THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Just about everything; this is an all-around great choice within its segment.
- What’s Bad: Some features are higher cost (satellite radio) or unavailable (panoramic sunroof).
If you’re going to really nail it on any product in the automotive industry right now, the compact SUV is the one you want to get right.
Sure, high-powered sports cars and luxury executive sedans generate excitement and attention for brands, and they remain important in that respect. But more and more often, it’s these smaller SUVs that people are driving off dealership lots. In fact – up until as recently as it was possible to make predictions about these things, at least – estimates say some 80 percent of new cars sold in Canada will be SUVs this year, most of them in this smaller category.
Hasn’t Toyota ever struck gold, then, with the latest RAV4. The fifth-generation that launched for the 2019 model year is an all-around excellent choice, especially in its hybrid configuration, which offers both a better drive feel and better fuel economy than its ICE-only counterpart for what on most models is a relatively negligible price premium. Even toward the top of the line in this Hybrid XSE with the Technology Package, its all-in cost of $43,516.40 is a stupendous value. And as an added bonus, the RAV4 happens to be built in Southern Ontario.
The XSE is the only RAV4 in the line-up that’s not available as a non-hybrid, and that’s by design. The S stands for sport, and Toyota feels that the hybrid system’s early throttle pick-up gives this car better performance than the gas-powered engine could do alone. We’re not talking about anything that’s going to send people pining for the racetrack here, nor do buyers in this segment expect or call for such things. But as far as the intent does go, this designation works – and the impressive eight-year, 160,000 km warranty on hybrid components and 10-year, 240,000 km warranty for batteries that Toyota is putting on 2020 hybrid models certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
Toyota’s hybrid all-wheel drive systems work by sending power to the front axle through an internal combustion engine and to the rear with an electric motor. In the RAV4 Hybrid, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque works in concert with a 118 hp, 149 lb-ft electric motor. Total advertised power output is 219 hp. The XSE also gets a unique sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch black alloy wheels, and some appearance upgrades among other features. The quick hit of power from the throttle is aided by the continuously variable transmission, which has a natural feel that doesn’t take away from the drive experience here as some others do.
Fuel efficiency is a clear benefit of choosing a hybrid: Natural Resources Canada rates this model at 5.7 L/100 km in city driving, 6.3 on the highway, and 6.0 combined, while ICE RAV4s top out at a combined average of 8.2 L/100 km. My real-world experience returned a readout of 7.6, but I did more highway driving during this week than I typically do and, admittedly, have a heavy right foot, both factors that work against a hybrid’s best interests.
Were I forced to choose one point that detracts from the RAV4’s drive experience, I’d call out the handling, which is a little more bouncy in character than some cars in the segment. But for all of the benefits the RAV4 Hybrid provides, this is a trade-off that’s more than livable.
A Handsome Ride
The improvements in drive feel with the current-generation RAV4 Hybrid are important, but it could be argued that its modern design stands out just as much. The muscular but not overdone lines on the exterior and clean and angular accents in the interior, along with quality materials, and top-notch fit and finish, make the RAV4 one of the better-looking compact SUVs on the market. I could live without the dust- and clutter-collecting shelf on the dashboard, but someone must love them because they still appear in plenty of cars. To me, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.
The fact that the second-row seats don’t fold all the way flat might turn some potential buyers off. On the other hand, there’s no sacrifice at all in cargo space from choosing the hybrid: all RAV4 models come with 1,059 litres of space behind the second row and 1,977 litres behind the first row, which are competitive figures regardless of powertrain.
Most of the Most Wanted Features
For the most part, the features offered on the RAV4 are properly competitive. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard equipment on all models, as are heated front seats and heated and power-adjustable exterior mirrors. A heated steering wheel becomes available one level above base, but for heated rear seats, you’ll need to pay more for the Limited grade.
The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of technologies is also standard – which includes lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, pre-collision system with pedestrian and bicycle detection, dynamic radar cruise control, and automatic high beams – and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is included on every model as well.
In the XSE, a birds-eye view monitor is also equipped along with an 8-inch touchscreen with satellite radio functionality and on-board navigation (which is either an added cost or not available at lower grades), along with wireless phone charging, ventilated front seats, and a hands-free power liftgate. The one thing that’s fully unavailable that buyers might miss is a panoramic sunroof, which Toyota’s Canadian manufacturing plants are not equipped to install.
There are so many smaller SUVs on the market these days that it’s easy to feel lost in a sea of options. The Toyota RAV4, and especially the hybrid version, checks all the right boxes and is highly deserving of a spot on every compact SUV buyer’s shopping list.