The Truth About SUVs and Gas Mileage: Why They Get Bad MPG

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Do you own an SUV? If so, you’re probably aware that they don’t get the best gas mileage. In fact, most SUVs tend to get about 15-20 MPG in the city and around 25 MPG on the highway. But why is this? Why do these large, gas-guzzling vehicles have such poor fuel economy?

Let’s dig into why SUVs tend to have worse gas mileage than their sedan alternatives. Keep in mind though, not every point in this list fits every SUV, as every SUV can be quite different from the other.

SUVs tend to not get great gas mileage due to their size weighing them down, however, it can be due to other reasons such as aerodynamics, the fact that many are AWD, and the fact that many are built on trucks platforms.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these reasons!

1. SUVs are often larger and heavier than other vehicles, making them less fuel-efficient.

Weight is a big issue when it comes to an SUV. They have some huge upsides, such as more room for people and cargo, however, it comes at the sacrifice of additional weight that is not possible with a car. More weight means that the engine has to work harder and in the end uses more gas.

It should be kept in mind, that SUVs are in a strange segment where they are large vehicles, but they are mainly meant for transportation. This means that if they use larger engines with more power, they get lower gas mileage due to the larger engine size that needs more fuel to run. Meanwhile, if they opt for smaller engines, the larger weight makes the engine need to work extra hard to keep up, causing gas mileage to plummet.

One way that manufacturers have found a way around this issue, is to add turbos to smaller engine SUVs. This means the turbo will kick in when the power is needed for passing or just that quick need for speed. However, when it is not needed, it is dormant, giving the vehicle better gas mileage. It isn’t perfect but is a decent solution.

2. SUVs are not as aerodynamic as other vehicles

Have you ever stuck your hand out the window while driving down the road? You quickly realize that when you put your hand vertically, the wind pushes your hand backward. Meanwhile, if your hand is horizontal, it can easily cut through the wind.

While SUVs have become better and better at their aerodynamics, you can think of this situation as a good metaphor for SUVs in comparison to cars.

With their higher rooflines, wider stance, and an overall less aerodynamic shape SUVs just don’t cut through the air quite as well as a comparable sedan would.

This means more fuel is needed to keep an SUV at the same speed as a sedan. Even small increases in drag can have a large effect on gas mileage for an SUV.

3. Many SUVs have four-wheel drive, which uses even more gas

While all-wheel drive is great for off-roading or driving in winter weather conditions, it does come at the cost of gas mileage. This is because all-wheel drive vehicles have to send power to all four wheels, as opposed to two. This means that the engine is working harder and using more gas in the process.

In addition, many people who own all-wheel-drive vehicles rarely use them. This means that they are essentially paying for a feature that they may never even use.

Before you decide on buying an AWD or a 4WD SUV, you should definitely think through what you will be using it for, and buy accordingly, as you might be throwing some gas money out the window.

4. Some SUVs are based on pickup truck platforms, which also lowers gas mileage.

Pickup trucks aren’t exactly known for their great gas mileage (even though some can get quite good gas mileage) and many SUVs are built on the same platforms. Vehicles like on this list, including the Toyota 4Runner, Escalade, and even the Jeep Wagoneer are all built on a ladder-frame chassis. This means that there is a frame, and a body, rather than everything being one component.

While this helps a ton in the clearance department, they do have issues with gas mileage. This is because the frame is often quite heavy, which in turn makes the gas mileage not as good.

What SUVs do get good gas mileage?

Not all SUVs do get bad gas mileage! There are plenty of Crossovers on the market, which blend the line between a car and an SUV, and some can get fantastic gas mileage. Many utilize the Hybrid method, which is essentially giving an electric assist to help push the vehicle forward (kinda like a turbo). Here are a few crossovers I like with great gas mileage!

Kia Sorento

Kia has been doing a great job lately and has been selling some fantastic SUVs that look awesome, function well, and even get great gas mileage. The newest Kia Sorento (the hybrid version) is a larger SUV but still can get an amazing 37 miles per gallon.

Subaru Outback

While not a hybrid, the new Outback has been getting some great gas mileage numbers. It is a crossover SUV that can get up to 29 miles per gallon on the highway. If you are looking for a rugged SUVish vehicle, the Outback offers great gas mileage and plenty of space.

Ford Explorer Hybrid

I am a huge fan of the Ford Explorer, as it is high quality, larger, and offers a lot of great conveneniences. The Hybrid version of the Explorer can give you up to 27 miles per gallon. While this doesn’t seem crazy high, it is quite impressive for such a large vehicle.


Now, this doesn’t mean that you should get rid of your SUV. They are still great vehicles with a lot of upsides. But it is important to be aware of why they don’t have the best gas mileage. I hope this article helped explain a bit about gas mileage and SUVs!