Drivers love their crossovers. They have been abandoning sedans in droves in favor of these taller hatchbacks that often come with all-wheel drive.
The competition for customers among automakers has been intense. Leading in sales are the Honda CR-V, the Nissan Rogue, which saw a significant surge in sales last year, and the 2017 sales winner, the redesigned Toyota RAV4.
The RAV4 comes in two versions: gasoline-powered and a gasoline-electric hybrid. Last updated for the 2016 model year, the RAV4 returns for 2018 with no major changes. This is a very good thing, since the hybrid version is impressive, not only compared to the non-hybrid RAV4, but to the competition as well.
Part of its appeal is offering all-wheel drive standard. This is a rarity in compact crossovers. Most competitors, and the gasoline-only version of the RAV4, are front-
wheel-drive vehicles that offer all-wheel drive as an option. The RAV4 Hybrid also offers better fuel economy, which is expected from a hybrid, and better performance, which is not.
The reason most people buy a hybrid, fuel economy, is valid when it comes to the RAV4. If we ignore much more costly plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars, the RAV4's combined EPA rating of 32 miles per gallon places it among the most fuel-efficient vehicles in the compact crossover field. Only the Nissan Rogue Hybrid does better, beating the RAV4 by a single mile per gallon when equipped with all-wheel drive. The Chevrolet Equinox-GMC Terrain combo also equals the RAV4’s combined EPA rating, but only equipped with the optional 1.6-liter diesel engine.
As for our fuel efficiency, we averaged 33.4 miles per gallon. The previous RAV4 Hybrid that we had for review in 2016 managed to go 35 miles per gallon. Either figure exceeds what nearly every gasoline-only competitor can deliver. That includes the last non-hybrid RAV4 we had for review, which fell 7.6 and 9.2 miles-per-gallon short.
The hybrid’s advantage in fuel efficiency carries over to its performance. Our review RAV4 managed to reach 60 miles per hour in 8.2 seconds, a tenth of second better than the last RAV4 Hybrid review vehicle, and six-tenths of second faster than the non-hybrid version.
The RAV4 delivers ample cargo space of 35.6 cubic feet with the rear seats set up for passengers, or 70.6 cubic feet with these seats folded. It's comfortable for adults in the front- and second-row seats. The RAV4 does not offer a third row.
Four trim levels are available. The LE offers standard dual-zone automatic climate control and a backup camera. The XLE has an upgraded audio system that includes navigation. The SE offers a power liftgate, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and blind-spot and rear-cross traffic alert systems. The Limited, which starts at $34,030, comes with front- and rear-parking sensors and offers an audio upgrade.
The RAV4’s ride is smooth enough to keep you comfortable during a long trip. As for handling, it might not be the sportiest crossover on the market, but it handles well on secondary roads and highway entrance and exit ramps. With all of these pluses, the hybrid presents a compelling case for its purchase over the non-hybrid version.
Nothing has really changed since we last tried the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. I liked it then and I like it now. While it does cost $1,325 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid RAV4, at current gasoline prices of about $2.59 a gallon, it should return $330 of that difference every year in fuel savings, based on 15,000 miles of driving. And, if the price of gasoline goes up, the four-year payback period will shorten.
The interior of the RAV4 may not be as luxurious-looking as some of its competitors, but it more than makes up for that by offering the Toyota Safety Sense System as standard equipment on every trim level, even the base LE. This package includes lane-keep assist, pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.
Offsetting this somewhat are the results of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests. The RAV4 earned top scores across the board except in the passenger side small overlap barrier crash test where it was scored as "Poor," the lowest possible rating. The same test on the driver’s side produced a top score of “Good.” The RAV4’s crash avoidance and mitigation system also earned a “Superior” rating, the best available from the Institute.
I was impressed by the RAV4's cargo area, which will hold larger items, including some furniture. It would be ideal for antiquing in Litchfield County. Leave the backseat set up for passengers and there is still enough room to hold the results of a major shopping spree at the wholesale club. Still, it is the fuel economy, which is better than many of the compact cars we’ve tried in recent years, that impresses me most.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: $27,235 plus $895 for destination charges.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder plus three electric motor generators
HP: 150 (gasoline engine only); 194 horsepower total with electric motor.
Torque: 152 lb.-ft. (gas engine only). Total with electric motor unspecified.
EPA: 34/30 city/highway