Both front-wheel drive and sharing similar engines -- a 3.5-liter V-6 in the Ford Flex and a 3.7-liter version of the same engine in the Mazda CX-9 -- these big crossovers are capable of swallowing acres of cargo along with as many as seven passengers apiece. Both are available with all-wheel drive, and the Ford has another engine option beyond its standard 265-horsepower V-6: an EcoBoost twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 capable of making 355 horsepower. Of course, with greater power or the added weight of all-wheel drive, highway fuel economy drops to a less-stellar 22 mpg.
The trio of full-size GM crossovers built on the "Lambda" platform -- the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia -- moved ahead of the Flex and CX-9 by way of a tiebreaker, as their 3.6-liter V-6 nets 23 mpg on the highway with all-wheel drive versus 22 for the Ford and Mazda. But enough about technicalities, as it may be tough to get the 5000-pound to 24 mpg in the first place. With an efficient six-speed automatic, it's possible, but you're going to have to drive for a while to do so. What makes us like the Lambda trio, though, isn't their efficiency; it's the fact that because of their size, they're a legitimate substitute for the utility of a minivan.
The third big crossover on this list, the Honda Pilot looks more like a traditional, upright SUV than a station wagon on stilts. But where it may not have aerodynamics on its side like some of the aforementioned crossovers, it makes up for it with an efficient 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and a less weight to tug around. Even with all-wheel drive, the Pilot only loses 1 mpg in the city and highway. The third row is a younger-kid special, but we've sat there and found it adequate for adults in a pinch.
Equipped with front-wheel drive and its base 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder , the Dodge Journey is able to achieve a respectable 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway while carrying six or seven people. But you don't want that engine. It's paired with an archaic four-speed automatic that dates back to the Clinton Administration. Fortunately, the Journey is also available with the award-winning Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 that still nets an impressive 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway. Unfortunately, with all-wheel drive, fuel economy dips even further, making it not too efficient for its size.
The next vehicle on our list isn't a crossover at all. It's a legitimate, bona fide SUV, built on a heavy duty truck frame and able to tow up to 6,200 pounds -- almost double what the next-best vehicle on this list can muster. It also offers up the same fuel economy whether you pick the two- or four-wheel-drive version. On top of that, it's one of the few vehicles on this list (others include some the Honda Pilot and GM Lambda trio) that can legitimately seat eight passengers, although it might be a little cramped with a full load. It's also a expensive, with a starting price of almost $53,000, although in fairness it's so loaded with standard features from the factory that the options list is on the short side.
The EcoBoost mantra of V-6 power with four-cylinder fuel economy sounds rather enticing. On paper, the turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder makes 237 horsepower, which sounds like more than enough for any front-wheel-drive crossover. That is, until you consider that the Explorer weighs some 4,500 pounds without human inhabitance. Ford promises 28 mpg highway, which is at the top of its class, but the 3.5-liter V-6 makes more horsepower and doesn't sacrifice much torque. And unlike the EcoBoost, it's available with all-wheel drive. The only problem is that a V-6, all-wheel-drive Explorer is only good for a much lower 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway EPA rating.
This tweener that straddles the compact and midsize crossover segments does much more with much less compared to the many of the other vehicles on this list. Whereas others have advanced features like six-speed automatics, turbochargers, direct fuel injection, or hybrid systems, the Toyota RAV4 makes do with an old-school 2.5-liter that makes just 179 horsepower. It's paired with a four-speed automatic that also dates back some years. Yet, together with its light weight and efficient packaging, the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive RAV4 manages an impressive 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway. Even with its powerful 269-horsepower V-6, it can still manage 27 mpg highway when powering just the front wheels, thanks in part to a more advanced five-speed automatic. The rearmost seat is reserved for the smallest passengers though, and you can forget about cargo space when you're using the third row, too.
Just one iteration of the Mitsubishi Outlander comes with its fuel-efficient 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, and the optional third row bench seat. It's not likely going to be the one you find on your dealership lot, either, as Mitsubishi's more powerful V-6 engine gets plenty more attention, and front-wheel-drive crossovers sell as well in middle America as winter boots in Los Angeles. The Outlander makes our list as the third most-efficient mainstream crossover you can get for the money, but the more powerful engine and all-wheel drive can knock down fuel economy significantly.
Kia's breaking the mold, offering a mid-range engine in its midsize crossover that not only is more powerful than its base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but also gets better fuel economy, too. Offered up in as an option in the base Kia Sorento LX, as well as standard fare in the mid-level Sorento EX and top-range Sorento SX, Kia has an advanced "direct injection" version of its four-cylinder, giving it 16 more horsepower over the base engine while simultaneously bumping fuel economy 1 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway. With the optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine, fuel economy drops significantly, but it also gets a very large dollop of horsepower for compensation.
When done correctly, hybrid technology is an excellent tool to help mitigate the problems caused by having a big vehicle to haul around and a big engine needed to do it. In the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the automaker employs a combination of an electric motor system with its 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces a net 280 horsepower, which is 10 more than its 3.5-liter engine without the hybrid powertrain. It also gets significantly better fuel economy than any other Highlander, boasting 28 mpg in the city and on the highway. Lastly, and unlike some of the smaller offerings on this list, we don't have to make any conditional statements regarding whether or not it can haul seven passengers. It can. The only problem with it then might be its price, which starts around $39,000, and the tight cargo space behind the third row.
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