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The Most Efficient 4WD Trucks and SUVs available for less than $50,000

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/12/2015 Austin Lott

When you want "real" four-wheel drive and not the poseur all-wheel drive, it's going to cost you at the pump. Or is it? We took a look at the most "efficient" (it's still incredibly relative, folks) SUVs and pickup trucks available with a real 4WD system that will do more than take you across a dirt road on the way to the county fair. We thought it would also be reasonable to limit our range to vehicles less than $50,000 (sorry, Land Rover).


Here are the 19 most efficient SUV and pickup variants you could drive off a dealer's lot today for less than 50 large.

2015 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-front-three-quarter© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Unlimited-front-three-quarter No conversation, much less a top-anything list that includes "real" 4WD, would be complete without the Jeep Wrangler. The longer four-door Wrangler Unlimited, the big brother to the classic two-door Wrangler, is right above the cutoff. Pair the 3.6-liter V-6 with the six-speed manual and you'll see 16/21 mpg city/highway, but go for the five-speed auto and you're looking at 16/20 mpg. All the legendary capability doesn't come too dearly, either; with an MSRP of $27,790, it's about average as far as off-road trucks and SUVs go.

2015 Nissan Frontier

2015-Nissan-Frontier-front-three-quarter© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Nissan-Frontier-front-three-quarter Want a Nissan Frontier with some real off-roading chops? A PRO-4X with a six-speed manual will manage 16/21 mpg city/highway and starts at $31,435 in King Cab form. Moving up to a Crew Cab brings the total to $32,395. Like the less efficient Xterra, the Frontier is surprisingly good when the road ends and is specially equipped with Bilstein shocks, an electronic locking rear differential, and skidplates. If you prefer an automatic, however, keep in mind the even worse fuel economy.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

2015-Toyota-Tacoma-Pro-Supercharged-front-three-quarter-in-motion-04© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Toyota-Tacoma-Pro-Supercharged-front-three-quarter-in-motion-04 Toyota matches the Nissan Frontier's fuel economy, but an automatic attached to its 4.0-liter V-6 that gets 16/21 mpg city/highway is looking a bit more convenient. For $38,500 the TRD Pro in the Double Cab trim with the short bed is far from cheap, but it's surprisingly capable. Think TRD exhaust, 2-inch lift courtesy of Eibach springs, Bilstein shocks, and 30.5-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires. We thought the ride was a bit rough, but some sacrifices must be made in the name of capability and style.

2015 Chevrolet Silverado & GMC Sierra

2015-Chevrolet-Silverado-2500HD-LT-front-view© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Chevrolet-Silverado-2500HD-LT-front-view The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra with their 5.3-liter V-8 engines and six-speed automatics are more efficient than two smaller Japanese pickup trucks. That's either very impressive or rather depressing, depending on which automaker you happen to be a fan of. At 16/22 mpg city/highway, the Silverado/Sierra doesn't blow the Toyota out of the water, but an extra 119 hp and 117 lb-ft of torque over the Tacoma TRD Pro really highlight the differences. The seemingly limitless number of combinations for the Silverado and Sierra begin with the Regular Cab, standard box, Work Truck trim, which goes for $32,500. More seats and better materials are available, allowing the GM twins to occupy a range from simple to luxurious with prices from near the bottom of our range to far above the cap of 50 large.

2016 Ram 1500

2016-Ram-1500-Laramie-Limited-Crew-Cab-4x4-front-three-quarter© Provided by MotorTrend 2016-Ram-1500-Laramie-Limited-Crew-Cab-4x4-front-three-quarter Is it terribly surprising that a Ram 1500 with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 and an eight-speed automatic is more efficient than a Silverado with a V-6 and a six-speed automatic? Nah. But at 16/23 mpg city/highway and 305 hp, it's not half bad. Even the simple Tradesman is nicely finished, and with the regular cab, a 6-foot-4-inch box, and 4WD it starts at $31,325. Although the Ram Rebel is much more capable and has a few more off-road features, its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 pushed it out of the running on account of dismal fuel economy.

2015 Jeep Wrangler

2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Willys-Wheeler-Edition-front-three-quarter© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Jeep-Wrangler-Willys-Wheeler-Edition-front-three-quarter The iconic Jeep Wrangler and its venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 scored 17/21 mpg city/highway in EPA testing. Whether you're rowing six gears yourself or letting the five-speed automatic do the work, you'll see the same fuel economy. The Wrangler's off-road capability is the stuff of legends: You can drive off the showroom floor and straight into the wilderness. Prices range from the generalist Sport at $23,990 to the more focused Rubicon Hard Rock with rock-crawling equipment for $37,690. The ubiquitous Jeep in any trim will take you as far as the fuel tank, and your skill, will stretch.

