GATINEAU, Quebec — Toyota claims the RAV4, which will be 20 years old in 2016, is responsible for spawning the compact SUV segment. It was smaller and more frugal than American variations of these passenger-carrying light trucks. Although it was unique two decades ago, pretty much every manufacturer now populates the segment.
This latest generation RAV4 was introduced just over two years ago, so 2016 marks a mid-cycle makeover. The new model gets revised exterior styling that features a more aggressive fascia, which is a common theme among current Toyotas. Perhaps bigger news than a new face is the addition of the RAV4 Hybrid, which becomes the seventh electrically-assisted vehicle in the carmaker’s current lineup.
The RAV4 Hybrid shares its undercarriage with the Lexus NX 300h, so it receives the same 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine. It’s assisted by a pair of electric motors, one at each axle. The RAV4 Hybrid is only available with all-wheel drive, a system Toyota calls AWD-I. It uses the gasoline engine and one electric motor to drive the front wheels, while a second electric motor powers the rear wheels when additional traction is needed. This is a light-duty AWD system meant to get you out of a snowy parking spot; it is not designed to climb and crawl your way to your favourite hunting spot.
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Total output is 194 horsepower, making it the most powerful RAV4 in Toyota’s lineup (gasoline versions produce 176 horses). Unlike the normal RAV4, which uses a six-speed automatic, the hybrid model uses a seamless CVT.
There are four drive modes: EV, Eco, Normal and Sport. Each mode progressively reduces the amount of electrical assistance the engine receives. Regardless of which mode is selected, regenerative braking is minimal so you need not adjust your driving style to suit the hybrid.
Makeover extends to the hybrid
The interior is upgraded with soft-touch materials in the lower dash and door panels, and there are new symmetric gauges with a central LCD info screen in the instrument panel. Noise suppressing materials have been added to the floor to reduce vibration and road racket in the cabin. The seats, however, are flat and firm, and might hamper daylong drives. There’s now a warmer brown interior colour available, aside from the current model’s black finish.
The hybrid comes in two trim levels, starting with the $34,465 XLE, which is almost $9,500 more than the base front-drive RAV4, but only $2,800 more than the comparably equipped RAV4 AWD XLE.
The XLE has a 6.1-inch infotainment screen. Upgrading to the $38,265 Limited gets you a 7-inch screen that includes a navigation system, an upgraded JBL sound system and a 360-degree bird’s-eye view camera.
Cargo space doesn’t suffer much due to the hybrid’s rear-mounted batteries, and capacity with the rear seatbacks down is 2,000 litres, only 80 less than with the normal RAV4. The cargo floor is flat and is accessible via a standard one-touch power liftgate, which is height-adjustable to six levels. Towing capacity is 794 kg, an increase of 114 kg over the gasoline model.
The suspension is tuned for comfort though it is on the firm side, which reduces body roll through turns—a bit. Steering response is uninspiring, but its unlikely RAV4 Hybrid buyers will make their choice based on its handling prowess.
Most fuel-efficient compact SUV
The biggest advantage of the hybrid over its all-gas stable mate is its reduced fuel consumption, which proves to be dramatic. Attempting to hyper-mile both vehicles along the same 70-kilometre route, the hybrid registers average fuel consumption of 6.2 L/100 km compared to 8.0 for the gasoline RAV4. Both figures are better than the official claims, though a longer drive would have probably brought the numbers up.
The biggest gains are seen in the city, where in Eco mode the hybrid favours the electric motor if driven accordingly. The trick, I find, is to accelerate hard enough for the gasoline engine to take the car up to speed, and then back off the accelerator and cruise on electric power. It also has a start/stop function, something lacking on the gasoline version.
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Costa Mouzouris is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. For this story, travel expenses were paid by the manufacturer. To reach Wheels Editor Norris McDonald, email email@example.com and put the writer’s name in the subject line.
PRICE/AS TESTED: $34,465/ N/A
ADD-ONS: Destination charge: $1,830
TYPE: Five-door compact SUV
PROPULSION: Front engine, all-wheel drive
CARGO: 2,000 L behind front seats
ENGINE: 2.4-litre Atkinson-cycle I4
POWER/TORQUE: 194 hp/206 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100 km): 6.9 city, 7.6 hwy., 7.2 combined
BRAKES: Four-wheels discs; ABS; brake assist
TIRES: 225/65R17 XLE; 235/55R18 Limited
ACCESSIBILITY: Very easy front and rear access; doors swing wide
COMPETITION: Audi Q5 Hybrid; Lexus NX 300h
WHAT’S BEST: Exceptional fuel economy
WHAT’S WORST: You cannot buy a lower trim level than the XLE
MOST INTERESTING: Excellent hybrid system; uses up minimal interior space
LOOKS: Distinctive styling, especially front end, should be easily distinguishable
INTERIOR: Roomy, premium materials, very good fit and finish
PERFORMANCE: More than adequate acceleration, more powerful than the standard model while being more fuel efficient
TECHNOLOGY: Toyota Safety Sense, which adds a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, auto high beams, dynamic cruise control
RATING: Finally a sensible choice among hybrids; more practical than compact hybrids; more fuel efficient than larger SUV hybrids