After two decades in North America, Toyota’s 2016 RAV4 is now being offered for the first time with hybrid powertrain.
The RAV4’s history actually predates the Prius from which the small SUV’s two trim hybrid levels – XLE and Limited – borrow its Hybrid Synergy Drive architecture. The RAV4 was originally shown in 1989 as a concept, launched as a production two-door in 1994 in Japan and Europe, and its 1996 U.S. introduction came one year before the Japan-market Prius, and four years before its U.S. launch.
Arriving with a mid-cycle refresh for the entire fourth-generation RAV4 line of four-cylinder front- and all-wheel-drive family haulers, the all-wheel-drive-only Hybrid is the eighth in Toyota’s hybrid-market-dominating corral along with six Lexus hybrid models.
Its actual next of kin is the significantly more pricey Lexus NX 300h which shares the same powertrain and platform, and which is also available in a front-wheel drive model as well as AWD.
Barring the Tesla Model X all-electric crossover SUV, the RAV4 Hybrid now narrowly eclipses its Lexus sibling for best mpg among all-wheel-drive SUVs sold in America.
Rated by the EPA at 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined, those numbers are one better in each category than the AWD Lexus, and they surpass the non-hybrid RAV4 significantly in the city, and barely on the highway.
To sweeten the deal, the hybrid is more powerful, almost one second quicker from 0-60 mph than the non-hybrid, and the price premium to go hybrid is only $700 compared to an equally equipped non-hybrid but there’s an asterisk to mention here.
As has become the norm for electrified vehicles, Toyota has positioned the RAV4 Hybrids as very well equipped vehicles, and a base LE trim and front wheel-drive are not available.
“We wanted to make it a ‘no sacrifices’ vehicle for those buyers that wanted it all,” said Toyota’s product communications representative Sam Butto of the upper-scale RAV4 Hybrids.
That said, the RAV4 Hybrid does offer value, especially with much better city mpg.
Non-hybrid RAV4s get from 24 mpg city, 31 highway and non-hybrid models with Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel Drive are rated for 22 mpg city, 29 highway.
But what else is there to know? Let’s take a look.
Classic Toyota Hybrid System
As debuted on the Lexus NX, the RAV4 Hybrid gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine paired with electric motor.
The engine’s contribution is 112 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, 206 pounds-feet torque at 4,100. The motor kicks in 141 horsepower (105 kilowatts) at 4,500 rpm in front, 199 pounds feet torque, and the independent rear motor can supply 67 horsepower (50 kilowatts) at 4,608 rpm.
A sealed NiMh 244.8-volt battery under the rear seat serves as the system energy storage, and total output for the merged gas-electric powertrain is 194 horsepower. This plus robust (but not published) torque compares favorably with 176 horses for the gas-only versions.
An Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT-i) delivers the power to the front wheels, and in back is what Toyota calls Electronic On-Demand AWD with intelligence (AWD-i).
This rear-wheel system senses slippage and comes on as needed to augment traction. It’s found on other vehicles such as the NX as well as Lexus RX crossovers.
Light towing is possible, with a maximum capacity of 1,750 pounds – actually 250 pounds more than the gas-only versions’ tow rating – and maximum tongue weight is 150 pounds.
Curb weight for the Hybrid vehicles are 3,925 pounds for the XLE, and 3,950 for the Limited.
These compare to gas-only trim models weighing in at 3,455 for the base front-wheel-drive LE to 3,630 pounds for the loaded SE and Limited.
Toyota says its aim with the new updates was to make the car in truck-like guise look more like a full-on SUV with stronger road presence.
This was its intent with the 2013 model when this generation was introduced, and so this is more of the same. For 2016 the Hybrid (and other models) come with a combination of LED headlights, daytime running lights and Hi-Lo Headlights as well as LED taillights.
New rocker panels adorning the RAV line add to the boldness as do restyled bumpers front and rear.
Not available in the Hybrid line is a new SE trim with uprated suspension and styling touches plus paddle shifters to create a more sporty impression (see blue and silver car in photo gallery below).
This year also, Toyota is making the RAVs some of its first vehicles to get its Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) package which will be nearly universal in Toyota products by 2017.
As standard on the Hybrid and gas-only Limited and optional on Hybrid and gas-only XLE, this suite includes a Pre-Collision System (with Forward Collision Warning and automatic emergency brake), Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beams, Pedestrian Pre-Collision System and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
Also offered as standard on RAV4 LE gas and XLE gas and hybrid models is a Blind Spot Mirror and the SE gas and Limited gas and Hybrid versions get a Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert standard.
Materials were updated for a more premium feel and usable storage spaces throughout make it a family friendly car.
Atop the hierarchy, the Limited gets seats, dash, and door panels adorned with SofTex – a nice imitation leather. An eight-way power driver’s seat with memory and lumbar adjustment is included, and the front seats are heated with two stage settings.
Other details include push button start and “Smart Key,” remote power lift gate, an auto-dimming frameless rear-view mirror with Homelink and SofTex-covered sliding center armrest with a storage inside.
