The vehicles that have historically supported an outdoor-driven lifestyle have typically been old trucks, big lumbering SUVs and utilitarian vans, none of which are particularly fuel-efficient. Given the short-term benefits a fuel efficient vehicle can offer on a long distance road trip to a remote place, and the long-term benefits they offer to the greater good, we think it’s time for a shift toward efficiency in this burgeoning segment, and here we’ve compiled a list of five of our favorite modern, fuel efficient adventure vehicles that employ the latest technology without sacrificing too much of the go-anywhere capability of their forebears.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Yes, a specific ‘Adventure’ trim level of the new RAV4 exists and yes it gets good fuel economy, coming in at around 28 miles per gallon in combined driving. But the RAV4 Hybrid gets significantly better fuel economy — a whopping 40 mpg combined — while offering more power and practically the same off-road capability (the new Hybrid even goes so far as to offer a “trail” button). Beyond this, the Toyota
RAV4 Hybrid comes with standard all-wheel drive (AWD), more power than the regular RAV4, and in XSE guise, a taut sport suspension that gives it great driving dynamics for a mainstream compact SUV. Altogether, the RAV4 Hybrid is arguably one of the most well-rounded new vehicles on sale today. Additionally, given its incredible Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-rated 40 mpg combined, the RAV4 Hybrid can travel 145 miles further than a regular RAV4, or a whole 174 miles further than a RAV4 Adventure. This means less time spent at the pump on your way to your destination.
2020 Subaru Outback
The venerable Outback is all-new for 2020. With a design that’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Subaru opted not to mess with what’s long been a winning formula when designing the new Outback. Powertrain options are a carry-over 4-cylinder putting out 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque, or a new turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. With the Outback’s standard AWD, the base engine returns 29 mpg combined, while the turbo is rated for 26 mpg overall. Additionally, the Outback comes standard with trick foldout crossbars that can be stowed in the roof rails when not in use, and can be had with a rear cargo area covering, a rear seat cover, all-weather floor mats, a rear tow hitch and more. You can even get a pair of dealer-installed accessory skid plates for under $250—a pretty great deal. It might look like a station wagon, but the Outback comes with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and offers just as much off-road capability as any crossover SUV.
2019 Honda Ridgeline
The Ridgeline is the pickup for someone who doesn’t want a pickup. Built on a platform shared with Honda’s
Pilot and Passport, the Ridgeline’s carlike unibody skeleton allows it to achieve better handling and ride quality than any other midsize pickup on the market today, along with competitive fuel economy of 21 mpg combined, or 22 if you skip the AWD system. But the Ridgeline’s efficiencies extend beyond its powertrain. Thanks to its unique body structure, the Ridgeline won’t beat you up as much on long highway drives, it’s easier to maneuver around a parking lot, and it’s got a much nicer interior than the competition. It can also tow up to 5,000 pounds and haul up to 1,586 pounds. If you want most of the real-world benefits of an old school pickup with fewer of the drawbacks, the Ridgeline might be for you.
2019 Honda Passport
In reality, the Passport is little more than a shortened Pilot that’s had its seating capacity reduced to five and less than an inch of ride height added via an ever-so-slightly modified suspension. Throw on slightly reworked front and rear fascias, some black cladding, and a set of oversized black wheels and you’ve got a vehicle that puts off an adventurous image. While Honda didn’t make any changes to the Passport to make it particularly adventure-worthy, the vehicle’s bones actually make it pretty great for road trips or just hauling a lot of gear to a campsite. The Passport is huge on the inside, loaded with cubbies and storage compartments, and comes with great safety features. The Passport offers a great blend of power and efficiency as well. Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 making 180 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque and paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. The EPA rates the AWD Passport at 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. That said, in our own testing over 700 miles of driving that involved mostly highways, but also about 40 miles off-road and 30 miles of stop-and-go around town driving, the Passport returned an impressive 25.5 mpg. While it’s barely any more off-road worthy than the Pilot, the Passport offers the right mix of space, efficiency, power and safety to make for an excellent adventuremobile.
2020 Volvo V60 Cross Country
The V60 is a midsize station wagon with SUV aspirations akin to the Subaru Outback and Audi Allroad. We like it for its smart Scandinavian design language, practical body style and efficient powertrain. Under the hood of every V60 Cross Country is Volvo’s T5 powertrain: a turbocharged 4-cylinder putting out 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This is good for 22 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined. The V60 Cross Country is offered in one trim level, and can be optioned with upscale features like massaging front seats, memory seat recall, a unique wool interior, adjustable seat bottom thigh supports, heated rear seats and more. Given that it’s a luxury vehicle, adding options to the V60 Cross Country sees the price increase quickly, and a loaded example tops out at around $60,000, making it the most expensive vehicle on this list. Still, it’s hard to beat a Volvo station wagon.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek and Crosstrek Hybrid
One of the most fuel efficient adventure vehicles currently on sale, the compact Crosstrek is a lifted, ruggedized version of the Impreza hatchback. Offering great interior space for its segment, good safety features and the practicality of standard AWD, the Crosstrek is a favorite among buyers looking for efficient city transportation that can also take them off the beaten path on the weekends. The Crosstrek is available in both regular and plug-in hybrid forms, although you’ll want to double check whether the hybrid is actually offered in your area. The Crosstrek is a little weak with its base engine: a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, which frankly isn’t enough power for this vehicle. Still, with this engine and paired with the automatic transmission (a manual is also available) the Crosstrek returns 27 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined.
Step into the plug-in hybrid and you’re looking at impressive figures of 90 MPGe with a fully charged battery, or a still-impressive 35 mpg once that battery is depleted. The hybrid is a little pricey — expect a sticker price of around $36,000. Given that it is a plug-in, though, federal and state tax incentives should help to bring that price down by several thousand dollars to a more reasonable level.