Gas Mileage: Pickups and SUVs with Higher MPG

Last Updated Jan 25, 2011 12:24 PM EST

American car buyers continue their contradictory ways. Gasoline prices surged to nearly $3 a gallon late in 2010, but sales of new and used pickups and SUVs also boomed. What's going on?

The analysts at Kelley Blue Book believe U.S. drivers have simply adjusted their notion of what is "too high" for a gallon of gas. "When gas prices are between $2.65 and $3 a gallon, consumers change their buying habits little, if at all," says Juan Flores, director of vehicle valuation. "Until gas prices rise beyond $3.50 a gallon, Kelly Blue Book does not expect to see any significant changes in consumer preferences."

But anyone shopping for a pickup or SUV should think back to 2008, when gas was $4 a gallon. So if you are in the market, it makes sense to consider gas mileage. When filling the tank crosses that painful $100 threshold, at least you'll know you won't have to do it as often.

Here is a selection of well-reviewed pickups and SUVs with among the best mileage in their categories:

PICKUPS

Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid This Silverado and its GMC Sierra corporate twin from General Motors are the only hybrid choices among full-size pickups. The EPA ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway equal some mid-size 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 $38,340. If that roughly $3,500 differential deters you, the standard Silverado gets a respectable 15 mpg city, 20 highway.

Ford F-150 Instead of a hybrid version for the Silverado's arch-rival, 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 highway. Furthermore, its standard V-6 engine without a turbo gets a slightly better 16 city, 23 highway. Ford, like all manufacturers, needs to meet tight 2016 federal mileage standards and hopes to convince pickup buyers they don't need the traditional V-8 power plant for big pickups. 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 big range in starting prices, from $22,415 to $51,140.

SUVs

Toyota Highlander Hybrid From the company that popularized hybrids in the U.S., the 2011 Highlander's ratings of 28 mpg city, 28 highway bests GM's big hybrid SUVs, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon (21 mpg city/22 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 is now based on a car platform, Explorer won the 2011 North American Truck of the Year Award at the Detroit auto show in its traditional category. Reviewers say the new crossover design gives the Explorer a much more comfortable ride without sacrificing the competent off-road ability of the earlier version, which was once the biggest-selling SUV. 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 on the highway. A turbocharged four-cylinder, from Ford's Ecoboost family of engines, is expected to be available later this year and will get higher mileage. Starting prices range from $28,354 to $39,074.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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