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Road test: Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen midsized SUVs that deliver a fuel economy bump

Consumer Reports News: May 10, 2011 10:43 AM

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The popularity of SUVs would seem to be threatened by high gasoline prices, but automakers are working on squeezing more fuel economy out of these so-called “gas guzzlers.” We just tested three that reflect ways car companies are achieving these improvements.

For the June issue of Consumer Reports, we tested the redesigned Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Volkswagen Touareg TDI. The Ford Explorer went from a truck-based platform to car-based, becoming lighter and more aerodynamic in the process. Those changes combine with a more modern engine technology and other measures such as electric power steering help it achieve 18 mpg overall, up from 15 mpg with the previous generation.

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient SUV in our Ratings at 27 mpg overall, up from the 24 mpg from its predecessor, due to a newer V6 engine. Such fuel economy finding is more typical of a small sedan.

The Volkswagen Touareg TDI also has good fuel economy at 24 mpg overall thanks to its turbodiesel V6 engine coupled to an eight speed automatic transmission. However, with diesel fuel being more expensive than regular gasoline, the long-term energy costs are not clear cut.

These models show that with part electric powertrain, a diesel engine or even conventional means to some extent, automakers can achieve better fuel economy with SUVs, which is good news for consumers looking to keep their larger car, but still get decent mileage.

For more on our tests of these SUVs including Ratings, reliability, and our detailed road test comparison, see our full June issue report.

Liza Barth

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