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Reasons car buyers are heading to larger vehicles might surprise you

There’s no doubt about it. Car buyers are going toward larger trucks and SUVs now that gas prices are hovering around or under the $2 mark.

Is there some sort of desire to celebrate low fuel prices in spite of the fact they are bound to go up again? Possibly, because in part it does have something to do with a lack of concern for fuel efficiency.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s more like a sense of hallelujah than the environment be darned. Let’s look back to 2008 and 2009 when a lot of current buyers of large trucks and SUVs were last buying their vehicles.

There was a confluence of two factors in play: a brand-spanking new recession and the year 2008 when gas prices consistently stayed above $3 a gallon. That was a tough time for a lot of people. It was costing them $50 or more to fill up at a time when there was a real risk of unemployment.

So, many car buyers went to more fuel-efficient, smaller vehicles. Fast forward to 2015 and the first quarter of 2016. The economy is better and jobs aren’t as threatened for people who can buy new cars. They have more money in their pockets and are ready to buy bigger.

Bigger trucks, though, doesn’t have to mean thirsty. There are some amazing big SUVs and pickups getting some pretty strong fuel economy. Here are the five best on the market you might want to consider.

Volvo XC90

This large-size SUV from Volvo was named the North American Truck of the Year by a panel of automotive journalists. (Trucks include SUVs, crossovers and pickups.) In its turbo-five-cylinder version, it delivers 26 mpg highway and 22 mpg city. It’s also capable of towing 5,000 pounds.

Honda Pilot

This was the second-place choice of the NACTOY jurors (and the last time I mention those voters). It actually has just a titch less cargo space than the XC90, but at 27 mpg on the highway, it gets better fuel economy. Its 3.5-liter, V-6 only gets 20 mpg around town, but this is still a supremely nice SUV that feels larger than it is.

Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

This is probably the best pickup I have driven in the past year. Its V-6 turbo diesel engine is just seamless and delivers fuel economy of up to 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway when you opt for the high-fuel-efficiency model. It has absolutely no diesel clatter and is just a delight to drive.

Nissan Murano

This is a vehicle that stumps me that it doesn’t get more respect. It’s a large, comfortable SUV and, thanks to a fuel-efficient 3.5-liter, V-6, gets 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. Sure, it’s not going to tow anything with a rating of 1,500 pounds, but it’s a truly spectacular SUV.

Kia Sorento

Everything Kia is doing is right on the money lately. The Sorento also is a beautiful crossover to drive because it feels much smaller than it is. The 2.4-liter, inline four-cylinder model is rated at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. But, what the heck, fuel is cheap. You might want to spring for the sportier 2.0-liter turbo that is rated at 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.

Melinda Quackenbush, Internet sales manager at Jim Marsh Kia said she has seen an increase in buyers coming into the Las Vegas-based dealership to check out the Sorento.

“The biggest reason is because it’s a top-rated model for fuel economy,” she said. “It also has great safety features such as adaptive cruise control, cross path detection and blind spot monitoring.”

Quackenbush added that within the past year she noticed buyers asking for the Kia Sorento as soon as the 2016 model was redesigned.

“It’s one of the only ones out there with a (gasoline direct injection) motor, which causes the fuel to combust,” she said. “It’ll only get better in the future.”

Reporter Ann Friedman contributed to this story.

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