Ford Escape Hybrid
Youll pay a $9,000 premium over the base Escape for the $30,000 hybrid version, but youll be buying probably the most fuel-efficient SUV there is (32 mpg combined). The Escape (the Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a close cousin) has enjoyed success as a New York taxi, and its proven quite durable. U.S. News and World Reports ranked it seventh of 22 affordable compact SUVs. All-wheel drive is available, but you probably dont need it and fuel economy suffers. There are Base and Limited models, with the latter adding a fair number of creature comfortsand more than $2,000 to the bottom line.
Porsche Cayenne Hybrid
Believe it or not, Porsche will introduce a hybrid SUV in 2010, a version of its performance-oriented Cayenne with a 150-mph top speed and a rumored 27 mpg. Would Porsche make a minivan?
For the rest of us who cant afford a Porsche, a Volkswagen SUV alternative is soon to arrive. The 2010 Volkswagen Touareg BlueMotion Hybrid uses a supercharged V-6 engine and a hybrid system that will also be shared with Porsche, in this case the four-door luxury Panamera sedan. Like the Cayenne, its fast (zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds) and gets around 26 mpg combined (in the European cycle).
This is Honda's venerable workhorse small SUV, and it has remained justifiably popular (though it is due for a makeover; this version dates to 2007). The good news, however, is that for 2010 the CR-V (starting at $21,545) was significantly freshened, and Honda achieved the neat trick of both getting 14 more horsepower out of its 2.4-liter four and improving fuel economy to 21/28 mpg (2WD) and 21/27 (4WD). Other choices offer an optional V-6, but Honda likes what the four offers. Road noise has also been reduced in the 2010 model.
Like the CR-V, the midsized crossover $21,675 RAV4 is a survivor, dating from the early 1990s, with little alteration to the basic small-and-utilitarian concept. This is one of the rare instances where it might makes sense to go for the bigger engine, since the available V-6 sacrifices little in terms of fuel economy (but adds nearly 100 horsepower and a 7.2-second zero to 60 time). The four-cylinder 2WD RAV4 clocks in at 24 mpg combined, and its V-6 big brother 22. But youre fine without the 4WD.
Not much changed in 2010, the $20,295 Subaru Forester (a favorite of greens with stuff to move) is, says Consumer Reports, "among the best small SUVs." Stick with the base 2.5-liter four, which offers lively performance and 22 mpg overall. If you feel you need it, the XT model adds turbocharging but declines to 20 mpg. The Forester is perhaps the most carlike of these choices, and like all Subarus it comes with 4WD. The back seat has room to stretch out, and is one of the best things about this small car, which has enjoyed excellent reliability ratings.
BMW X6 ActiveHybrid
This is BMWs first full hybrid vehicle, and its a luxurious but pricey choice at $89,725. This is an SUV for performance-oriented techies, since its big twin-turbo V-8 produces 400 horsepower, and they are supported with a pair of beefy electric motors (480 peak horsepower total). There is no better option for zero to 60 in just 5.4 seconds while carting around a Cub Scout pack. Take it up to 130 mph if you dare, then throttle back and go 1.6 miles on the nickel-metal-hydride batteries alone. Fuel economy is much better than the standard X6, but still no Environmental Defense Fund members dream at 17 in the city and 19 on the highway. Carbon emissions are down 20 percent from the standard car, but theyre still double that of a Toyota Prius.