs With High Gas Mileage

by Jerry Edgerton / August 15th, 2011

With gas prices remaining on the high side, many car buyers are switching to small, high-mile-per-gallon (mpg) cars. But maybe you don't have that option: You have to haul kids, their friends, and their gear. Or you need to tow your boat on weekends or haul heavy supplies for your garden. You need a pickup or SUV, but you still want to find one with gas mileage that will stretch the time between fill-ups. You're in luck. Unlike a few years ago, manufacturers have made gas mileage advances for these large vehicles, with hybrids and other gas-saving technology. Part of the motivation comes from government regulations requiring that each manufacturer hit an average 35.5 mpg for all its vehicles by 2016. But high gas prices provide a ready market for those higher-mileage vehicles.


Although the average gas mileage of pickups sold recently was just 16.4 mpg combined city and highway, according to auto-price service, the diligent shopper can find choices with much better mileage. Here are some of the best:
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid: This 2011 Silverado and its GMC Sierra corporate twin from General Motors are the only hybrid choices among full-size pickups. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway equal some midsize sedans and top many much smaller pickups in the EPA best-mileage rankings. Reviewers say the 6.0-liter V-8 engine, combined with two electric motors and an advanced automatic transmission, delivers acceleration and hauling comparable with a regular gas-only Silverado, while its towing capability is a little less. Available only in a crew cab, the hybrid Silverado starts at $38,725. If that roughly $3,500 differential deters you, the standard Silverado gets a respectable 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway.
  • Ford F-150: Instead of a hybrid version for the Silverado's archrival, Ford has introduced a series of advanced engine choices for the 2011 F-150. Its EcoBoost model, a 365-horsepower V-6 engine coupled with twin turbochargers—that's where the boost comes in—is rated at 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway. Its standard V-6 engine without a turbo gets a slightly better 16 city, 23 highway.
    Manufacturers have made advances in gas mileage for large vehicles.
    Ford hopes to convince pickup buyers they don't need the traditional V-8 power plant for big pickups, and the strategy seems to be working. Ford executives say more than half of F-150 buyers are choosing the V-6 engine. Reviewers say the EcoBoost does show power comparable with a V-8, and the standard V-6 still accelerates with authority. Like all pickups, the F-150 has a wide price range, from $22,790 to $51,525.
  • Toyota Tacoma: If you can meet your needs with a smaller, and much more affordable, pickup, try the 2011 Tacoma. With an EPA rating of 21 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, it's among the least thirsty in its compact pickup class. Reviewers also rank the Tacoma tops in both performance and comfort. A wide range of engines and cab and bed sizes means that you can customize the Tacoma to suit your needs. The base model starts at a list price of $16,365 before options, and the most expensive style ranges up to $27,525.

Sport utility vehicles

Since introduction of electronic stability control, which helps prevent rollover accidents, SUVs no longer present the safety concern they once did. And mid-size and smaller crossover SUVs offer some strong gas-mileage choices:
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid: From the company that popularized hybrids in the U.S., the 2011 Highlander's ratings of 28 mpg city, 28 highway beats GM's big hybrid SUVs, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon (21 mpg city, 22 mpg highway). The totally redesigned 2011 Highlander boasts 280 horsepower to go with that high mileage. Reviewers call it a good high-mileage alternative for those who regularly need seating for seven. List price ranges from $37,290 for the base model to $42,945 on the top end.
  • Ford Explorer: Though it's based on a car platform, Explorer won the 2011 North American Truck of the Year Award in its traditional category at this year's Detroit auto show. Reviewers have praised the combination of comfortable ride in the new crossover design and continued off-road ability of the earlier Explorer, once the biggest-selling SUV.
    High gas prices provide a ready market for higher-mileage vehicles.
    While it can't match hybrid mileage, the 2011 model's standard V-6 engine gets a rating of 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Explorer also offers its EcoBoost family of engines, a turbocharged four-cylinder with better acceleration and the same gas-mileage ratings. Starting prices range from $28,360 to $39,535.
  • Ford Escape Hybrid: If a smaller, crossover SUV suits you, the 2011 Ford Escape is the only hybrid in this class. If most of your driving is in the city or suburbs, the Escape will work especially well for you. Like most hybrids, it gets better mileage in the city, when the electric engine runs on its own more frequently. The EPA rating is 30 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. Reviewers praise its roomy and comfortable interior. You may, however, find the Escape Hybrid price a little high: List price ranges from $32,860 to $34,370.
  • Hyundai Tucson: If you're not focused on buying a hybrid, the 2011 Tucson is a more affordable choice with superior gas mileage on the highway; 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. Reviewers praise the Tucson for its handsome cabin and sporty handling. List price for the Tucson ranges from $18,895 to $26,345.
  • Volkwagen Jetta SportWagen TDI: It isn't an SUV, but this station wagon can haul nearly as much. With sales of clean diesel models booming, about 85% of Jetta wagon buyers choose the diesel engine. The 42 mpg highway rating, 30 mpg city, makes that an appealing choice. In addition, it has more power and better acceleration than the gasoline engine choice. That strong performance resonates with reviewers, along with its sporty handling. List price for the diesel 2011 Jetta wagon starts at $22,995.
In an era when forecasters believe gas prices will remain relatively high, you still can find plenty of pickups and SUVs with good gas mileage to fit into the driving and hauling you do. Jerry Edgerton writes the Cars and Money blog for CBS He is a former automotive writer for Money Magazine and the author of "Car Shopping Made Easy."
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