It’s a given that hybrid and all-electric vehicles are the most fuel-efficient models on the market. But what if you scroll through the inventory of a used SUV dealership for your family’s next vehicle and can’t find any used hybrid or electric SUVs in your price range? Even if you check out the physical lot of another used dealership with no luck, don’t worry; you still have options.
While alternative fuel vehicles like HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs are great for the environment with their lower emissions and can save you money on fuel costs, they might not be the right option for you and your family’s next vehicle. Whether they don’t fit into your budget, aren’t in stock at the local used SUV dealership, or aren’t what you’re looking for in general, both gas and diesel-powered vehicles have come a long way through the years and are now more efficient and cleaner than ever. If you’ve found yourself in a bind trying to find the perfect used fuel-efficient SUV for your family’s commuting and extracurricular activities, check out these five great models that don’t run on electric power.
#1 – Chevy Trailblazer
Although the midsize gas-guzzling TrailBlazer from the early 2000s might be the model that you envision, it’s the subcompact crossover SUV Chevy Trailblazer––with a lowercase “b”––that we’re referring to. Along with being smaller and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor from the same reliable and trustworthy Chevy brand, this SUV carries the nameplate for a reason. It might only be in its first generation, but the Chevy Trailblazer is one efficient and capable machine.
For you and your family’s commuting needs, saving money at the pump won’t be a problem with either the 2021 or 2022 models. The base 1.2L EcoTec turbocharged 3-cylinder engine can get you an estimated 29-30 MPG combined, depending on the model year. But for the most fuel-efficient, powerful, and capable engine, you’ll have to upgrade to the optional 1.3L EcoTec turbocharged 3-cylinder engine. This powertrain can get you an estimated 31 MPG combined and produce 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque for all the power you’ll need to easily tow up to 1,000 lbs.
If you’re looking for all-wheel drive with the Chevy Trailblazer for your family’s outdoor adventures on the trail, your only option is to upgrade to the 1.3L engine. And while you’ll likely see less fuel efficiency, it will not be by much. The estimated fuel economy for the all-wheel drive powertrain is still an impressive 28 MPG combined. Don’t worry, though. The all-season and trail capabilities you’ll gain with all-wheel drive and the off-road features of the Trailblazer ACTIV model will make up for the 3 MPG you’ll lose.
#2 – Subaru Crosstrek
Speaking of trail capability, let’s take a look at the subcompact Subaru Crosstrek, which comes with standard all-wheel drive. While this Subaru model was available with a hybrid powertrain from 2014 to 2016 and again from the 2019 model year on, we’re going to focus on the fuel-efficient and very capable gasoline powertrain options for the current second-generation Crosstrek.
Similar to the Chevy Trailblazer, this crossover seats five passengers comfortably and is available with a couple of gas-powered engine options. The base engine is a 2.0L boxer 4-cylinder estimated to get up to 30 MPG combined with the automatic transmission and 25 MPG combined if you choose the 6-speed manual transmission. As of the 2021 model year, the Crosstrek is available with a more powerful 2.5L boxer engine producing up to 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque for conquering the trails and towing up to 1,500 lbs. With all of that power, the 2.5L boxer engine still delivers 1 MPG more than the all-wheel drive Chevy Trailblazer powertrain. Plus, with the addition of the Sport trim and X-Mode traction control, the Subaru Crosstrek will easily maneuver in snow, dirt, and mud both on and off the trail.
Both the subcompact Subaru Crosstrek and the Chevy Trailblazer are similarly sized and comparably capable in any road condition, with the Crosstrek slightly leading in fuel efficiency. But if you’re looking to put the most cargo in the trunk, the Trailblazer takes the win for storage space behind the rear seats. The second-generation Subaru Crosstrek can carry a maximum of 55.3 cu.ft. of cargo, while the Chevy Trailblazer can only hold up to 54.4 cu.ft. behind the front seats with no passengers. However, it can carry just shy of 5 cu.ft. more than the Crosstrek behind the rear seat alone. Although it might not seem like much, if it means you or your kids have to leave something behind on your next camping trip, you might opt out of that added 1 MPG you’ll get with the Crosstrek.
