In the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment’s early days, they were some of the least fuel-efficient mainstream models you could buy, as many of them were based on truck platforms.
A move toward crossover SUV models that share underpinnings with cars helped reduce their fuel consumption, making them cheaper to run and boosting their popularity.
In recent years, crossovers have benefited from much of the same technology that has helped automakers reduce fuel consumption across their lineups, including smaller turbocharged engines, direct fuel injection, and better transmissions.
In this article, we take a first look at which domestic compact crossover models available today have made the biggest advances in fuel economy in the past decade. Because of the size of this segment, we’ll look at the best-selling import models – which make up the larger share of the category – in a second article.
2021 Ford Escape SE AWD – 1.5L turbo/8AT – 181 hp/190 lb-ft – 9.0/7.6 L/100 km (city/highway)
2011 Escape XLT 4×4 – 2.5L/6AT – 171 hp/171 lb-ft – 11.8/9.0 L/100 km
Of the domestic-branded compact crossovers we’re looking at today, none has come as far in 10 years as the Ford Escape. The fourth-generation 2021 model currently listed on Ford Canada’s website features an all-turbo engine lineup and a standard eight-speed transmission. Ten years ago, Ford was still selling the boxy second-gen Escape, a less-sophisticated machine.
For our comparison, we’re lining up today’s entry-level Escape S AWD against the 2011 XLT 4WD trim, which was the Escape’s base model that year. The new Escape’s standard engine is a 1.5L turbo three-cylinder, which promises much lower fuel consumption than the 2011 model’s 2.5L four-cylinder.
In 2011, the Escape XLT 4WD ($27,999) came with alloy wheels, A/C, keyless entry, a power driver’s seat, cruise control, auto on/off headlights with fog lights, heated side mirrors, and a tailgate with glass that could be opened separately.
The 2021 Escape S ($30,149 with AWD) lacks a power seat, fog lights, heated mirrors, and alloy wheels, but comes standard with forward collision detection with automatic braking, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high beams.
Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain
2022 Chevrolet Equinox LT AWD – 1.5L turbo/6AT – 170 hp/203 lb-ft – 9.4/8.0 L/100 km (city/highway)
2012 Chevrolet Equinox 1LT AWD – 2.4L/6AT – 182 hp/172 lb-ft – 11.5/8.2 L/100 km
General Motors’ Chevrolet and GMC brands both compete in the compact crossover class, but we’re focusing on the Chevrolet Equinox here as it’s less expensive than the mechanically similar GMC Terrain.
In 2012, the second-generation Chevrolet Equinox was two years into its run. In 1LT AWD trim ($30,875), it came with a 2.4L engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. Convenience and comfort features included automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, fog lights, a backup camera, and a touchscreen radio, in addition to the base LS’s 17-inch alloy wheels, power windows, cruise control, auto on/off headlights, and a sliding rear bench seat.
In 2022, the Equinox LT AWD ($30,998) has a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a six-speed transmission. It boasts LED headlights, a power driver’s seat, forward collision alert with emergency braking, heated front seats, and passive keyless entry. However, the LT trim does not include automatic climate control.
For the record, the GMC Terrain’s entry-level SLE trim starts at $33,598 and is a bit less efficient, with estimates of 9.6/8.3 L/100 km.
2021 Jeep Compass Sport 4×4 – 2.4L/9AT – 180 hp/175 lb-ft – 10.8/7.8 L/100 km (city/highway)
2011 Jeep Compass Limited 4×4 – 2.4L/CVT – 172 hp/165 lb-ft – 11.3/8.9 L/100 km
At its 2007 introduction, the Jeep Compass was a controversial departure for the brand: a car-based crossover that shared its chassis with the Dodge Caliber hatchback but still offered some off-road ability, in keeping with Jeep’s reputation.
Jeep refreshed the Compass in 2011 with smoother styling, an optional off-road package, and Jeep’s “trail rated” designation. All AWD Compass models got a 2.4L engine and started with a manual transmission that could be optioned to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The top-end Limited trim ($26,895 to start; the CVT cost extra) got 18-inch wheels, an auto-dimming mirror, satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, and cruise control.
A decade later, the 2021 Compass looks different, but hasn’t changed much underneath. Power is still from a 2.4L engine whose main fuel economy advantage comes in highway driving. A six-speed automatic transmission replaced the CVT when this second-generation Compass arrived in 2018.
Pricewise, the base Sport trim ($31,195) is the best comparison to the 2011 Limited. It comes with 16-inch wheels, dual-zone A/C, a 7.0-inch touchscreen stereo, heated front seats, cloth upholstery, and Android and Apple smartphone integration. You can still get a Compass in Limited trim, but it’ll now cost you nearly $38,000.