Hybrid sport utility vehicles are a curious breed, combining fuel-saving hybrid technology with the larger size (and heavier weight) of SUVs, which can often hold significant amounts of cargo and numerous passengers. Hybrid SUVs are all more expensive than their gasoline counterparts, making them questionable for consumers whose motives are purely to save money through hybrid ownership.
Since SUVs are generally larger and less aerodynamic than sedans, many hybrid SUVs achieve limited fuel-economy gains from their hybrid powertrains when compared to nonhybrid options. Like all hybrids, hybrid SUVs use powertrains that combine electric and gasoline power sources. All currently available hybrid SUVs are full hybrids (as opposed to mild hybrids), meaning that the wheels can be driven by electric power alone under certain circumstances.
With that established, hybrid SUVs do get better fuel economy than their conventionally powered counterparts, even if the gains may not be dramatic. Most hybrid SUVs are very powerful, too. The all-new 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (Base MSRP: $60,565) and the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid (Base MSRP: $51,145 to $53,950) can tow more than 3 tons, making them practical for some more strenuous applications.
To help offset the higher prices that hybrid drivetrains command, manufacturers typically deliver more standard features and amenities on hybrid SUVs than cheaper gasoline-only counterparts. Of the 10 available hybrid SUVs, half come from luxury marques Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Porsche.
For hybrid SUV shoppers who want to find the most fuel-efficient, reliable, best-performing, roomiest and safest vehicles, ConsumerReports.org is the best one-stop review source. Its experts test for all of those factors, then rank hybrid SUVs and crossovers from best to worst in an easy-to-read chart alongside their gas-only counterparts. However, only subscribers can read the reports.
Edmunds.com and Cars.com are the best free sources for in-depth information about hybrid SUVs (and nearly all cars, for that matter). Both test most of the hybrid SUVs and CUVs (crossovers) on the market in great detail. These sources provide detailed feedback on various models, including how they stack up against the competition and how they drive out on the road.
ConsumerReports.org, Edmunds.com and CarGurus.com have also analyzed whether or not hybrid ownership saves consumers money and provide tips on how to maximize any potential savings. See our section called "Can hybrid ownership save you money?" to see more details on these analyses.
Other reliable sources test fewer hybrid sport utility vehicles, but they do offer valuable opinions and test data. These include auto magazines (Car and Driver, Automobile Magazine, Road & Track), newspapers (The Wall Street Journal) and big car-review websites such as Autoblog Green, TheTruthAboutCars.com and Kelley Blue Book. Essential to our report are crash-test and fuel-economy data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Finally, those interested in hybrid SUVs may also be interested in diesel-powered SUVs. Diesel engines are more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts, and in some cases are cheaper and more fuel efficient than an available hybrid powertrain. For instance, the diesel-fueled 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI (Base MSRP: $47,950) gets better fuel economy according to the EPA and costs more than $10,000 less than the Touareg Hybrid. If towing or immense cargo capacity isn't important, some conventional smaller four-cylinder gasoline SUVs and crossovers will deliver similar fuel efficiency to hybrid SUVs and crossovers.
There aren't many hybrid SUVs, but this year, two new models join the category: the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid (Base MSRP: $60,565) and the 2011 Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (Base MSRP: $67,700). Both of these models share many parts with one another, as The Volkswagen Group owns a large stake in Porsche. Both hybrid SUVs are heavy on luxury and are priced accordingly, starting upwards of $60,000. The Porsche Cayenne Hybrid is arguably the sportiest hybrid SUV you can buy, while the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid is a better choice for towing with its 7,700-pound tow rating. Our detailed individual reports on these models analyze feedback from reviewers and other expert sources.
While not technically an SUV, the forthcoming 2012 Toyota Prius V--a taller, longer and wider variation on the best-reviewed 2011 Toyota Prius hatchback--offers interior and cargo volume that's in line with, or surpasses, many compact SUVs, including the best-reviewed 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid. The Prius V's 42 mpg combined EPA rating also outclasses every hybrid SUV mentioned in this report. It should be an interesting alternative when it arrives in showrooms in fall 2011.