Do SUVs Use More Gas? We Checked (With Examples)

It’s common knowledge that, with an SUV, there’s more responsibility and that includes increased fuel usage.

However, what’s not talked about enough is that many factors determine their gas mileage.

Such factors include engine size, curb weight, and aerodynamics. Let’s discuss how SUVs fare against other car types when we consider these factors.

Here’s the short answer to whether SUVs use more gas:

On average, SUVs consume more fuel than sedans mainly because they weigh more. However, this is not a rule of thumb and should not be used as a global yardstick. Powerful engines, bigger spaces to cool and their AWD or 4WD systems contribute to their gas thirst.

Do SUVs Use More Gas Than Sedans?

As we briefly mentioned, most SUVs use more gas than sedans. We also mentioned that a major reason for this is that they weigh more.

Many other factors affect fuel economy. Even so, it’s noteworthy that weight may very well be the single most important factor. This is because the weight of any vehicle determines the amount of work the engine needs to do.

Think of any wagon as a car and a donkey as its engine. The heavier the wagon gets, the harder the donkey has to pull. So, engines do more work in heavier cars, and more work means more fuel consumption.

The average weight of an SUV stands at 5,000 pounds while that of a sedan is just over 3,300 pounds. Since weight is the major determining factor in fuel economy, it’s no surprise SUVs use way more gas than sedans.

To help you understand the differences, we’d compare two cars from one automaker. The 2022 Toyota Avalon (a sedan) has a city gas mileage of 22 mpg and a highway mileage of 32 mpg. This means a gallon of fuel would provide a range of 22 miles in the city and 32 on highways.

Let’s compare this with the 2022 Toyota Highlander (an SUV). It has 21 mpg city mileage and 29 mpg mileage on highways. This comparison further proves how SUVs use more gas than sedans.

The difference may not seem like a lot to you. If that’s the case, note that an extra 1 mpg represents an extra mile that 1 gallon would last. Still, some SUVs can be even more fuel economical than some sedans and the Toyota Corolla Cross proves this.

Do SUVs Use More Gas Due to the Extra Height?

This is where SUV aerodynamics come into play. You must’ve noticed by now that most SUVs have a boxed design and that’s partly why they tower above sedans.

This makes SUVs roomier and taller than sedans, providing drivers with a higher line of sight while driving.

While these features are useful, their high-roof shape has some cons. One major con is the pronounced effect of wind resistance. Shortly, wind resistance is the opposing effect of the wind on a moving body (including vehicles).

You can think of it as friction, but it occurs in the air. Their extra heights further provide more surface for the opposing wind to act upon. This is unlike sedans that have slopping surfaces on which the wind simply flows about.

In summary, wind resistance makes forward movement difficult, and this makes SUVs use more power to operate. As you already know, more power translates to more fuel consumption. However, drivers may not notice the extra resistance while driving their SUVs, but it becomes clear when measuring fuel efficiency.

Also, their high and narrow roofs make SUVs more susceptible to rolling over in tight corners or at high speeds.

What Are the Most Fuel-Effective Vehicle Types?

There are several ways of classifying vehicles, so picking the most fuel-efficient type gets tricky. Based on vehicle class, compact and subcompact cars are the most fuel-efficient vehicle types. This is because smaller cars are lighter, recall that weight plays a major role in fuel economy.

So, smaller SUVs are more fuel efficient than full-size ones. Indeed, some compact SUVs are up to 25% more fuel-efficient than larger ones.

However, this law doesn’t always apply.

Based on body type, we’d normally say sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks are at the forefront with fuel economy. This is because of their sloping front and rear sides, which make them aerodynamically superb. Then they’re also smaller than most other body types.

However, it’s not so simple anymore because many sports cars are coupes with powerful engines. This is interesting because engines with more cylinders get worse fuel economy. Many luxury sedans also brandish powerful engines and some of them (sedans) are even larger than subcompact SUVs.

