The new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a big improvement on the last model, offering a genuinely efficient driving experience for a spacious SUV.
The original Toyota RAV4 was a genuinely innovative, fresh ‘soft-roader’ concept when it first appeared in 1994. Since then the RAV4 has grown and matured, but the last model seemed to have lost some of its character. The latest RAV4 aims to recapture some of this – has it succeeded?
The design of the new RAV4 is chunky and angular. It certainly has more of a presence than the last model. This approach is also reflected in the interior, which may not be ‘premium’ (Toyota has the Lexus brand for more premium offerings), however the RAV4 is certainly spacious and practical, with a good-sized boot.
The RAV4 seems to have a ‘grippy’ theme running through it, from the rubber mats to the interior door handles to the temperature dials. It’s a shame that our test car was only front-wheel drive and therefore the ‘grippy’ theme didn’t fully carry through to the drivetrain.
The RAV4 has a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder in-line Atkinson cycle petrol engine mated to an electric motor and a nickel metal-hydride battery, and an electric CVT transmission. The hybrid system is an evolution of the one introduced in the original Prius, ie. the idea is that the car captures energy in its battery when braking, which can then be re-used to power the car at standstill or when there’s a low load on the engine. No plugging in is required! Toyota refers to the RAV4 as a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, although there’s a certain amount of debate about the accuracy of this term in the industry…
We’re pleased (and relieved) to report that the driving experience of the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a big improvement on the previous model. The new RAV4 has a chunkier feel to go with its chunkier looks – it feels like an SUV should do – and it no longer feels anaesthetised – there’s 219bhp from the powertrain, which is 24bhp more than the previous model.
The ride quality is also better, and if you venture down an unsurfaced track, the suspension feels like it has much better damping – although ultimately it’s still not the most cossetting ride. Like most SUVs in this class, this car isn’t designed to offer sports car-like handling agility – although the steering has reasonable feel and weight. There’s some cabin noise, especially when on poor motorway surfaces.
The problem we’ve had over the years with Toyota’s hybrid system, primarily due to the CVT transmission, is that the driving experience can be very revvy, especially when accelerating. This sensation has been reduced with recent models, and in normal driving this latest RAV4 is much better. However if you do select the Sport drive mode as well as the Sport setting on the transmission then it can once again become revvy when eg. overtaking. At least the drive mode buttons (Eco, Normal and Sport) are easy to access next to the gear selector.
There’s also an EV mode, which only offers very limited all-electric driving, but overall the RAV4 can be operated in EV mode for more of the time than the Honda CR-V Hybrid.
So overall the new RAV4 offers a much improved driving experience than the last model, but we did find one area for improvement: the infomedia system, in particular the satnav. The system isn’t the most user-friendly to enter addresses into – such as when having to switch between letters and numbers on a postcode; the mapping and the graphics are poor; it seemed to default to a north-facing map all the time; and it doesn’t give great directions when turning.
The official combined fuel economy for the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid based on the new, more realistic WLTP test cycle is 49-51 mpg, with CO2 emissions of 105 g/km. We experienced 47mpg around town – ie. very close to the official figure. But perhaps what was more surprising was that at motorway speeds we averaged 55.6mpg, which is very impressive for a square-looking SUV, and this shows that Toyota’s hybrid system, and the way it automatically switches between petrol and electric, is actually very efficient. Overall after a week with the car we averaged 54.5mpg, with our normal mix of 80% long journeys. The RAV4 also had a useful real-world driving range in excess of 500 miles.
The Toyota RAV4 Excel 2.5 Hybrid 2WD costs £33,615. Our test car had one option of metallic paint (£545). The RAV4 is available only with the hybrid powertrain, but you can have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The RAV4 can be specified in Active, Icon, Design, Excel or Dynamic trims.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a big improvement on the previous model. It has the chunky feel of an SUV to drive, yet it’s also efficient: overall after a week we averaged 54.5mpg, which is excellent for a spacious SUV.
There aren’t likely to be many areas of the car that you couldn’t live with, but the satnav is probably the vehicle’s weakest area. Compare the RAV4’s satnav with that of the latest BMW 3 Series, and there’s a huge difference between the two.
The UK government is keen to encourage car buyers to go down the route of pure electric vehicles, but there are still a few challenges, including fairly limited availability of EV makes and models, EV driving ranges are still in the process of creeping up, and many people don’t have off-street parking to enable them to charge an EV at home. So if you can’t make an EV work for you at the moment, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offers a genuinely efficient alternative to a petrol or diesel SUV. It gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.