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Top five most fuel-efficient SUVs

There are new-age fuel-dodging SUVs appearing more and more

The words ‘fuel efficient’ and ‘SUV’ never used to be seen in the same sentence, unless they were joined by other words such as ‘not’ and ‘very’. That's because SUVs were giant, towed things over tough terrain and needed big engines to power them.

And while these beasts still roam the Earth and now even guzzle less gas, several new species of SUV have appeared and they too are enormous but happily run on as much fuel as a tiny hatchback or less. 

Some don’t need petrol or diesel at all. There are new-age fuel-dodging SUVs appearing more and more and some less thirsty than others, so we’ve created a list of the top five most fuel efficient.

5. BMW X5 xDrive 40e

2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e. 2016 BMW X5 xDrive40e.

The BMW X5 xDrive 40e is the petrol electric plug-in version of the X5 and despite being pretty much the size of a suburban home and weighing 2.2 tonnes BMW says it has combined fuel consumption rate of  3.3L/100km.

Under that enormous bonnet is a small 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine, but in between it and the eight-speed automatic transmission is an 83kW/250Nm electric motor.

Batteries are stored under the boot floor but only reduce the size by 50 litres to 600 litres. 

With hybrid vehicles you can’t just add all the number up to give you total output, it doesn’t work that way. The combined output in this case is 230kW/450Nm. 

The quickest X5 is the V8 powered xDrive50i which BMW says has a 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds. The hybrid is rated at 6.9 seconds. Still the hybrid is 0.9 seconds faster than the four-cylinder XDrive25d which it matches in every other way spec-for-spec, including price.

That the xDrive40e and it’s diesel-only twin both list for $118,855 is fantastic – here’s a example where a hybrid is a real alternative to another variant and not something you need to consciously fork out more for just because you’re doing the right thing by the planet – Mitsubishi take note.

What’s not entirely real is the official fuel economy figure, I found that in my testing of the xDrive40e it was difficult to hit the claimed combined fuel figure. Hills drained the charge quickly and so did my ‘competitive’ driving style. It’s not impossible to achieve close to the figure, but you’ll need to drive conservatively and charge the SUV regularly.

A wall unit costs $1700 and will top the battery up completely in 2.5 hours and BMW says you’ll be able to travel 30km on pure electricity alone on a full charge.

4. Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e

2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e (international model shown) 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e (international model shown)

Ah, see you can have your plush, powerful, lounge room on wheels and not feel as guilty about the polar bears or the whales or the whatever-else-needs saving. Yes, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e looks just like the beautiful beast that is the GLE inside and out, but with an official combined fuel consumption of 3.3L/100km.

Now the best thing about the GLE 500e is that it isn’t a watered down “lite” version of the GLE. The BMW X5 hybrid gets a tiny, four-cylinder petrol engine, which doesn’t seem to match its muscular body. 

The GLE 500e on the other hand has a 245kW/480Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol engine which would be impressive by itself in a sports car. Then there’s the 85kW/340Nm electric motor. The combined output is 325kW/650Nm which Benz claims will send the GLE 500e from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.3 seconds.

That’s more like it – you shouldn’t have to choose between efficiency and power.

In pure electric mode the GLE 500e will make it 31km before the petrol engine takes over completely. A wall unit can be purchased and can charge the batteries fully in about two hours.

Okay, the not great news, those batteries are under the boot floor and really eat into the cargo space reducing it from 690 litres in the regular GLE to 480 litres.

A list price of $124,900 makes the GLE500e one of the more pricey GLEs in a range which kicks off at $89,500.

3. Volvo XC90 T8 hybrid

2017 Volvo XC90. 2017 Volvo XC90.

Volvo’s giant luxury XC90 flagship strolled straight into our top five safest SUV list and now the plug-in hybrid T8 version is up there with the most fuel-efficient SUVs on the planet with an official combined consumption of 2.1L/100km.

The T8 takes the same 235kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine that’s in the T6 and adds a 65kW/240Nm electric motor into the mix. That drops a second off its claimed 0-100km/h time to a very quick 5.6 seconds, while reducing fuel consumption from a combined 6.2L/100km to 2.1L/100km and a CO2 of 49g/km. The T8 can travel 43 kilometres in pure electric driving mode.

