Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

I was so in favour of the concept of a hybrid RAV4 I had to do significant amounts of research just to make sure such a thing had truly not existed yet. I was convinced Toyota had produced a hybrid RAV4 in the past – surely they did, it just makes so much sense as a trailblazer in both the hybrid and compact crossover fields. They hadn’t, though. This truly is the first ever RAV4 Hybrid.

Point is, the RAV4 is now available with hybrid power and I personally think that’s a good decision.

One might expect that the company that epitomizes “hybrid” courtesy of the Prius, which by the way now spans three decades, would be a cinch to have a hybrid powertrain bolted into its ultra-popular crossover. Hell, even Ford did it with the Escape (for a while). It took until a year after luxury offshoot Lexus put this powertrain into the NX 300h that it comes to the RAV4.

Oh, and if you’re thinking, “What about the RAV4 EV”? That was a California-only anomaly.

Point is, the RAV4 is now available with hybrid power and I personally think that’s a good decision.

The blue paint on the outside was an equally good decision, this bold colour adds a bit more character to the RAV4 and gives it a visual presence I thoroughly enjoyed – then I opened the door.

Holy brown bonanza, Batman! The seats, door trim and dashboard sport the same horrific orange-brown hue you might see on an aging C-list actor. I was frightened and confused. Other than the offensive colour though, the RAV4 interior is kind of nice. The centre console is interesting with odd-shaped storage bins but not too quirky, the infotainment screen and climate controls make decent sense and the steering wheel is an up-spec leather-stitched affair with reasonably convincing fake aluminum trim. The gauges are simple but colourful and the centre TFT screen provides a wealth of clear information for the driver.

Ergonomically everything was right about where you would expect it, with only the tuning knob a bit of a reach for my below-spec arm length [T-Rex spec –Ed.].

We did a detailed dive into Toyota’s infotainment system during our Corolla long-term test, the RAV4 Hybrid adds some hybrid-specific powertrain graphics and metering plus a drive performance report to that system. It’s a good-looking one, and I found myself using it more than the very useful split-screen homepage just because I liked the aesthetics.

Underneath all the main controls there’s a row of buttons for the drive modes (EV, Eco, Sport) seat warmers, windscreen de-fogger, USB and 12V outlet. To the left of the steering wheel are buttons for the steering wheel heater (yeeeeeaassssss!!!) lane-departure warning and power mirrors. There are even memory seat buttons for the driver seat – fancy.

The Technology Package here added a JBL 11-speaker sound system, auto high beam, dynamic radar cruise, the lane-departure warning, front and rear parking assist and a birds-eye view monitor as well as pre-collision with pedestrian detection. At $2,675 it’s probably a reasonable omission from your list, as a rear-view camera and blind-spot detection plus normal cruise are all standard on the Limited trim anyway, as is that heated steering wheel, the 18-inch alloys, the power tailgate and an itty-bitty sunroof.

The seat and steering wheel heaters work well, and the drive modes have wide differences in throttle response. EV mode works up to 40 km/h but only if you don’t need the heater and only if you operate the accelerator by blowing on it gently. I still left it primarily in Eco mode because I was keen to explore the fuel-saving abilities.

In an almost 100 percent city driving during winter with lots of idling (sorry, Mother Earth) we achieved 8.0 L/100 km for the week. That bests my long-term average in the much smaller, non-hybrid CX-3 of 8.2. It was way off the 5.6 I achieved in the Ford C-Max Hybrid – though that’s also a much smaller vehicle, and lacking the RAV4’s AWD.

EnerGuide pegs the regular RAV4 at 10.5/8.2/9.5 L/100 km city/highway/combined. The Hybrid is rated at 6.9/7.6/7.2 – that’s about 25 percent better in combined conditions, and 35 percent better in city driving. If you’re a highway driver, you’ll see only a seven percent improvement.

At what cost?

The Atkinson-cycle 2.5L four and electric motor combine for 194 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque in net numbers. That compares well to the standard RAV4’s 176 hp and 172 lb-ft. Weight gain is a significant 140 kg however, so don’t think the hybrid RAV is any sort of rocket ship. Still, this little crossover will give you adequate speed on the highway and passing ability, with a completely acceptable amount of engine and transmission moan.

Wind noise is a bit on the loud side, however. You may also notice an intermittent feeling of vagueness and sponginess in the brake pedal that I was surprised to discover – having experienced little in the way of that in other Toyota family hybrids lately. Look for it on your test drive but don’t be surprised to find it was an issue specific to this press car – because journalists.

Other than that, the only other penalty for your fuel savings is an 80L drop in cargo volume to 1,010. The small bump in the floor also means the cargo floor is not completely flat with the seats folded, which may bother some.

There is a cargo cover that can be stored in the underfloor bin when not in use. It sits above a full-size spare.

Of course, those are the non-cost costs. There’s also the question of price. The RAV4 starts at $24,990 in base trim, and $27,255 for the base AWD model. The cheapest Hybrid RAV is the XLE at $34,465. The non-hybrid XLE is $2,815 less. This Limited model has a $38,265 MSRP, compared to the non-hybrid Limited trim at $37,500 – just $765 less. Moral of the story? The RAV4 Hybrid is a better option the higher your trim level, but if you like base trims, you’ll be forced to go non-hybrid.

Steering in the RAV4 is carpark friendly and highway stable, as well as being fingertip light. Is it a sharp-turning, corner-carving fun wagon? No. It’s a RAV4 Hybrid. And that is exactly as it should be. Ease of driving is the name of the game here. That same philosophy carries over to the ride, which is stable and soft enough to handle most road conditions without being overly spongy. Body roll is light, and cabin stability high. Speed bumps are well handled at moderate speeds, highway driving is best described as “unremarkable” – which is a good thing here.

I mentioned the CVT moan earlier, it’s not actually that bad, and many regular autos fare worse. This transmission has a sport mode with manual shift control for simulated gear ranges. You can safely ignore this feature. Toyota probably could have saved the $30 per unit it cost to put the indent in the console and the program in the computer too. Not because it’s pointless or needless – wait, actually yes because it is pointless and needless. It works fine and simulates gear ratios well, but the CVT’s great benefits are ease of driving and fuel economy. There is no need for it to fill the sporting aspirations of anyone, make it drive well and save fuel and it has done its job.

It’s our fault really. All our boy-racer dreams of sportiness sometimes drive manufacturers to pretense, or even to put in things that are not pretend but still pointless.

That’s it. That’s the whole job. Job done.The RAV4 has a reputation for being easy to drive, delivering good practicality and a reliable driving experience. The RAV4 Hybrid is easy to drive, pleasant to drive, delivers good practicality and saves fuel over the regular RAV (and indeed most other compact crossovers).

Model Tested 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Base Price $38,265
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,730
Price as Tested $42,770
Optional Equipment
Technology package (JBL 11-speaker Synthesis Audi System, auto high beam, dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert, front and rear parking assist, birds-eye view monitor) - $2,675