#3 – Ford Escape
Jumping up to compact SUVs, we bring you the Ford Escape. The Escape is another SUV that is available with a hybrid powertrain along with its traditional gas-powered variants. Like the previously mentioned models, it too can seat up to five passengers, but it has more space for them to enjoy and up to 65.4 cu.ft. of cargo room for everything you might need to bring on the road. Although you’d think a larger vehicle would need more power under the hood than the subcompact SUVs on the list, the Ford Escape is still small enough to have fuel-efficient 3-cylinder and 4-cylinder engines.
The newest fourth-generation models, from the 2020 model year to 2022, come with a base 1.5L EcoBoost turbocharged 3-cylinder engine estimated to get 30 MPG combined with front-wheel drive and 28 MPG combined with all-wheel drive. The optional all-wheel-drive-only 2.0L EcoBoost turbocharged 4-cylinder powertrain can tow the most out of the two powertrains, up to 3,500 lbs, but loses fuel efficiency, dropping to an estimated combined 26 MPG, which is the lowest we’ve seen on the list so far.
Additionally, even though the Ford Escape is available with all-wheel drive, don’t expect to do much escaping off the pavement and into the woods with this SUV since none of its trims are fitted to handle more than a well-traveled dirt road with a few potholes. Still, the Escape is a good option with comparable fuel economy, a little more space, and a little extra towing power compared with the smaller Chevy Trailblazer and Subaru Crosstrek.
#4 – Toyota RAV4
Next on our list is another compact SUV. The Toyota RAV4, like the Subaru Crosstrek and Ford Escape, is available with a hybrid powertrain and has been since 2016. However, even though the RAV4 Hybrid and the RAV4 Prime (plug-in hybrid) are two of Toyota’s most fuel-efficient SUVs, the standard RAV4 also deserves recognition for its efficiency. With an estimated 30 MPG combined, the fifth-generation RAV4 with its 2.5L 4-cylinder engine is equivalent to the Subaru Crosstrek’s lesser engine. But if you have a family and all of their stuff to haul around, the Toyota RAV4 might be the most appealing of the two, with 37.6 cu.ft. of cargo space behind the rear seat and up to 69.8 cu.ft. with the back seats folded down when you’re riding solo.
For added appeal, the fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 is rated to tow up to 3,500 lbs when properly equipped. As a bonus, if your family enjoys living on the edge, unlike the Escape, the RAV4 is available with an Adventure trim and an even more rugged TRD Off-Road trim. So far, the Toyota RAV4 seems to be the most versatile model yet, but with added capability comes a heftier price tag. Opting for the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road is going to cost you more than it might be worth, especially since the RAV4 is already the priciest used SUV on our list to begin with.
#5 – Chevy Equinox
Although the compact Chevy Equinox might not be available with the rugged looks and capabilities of the Toyota RAV4, this five-seater is perfect for a family commuter vehicle that can handle extracurricular activities that might take you off the pavement and into the woods on a camping and fishing trip. It’s sized just below the Ford Escape, but if you look for a 2020 Chevy Equinox with the available 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, even though it offers a little less room in the cabin, it does not lack in power. It can produce 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and can tow the same weight as the Escape and the RAV4 when properly equipped.
Even better, the 2.0L engine will still get you an estimated 25 MPG combined with front-wheel drive and 24 MPG combined with all-wheel drive. Plus, with a 9-speed automatic transmission, you’ll enjoy a quicker take-off and a smoother ride versus the 8-speed transmissions found on the Ford Escape and the Toyota RAV4. To top it off, the Chevy Equinox is the least expensive out of the compact SUVs on our list. It barely costs more than the subcompact Subaru Crosstrek, making it the most valuable model on the list and giving you the most bang for your buck—which is something we can expect from Chevy.
Which Used SUV Should You Choose?
Ultimately, the choice is yours. You know your family’s needs better than anyone else. Although we’ve just introduced you to five great small SUVs that are fuel-efficient without the need for electric power, there may be larger or even smaller models in the inventory of your used SUV dealership that catch your attention more. You might even decide your family needs better fuel efficiency than what modern gas or even diesel engines can provide, and that’s fine too. No matter which SUV you choose for your family’s commuting and adventures, make sure it’s a model you can depend on that’s backed by a brand you can trust. Saving money at the pump might seem essential, but keeping your family safe and on the road when needed is even more important.