Finding an Environmentally Friendly SUV

James Kliesch shares important information on SUV's that pollute and how to find an environmentally friendly SUV.
By James Kliesch
October/November 2003
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Environmentally friendly SUVs are available on the market.

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Learn how to find an environmentally friendly SUV in today's auto market.

U.S. automobiles release more carbon dioxide than the nationwide energy-related emissions of all but four other countries in the world and the immense popularity of fuel-inefficient SUVs has dragged down the national average fuel economy, now at a 23-year low. In the last seven years, SUV sales have doubled and now account for 24 percent of all new vehicle sales. The average SUV still pollutes 46 percent more than the average passenger car, although some automakers, including Acura, BMW, Honda, and Volvo, are installing better emissions controls on specific models.

Contrary to popular belief, SUVs are not inherently safer than cars because of their increased size. Many SUVs are less stable than cars and provide poor occupant protection in rollovers. In general, if you don't have an ongoing need for large capacity, increased power or off-road ability, you should avoid these vehicles. Here are five recommendations if you do need an environmentally friendly SUV.

1. Look for an SUV with better-than-average fuel economy. Typically this means choosing a more compact model, rather than a larger one.

2. Seek out SUVs with the cleanest emissions; some now meet the Ultra-Low-Emission Vehicle standard. And a new set of emission standards goes into effect with model year 2004. Models that currently meet the "Tier 2 bin 5" standard, such as the Acura MDX, Honda CR-V, Honda Element and Volvo XC 90, have the lowest emissions among SUVs now on the market.

3. Wait for forthcoming hybrid-electric SUVs. Over the next few years, hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Lexus RX 400H, Saturn VUE, Toyota Highlander and others are to be released.

4. Don't drive solo: A cargo- and passenger-packed SUV uses its fuel more efficiently than an empty one. This logic, while applicable to all vehicles, is particularly important for large-capacity SUVs and pickups.

5. Contact your senators and representatives and demand higher fuel economy standards. A number of vehicle, engine and transmission technologies exist that could improve SUV fuel economies at modest costs. For more information visit

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