Since its sales launch last November, the RAV4 Hybrid has hit the ground running as a bit of a niche product that’s arguably value priced.
This year through March it has been America’s second-best selling hybrid vehicle aside from the perennial chart topper – its established sibling, the Prius. In the process it has stepped over usual second-place contenders including the Toyota Prius c, Camry Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and others.
So what’s so special about it? Compact crossovers are a hotly contested segment in a market flush with more than a half dozen solid competitors, but the RAV4 is the only one that offers full hybridization giving it an advantage in city and thus combined mpg.
Specifically, its fuel economy is 33 mpg combined, 34 city, 31 highway. Other than Tesla’s all-electric $82,000-plus Model X, the U.S. EPA says it has the highest fuel efficiency in the country among AWD sport utility vehicles. Further, the RAV4 Hybrid is more powerful than its non-hybrid stable mate and 0-60 mph arrives nearly a full second quicker.
The next-closest like-for-like competitor is its Lexus NX 300h sibling, while the RAV4 Hybrid handily out-does its conventional siblings. Non-hybrid front-wheel drive RAV4s are rated from 26 mpg combined, 24 city, 31 highway, and all-wheel-drive non-hybrid RAV4s are rated for 25 mpg combined 22 city, 29 highway. So, you are looking at an 8-mpg official difference.
The unimpressed have said 33 mpg is not jaw dropping, but for the first hybrid RAV in the history of a vehicle that is older than the Prius, it’s OK. Ford’s former Escape Hybrid was rated 4 mpg less in AWD and 1 mpg less in FWD iterations, and the well-equipped 2016 RAV4 Hybrid must be weighed in context.
In today’s market also not hurting things is Toyota priced the RAV4 Hybrid just $700 over comparably equipped conventional RAV4s. This makes it close to being a no-brainer in some people’s minds – and yes, that was an oxymoron we let slip.
HSD with AWD-i
Like every other Toyota hybrid sold, the RAV4 gets a variation of Hybrid Synergy Drive. In this case it’s comprised of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine paired with electric motor and 1.6-kWh (6.5 Ah) NiMh battery safely sealed and stowed under the rear seat.
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).
The engine in this powertrain also equipped in the Lexus NX hybrid delivers 112 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, 206 pounds-feet torque at 4,100. The electric motor contributes a substantial 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.
Total system output is 194 horsepower, comparing favorably with 176 horsepower for the gas-only RAV4.
As for the AWD-i system, it 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 the RAV4 Hybrid, 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.
Toyota introduced its first RAV4 Hybrid alongside a midcycle refresh for the entire RAV4 lineup.
Toyota said the 2016 updates were to make the RAV4 appear more like a full-on SUV with stronger road presence – and a far cry from the rather funky looking original RAVs of the 90s.
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.
Advanced Safety Tech
The RAV4 line is among the first vehicles to get a Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) package which will be nearly universal in Toyota products by 2017.
Not surprisingly, it comes standard on the hybrid and gas-only Limited. It is optional on the hybrid and gas-only XLE. TSS is a suite of complementary technologies that include 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 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.
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 compares with 139.1 cubic feet (with moonroof) for the non-hybrids, and identical passenger volume for the same.
Also satisfying enough is Toyota’s 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 Hybrid RAV also comes equipped with a six-speaker stereo with Siri Eyes Free, a backup camera, and 360-degree birds-eye display.
Having driven the RAV4 Hybrid back to back with non-hybrid RAV4s including the semi-sporty SE, the Hybrid holds its own.
At 3,925-3,950 pounds, it weighs 320 pounds more than respective XLE and Limited non-hybrid RAVs, but it manages the extra bulk well with it only being noticeable in harder cornering where the lighter non-hybrids are a bit more sure footed.
Despite usual rollover warning for SUVs, the RAV4 Hybrid can still plow through a slalom course and not feel overly in danger of doing more than pushing the front through oversteer.
But of course, that is not its primary reason for being, and as one might imagine the hybrid is quiet with lots of sound-deadening material stuffed in.
Quietest is EV mode but this is as limited as the Limited badging on the flanks of the RAV we drove – electric range is only 0.6 miles range for the RAV4 Hybrid at up to 25 mph, so this is just for very limited gas-free driving. A pedestrian warning sounds also emanates at parking lot speeds when operating in EV mode.
Those wanting to save fuel can select also ECO mode which trims throttle response and – as needed – air conditioning output.
Full system power is always a mashed accelerator pedal away, however, and despite the extra curb weight, its 0-60 mph time of 8.1 seconds is almost one second quicker than the non-hybrid RAVs. Power is adequate everywhere, including on the highway.
Maximum mpg on the other hand comes at slower speeds where that electric motor drive is most able to augment the engine and spare the gasoline.
Our combined average was 33 mpg on one run, on other drives abusing the power and being carefree, it was in the high 20s. Drive the car more sedately, and EPA potential and above is there.
In all, the Hybrid is a solid proposition being more powerful than the conventional RAV4, and despite the a weight increase, it nets better fuel mileage as well.
Toyota has positioned the RAV4 Hybrid XLE and Limited atop the RAV hierarchy as a “‘no sacrifices’ vehicle for those buyers that wanted it all,” said Product Communications Representative Sam Butto.
The XLE starts at $29,270 including $900 destination, and on that same basis, the Limited starts at $34,510.
Compared to the respective XLE- and Limited-grade non-hybrid RAVs, the Hybrids are a just $700 more, and if these trim levels are what you want, it is a good value, almost head-scratchingly so given the extra degree of engineering and hardware involved in the Hybrids.
Toyota has not said it has trimmed profits from already healthy margins for the loaded versions to subsidize the hybrid premium, but the relatively slim price difference nearly suggests this.
Also true is if you want a RAV4 Hybrid, you will need to accept a relatively loaded vehicle priced well above lesser-equipped conventional siblings in the lineup starting at $25,250 including destination. The RAV4 Hybrid is not available, for example, in a base LE front-wheel-drive version. Is Toyota concerned it might see greater cannibalization of sales if it priced base hybrids also just $700 over base non-hybrids?
As it is, an entry level FWD non-hybrid LE is $4,020 less than the entry level RAV4 Hybrid XLE, and a base AWD LE non-hybrid, is $2,620 less than the Hybrid XLE.
But such comparisons mainly matter for those aspiring for fewer amenities than more. For the target demographic, Toyota has presented an outstanding value with superior mpg and power for a relatively paltry $700 price differential.
What’s not to like?