At $120,900 the T8 lists for $20,000 more than the T6 and like its petrol-only equivalent has seven seats.

As with all XC90s, the T8 is all wheel drive but has a higher braked towing capacity at 2400kg (2250kg is the maximum for the lighter other variants). 

Another advantage to buying the hybrid is that for some reason it's the only grade in the XC90 range which comes standard with a panoramic sunroof - no, not it's not a solar panel. You'll save $3000 there.

Boot size is down by 78 litres compared to the non-hybrid with cargo capacity of 1019 litres with the third row down and 369 litres with the back seats up - keep in mind these volumes are measured to the roof

Volvo claims the XC90 was the world’s first seven-seat plug-in SUV when it arrived in 2015.

2. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV Exceed

A regular Mitsubishi Outlander with a petrol engine carries an official combined fuel consumption figure of 7.2L/100km. Its brother - the Outlander PHEV – gets away with just 1.7L/100km. Wait the what? Well, PHEV stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. And no it’s not pronounced ‘Fev’, it’s P-H-E-V. Yes, we wish it was called Fev, too. 

The Outlander PHEV combines two electric motors (a 60kW/137Nm on the front axle and a 60kW/190Nm on the rear) with a 2.0-litre 89kW/190Nm four-cylinder petrol-engine. The Outlander has a pure electric mode and it can travel 54 kilometres on a full charge. When using the motors and engine together to get the possible economy Mitsubishi claims a combined 1.7L/100km.

The Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid. A fast charger will bring the battery back up to 80 per cent in 25 minutes. Regenerative braking also tops up the battery charge.

The hybrid hardware reduces the size of the boot size by 14 litres to 463 litres.

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is the most affordable fuel efficient SUV in our top five but it’s still not cheap by everyday terms and quite a bit dearer than its regular-engined siblings. The range has two variants: the $50,490 LS entry grade car and the Exceed-spec for $55,490. You’ll pay almost $17,000 less for the petrol-only LS and about $11,500 less for the petrol-only Exceed.

1. Tesla Model X

2017 Tesla Model X. (image credit: Richard Berry) 2017 Tesla Model X. (image credit: Richard Berry)

Completely. Next. Level. The all-electric Tesla Model X P100D is the fastest accelerating SUV on the planet. Dammit, 0-100km/h in 3.1 seconds (if you purchase the optional Ludicrous Mode) makes the P100D quicker than almost everything including the Lamborghini Huracan which does it in 3.2 seconds. Just to humiliate the Lambo even more the Model X can be equipped with seven seats. 

How does the Model X P100D do it? Two massive motors – a 193kW/330Nm on the front axle, a 375kW/600Nm on the back and a 100kWh battery pack that looks like a giant block of chocolate running under the floor between them. 

Just to be super clear: the Model X isn’t a hybrid, there’s no petrol or diesel engine as well as the motors, and that means if you run out of charge you’re stuck… on the side of the road or in the middle of it. 

Range is excellent for an electric vehicle at 656km (NEDC, expect less in the real world) and a Tesla Supercharger Station will put 270km of range into the batteries in 20 minutes. A wall unit for your house will fill it at 40km per hour.

The cost to charge the battery depends on where you live and your energy provider, but the maximum you can expect to pay to fully charge the battery is $25. In comparison, filling the tank of a mid-sized SUV with premium unleaded petrol will cost you about $90.

With coupe styling similar to the GLE and BMW X6, the Model X outdoes them in the flamboyant stakes with ‘Falcon wing’ doors. A minimalist, stylish and luxurious cabin awaits inside.

Boot space is 2180 litres but that is the combined volumes of the front boot and the back cargo area with the third row folded flat.

Tesla says that software will soon be available to download which will make the Model X fully autonomous.

So how much does such a ‘miraculous’ SUV cost? The base-spec P75D kicks off the line-up at $130,450 but the top-of-the-range P100D has a list price of $211,200 and that’s before you start adding super expensive options such as the go-faster Ludicrous mode.

Which SUV would you like to see "go green" that's not already? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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