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2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson November 2015

Toyota is the undisputed leader in hybrids, with the Prius, Prius c, Prius v, Camry Hybrid, Avalon Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid blanketing the market. Now, the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid enters the lineup. Is a hybrid compact-SUV the next big thing?

Refined Over Four Generations

The RAV4 Hybrid gets the benefit of the midcycle refresh of the fourth generation vehicle, which includes a redesigned front fascia, some tweaks to the rear fascia, interior enhancements and a few other appearance tweaks. Hybrid models are available in XLE and Limited trim levels only. LED headlamps and daytime running lights are standard on the Limited -- and they're halogen for the XLE. New rear taillights are LED on the Limited, while the XLE gets light-tube taillights. Standard on the XLE are 17-inch alloy wheels, while the Limited is fitted with 18-in alloy wheels. Tire-pressure monitoring is standard on all models.

There are no big hybrid stickers for the RAV4; just a few subtle badges differentiate the hybrid models from the gas-only.

Climb Inside

The RAV4 is compact by definition, but not cramped in actuality. A few subtle changes have made the interior better. New interior front-door panels are now scooped out a little more, providing more space for the driver's left arm and front passenger's right arm to rest, and making the whole front cabin feel bigger, but still a little narrow. Thicker padding has been added to the lower part of the dashboard, which looks good and feels nice to the touch. There's less of a mishmash of materials in the cockpit now, which simplifies and cleans up the look and feel of the interior.

The RAV4's driver-centric dash puts the instrument panel right behind the steering wheel, and an available 7-in touchscreen display lives at the top of the center stack (standard on Limited). The standard backup camera displays on the screen, and there's an available Bird's Eye Camera with Curb View and Perimeter Scan that's very helpful when reversing and parking.

The RAV4's cargo capacity has not been greatly impacted by the addition of a big battery, which resides under the rear seat. Behind the standard power lift gate, the RAV4 Hybrid can swallow 35.6 cu ft. of luggage behind its second row and up to 70.6 cu ft. of cargo with the 60/40-split rear seat folded flat. That's about 3.0 cu ft. less than the gas-only models. Gasoline capacity is also slightly reduced versus the gas-only model, down from 15.9 gallons to 14.8 gallons.

Push-Button Starting

The RAV4 Hybrid gets a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors (front and rear), a setup that is similar to the Highlander Hybrid's arrangement. The gas engine runs on the familiar Atkinson cycle, and is tuned to produce 112 horsepower. The total system output (gas plus electric) is 194 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque. An electronically-controlled continuously variable automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels, with priority operation in front-wheel-drive mode. The rear wheels are engaged when additional traction or power is needed –- for instance, on an uphill start. The transmission is a planetary gear-type and is designed to emulate a 6-speed geared transmission in shifting feel. Regenerative braking gives the feel of engine braking and captures energy that is used to charge the 244-volt sealed nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

Driving the RAV4 Hybrid is just like driving any other vehicle. The driver enters the vehicle with a standard Smart Key and uses the push-button starter to get going. The technology is transparent, requiring no special attention from the driver. There are three special driving modes available: EV, ECO, and Sport. EV, or electric-only, performance is for short ranges, such as 0.6 miles, at low speeds when the battery is charged, and only operates with a gentle throttle foot. ECO mode moderates the air conditioning and drive power for greater efficiency. Sport mode allows access to higher engine revs and sharper throttle response, while reducing power-steering assistance to deliver more road feel.

Overall performance feels very much like the gasoline-only RAV4, which comes with less power (176 hp/172 lb-ft of torque) and weighs about 300 pounds less than the XLE Hybrid at 3,925 pounds and the Limited Hybrid at 3,950 pounds. Handling is good but not great -- the MacPherson strut front/double wishbone rear independent suspension can feel a little floaty in curves, but the RAV4 delivers an overall quiet, serene ride.

Fuel economy for the Hybrid is estimated at 34 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined –- not Prius numbers, but a noted improvement over the gasoline version's 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy, and 25 mpg combined with all-wheel drive.

Hybrid Heart

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is the eighth hybrid in the Toyota lineup, and it is a very well-sorted implementation of Toyota's hybrid strategy. The RAV4 Hybrid will be offered in the XLE trim at $28,370 and in the Limited trim at $33,610. That represents a $700 premium over similarly-equipped gasoline-only models. A base LE trim RAV4 front-wheel-drive gasoline-only model starts at $24,350, so the price of entry to hybrid is still a little steep.

Currently, there are few compact Hybrid SUVs available. The Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is the only other 2016 model for now. The competition comes from the gasoline-only Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and others. RAV4 Hybrid buyers will have bragging rights for fuel economy in the class.

The RAV4 was already a popular choice for compact SUVs, and the RAV4 Hybrid will only increase its appeal.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: First Drive Review - Autotrader