Last Updated Jul 26, 2010 5:16 PM EDT
Ford is reinventing its Explorer -â€" once the leader of the SUV craze -- to appeal to buyers who still like SUVs but want decent gas mileage. Ford says the new Explorer, pictured here, will gain 20% in mileage with a new V-6 engine and 30% with a turbocharged four-cylinder.
Although Ford didn't cite specific ratings, that 30% gain seems to translate to about 19 mpg in city driving and 27 on the highway. As with its Mustang, Ford is offering a higher-mileage option as part of an overall market trend.(See Fast Cars Plus Good Gas Mileage? Yes!)
Ford's timing may be good. Recently, car buyers' shift away from sport utilities prompted by high gas prices seems to be lessening. In a recent survey by auto price site TrueCar.com of cars that moved off the dealers' lots fastest, nine of the top 10 were SUVs. "The love affair with the SUV isn't over yet," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar. "Consumers just prefer they burn a little less gas and look pretty."
Ford bills its turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, called EcoBoost, as delivering six-cylinder performance with four-cylinder fuel economy. In addition to the new engine, Ford has boosted the Explorer's MPG for all engine choices by lowering the SUV's weight, adding a more efficient six-speed transmission, and introducing a new air conditioning compressor that causes less drag on mileage.
If you're shopping for an SUV with strong mileage now, here is a look at the four best mileage among small and mid-size SUVs as rated by the EPA. We include one gas-electric hybrid and one traditional gas-powered entry in each class.
Mercury Mariner Hybrid-The Mariner Hybrid combines good looks and status as the most-efficient SUV (34 mpg in city driving, 31 highway). Reviewers, in some cases, see its $30,830 list price as a little high, though. Since Ford plans to discontinue the Mercury line, resale value of the Mariner Hybrid probably won't be terrific. But you can probably drive home a good deal. The Mariner Hybrid's average selling price, according to Edmunds.com, is $28,905-just $195 over dealer invoice.
Hyundai Tucson-For competitive mileage (among the best for non-hybrid SUVs at 23 city, 31 highway) and a bargain price, you'll want to check out the Tucson. Reviewers praise a 2010 redesign for this SUV's sleeker looks and improved power. A stylish interior and a better-than-average five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty (See What New Car Warranties Cover (and Don't) add to the attraction of the Hyundai Tucson. The average selling price of $20,385 is one of the lowest in this class.
Lexus RX 450H Hybrid-High-mileage hybrids among mid-size SUVs are clustered in the luxury brands. And after a redesign for 2010, the RX 450h has boosted its rating to 32 city, 28 highway-best in class. Reviewers praise its smooth, quiet ride-a Lexus hallmark-and its high-tech navigation system. Even the price passes for reasonable in the luxury ranks. The average selling price, according to Edmunds, is $42,413 including the optional navigation system.
Dodge Journey- With its MPG ratings of 19 mpg city, 25 highway, the Journey is nearly equal to the BMW X5 among non-hybrid entries. But it's in an entirely different (read: more affordable) price class. Reviewers find the Journey pleasant and roomy with a comfortable ride and an optional third-row seat. The average selling price , according to Edmunds.com, is $20,532-or $45 below dealer invoice price including a $1,500 rebate.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturers
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