Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: July 25, 2019
I’ll cut right to the chase. The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is one of the most polished and fuel efficient hybrid SUVs I’ve ever driven. If you are in the market for a compact SUV and have your heart set on a RAV4, don’t be afraid to take a leap and check out its electrified cousin. The hybrid’s real-world mileage is shockingly (no pun intended) impressive, and the way it gently transitions between combustion and electricity is world-class engineering at its finest. Downsides? Hardly any. It’s not the high-volume RAV4 trim that everyone is buying but in our minds, the hybrid is the only way to have a RAV4.
Toyota has been making hybrids since the turn of the century and ever since the Prius led the vanguard, they’ve more or less perfected the formula. Toyota hybrids are excellent, and they have slotted this trick powertrain into the brand’s best selling SUV in Canada: the RAV4. That, and there just aren’t many other hybrids currently on the Canadian market to compete against it. Honda has its lineup of hybrids, but all of them are sedans and not SUVs. The only real competitors are its in-house Lexus UX 250h and NX 300h. The field is shifting towards plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles like the Kia Niro PHEV, which is more expensive, has less power, and isn’t as comfortable or as nice to drive.
After taking the RAV4 through city-only driving and consistent stop-and-go traffic, we averaged an eye-opening 5.8 L/100km, and we weren’t driving like pensioners either. That’s spot on with Toyota’s claimed city fuel economy average. Keep in mind that at low speeds and when the batteries have enough charge, the RAV4 is able to go into full EV mode and emit nothing but fairy dust out the exhaust pipes. On the highway, we averaged 6.4 L/100km, predictably less fuel efficient than the city without regenerative braking and jaunts of battery-only driving. While we didn’t get to drive the RAV4 Hybrid until its tank ran dry, Toyota claims it has a driving range of 900 km - my estimated range on the system showed 850 km. Of note, that’s competitive with most diesels.
Unlike other economy hybrids, the RAV4 Hybrid provides a decent amount of acceleration. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit dishes out 176 hp and 163 lb-ft on its own, with a front-mounted electric motor providing 118 hp / 149 lb-ft to the front wheels, and a rear-mounted electric motor providing 54 hp / 89 lb-ft to the rear wheels. This effectively turns it into an all-wheel drive SUV. The net combined horsepower stands at 219 hp, 16 more than the outgoing model, and enough to get you up in a jiffy without any turbo lag or delays. I’d even call the RAV4 spritely thanks to the battery’s direct phone line to the rear axle. Though the whining of the CVT isn’t the most appealing to the ears, I’m sure the RAV4’s target market surely won’t mind or even notice the difference with the standard model’s 8-speed automatic.
The engine and battery pass the baton is such a smoothly choreographed dance that you would be hard pressed to notice the engine turning off. When it ignites back on, there is a slight shudder down the chassis accompanied by an auditory buzz but with the radio at a decent volume, you wouldn’t notice a thing. Toyota has been perfected its world-class juggling skills for more than a decade now, and it shows.
The RAV4 does not exhibit classic hybrid detriments either like a springy brake pedal or overboosted steering rack. Here, the gas pedal is linear and the power delivery is smooth and predictable. The propulsive force will not surprise you with a whammy of acceleration, and it positively feels like driving a regular SUV but with all the benefits of a hybrid, no learning curve required. Now that’s a win-win scenario.
Of note, the RAV4 Hybrid is so silent when running on batteries alone that when in reverse gear, Toyota has engineered it to emit a buzzing noise to alert nearby pedestrians of its presence. They have been doing this since its first hybrid models like the Lexus CT 200h, except now it sounds more like a buzzing spaceship than a Costco forklift. Oddly enough, the noise is louder than most combustion four-cylinders I’ve ever heard, and there’s no way to adjust the volume.
Being an urban family SUV, the RAV4 interior screams functionality and doesn’t play party tricks. Every button and panel is purposefully positioned and placed ergonomically for fast, intuitive, and easy inputs from both the driver and passenger. There are cozy seats padded with soft leather on high traffic surfaces, and a meaty gear shifter within arm’s reach. The 8-inch touchscreen houses hard buttons on each side, and is perched right on top of the dashboard instead of being cleverly integrated into it like the CR-V. Still, the interior is spacious and a six-foot adult will find comfort in any one of the five available seats. The small battery sits under the rear seats and does not compromise any cargo room or rear space either. Again, there are almost no downsides to the hybrid. When comparing top-trim specs of the CR-V and RAV4, I’m going to have go with the latter. It exudes eco-luxury with hints from Lexus and refinement in every dial and knob. The CR-V on the other hand uses more hard black plastics and isn’t as appealing or as soft to the touch.
The RAV4 has more road presence too. Newly refreshed this year, it appears less anonymous than the outgoing model with a bolder front end and tapered rear with sharp trapezoidal taillights. The hybrid model is given away by the blue-faced badges and unique instrument panel. In my eyes, it’s one of the most mature faces in the compact SUV segment, and I stylistically prefer it over the comparatively bland CR-V and CX-5. It is disappointing that the Hybrid model cannot be had with the off-roady and trendy looking Trail package with contrasting roof and rugged body panels, though.
The only real downside to the RAV4 Hybrid is the price premium over the non-hybrid model. Depending on the trim, it’s about a $2,000 comparative increase. You will have to either keep the RAV4 Hybrid for an extended period of time, or consistently drive it long distances to recoup the money spent on the upgrade. That, or if you have a fuel-saving, eco-friendly mindset and want to reduce greenhouse emissions. All are valid reasons, and if you do end up justifying it, you won’t be disappointed by its real-world efficiency numbers, polished powertrain, and smooth ride. It’s one of the most effective hybrid SUVs currently on sale.
Model: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited
Paint Type: Magnetic Grey Metallic
Base Price: $42,090
Price as Tested: $42,090
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,595 / 1,855 / 1,701
Powertrain: 2.5-litre four-cylinder + hybrid battery system
Power: 219 net combined hp
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 5.8 / 6.3 / 6.0
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 5.8