It’s a roomy package on the 104.7-inch wheelbase vehicle. Headroom is 39.8-inches front row, and the second row has 38.9-inches. Legroom is 42.6 inches in front, 37.2 inches in back.
The all-important cargo volume is 70.6 cubic feet with the second row folded, 35.6 cubic feet with the second row seat up. This compares to non-hybrids’ 73.4 / 38.4 cubic feet measurements, slightly more without the traction battery occupying space.
Total interior volume is 136.3 cubic feet, passenger space is 100.7 cubic feet, and this comapres with 139.1 cubic feet (with moonroof) for the non-hybrids, and identical passenger volume for the same.
The RAV4 is in either guise comfortable for most average-and-above sized people.
On the Road With the RAV4 Hybrid
As one might expect, the hybrids run quietly, especially now with extra sound-deadening material added to the model range.
EV mode is of course the quietest, but with 0.6 miles range at up to 25 mph it’s a parking lot experience for the most part – with active sound emanated to alert pedestrians.
An ECO mode also helps with fuel economy by trimming back throttle response and – as the case may be – air conditioning output.
Floor it however, and full system power comes on, and the vehicle zips nicely. Toyota says 0-60 mph arrives in 8.1 seconds, almost one full second quicker than the gas-only RAVs and highway power is in no wise anemic – it’s plenty for all-day cruising.
Around town however is where the hybrid system is optimized. This is because the finite electric power does its best work augmenting the gas engine at lower speeds which demand lower power.
We saw a combined 33 mpg with limited time to test all operations, but other testers going for mpg only managed to nurse it above 43 mpg. As always, the usual caveats apply, and we expect a heavy foot will see numbers in the 20s more often.
Highway fuel economy is really not significantly better than non-hybrid models but the whole package is, as Toyota intended it, an enjoyable experience.
To entertain the driver is Toyota’s well-equipped Entune infotainment system with 7.0-inch touch screen – larger than 6.1-inch screens on lower models – and plus full-color TFT multi-displays well arranged in functional instrumentation.
The Navigation system proved reliable and accurate, and connectivity is good with details like a USB 2.0 port, auxiliary mini-jack, and the system has Advanced Voice Recognition.
Also included in the nicely appointed Hybrids are a six-speaker stereo with Siri Eyes Free, a backup camera, and new this year is a 360-degree birds-eye display to show what’s all around the car with panoramic view.
As for driving dynamics, the RAV4 corners securely enough, never feeling in danger of rolling, and braking with the regenerative brakes is sufficiently smooth, not wooden or too grabby.
The Hybrid’s higher curb weight and softer suspension makes it not quite as sure footed as the ultimate gas-only SE which we also took out and blasted around a slalom course for comparison.
There is a difference, and while the SE is not a full-on “sports” vehicle either, but just provides a thicker patina and pretense with paddle shifters that do not hold gears but default to auto when coming to a light in an upper gear, it is a bit more fun in the corners.
But the Hybrids are actually more powerful, so there’s the rub, and for most ordinary drivers, the subtle variance in feel may not be a bother if noticed at all.
The Hybrid For You?
Pricing for the Hybrid XLE is $28,370, the Limited is $33,610, and add to these a $900 delivery fee. By comparison, the all-wheel-drive XLE non-hybrid is $27,670, and the non-hybrid is $32,910, also plus $900 delivery fee.
Toyota emphasizes the Hybrids are a paltry $700 more. This is true, and if these trim levels are what you want, we think it’s a bargain.
Compared to an entry level FWD non-hybrid LE starting at $24,350 plus $900 however, the RAV4 Hybrid XLE is $4,020 more, and next to the base AWD LE non-hybrid, it’s $2,620 more.
By that reckoning, the “hybrid premium” is on par with a Camry hybrid/non-hybrid premium. But, it’s still less than a roughly $5,000 gap between Lexus NX non-hybrid and hybrid models which are $39,720 for FWD, and $41,310 for AWD plus $940 delivery fee. (Thus it costs much more to go hybrid for Toyota’s up-line brand, and it’s even $40 more to deliver a Lexus than a Toyota.)
Next to other non-hybrid competitors, the RAV4 Hybrids also edge out with better mpg figures, but a comprehensive point-by-point value equation is beyond this article’s scope.
Toyota is projecting the RAV4 Hybrids will make up 10 to 15 percent of the RAV4’s sales. We’ve seen electrification fans say 33 mpg is too little citing EVs like the Tesla Model X, or pending PHEVs like the pending Mitsubishi Outlander.
Maybe so, but as things stack up for now, the RAV4 can be competitive, though we’ll add it’s a pity a really inexpensive base model is not available. Toyota does not say so, but doing that might cannibalize the rest of the RAV4 lineup because it would probably make too much economic sense.
So it goes. If Toyota has chosen the route of packing its hybrid with all amenities assuming an upscale demographic, we’d also add that others have done similarly, including Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, and many more.
This is not to excuse or blame anyone, but we’re just noting it’s an imperfect world and progress toward more affordable electrified choices is happening as regulations and consumer demand push for more.
As it is, the RAV4 is worth a closer look as it presents itself as a high-quality unique hybrid offering that arrives with a fresh new face.