Let’s face it: SUVs are extremely convenient. They have plenty of room for your family and gear (not to mention all your family’s gear), yet they’re not boxy or nerdy like minivans. What’s not to like? Well, their impact on the environment, for one.
Many SUVs are extreme gas guzzlers, which increases your carbon footprint while sucking your bank account dry. So, what new vehicle are you supposed to buy if you have a large family but you’re also concerned about saving the planet?
You can drive a hybrid SUV.
The hybrid models below have all the advantages of regular SUVs but with electric motors that boost their MPG and reduce their environmental impact. You can finally lug your kids around everywhere they need to go while also making the world a better place for their kids.
Toyota RAV4 2020
Given that the Toyota Prius helped usher in the hybrid craze, it’s not surprising that the company would make one of the best cars when it comes to SUV hybrids.
Capable of up to 40 combined MPG, the RAV4 hybrid is an expert at stretching out a tank of gas. You don’t have to sacrifice much get-up-and-go for that added fuel economy, however, as the powerful V6 engine provides plenty of punch and the battery pack helps bring it up to 219 HP.
It handles well, even in poor conditions, making it suitable for use in just about any climate. The electronic on-demand all-wheel drive comes in handy when roads get slick, and the sport-tuned suspension offers plenty of cushion when things get bumpy.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure how to drive efficiently, either, as it boasts an electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission. This keeps you at the ideal RPM as much as possible, while still providing you all the power you require when you need to make a speedy getaway.
The four drive modes let you tailor the engine’s performance to the job at hand. ECO Mode boosts MPG by limiting acceleration (which should make the EPA happy), while EV Mode runs on electric power for highly-efficient, short-distance jaunts. When you want to let your hair down (and are willing to sacrifice some efficiency to do it), switch to Sport Mode. Use Trail Mode when you want improved braking and traction.
It’s as futuristic in the cabin as it is under the hood. It can support Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, and Android Auto, allowing you to pair with just about any smart device under the sun. Regardless of what you hook up to it, the JBL sound system will make sure everything sounds crystal clear.
It’s surprisingly roomy as well, and the cargo area has plenty of room for luggage, sports gear, or moving boxes. The rear seats fold down for extra space—up to 37.6 cubic feet in all. That’s plenty for the average family, and you won’t have to leave any bags, gear, or unloved relatives behind.
That said, while it’s spacious, it’s not always comfortable for passengers. The front passenger seat can be especially unwelcoming, especially on long treks, and you may end up asking riders in the back to get awfully friendly with one another.
The braking system also takes some getting used to, as it’s probably going to be sluggish and clunky compared to what you’re familiar with. The good news is that you will eventually acclimate to it, but there might be some close calls in the beginning.
All in all, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid performs well in just about every conceivable category and does so at a relatively reasonable price. Will it make you give up your Prius? We can’t say, but you may just consider parking the Prius in the RAV4’s cargo hold.
Lexus RX 2020
Full disclosure: we actually like the RX more than the RAV4, and we think that you will too. That said, you should like it more because it’s quite a bit more expensive. Only we’re not sure that the added perks and opulent styling on this luxury hybrid SUV justify the additional price.
This fuel-efficient vehicle is as much a country club as it is an SUV, as the interior is chock-full of bells and whistles. Much of your time will be spent fiddling with its central command center, which takes the form of a 12.3-inch color touchscreen. This allows you to control everything from navigation to climate, and it’s situated in such a way as to blend in with your driving experience rather than distract from it.
There’s also a color HUD that projects relevant information like speed, fuel economy, and RPM right onto the windshield, so you’ll never have to take your eyes off the road to see what kind of gas mileage you’re currently getting.
You can control everything with your voice as well, thanks to the Dynamic Voice Command System. Don’t worry about road noise drowning you out either, as the cabin is incredibly quiet.
There’s room for up to six passengers, each of which will enjoy the luxurious leather seats. The multi-zone climate control ensures everyone will ride at a comfortable temperature, and the Wi-Fi hotspot will keep everyone entertained.
While it’s got plenty of space for people, the cargo room leaves something to be desired. There’s only 18 cubic feet of space with the seats up, and even that number is generous, as the roof slopes in such a way as to limit your packing options.
Still, accessing the cargo space is simple, as the rear door has a kick sensor that opens it if you touch it with your foot. This allows you to load it up without ever having to set things down, which can come in handy in inclement weather.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine doesn’t have the greatest pickup either. It’s more of a steady, gradual increase in speed, which is excellent if you’re worried about comfort, but it hardly gets the pulse racing. Users may complain that the RX simply isn’t as fun to drive as luxury SUVs they’ve owned in the past.
You’re likely not buying it to race, though, so that’s not much of a dealbreaker. If your main concern is buying a vehicle that offers a comfortable, luxurious ride, you’ll be hard pressed to top the RX.
Kia Niro 2020
The Kia Niro has flown under the radar to a certain extent, as it’s been outshone by the RAV4 and CRV in recent years. That’s a shame, though, as this crossover SUV is an excellent car at a relatively comfortable price.
There is one glaring drawback that’s immediately obvious and impossible to ignore, however: This is a small SUV. In fact, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it more closely resembles a large hatchback or a subcompact SUV, but if you can get past that you’ll likely be thrilled by what the Niro has to offer.