2015 Toyota 4Runner

2015-Toyota-4Runner-Limited-front-three-quarter-in-motion-02© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Toyota-4Runner-Limited-front-three-quarter-in-motion-02 If you want a few more doors or perhaps prefer a more solid roof between you and the possibility of a rollover, the Toyota 4Runner is a viable alternative to the cloth-top Wrangler. With a 17/21 mpg city/highway rating, the 4.0-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic go about their work in a predictable manner. Four-wheeling fun can be had with the Trail trim starting at $37,300, but we suggest stepping up to the specialized TRD Pro at $42,435. If the snazzy TRD Pro edition 4Runners have all been snapped up, then check out the TRD Pro line of accessories and pimp out your Trail with a few choice goodies.

2015 Chevrolet Silverado & GMC Sierra

2015-GMC-Sierra-Denali-2500HD-front-three-quarter-in-motion1© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-GMC-Sierra-Denali-2500HD-front-three-quarter-in-motion1 If you like the GM twins and their capability, not to mention practicality, the 4.3-liter V-6 is not only cheaper but also more efficient—17/22 mpg city/highway—than the V-8. Although this is expected, the V-6 isn't as much of a penalty box as it used to be, because 285 hp and 305 lb-ft of torque paired to a six-speed automatic are nothing to turn your nose up at. Getting a Silverado with a regular cab and standard box in Work Truck trim will run you $31,305 with the requisite 4WD system. A GMC Sierra in identical trim will run you $32,105.

2015 Ford F-150

2015 Ford F-150© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford F-150 The Ford F-150's base V-6 takes the prize among the Big Three and boasts a 17/23 mpg city/highway rating (1 mpg better than GM on the highway and 1 better than Ram in the city). Apparently all that weight reduction really made a big difference. The F-150's aluminum construction is responsible for up to 700 pounds of weight reduction from the previous-generation steel-bodied truck. For $31,870 the standard cab F-150 with a 6.5-foot bed is even a reasonable deal with an honest-to-goodness 4WD system. What about that F-150 with the "Eco" in the engine name?

2015 Ford F-150

2015-Ford-F-150-front-three-quarters4© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Ford-F-150-front-three-quarters4 We never thought we'd see the day where the most capable powertrain in a full-size pickup would be the V-6 instead of the V-8, but here we are with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6: 10,700 pounds of towing capacity and an EPA rating of 17/23 mpg city/highway. We hear the next Raptor will be powered by a pumped-up version of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, so you can't go too wrong with the current king of the F-150 range. You'll need to opt for the regular cab with a long bed to get the most capable engine, but for $34,165 you won't be in the poorhouse for getting the most powerful F-150 for your off-road shenanigans.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado & GMC Canyon

2015-Chevrolet-Colorado-Z71-front3© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Chevrolet-Colorado-Z71-front3 Comparing the Silverado/Sierra duo to their "smaller" Colorado/Canyon counterparts might make you question the logic of the smaller trucks. The fuel economy rating of 17/24 mpg city/highway beats the bigger trucks with the V-6 by 2 mpg on the highway but merely matches them around town. For a nearly $3,000 discount, the base Colorado price of $28,080 is a pretty good deal with a long bed, extended cab body, and Work Truck trimming. Don't need a truck the size of the Silverado but want to keep the off-road capability of real 4WD and still tow a bit? Chevy has a truck for you.

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2015-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-Limited-front-three-quarter© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-Limited-front-three-quarter That a Jeep is capable off the highway is no surprise, and neither is the relative efficiency of the Grand Cherokee with the 3.6-liter V-6. At 17/24 mpg city/highway the Jeep Grand Cherokee is more efficient than many of the "serious" off-road-capable trucks and SUVs. For $32,990 the Laredo trim comes with that 290-hp V-6, a smooth eight-speed automatic, and all the capability you could ever use, and then some.

2015 Toyota Tacoma

2015-Toyota-Tacoma-side-profile© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Toyota-Tacoma-side-profile If you don't care much for doing any serious towing but do plan to take your midsize truck off the highway in a serious way and want a bulletproof reputation, choose a Toyota Tacoma with a four-banger. The 2.7-liter I-4 paired with a manual transmission posts a 18/20 mpg city/highway rating, and the automatic gets 1 mpg better on the highway. Real 4WD? Check. Gas-sipping engine? Check. It's not available in a dedicated TRD Pro trim, but we're betting more than a few of the best off-road goodies will bolt right up.

