Minivans beware: large crossovers gain in green performance

Crossover utility vehicles are offered in an impressive array of sizes and configurations to meet the needs of almost any family. If you find yourself wanting to move more people or gear than small crossovers can hold, but minivans aren’t for you, the segment typified by the Chevy Traverse, GMC Arcadia, Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9 offers some trendy alternatives. For scoring their green performance, the crossovers covered here are configured with all-wheel drive (AWD) to match the functionality many consumers demand.

2012 Chevy Traverse

The Chevy Traverse and GMC Arcadia tie for first place on our environmental yardstick, both earning eRatings of 97.  These not-quite-identical twins, progeny of parent company General Motors, share many parts. Mated to a  six-speed transmission, their common 3.6 liter direct injected V6 propels the Traverse with 281 horsepower. The Arcadia’s standard dual exhaust system ups the ponies to 288. Both of these eight-passenger vehicles run 23 miles on a gallon of gasoline during highway cruising.

Other intelligent features shared between both vehicles include GM’s Smart Slide second row seating and “360 degree” safety system. The Smart Slide seat collapses into itself though a seat cushion that flips up and a seatback that slides forward, allowing passengers to easily access the third row. The safety system includes a reinforced safety cage and multiple airbag systems that, in the event of a roll-over, remain deployed longer for increased protection. This system helped earn the Traverse an NHTSA five-star safety rating and an IIHS Top Safety Pick designation.

2012 GMC Acadia

The Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9 tread a little less lightly with eRatings of 88 and 87 respectively. In addition to unique styling, the seven-passenger Flex offers Ford’s twin turbocharged EcoBoost V6. This powerplant offers 355 horsepower, a 27 percent increase over the baseline V6, while only dropping city fuel economy by 1 mpg. This small decrease in fuel economy enables the EcoBoost equipped Flex to provide nearly the same environmental performance as the base model while having almost 100 more horses under the hood.

The CX-9, named Motor Trend’s Sport Utility Vehicle of the year during its debut in 2007, provides seating for seven while honoring Mazda’s commitment to sporty performance. Mazda’s engineers also paid special attention to safety through the extensive use of high-strength steel in the cabin floor and roof pillars and a fuel tank positioned in a protected location underneath the center of the vehicle.

For consumers interested in cross-shopping the environmental performance of other segments capable of placing large families in motion, a little comparison is in order. Four popular minivans sported eRatings between 96 and 104 and posted solid combined mileages of around 21 mpg. While this can partly be attributed to the lack of AWD, a minivan may provide a modest bump in the eco-niceness of your mobile family.

Nevertheless, large crossovers with third-row seating and higher performance powertrains are making gains in an environmentally friendly direction.

Make and Model$MSRPSpecsCity/Hwy/Comb
Chevy Traverse32,4853.6 L 281 hp V6,
6-speed auto
16 / 23 / 1997
GMC Arcadia35,6603.6 L 288 hp V6,
6-speed auto
16 / 23 / 1997
Ford Flex36,0003.5 L 262 hp V6,
6-speed auto
16 / 23 / 1888
Mazda CX-931,9103.7 L 276 hp V6,
6-speed auto
16 / 22 / 1987

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