Vans with the Best Fuel Economy

US News

Vans offer passenger and cargo capacities that many other vehicles can’t match. However, finding a van that can rival comparably priced cars in terms of fuel economy is a tall order. With gas prices on the rise, we could see an increased cost at the pump in the future, and forward-thinking shoppers should be prepared by considering fuel-efficient models. Since vans often force fuel efficiency to take a back seat to utility, it’s important to know which models will give you the space and comfort you need without breaking the bank when it’s time for a fill-up.

Annual Fuel Costs

Getting an estimate of how much you’ll spend on gas each year is as simple as going to fueleconomy.gov. There you can find fuel economy estimates as well as estimated fuel costs for every van on the market. The fuel economy numbers are broken down by different types of driving (city, highway and combined), so you can tailor the estimates to your lifestyle.

While paying attention to city and highway numbers for fuel economy is important, it can also be a little deceiving. The Toyota Sienna and the Kia Sedona both have slightly different fuel economy averages, but they share the same annual fuel cost of $2,221.

The Sienna nets 19/24 mpg, city/highway, while the Sedona yields 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. If you only pay attention to the city or highway number, one may appear more efficient than the other. Still, their equivalent annual fuel costs show that they will cost about the same to fill up under mixed driving conditions.

Fuel Efficient Designs

Historically, vans did not offer designs geared towards aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. However, smaller models with sleeker designs are now offering improved gas mileage without taking too much of a penalty on space.

Multipurpose Vehicles (MPVs) are currently gaining traction in the marketplace for their smaller size, nimble handling and good gas mileage. The Mazda5 seats six and manages 22/28 mpg, city/highway. But improvements in design that lead to more miles per gallon are not just limited to the smallest of vans. The Ford Transit Connect bridges the gap between passenger vans and minivans, offering midsize proportions and a great deal of versatility. What’s more, the Transit Connect earns higher city fuel-economy numbers than most minivans out there, thanks to its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Commercial and government fleets will also have the option to buy an electric version of the Transit Connect, which goes on sale this year.

Passenger Vans

These full-size models, such as the Ford E-Series and the Chevrolet Express, offer a great deal of versatility with various cab lengths and configurations, seating up to 15 people. However, their cavernous dimensions do take a toll on fuel economy.

The largest Chevrolet Express, the Express 3500, gets a mere 11 mpg in the city and 16 mpg on the highway, and opting for a lighter-duty, eight-passenger Express 1500 model will only improve those numbers to 13/17 mpg, city/highway. The Chevrolet Express 1500 also has an annual fuel cost of $3,327 -- $1,382 more than the Mazda5. Opting for a Ford passenger van won’t yield more impressive returns either: the eight-passenger Ford E-150 nets 13 mpg in the city and 16 mpg on the highway.

While these passenger vans do offer unparalleled cargo and seating capacities, consumers able to make do with a smaller van will likely see savings at the pump and in the dealership.

Affordable Vans

Fortunately, today’s affordable MPVs and minivans are offering fuel economy and safety on par with the competition. While the Mazda5 currently tops the list with the lowest base price and highest fuel averages, upcoming models like the Ford C-Max promise seven-passenger seating capacity, 70.2 cubic feet of cargo space and fuel economy that Ford claims will be the best available of any seven-passenger vehicle. Also upcoming is the Toyota Prius V, a five-seat MPV that promises 50 percent more cargo space than the popular hybrid it’s based on. With models like the C-Max and the Prius V on the horizon, consumers will continue to discover space and utility in new, fuel-efficient designs.

Vans with the Best Fuel Economy

Make/Model

Price

Type

City MPG

Highway MPG

Annual Fuel Cost

Tank Size

Miles Per Tank

Mazda5

$19,195

MPV

22

28

$1,945

15.9

343

Ford Transit Connect

$23,050

Passenger

21

26

$2,029

15.1

***

Honda Odyssey

$27,800

Mini

19

28

$2,123

21.0

***

Toyota Sienna

$24,560

Mini

19

24

$2,221

20.0

378

Kia Sedona

$24,595

Mini

18

25

$2,221

21.1

399

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