We worked with the EPA to formulate a list of the 10 least-thirsty all-wheel-drive vehicles currently (or very soon to be) on sale in the United States. Our methodology was simple: The vehicles must be four or all-wheel-drive and they either need to be in wide supply today or available to shoppers very soon.
We rated the vehicles based on their combined fuel economy, a figure that now takes center stage on window stickers thanks to a number of changes the federal government recently announced. Combined fuel economy is based on a weighted scale that looks at both city and highway driving to realistically estimate what drivers might actually achieve. Unlike city and highway fuel economy numbers, which automakers have easily manipulated with special gear ratios, the Leftlane team has found that the EPA's combined figures are a realistic assessment of a vehicle's fuel efficiency. We've tested and reviewed nearly every car on the market and we've almost always found the combined fuel economy to be closer to target than highway or city numbers.
What's the difference between all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive? AWD is typically meant for inclement weather use, whereas 4WD includes low-range gearing for off road use. None of the cars included here are 4WD by that definition, but many shoppers and even automakers use the terms almost interchangeably.
The list below runs the gamut but includes a number of players one might expect to find on a list of efficient all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Subaru redesigned its Impreza sedan and five-door for 2012, jettisonning a lackluster four-speed automatic for a fuel-thrifty CVT and eschewing a guzzling 2.5-liter gas engine for a smaller 2.0-liter.
There aren't many all-wheel-drive hybrids on the market, but the two leaders, the Ford Escape and the Lexus RX 450h, are tied for second place. From there, the list includes Mazda's ultra light-weight, but full-featured CX-5, as well as the quirky MINI Countryman and Nissan Juke. The mainstream Subaru Legacy rounds out the list as the only midsize sedan to break into the top 10. For the record, a refreshed 2013 Legacy will hit the market this fall with what Subaru estimates will be 27 mpg combined, although the EPA has yet to test it.
A wide range of vehicles barely missed the list, but their 25 mpg combined ratings relegated them to 11th place. If you're slightly less-concerned about fuel economy, you might still want to check out the Suzuki SX4 and Kizashi, as well as the Honda CR-V and even the Audi A4 2.0T quattro (with a stick shift).
And, if you're willing to push off your new car purchase, a handful of fuel-sipping four-wheelers are bound to hit the market soon!
The 10 most fuel-efficient AWD/4WD vehicles
1. 2012 Subaru Impreza automatic 30 mpg
2. 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid 29 mpg
(tie) 2013 Lexus RX 450h 29 mpg
4. 2012 Subaru Impreza manual 28 mpg
(tie) 2012 Mazda CX-5 automatic 28 mpg
(tie) 2012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 28 mpg
(tie) 2012 MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 manual 28 mpg
8. 2012 Nissan Juke 27 mpg
9. 2012 MINI Cooper S Countryman All4 automatic 26 mpg
(tie) 2012 Subaru Legacy 2.5i automatic 26 mpg