2016 Toyota Rav4 Hybrid Limited
No, they’re not exactly late to the party. Hard to believe considering hybrids have been with us for more than a decade and a half, but exactly zero mainstream volume branded competitors have anted up an electrified version of their compact crossover. OK, I admit that’s a bit of a misleading statement being that Ford’s Escape Hybrid (and Mercury Mariner Hybrid, RIP) was numbered amongst SUVs and not CUVs when the hybridized version was available from 2004 through 2012, the latest third-generation Escape eliminating its hybrid while competing more directly in the crossover segment, but really that was more about Ford’s marketing department claiming bestselling compact SUV status than anything real. There have also been a couple of premium compact CUVs which, while competing at a higher price point, have seeded the market for something more affordable, these including Acura’s RDX Hybrid and Audi’s Q5 Hybrid, plus of course the new for 2016 Lexus NX Hybrid that’s based on this RAV4 Hybrid, but that’s it.
While I could jump right into electromechanical details, I’d rather touch on styling to start. The basic shape can only be a RAV4, but new optional full LED headlight assemblies, complete with LED driving lights over their top edge, now blend seamlessly into the upper grille design. It really isn’t much of a grille at all, but rather a narrow glossy black applique that bends downward from each corner headlight to interject at Toyota’s triple oval logo, but it looks great just the same. There’s a more functional grille down below, this part of a complex combination of angled bodywork that juts out at the bumper position in body color, incorporating a narrow engine vent up top and a larger opening below, plus a nice silver colored undertray (it’s not body-color) at the very bottom and circular chrome ringed fog lamps to each side. It’s a nice looking design that might look a bit like a Star Wars Stormtrooper if seen in Super White or Blizzard Pearl, but as tested in Classic Silver Metallic it’s only missing some red sequential LEDs flashing back and forth across the center portion of the just noted narrow black grille to conjure up Cylon memories, but seriously it’s quite a stylish design and by no means is this little CUV a toaster (sorry, a bit of Battlestar Galactica humor for my similarly nerdy sci-fi friends).
The redundant turn signals integrated within each body-color and black mirror cap come standard, as do the satin-silver roof rails up top, but the stylish set of twinned five-spoke 18-inch alloy rims below were part of my Limited trimmed tester’s improvements, as were the chromed door handles and darkened LED tail lamps. Other standout standard bits include a body-color roof top spoiler, a similar silver undertray to the one up front on the back bumper cap, and just above that a classy chromed bumper protector. A reflector and backup light combination gets fitted to each corner of that bumper, the same spot as the previous design albeit a unique set of lenses. Lastly, the usual black body cladding stretches from front to rear, giving the little ute a bit more boyish ruggedness to go along with all that sleek new style. All-round, I think Toyota has upgraded the new RAV4 effectively enough to make owners of the outgoing model want to step up. To me it looks much more upscale, and much more complete.
As for the hybrid element of this equation, the only visually clues are Toyota’s usual blue accented logos and a “HYBRID” badge on the rear liftgate, plus of course all the orange wiring and “HYBRID SYNERGY DRIVE” plaque on the engine cover if you happen to open the hood.
On that note a RAV4 Hybrid is a great idea with potentially bad timing. After all, with fuel prices down across the country, some jurisdictions more dramatically than others, I can only see it gaining significant sales traction in areas where taxes and other complications keep refueling costs high, such as LA (or anywhere else in California) where gas rarely drops below $2.50 per gallon. Unfortunately Toyota won’t be sectioning out RAV4 Hybrid sales results when it releases monthly RAV4 sales numbers, such information left for internal evaluation only, so we’ll merely be left to speculate as to how well it’s performing. Fortunately though, Toyota is a particularly patient company, rarely giving up on a new model when sales are initially slow. Even if the immediate take-rate were abysmal they’d be smart to stick to their guns, as gas taxes will inevitably rise even if the actual fuel cost doesn’t. Either way we’ll be paying more and HEVs, PHEVs and EVs will benefit.
