The glowing headline of Consumer Reports’ just-published RAV4 Hybrid overview does not tell the paradoxical story to be read between the lines.
While the publication validates Toyota’s new hybrid as the country’s most frugal non-plug-in SUV with 31 mpg combined – close to the 33 mpg on the sticker – it said the RAV’s city mpg missed the official mark by 26 percent, while exceeding it by 16 percent on the highway.
“Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Proves to Be the Most Fuel-Efficient SUV Ever Tested,” said the headline in a story touting that Toyota’s compact crossover also surpassed the mpg returned by most midsized sedans.
Sounds great, and the write-up is very positive overall. But despite a similar combined mpg number, Consumer Reports’ city and highway results deviate widely from numbers affixed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – and seem to contradict the single-biggest advantage Toyota’s hybrid is supposed to offer – city mpg.
Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid, only $700 more than the non-hybrid, is rated by the EPA 34 mpg in the city, but Consumer Reports said after its careful test procedures of two RAV4 Hybrids purchased, it got just 26 mpg. The EPA also says the RAV4 Hybrid achieves 31 mpg on the highway, but Consumer Reports documented 36 mpg.
According to Consumer Reports’ Gabriel Shenhar, program manager, Vehicle Dynamics, the RAV4 Hybrid’s results represent a typical difference between hybrid testing between the popular consumer publication and the EPA.
In any event, compared to other AWD compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, and several others, by EPA reckoning the RAV4’s most-competitive benefit is its city mpg, whereas highway mpg is barely any different.
The EPA says on the highway its 31 mpg rating for the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid only equals a CR-V, beats an Escape by just 2 mpg, and lags a Rogue by 1 mpg.
Not a big difference in highway mpg.
However, says the EPA, in the city the RAV4 Hybrid’s 34 mpg rating beats the CR-V by a 9 mpg, the Escape by 12 mpg, and the Rogue by 9 mpg.
Given how competitive this class is, the RAV4 Hybrid’s city number is considered substantially better, and since being introduced last November, the hybrid RAV has escalated up the sales chart to rank second only to the Prius.
Why does it do so much better on the EPA’s city cycle? The electric motor in the hybrid lets it rely more often on its gas-free power input to help the gas engine during operation in slower and stop-and-go city type driving.
On the highway, its small 1.6 kWh battery and electric drive portion are not enough to help as often, and so the gas engine does relatively more of the work on a highway. This is why on the highway, the RAV barely beats any of its competitors, if at all.
Hybrids have long been known to perform this way. Unlike conventional cars, city testing usually returns relatively better results than highway testing, but Consumer Reports found nearly the opposite was true.
Shenhar added light to the subject.
“Our city cycle consists of speed variations, some of which are 20 to 40 mph within a relatively short distance,” he said. “We’ve modeled this course after a typical urban/suburban type driving pattern and we think it is representative of the city consumption most consumers experience. We’ve also validated it against survey results among our subscribers.
“Clearly, this is a more demanding test than the one the EPA conducts,” Shenhar added.
At this stage the usual caveat that “your mileage will vary” is certainly true, including for Consumer Reports, which has a page dedicated to its test lab.