This seemingly leaves hatchbacks as the sole winner in fuel economy. They are built like sedans and coupes (slopping-body-wise) but they have two-box configurations. However, there’s also the uncomfortable fact that an SUV is just another type of hatchback.

We could go on and on about what body style is best for fuel efficiency. However, we’ll let you decide at this point based on all we’ve explained. One thing is for sure though, SUVs are very far from being the most fuel-efficient vehicle type.

These days, drivers who are very mindful of fuel usage just opt for hybrid cars instead.

20 SUVs That Are Very Fuel Efficient

SUVs are far from being as fuel efficient as some other car types. However, some of them have remarkable fuel economy, especially crossover SUVs.

It’s noteworthy, however, that crossovers aren’t always considered SUVs. This is because they’re built on a unibody frame and they have features synonymous with sedans.

That’s why they’ve got better fuel economy but also why they can’t tow large weights as well as full-size SUVs.

Also, it’s clear by now that smaller SUVs have better gas mileage, so we’ll explore all segments. This way we can know which SUVs have the best efficiency in their class.

Sub-Compact SUVs

These SUVs fall under the smallest size in the market. Anything less than this size will probably be called something else, just like the Pontiac Vibe.

It’s also noteworthy that sub-compact SUVs are mainly crossovers.

So, expect their gas mileage to be as great as that of sedans. The table below shows different sub-compact SUVs with their city and highway mileage.

Model City Mileage (mpg) Highway Mileage (mpg)
Nissan Kicks 31 36
Kia Soul 29 35
Hyundai Kona 30 35
Kia Seltos 27 31

Compact SUVs

Compact SUVs and sub-compact ones are usually classified together against mid-size and full-size SUVs. Most compact SUVs are also crossovers.

Interestingly, the word compact is often used interchangeably with crossover.

So, people who still want superb fuel economy with a little off-road capability can opt for compact SUVs.

The table below shows different compact SUVs with their city and highway mileage.

Model City Mileage (mpg) Highway Mileage (mpg)
Toyota Corolla Cross 31 33
Toyota RAV4 27 35
Nissan Rogue 30 37
Honda CR-V 28 34
Hyundai Tucson 26 33

Mid-Size SUVs

They are the second largest ones in the market. However, many people consider them the perfect blend between sedans and SUVs.

This is because they have amazing off-road capabilities and are still more fuel efficient and affordable than full-size ones.

What’s even more exciting is that some mid-size SUVs are also crossovers. The Honda Pilot is a great example of a mid-size crossover SUV.

Crossovers must be taking over the SUV segment if we’re still finding them this far up the ‘size ladder’.

The table below shows different mid-size SUVs with their city and highway mileage.

Model City Mileage (mpg) Highway Mileage (mpg)
Subaru Outback 26 33
Kia Sorento 24 29
Hyundai Santa Fe 25 28
Chevrolet Blazer 22 29
Ford Edge 21 29

Full-Size SUVs

These are fully developed and unadulterated SUVs. They are built on body-on-frame designs and are also large and spacious.

They’re also the best choice for towing and off-road driving.

However, they burn the most fuel than any other type of SUV and they cost quite a lot. The table below shows different full-size SUVs with their city and highway mileage.

Model City Mileage (mpg) Highway Mileage (mpg)
BMW X7 19 24
Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class 18 24
Ford Expedition 17 23
Lincoln Navigator 17 23
Lexus LX 600 17 22
Nissan Armada 13 18

Final Thoughts

Whatever the case, there’s an SUV for almost every situation. So, the SUV you buy would depend on your driving conditions and priorities.

SUVs often require more gas and some even pondered if you can install bigger gas tanks on the vehicle.

However, don’t limit your options to only gas-powered cars. Plug-in hybrids and EVs are increasingly popular today.

Sources

13 Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs in 2022 | U.S. News

Best Gas Mileage SUVs: Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs for 2022 | Edmunds

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