Toyota invented the compact crossover in 1996 with the RAV4. It was a small segment for those who wanted the higher ride height of an SUV without the significant fuel economy penalty, and the comfortable ride of a sedan.
The RAV4 has gone through several iterations since then, maturing and getting better along the way, and now finally, Toyota engineers implemented their ingenious Hybrid Synergy Drive system into the RAV4.
Let’s get right to the point: this is the most efficient SUV we’ve ever driven. Returning 34 mpg in mixed highway and city driving is simply amazing for a loaded AWD crossover priced at $36k.
Engineers refined the powertrain so that it’s nearly impossible to know when the gas engine switches on and off around town. We kept the RAV4 in electric-only mode up to about 30 mph when accelerating, and the gas engine does shut off numerous times at higher speeds when decelerating or when throttle input is minimal.
The brakes are strong and inspire confidence, something Toyota as refined over the years of building the worlds number one selling hybrid, Prius.
Because the RAV4 Hybrid only comes with intelligent AWD, those back wheels get their own electric motor. The power for the motor comes from the battery pack, which means the rear motor acts as a generator too, adding to the recaptured energy from the front motor.
The RAV4 Limited offers Toyota Safety Sense-P, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection which performs emergency automatic braking, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control. These features utilities a radar unit behind the Toyota emblem in the grille and a camera mounted inside the RAV4 and in front of the rear-view mirror, essentially watching the road ahead.
Accident avoidance tech is something we highly recommend, and statistics show that vehicles with these technologies are in fewer accidents, are exposed to reduced damage when there is one and automakers like Toyota have pledged make it standard across all their vehicles in the next couple of years.
Blind spot monitor (BSM) with rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) was also standard on our test vehicle, two features we wouldn’t recommend buying a new vehicle without. The first lets you know if there’s another car in your left or right blind spot, and the latter is a huge help in parking lots when someone or something is moving perpendicular to the RAV4.
LED headlights shine brightly at night, producing a lot of white light that reaches far down the road, although we still think the ones in the Prius C were the best we’ve ever tested. LED taillights ensure those behind the RAV4 quickly and easily see when the brakes are on.
A backup camera is standard and when optioned with the Advanced Tech Package, Toyota offers Bird’s Eye View, a picture stitch of the RAV4 using cameras under the side-view mirrors and in the front grille and then projected onto the 7″ infotainment display. The result is a top-down view of the RAV4 as if you were a bird looking at the roof; parking jobs are a lot easier with this tech.
Toyota’s Entune is one of the better systems on the market. The screen is responsive and fonts are easy to read at a quick glance. JBL audio with 11 speakers and a subwoofer was part of the tech package, which includes navigation and satellite radio too.
The seats were incredibly comfortable, with plenty of adjustments and good lumbar support. Door and center console elbow rests are well padded. The rear seats were room and reclined.
Gauges and controls are all intuitive, with knobs and buttons that are well labeled and easy to use while the RAV4 is in motion.
Power from the gas engine and electric motors was always on tap; the RAV4 always felt peppy and smooth thanks to the trusty 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, electric motors and continuously variable transmission.
Overall, the RAV4 is a practical, safe and comfortable crossover with handsome looks that would look at home in just about anyone’s driveway.