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Ford Escape, Toyota Highlander good choices for hybrid SUVs

2012 Ford Escape compact SUV on the showroom

2012 Ford Escape compact SUV on the showroom floor at Stoneham Ford in Stoneham, Massachusetts. (August 18, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Q. Which hybrid has high ground clearance? I'm looking for a hybrid (for better gas mileage) with high enough clearance to go on rough and rutted roads (like logging roads, etc.) but not real off-road stuff. What do you recommend?

A. It sounds like you need an all-wheel-drive SUV if your plans include driving on logging roads, and your best bets among hybrid SUVs might be the Ford Escape or Toyota Highlander.

The 2012 Escape Hybrid has 8.3 inches of ground clearance and EPA estimates of 30/27 mpg city/ highway with four-wheel drive. The 2012 Highlander Hybrid has 8.0 inches of clearance and EPA ratings of 28/28 mpg. The Escape Hybrid starts at around $32,000 but is discontinued for 2013, while the Highlander starts around $39,000.

You can certainly beat those mileage ratings with hybrid cars such as the Prius, but the ground clearance is only 5.7 inches, and it comes only with front-wheel drive -- not the right stuff for logging roads. The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, a full-size SUV, offers 10.2 inches of clearance with all-wheel drive, but the mileage ratings are only 22/30 mpg, and the base price is a hefty $52,000.

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