2015 Ford F-150

2015-Ford-F-150-Lariat-27-Ecoboost-promo1© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Ford-F-150-Lariat-27-Ecoboost-promo1 The Ford F-150 with the turbocharged, 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 is the most capable and efficient gasoline-fueled pickup truck on our list. It's also not much more expensive than the base V-6 at $32,665. The base V-6's EPA rating of 17/23 mpg city/highway is only improved by 1 mpg in the city with the more powerful EcoBoost V-6, but with 900 more pounds of towing capacity, 122 more lb-ft, and 43 more hp the turbo-six is quite the deal for a mere $795 difference. It's a nice balance between the more capable 3.5-liter EcoBoost and the base V-6.

2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

MotorTend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTend Image For the Jeep Cherokee there are sadly a number of variants that don't take this off-roading business seriously. We're talking front-wheel drive and "all" wheel drive systems. The Trailhawk is not one of those Cherokees. It's the ride we'd choose to drive off of the showroom floor if we were headed toward the nearest trail. For $31,589, the Cherokee Trailhawk comes with a 2.4-liter I-4 and a nine-speed automatic, and its 19/25 mpg city/highway rating would make quite the compelling off-roader argument if it weren't for that V-6, which we'll get to in a bit.

2016 Chevrolet Colorado & GMC Canyon

2016-Chevrolet-Colorado-Duramax-front-three-quarter-motion© Provided by MotorTrend 2016-Chevrolet-Colorado-Duramax-front-three-quarter-motion The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon with the 2.5-liter I-4 has a 19/25 mpg city/highway rating from the EPA. The smaller engine isn't nearly as satisfying as the V-6, but it's the very definition of adequate for the more basic truck uses: moving, hauling a few things occasionally, and going four-wheeling. That last part is made possible with the little truck's 4WD system, which comes standard with an electronic two-speed transfer case. Make sure you opt for the optional $325 locking rear differential; it can mean the difference between getting stuck and getting out. The smallest Chevrolet pickup goes for $28,405 with an extended cab, long bed, Work Truck trim, and the optional locking rear differential.

2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

2016-Jeep-Cherokee-Trailhawk-front-three-quarters-02© Provided by MotorTrend 2016-Jeep-Cherokee-Trailhawk-front-three-quarters-02 The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk with the 3.2-liter V-6 perfectly embodies the age-old argument by four-wheeling fans about efficiency: A smaller engine has to work harder, and a larger engine barely breaks a sweat, so the larger engine is more efficient. Who would say no to more power and more fuel efficiency? Few people. At 19/26 mpg city/highway the V-6 is 1 mpg more efficient on the highway and loads better to drive everywhere than the I-4. The $1,745 premium is hard to ignore, but we'd heartily recommend it over the I-4, which sometimes struggles with the Cherokee's mass.

2015 Ram 1500

2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4x4© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited Crew Cab 4x4 The Ram 1500 with the 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V-6 is hands down the most efficient full-size pickup truck available today. With an EPA-estimated 19/27 mpg city/highway it does come at quite the price, however, ringing in at $45,005 in the Outdoorsman Quad Cab with the 6-foot-4-inch bed and a true 4WD system. Sure, it's possible to get a Ram 1500 with the Ecodiesel for a bit cheaper, but you're giving up 4WD for RWD, which will exclude you from the more "rambunctious" off-road antics. If you need the absolute best range possible, perhaps for those really long off-highway excursions, the Ram's EPA-estimated 704-mile range is hard to beat.

2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee

2015-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-Limited-front-three-quarter-02© Provided by MotorTrend 2015-Jeep-Grand-Cherokee-Limited-front-three-quarter-02 The Jeep Grand Cherokee snatches the victory from the Ram 1500's jaws by a healthy margin, and it does so sporting a mighty similar engine. Equipped with the 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V-6, the Grand Cherokee has a jaw-dropping 21/28 mpg city/highway with a 4WD system that's all Jeep. At $44,560 the diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee is one of our pricier entrants, but if you want to go anywhere while getting superb fuel economy, it's the current reigning champion.

Most-Efficient-4WD-Trucks-and-SUVs© Provided by MotorTrend Most-Efficient-4WD-Trucks-and-SUVs

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