THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Adding hybrid efficiencies to the already impressive RAV4 package for an acceptable premium.
- What’s Bad: Limited colour combo choices.
At the risk of dating myself, I remember driving the first Toyota RAV4s.
They were modestly powered, slightly noisily nasal and gawkily trousered in corrugated cladding and came in three-door and five-door formats.
The stubby-in-length but tall-in-height three-door was even shorter than today’s Yaris, Toyota’s current smallest subcompact, ensconcing drivers in a cabin with all the resonant ambiance and acoustics of a phone booth.
Okay, now I’m definitely dating myself.
But those first attempts at bridging the gap between cars and trucks initiated a new trend of utility tempered by civility.
Now, flash forward to today’s fifth generation RAV4 – sleek, sophisticated loaded with the latest driver dynamic assists, technologies, amenities and infotainment connectivity, wrapped up in a compact sport ute that isn’t so compact anymore.
The RAV4 lineup runs the gamut from entry-level LE models to fully-loaded LTDs but our focus here is on the as-tested hybrid version.
Building on Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) and including common RAV4 characteristics for 2019 – an improved platform, better handling and stability, along with added standard and available techs contained within a bolder, sharper styling package – our tester adds the Toyota Hybrid System II.
It all starts with the conventional gas-powered 2.5-litre Dynamic Force four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine (176 hp, 163 lb/ft) coupled to redesigned high-torque electric motor/generators (194 hp, 88 lb/ft).
The combined 219 hp effort delivers more vigourous and smoother acceleration than the regular RAV4 powertrain, with the added oomph flowing through a new CVT transmission (instead of the regular RAV4’s eight-speed automatic). The CVT’s improved efficiencies reduce transmission power losses by 25 per cent.
And, while base level RAV4 models may start in front-wheel drive configurations, all hybrid models in Canada come equipped with Toyota’s latest All-Wheel Drive system (i-AWD) that now puts power to the pavement with as much as 30 percent more torque streamed to the rear wheels, for a more responsive driving feel.
A new smaller, more efficient Ni-MH battery pack fits snugly under the second row with zero impact on the RAV4 hybrid’s rear cargo area (1,065 litres, 1,976 litres behind first row).
The improved drivetrain is quieter and more fuel efficient with ratings coming in at 5.8/6.0L/100km (city/hwy). Occasional stretches of low power EV-only driving and auto stop/start also help the hybrid attain its thrifty 6.0L/100km combined rating – a marked improvement over the previous generation’s 7.3L/100km (comb). I managed a pretty impressive 5.5L/100km (comb) myself.
So, what’s the catch?
What’s all this added fuel economy going to cost?
Well, Toyota has been working on reducing the hybrid cost differential with a starting price that is $1,400 above an equivalent regular RAV4 price.
That’s a price range that’s narrowed considerably compared to last year’s 2018 RAV4 Hybrid LE at $4,775 more than its 2018 gas-powered equivalent.
Toyota estimates that, for most drivers, fuel savings alone will pay back the hybrid premium after a little more than two years of driving.
The 2019 RAV4 Hybrid lineup comes in three trim levels within a $10K price range – the LE ($32,090), XLE ($35,090) and LTD ($42,090).
Actually, let’s make that four trim levels because the mid-range XLE trim offers an XSE package ($3,300) that bumps up the sport quotient with a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, SofTex leather, added USB ports, with Entune Safety Connect System the Entune Safety Connect System with Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Emergency SOS button and Enhanced Roadside Assistance (three-year).
The XSE looks sportier too with four exclusive two-tone colour choices featuring a black roof and blacked-out exterior trim accents, especially distinctive in our as-tested combo of Blizzard Pearl ($255) and Black.
In our case, this tester actually added the more comprehensive XSE with Tech package ($5,800) bolstered even further with navigation added to an Entune system with eight-inch display, integrated SiriusXM, Traffic and Weather, 11-speaker 800W Premium JBL audio, a wireless smartphone charger and more driver assists – Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Front and Rear Parking Sonar, Intelligent Parking Assist and Intelligent Clearance Sonar.
We could go on and on listing extra items, almost approaching the all-inclusive level of the top-of-the-line LTD trim level but suffice to say this very complete package complements a well thought-out hybrid SUV with comfortable compact space and accommodation for five passengers and their luggage.
When the renewed 2019 RAV4 lineup debuted last year, my colleague Jim Robinson noted that in 2018 it took 10 days for this made-in-Canada success story to match the 1,900 yearly sales total of those original ’96 RAV4s mentioned at the beginning of this review.
Hybrids make up an increasingly important part of a best-selling RAV4 lineup that is currently edging out its Honda CR-V rival and leading its segment in sales. It’s a trend that could continue with an upcoming 2020 TRD RAV4 and possible plug-in, electric and fuel cell future evolutions.