It provides up to 50 combined MPG, which helps save you money on its already-impressive ownership costs (and there’s a plug-in hybrid option that’s even more fuel efficient). Even with its frugal fuel consumption, it’s still a fun car to zip around in, thanks to its 1.6-liter GDI engine and dual-clutch transmission. However, if you switch to the car’s ECO Mode, you will sacrifice much of this zippiness. In fact, the ECO setting can feel downright sluggish compared to some other models.
It’s roomy and comfortable with lumbar support and an integrated memory system hidden in the driver’s seat. You can also heat or ventilate the seats as well as warm up the steering wheel on frigid mornings.
As for the cargo space, there’s a lot more room here than you’d expect at first glance, but it still lags behind some of its competition (most notably the RAV4). The rear seat folds down perfectly flat to give you 60/40 storage, and there’s room underneath the seats as well. You’ll also discover several smartly-placed cubbies for smaller items, most notably the compartment in front of the gear shifter that’s perfect for housing a charging phone.
Perhaps the biggest complaint about the Niro is its lack of all-wheel drive. It also has limited ground clearance, so don’t expect to take it too far off the beaten path. This is a vehicle made for the city and suburbs, which, to be fair, is where the majority of users will keep it most of the time.
While the Niro may not be as luxurious or spacious as some of its rivals, this compact SUV manages to offer most of what they do at a fraction of the price. You may feel the other components add enough value to justify forking out more of your hard-earned cash, but we believe that once you spend a few weeks in the Niro you won’t miss what it doesn’t have.
Toyota Highlander 2019
This car hits the sweet spot between the utilitarian RAV4 and the posh Lexus RX as it combines comfort and luxury with superior performance. However, it’s something of a jack of all trades and master of none, as it’s not quite able to beat either of those vehicles at their own game.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: This is a big vehicle. It’s ideal for larger families, and it can hold seven or eight people comfortably, thanks to its three rows of seats. The seats can fold down when not in use to give you more cargo capacity as well.
Your passengers won’t be stuffed in like sardines either. There’s plenty of legroom for the riders in the second row, and both the driver and front passenger can stretch out to their heart’s content. Things get a little more crowded in the third row, but it’s still roomy compared to its competition.
The seats themselves are downright decadent, and you may feel like you’re sitting in a recliner rather than an SUV. This makes it ideal for long road trips and can also take some of the sting out of sitting in traffic for hours at a time.
Be careful hauling around a full load of people, though, as the visibility can be limited at the rear corners. This problem could easily be solved with a blind-spot monitoring system, but unfortunately that doesn’t come standard.
The good news is that it boasts plenty of safety features, so if you miss something while backing up, everyone has a good chance of climbing out unscathed. The brakes are responsive as well, although there is some side-to-side drifting in emergencies—not enough to be a danger but enough that it’ll likely raise your blood pressure a couple extra points.
Another issue is the cargo space. There’s a ton of it when the seats are folded down, but if you’re trying to transport the entire family to the airport, you’ll only have about 14 cubic feet of room in which to stuff your luggage, so expect to hold a bag in your lap and strap a couple to the roof.
It has a basic infotainment system, complete with everything you’d expect like smartphone integration, forward collision warning, and dual charging ports. It won’t blow you away, but you’re not likely to miss anything vital either.
Ultimately, the Toyota Highlander hybrid is best suited for users who aren’t willing to sacrifice luxury in the pursuit of performance. Just know, though, that you won’t get the best of either world in this compromise.
Acura MDX 2019
There isn’t another hybrid SUV that does more to help the driver than the MDX. It has a wide range of driver-assist features, and its smart device integration is top notch. Overall, it does a nice job of providing an upscale driving environment even if it isn’t quite as high-end as the Lexus RX.
It bills itself as a performance hybrid, and that’s not far off the mark. It’s one of the most fun hybrids to drive, as it has plenty of speed on straightaways and handles corners with ease. The acceleration takes a bit of getting used to, and there’s a lag when you stomp on the gas, but once the engine wakes up it can keep up with just about any other SUV out there.
The braking system does a good job of stopping you in time, but it’s a bit touchy, which also requires acclimation. There will be some trial and error when it comes to judging stopping distances, and hopefully you won’t learn any painful lessons along the way.
The cabin is very roomy and its standard features offer plenty of customization options to ensure everyone is completely comfortable. This is especially apparent in the driver’s seat, which has 10-way adjustability and a steering column that doesn’t obstruct the instrument panel.
The first two rows are comfortable for users of all sizes, but the back row will get cramped for fully-grown passengers. Still, they should be able to tolerate it for short trips, and getting back there is incredibly easy thanks to the smartly-designed adjustment buttons on the second-row seats.
It looks roughly as high tech as the space shuttle, but unfortunately the gear is about as complicated as your average rocket ship. The dual-screen setup can be extremely confusing, especially if you’re fiddling with it while driving (but you’re not, right?). Settings are split between the two screens, with little rhyme or reason as to which goes where.
The MDX is a great option for drivers who don’t want to sacrifice their speed-demon ways simply because they’re toting a family around. It’s also excellent for anyone who needs lots of distractions for small children (regardless of their ages), but it can’t quite outshine the RX, despite clocking in at a similar price point.
Earth-Friendly Fun for the Whole Family
If you need a vehicle that’s capable of carting around a group of people, these SUVs can get the job done in comfort and style. Better yet, they do so without harming the planet too much while saving you a little money at the pump.
We’re confident that you’ll find a hybrid SUV that meets most of your needs on this list, whether you want no-nonsense performance or to be bathed in luxury. Each of the aforementioned models is reliable, comfortable, and has plenty of room for all your stuff, except your worries about your carbon footprint. You can finally leave those at home.