Believe it or not, the holidays are quickly approaching, and winter driving is not far behind. So, it’s time to think about how the changing seasons will impact road conditions. For many drivers, the solution for getting out of town (and off the beaten path) is a super-safe all-wheel drive vehicle. But traditionally, putting power to all four wheels has meant a big hit on fuel economy. That doesn’t sit well with green-leaning drivers who like to take adventures into nature, while using fewer of its resources (not to mention folks trying to avoid $100 fill-ups).
Fortunately, there are a growing number of rugged road-gripping models that use less gas to reach the great outdoors—or grandma’s Thanksgiving Day feast. Here are the top seven models that deserve a look from any car shopper wanting to combine 4WD with MPG.
Note: For our purposes, four-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are synonymous. They both describe the ability to apply torque to all four wheels.
1. Subaru Impreza Wagon – 27 city / 36 highway
The fourth-generation Subaru Impreza wagon, and its compact sedan variant, are the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive cars on the market. For 2012, the combined fuel efficiency of the base model jumped by more than 20 percent. Its affordable price (around $20,000, depending on trim level), decent power, and standard all-wheel drive make it a compelling choice for shoppers wanting good fuel economy with all wheels firmly planted on the road.
Photo credit: Subaru
2. Lexus RX450h – 30 city / 28 highway
The Lexus RX 450h is the top-selling hybrid SUV in the United States. It offers power equivalent to 4.5-liter gas engine—and comes with an all-wheel drive option. That AWD option knocks back city fuel economy from 32 miles per gallon to 30 MPG. But mileage on the highway holds firm at 28 MPG. So combined fuel economy is only a fraction lower compared to the front-wheel drive model. Meanwhile, the RX continues to supply comfort, ample space, attractive styling, and luxury amenities.
Photo Credit: Lexus
3. Ford Escape Hybrid AWD – 30 city / 27 highway
The Ford Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid offered by an American car company. It continues to reign as the most fuel-efficient SUV—at least until its retirement in late 2012. Unlike the Lexus RX450h, the 4WD version of the Escape Hybrid suffers a bit more when it comes to fuel economy. Instead of getting 34 MPG in the city, the 4WD Escape Hybrid drops to 30 MPG—while highway driving also drops by 4 MPG to 27 miles per gallon on the highway. Still, the combined city-highway mileage of 29 MPG is an exact match to the Lexus Hybrid SUV, and only 1 MPG away from the Impreza.
Photo Credit: Ford
4. Toyota Highlander Hybrid – 28 city / 28 highway
Somehow, Toyota engineers were able to completely nullify any 4WD penalty on the Highlander Hybrid. Whether you drive the front-wheel or four-wheel drive version, you’ll get a solid 28 MPG in city and highway conditions. Moreover, it’s the only vehicle on this green four-wheeling list that comes with an optional third-row seat. That means this popular affordable hybrid SUV seats up to seven, making it a solid choice as a comfortable and efficient family-hauler.
Photo Credit: Toyota
5. Subaru XV Crosstrek – 25 city / 33 highway
Like all Subaru vehicles, the XV Crosstrek offers all-wheel drive as a standard feature. The XV Crosstrek is based on the Subaru Impreza. It’s nearly identical on the inside, but adds a few stylistic flourishes on the exterior—such as more pronounced wheel arches, more ground clearance, and spoilers that increase efficiency by 1 MPG. The Subaru XV Crosstrek deserves its spot on the short list of any shopper wanting more frequent trips off-road and less frequent trips to the gas station.
Photo Credit: Subaru
6. Mini Cooper Countryman All4 – 25 city / 31 highway
The Mini Cooper Countryman is the largest Mini available. The extra size gives the Countryman the head- and leg-room missing from smaller Minis—but it retains all the style and attitude. (Keep in mind: it only seats four.) Reviewers are split on whether or not the Countryman loses some of the performance expected from the Mini brand. This taller Mini is the first to offer all-wheel drive, what the folks from BMW—the maker of Mini—calls “All4.” While the Countryman is the smallest of the bunch of green AWD drivers on this list, its modest size helps it achieve a combined 28-MPG rating from the EPA.
Photo Credit: Mini
7. Mazda CX-5 4WD – 25 city / 31 highway
Reviewers have praised the Mazda CX-5 for its handling and ability to hug a corner. Some even put its driving characteristics on par with the smaller Mazda MX-5 Miata. The CX-5 has a sporty attractive exterior that matches Mazda’s zoom-zoom image. Other small crossovers might score higher on overall horsepower, or interior room, but you would be hard-pressed to find another vehicle that combines fun, four-wheel-drive and combined fuel efficiency approaching 30 miles to the gallon.
Photo Credit: Mazda
Check out all the eco-friendly all-wheel drive vehicles for sale, and more background info, at eBay Green Driving.