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2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: New Car Review

Choosing a hybrid model often requires making a sacrifice. Be it a reduction in cargo volume or a higher price that’ll take forever to repay based on fuel savings alone, going the eco-friendly route is often not the most sensible one. The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid bucks that trend, however, as it’s arguably the most appealing version of this ultra-popular compact SUV.

For starters, its cargo area isn’t compromised by batteries, meaning that it maintains the RAV4’s massive capacity bested only by the Honda CR-V (and then, just barely). Its price premium is also perfectly reasonable at less than $2,000, meaning you’ll get your money back in four to five years based on average fuel prices. Plus, with the exception of the regular RAV4’s new Adventure model, feature and trim level availability isn’t restricted because you went with the hybrid.

As for fuel economy, you’re looking at a combined estimate of 32 miles per gallon. That’s exceptional and it gives the RAV4 Hybrid something its regularly powered sibling does not — something that helps it stand out from the crowd. You see, top competitors otherwise match or better its large interior, high resale values and reliability record. That’s bound to change next year when the impressive-looking all-new model debuts, but for now at least, the Hybrid is the one that most deserves a spot on your shopping list.

What’s New for 2018?

The RAV4 Hybrid carries over unchanged for 2018 before being completely redesigned next year.

What We Like

Best fuel economy in segment; affordable for a hybrid; more cargo and back-seat space than all but one competitor; standard accident-avoidance tech; Toyota resale and reliability

What We Don’t

Disappointing interior materials; fewer usable storage compartments; leather seating not available

How Much?

$27,200-$34,100

Fuel Economy

The RAV4 Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter hybrid 4-cylinder mated to a battery pack and a pair of electric motors front and rear that effectively create standard all-wheel drive. Total output is 194 horsepower. Fuel economy is 34 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 32 mpg in combined driving.

Standard Features & Options

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid comes in LE, XLE, SE and Limited trim levels. The Adventure trim introduced on the regular RAV4 cannot be had as a hybrid.

The base LE ($27,200) includes 17-inch steel wheels, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic steering, lane-departure warning and intervention, automatic highbeams, a height-adjustable driver seat, Bluetooth, a USB port, a 6.1-in touchscreen and a 6-speaker sound system.

Step up to the RAV4 XLE ($29,100) and you get 17-in alloys, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and the Entune Audio Plus package that adds satellite and HD radios, a smartphone-app-based navigation system and various other smartphone-connection apps.

The sporty SE ($32,300) adds 18-in alloy wheels, revised exterior styling, a height-adjustable power lift gate (optional on XLE), a sport-tuned suspension, automatic LED headlights, passive entry and keyless start, a power driver’s seat, SofTex vinyl upholstery, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning systems (optional on XLE), steering-wheel paddle shifters and memory settings for the driver’s seat.

The Limited ($34,100) loses the SE’s sporty styling cues and suspension but keeps its other equipment. It also adds chrome wheels, auto-dimming mirrors and a 7-in touchscreen (optional on XLE and SE).

An 11-speaker JBL sound system can be added to the SE and Limited as an option. Also available on those trims is the Advance Technology package, which includes a 360-degree parking camera, an integrated navigation system and the JBL sound system.

Safety

No other compact crossover can top the 2018 RAV4’s standard safety equipment. Besides the usual content of antilock brakes, stability control, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags and a rearview camera, it boasts a driver-knee airbag, a front-passenger under-cushion airbag, forward-collision warning and automatic braking and lane-departure warning and keeping. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning systems are standard on the SE and Limited, and optional on the XLE.

In crash testing carried out by the federal government, the RAV4 earned a perfect 5-star overall rating. In tests carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV4 earned an impressive Top Safety Pick score after earning the best possible ratings in pertinent crash protection and prevention tests. It did, however, net a Poor score in the IIHS new passenger-side small overlap test despite getting the best-possible rating of Good on the driver side. Most competitors were consistent regardless of the side that was crashed.

Behind the Wheel

Overall, the RAV4 rides and handles well, especially considering its tall ride height. The electric power steering is reasonably precise and the suspension soaks up most bumps while not allowing the car to lean or bob about uncontrollably when pushed hard.

For the most part, though, like the regular RAV4, it is simply outdone by its competitors. The Honda CR-V in particular is more responsive, comfortable and refined to drive, while the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape have sharper responses still and could even be described as fun. Of course, the Hybrid’s fuel-sipping gasoline-electric powertrain puts a big plus sign on its scorecard that the regular RAV4 cannot match.

The RAV4’s interior is also a mixed bag. On the upside, it has easy-to-use technology and it effectively matches the CR-V’s huge back seat and enormous cargo area. The latter also boasts a low load height, which is great for lifting in heavy objects or having the dogs jump aboard. Apart from some questionably useful interior storage bins, the RAV4’s functionality is hard to fault.

Unfortunately, its cabin materials consist of disappointing black plastic, and the SofTex vinyl upholstery found on most trims won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s leather (which isn’t available at all). The overall appearance and vibe also feels a bit Spartan compared to the surprisingly upmarket new CR-V and CX-5. They both seem more premium and grown up than the RAV4.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Kia Niro — This is really the only vaguely SUV-ish hybrid worth considering at this price point. Though it certainly isn’t as large and family friendly as the RAV4, it gets better fuel economy while still allowing you to sit up high a bit and offers more cargo versatility than most hybrids do.

2018 Honda CR-V — The all-new CR-V is the SUV to beat in this segment. It takes every drop of functionality its predecessor possessed and adds a thick shellac of refinement. Then again, it can’t match the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy.

Read Honda CR-V vs Toyota RAV4: Which is Better?

2018 Nissan Rogue Hybrid — The Rogue isn’t an especially stand-out small SUV, but it is one of the only ones available as a hybrid. If you’re looking for fuel-sipping alternatives, here’s one.

Used Toyota Highlander Hybrid — If you like the RAV4 but want a larger vehicle, you might want to consider the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which offers a comfortable ride, Toyota reliability and 3-row seating. They’re expensive when new, but a used model is a worthy competitor to the RAV4.

Autotrader’s Advice

We actually recommended the Hybrid in the regular RAV4 New Car Review, so there’s that. From there, we would recommend driving both the SE and Limited, then get whichever one you prefer (their suspension and styling differ). Each offers a commendable amount of desirable equipment at a fair price.

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