THE BETTER ENGINE OPTION

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: A Way Station to the Future


November 8, 2019 Cars By

The Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling passenger vehicle in the United States that’s not a full-size pickup. Its name is a bit misleading: while the word “RAV4” seems to promise all the 1990s fun you can handle, the reality is far more prosaic. It’s a practical, capable, affordable, and inoffensive means of conveyance, manufactured by a trusted brand manufactures it. It’s what most buyers want from a car.

For the fifth-generation redesign, the RAV4 receives edgier styling that tries (and succeeds, on some level) to make the crossover appear more like the Tacoma and 4Runner and less like a chopped-up minivan. It also picks up a more-powerful-and-more-efficient 2.5-liter hybrid engine.

We in the automotive industry spend a lot of time discussing electric cars as the default vehicles of the future. But that technology remains expensive; most buyers aren’t in the market for a Porsche Taycan or a Bollinger truck, given their six-figure price tags. The less-sexy component of making our roads greener in the short-term is manufacturers making the cars most people buy more efficient — and making those efficient options more compelling.

After spending a week with a RAV4 hybrid, I can say Toyota succeeded at that — for the most part.

The Good: The RAV4’s 2.5-liter hybrid delivers greater efficiency than its predecessor. EPA testing rates the RAV4 at 40 mpg combined; I earned more like 36 mpg over a week of driving, but that’s still significant savings over the 30 mpg of the gas-only version, which itself is fairly economical for an SUV. The money you save on fuel, over time, should help offset the additional cost of the hybrid engine, which comes to a little over $2,000 when you factor in paying for all-wheel-drive.

Besides being more efficient, the hybrid performs better. At 219 hp and 206 lb-ft, it offers 13 more horsepower and 22 more lb-ft of torque than the gas engine. The peak torque is more useful, too, coming lower in the rev range (3,600 rpm versus 5,000). The hybrid will accelerate from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds. That’s hardly blazing, but it’s a half-second quicker than the gas version.

The RAV4 is also comfortable and useful, with a sizeable, ergonomic cabin. It’s the right height and the doors wide enough to make entry and exit easy for all ages. Its ample trunk handled everyday life—which in my case was a couple of yoga mats, a diaper bag, and a week’s worth of groceries—with room to spare. Toyota doesn’t lux things up with gusto — that’s what Lexus is for—but the materials seemed high-quality in my fancy Limited trim, and the seats felt cushy.

Toyota now permits just about everyone to use their smartphone in the car, too. The RAV4 now supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Who It’s For: Smaller sport-utility vehicles sell well because they have incredibly broad appeal. The RAV4 is great for older people. It’s great for young families and singles. The RAV4’s target demo is basically anyone in America with two or fewer children, no particular need for extreme speed or off-road prowess, and a less-than–excessive amount of wealth. So, pretty much everyone.

Watch Out For: A traditional complaint about the RAV4 is its uncouth amount of cabin noise. That’s still an issue. The internal combustion engine belts out a grating groan when you place even slight pressure on the gas pedal. Technically, you hear less of that engine with the hybrid, but the inline-four’s constant cutting in and out draws even more attention to the noise. You can mitigate the auditory assault with a light touch on the gas, but you’ll have to accelerate at some point.

The electric motor’s hum is not especially pleasant either. It sounds like something between a stereotypical flying saucer and an ambulance far off in the distance. It’s more subtle than the gas engine, though. (My wife accused me of being dramatic when I brought this up to her.)

Alternatives: The most prominent CUV competitors for the RAV4 include the Honda CR-V ($24,450), the Nissan Rogue ($25,200) and the Ford Escape ($24,885).

Verdict: The hybrid powertrain is the best buy in the RAV4-verse. You don’t get the cool styling of the TRD Off-Road trim, but the fuel savings and improved performance should trump any aesthetic concerns.

That said, don’t go wild on the options. My Limited Hybrid trim priced out to $40,883, which felt like an absurd price to pay for a RAV4. A more cost-effective route would be to select the second-tier XLE trim and add on any desired packages from there.

More broadly, the RAV4 falls into the category of sensible vehicles worth suggesting to family and friends. It meets their needs, and it’s reliable. As a car guy, I’m not sure it has enough personality to make me want to drive it every day. There are more entertaining Toyotas, and there are other family cars with more pizzazz in the price range. But the RAV4 Hybrid’s great fuel economy keeps me from immediately recommending you go buy a Subaru Outback instead.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: Key Specs

Engine: 2.5-liter inline-four hybrid
Horsepower: 219 hp
Torque: 206 hp
0-60 mph: 7.4 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy: 41 mpg city/38 mpg highway

Toyota provided this product for review.

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