SUVs that don't guzzle

It's not noticeable on the highways yet, but more fuel-efficient vehicles may be making a bit of a comeback.

The hottest market these days is in smaller sports-utility vehicles. Saturn is the latest automaker to plan a lighter SUV in response to consumer demands for better miles per gallon. And Toyota plans to use its hybrid gas-electric technology in a future SUV. Its current hybrid-engine car gets about 48 m.p.g.

Stricter pollution standards, notably California's, are doing their part to help drive technological changes. And higher fuel prices seem to be having some effect on consumers.

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Still, the latest government figures on fuel-efficiency show that the rising popularity of gas-guzzling SUVs only contributes to a downward trend in fuel economy.

For the 358 models or variations of SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks, the average m.p.g. was just over 18, compared with 23.6 for all cars.

Many consumers seem to be ignoring the advice that driving the most fuel-efficient vehicles in a class can save at least $1,500 in fuel costs.

So keep an eye on the road.

The day of the hulking gas-hog may be driving into the sunset.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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