Then again there’s only a $700 jump from the $32,910 conventionally powered RAV4 Limited to this $33,610 RAV4 Hybrid Limited model, and it’s not like the regular top-line RAV gets any more standard kit. For instance, if you want the upgraded 360-surround bird’s eye view parking monitor with perimeter scan along with the Entune 11-speaker JBL audio system you’ll need to opt for the Advanced Technology package that adds $1,435 to the bottom line of either regular or hybrid Limited models (alternatively you can get the stereo separately, along with a flexible cargo net tray, for $875, whereas the that cargo net tray can be added to the previous package or purchased on its own for $90). While the RAV4 Hybrid Limited’s total rises to a rather premium-like $35,135 with all options added before tacking freight and dealer fees, it’s totally in line with others in the class that don’t offer the considerable fuel economy benefits of this electrified challenger.
The top-tier RAV4 Limited is already quite thrifty compared to its peers with an EPA rating of 22 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 25 combined, but the RAV4 Hybrid Limited is much better, especially if you do most of your driving in town with a rating of 34 city, 31 highway and 33 combined.
There’s another reason to opt for the hybrid, however, performance. Where the regular RAV makes do with the same 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque from its 2.5-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combination, the hybrid produces 194 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque. When the model was introduced last November, Toyota claimed this added output cut the SUV’s zero to 60 sprint time by a full second versus the regular model, and let me attest that it feels a fair bit quicker off the line and on the open road where it performs highway passes with ease. This means we don’t need to calculate possible fuel savings over the life of the car in order to justify the expense (although that won’t be hard with a $700 surcharge), as we have very real performance advantages to help reason things out.
Another advantage the RAV4 Hybrid offers over previous hybrids is its EV power mode. For those not yet in the know, EV stands for electric vehicle, so when mentioning EV mode I’m referring to the moments when the car is solely powered by the electric motor. That’s when it’s most efficient and cleanest, of course, when you achieve the most pump savings. Compared to a plug-in hybrid, which normally gives between 10 and 30 miles of EV driving per charge, the RAV4 Hybrid pops in and out of EV mode continually. Hit the brakes on the way to a stoplight and the engine shuts off via the auto start/stop system and remains silent when it would otherwise be idling, a friction-sourced regeneration system also sending kinetic braking energy back into the electrical system. Pull away when the light goes green and, as long as you don’t apply too much power, the RAV remains in EV mode right up until about 25 mph. That’s an improvement over Toyota’s old hybrid system that automatically spun up the gasoline engine between 12 and 20 mph, meaning that the powertrain in this new RAV4 Hybrid has the potential to be a lot more efficient than previous examples.
It’s actually the same unit as in the latest Camry Hybrid, or at least the CVT and engine are the same, the latter a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder that’s good for 150 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque on its own. Toyota uses a single planetary gearset and two motor/generators to bump performance up to the previously noted numbers, along with a 67 horsepower electric rear axle that’s pulled from the mid-size RX hybrid, thus allowing all-wheel drive. Interestingly, that 67 hp doesn’t add to the aforementioned 194 hp maximum when in use, but instead when rear traction is needed the first 44 horsepower gets extracted from the 1.6 kWh nickel-metal hydride battery and the latter 23 from the motor/generator up front. That battery is unique to the RAV4 Hybrid and situated below the rear seat, and while it reduces cargo capacity by three cubic feet when compared to the regular RAV, the 35.6 cubic feet left over is still about 30 percent greater than the segment average.
It’s a nicely finished cargo compartment complete with 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, but Toyota pampers occupants much more than parcels. The RAV4 Limited gets attractive white contrast-stitched black padded leatherette across the dash, a padded and leather-wrapped sport steering wheel benefiting from auto-on heat, which gets really nice and toasty, plus a leather, metallic and chrome adorned shift knob, high quality soft-touch synthetic door uppers, nicely padded leatherette door inserts and armrests, rubberized door handle grips, chromed door handles (unique to the Limited), lots of dark satin-silver metallic trim, attractive grayish woodgrain inlays, a stylish primary gauge package filled with a large 4.2-inch full-color TFT multi-information display, a sharp looking fully featured seven-inch infotainment system atop the center stack featuring an excellent reverse camera with active guidelines, navigation, a good sounding audio system, and plenty of Toyota apps including phone connectivity with email and text messaging capability, a comprehensive Eco “page” that includes an energy monitor to show where the electric power is being routed, plus trip information, a personalized maintenance section, and much more. It’s not yet set up with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, but I still found it quite intuitive to use.
Below this is a very well laid out and easy to operate dual-zone auto HVAC system, while another row of buttons and plugs is positioned farther below under the floating bolster. I’ve griped about the placement of these buttons before as they’re a bit difficult to reach and hard to see, with a need to take your eyes from the road in order to apply EV, Eco or Sport modes, which are three separate buttons. The two-way heatable seat buttons are housed right next door, and sitting next to these is the windshield wiper de-icer button, auxiliary and USB plugs, a 12-volt charger, and a fairly small rubberized phone tray and what-have-you bin below that. The tray was too small for my Samsung Note 4, but that mega phone fit upright within that deeper storage bin, leaving the two cupholders for water, coffee, etcetera, so all was well.
I should mention that rear passengers are treated kindly too, with a particularly comfortable back seat that reclines when required. There’s more room than average, ideal for two large teens or three smaller folk across, while Toyota also provides the usual flip-down armrest with this model’s highly unusual dual square cupholders (don’t worry, they hold round containers).
While I wouldn’t mind opportunity to relax in back, it’s hard not to love the RAV4 Hybrid Limited when behind the wheel, as it does everything a compact SUV should and more. Its straight-line performance is excellent when the Sport button is pushed, and suitably efficient when left to its own devices in default or Eco mode. As mentioned I was able to drive around in EV mode quite often too, this especially useful in slower traffic, although I’m still looking forward to a Toyota hybrid EV mode that’s capable up to 30 mph and slightly beyond so that it can be used in regular traffic, but of course such would take a much larger battery that won’t likely arrive until Toyota expands its PHEV lineup beyond the Prius Plug-in.
Nevertheless the RAV4 Hybrid provides plenty of get-up-and-go, while handling is right up to class standards and ride quality even better. Truly, I’d be happy to travel hundreds of miles in either the driver or passenger’s seat, the RAV’s suspension capable of soaking up rougher pavement and even dealing with the shock and awe of gravel backroads, its front strut and double wishbone rear design plus ample wheel travel providing a nice even balance of compliant performance.
Of course, this sophisticated fully independent suspension is standard, not unusual for the class, as is its electric power steering, all-wheel drive, active torque control, traction control, stability control, trailer sway control (the RAV4 Hybrid good for a 1,750-lb trailer), and hill-start assist, while braking performance was strong as well thanks to four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
Now that we’re talking safety, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert comes standard with the Limited, as does Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) that includes automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist plus pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, whereas front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters are standard across the RAV4 Hybrid line. Ditto for its usual assortment of airbags, plus the extra one for the driver’s knees and another for the front passenger’s seat cushion for a total of eight, while a vehicle proximity notification system will alert the authorities if you’ve been in a crash.
On that note the RAV4 earned a best possible Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS when equipped with the aforementioned active safety upgrades, whereas all RAV4s received a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA, and this from a segment in which 4 stars is the norm.
Just in case you’re ok with the RAV4 Hybrid’s base XLE trim, know that it starts at just $28,370 and comes packed full with standard goodies like 17-inch alloys, fog lamps, auto-off projector headlamps, power-adjustable side mirrors, a leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, an Eco drive monitor, dual-zone auto HVAC, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, advanced voice recognition, a display audio system, a backup camera, a powered moonroof, rear privacy glass, a programmable powered liftgate, a tonneau cover for the cargo area, and much more.
Swap out a few of these items and add yet more and you’ll be in this Limited model with some of the features not yet covered including auto on-off LED projector-beam headlights, heatable side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, proximity access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a universal Homelink garage door opener, a larger Entune infotainment system that includes dynamic guidelines for the reverse camera, satellite radio, navigation, SMS-to-speech and email-to-speech capability (which worked very well), leather-trimmed shift lever with silver accents, leather-like SofTex upholstery, an eight-way powered driver’s seat with memory, heatable front seats, and more.
Overall I like what Toyota has done with the RAV4’s styling and am especially impressed by this newest addition to the brand’s ever-growing hybrid fleet. I’ve already noted it’s probably not the best time to be adding a fuel-sipping hybrid to the mix, but its enhanced performance and only slightly increased entry price should help it sell well, while Toyota will enjoy the many less easily quantifiable positives of providing the only electrified model in the burgeoning mainstream volume branded compact crossover SUV segment.
*Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press **Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press *Copyright: American Auto Press