Review of: 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 4dr Limited
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: Mainstream electrification
By David Miller
Nov. 28, 2016
The Toyota RAV4 finds itself on top of the Canadian SUV/crossover sales charts at a time when utility sales are at an all-time high. As of October 2016, the RAV4 is up 19.4 per cent in sales, which has catapulted it ahead of some long-time heavy hitters like the Ford Escape and CR-V, both of which remain in striking distance to take top spot by the end of the year.
The tight race showcases how important a strong compact crossover has become. The CR-V is coming out as an all-new model shortly, while the Escape and RAV4 have gone through recent thorough refreshes. Styling is typically a big aspect of a refresh, but for the RAV4, the news is the addition of a hybrid version.
Given Toyota’s hybrid pedigree for hybrids, it’s actually surprising that the RAV4 Hybrid hasn’t been around for years. But the reality is it actually was, in the form of the Lexus NX300h, a not-so-popular product that will do better in the mainstream Toyota fold.
Toyota and hybrids seem like the perfect marriage, like peanut butter and jelly; the RAV4 Hybrid is the eighth hybrid produced by the Japanese giant. In a time when crossovers and fuel economy are the hottest topics, it only makes sense for the RAV4 Hybrid to succeed as the most fuel-efficient non-plug-in compact crossover.
However, before we jump to conclusions, we have to see for ourselves. I took out the top-of-the-line 2017 RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD version for a week-long test drive to see how it performs.
Pros & Cons
- + Good fuel efficiency
- + Interior materials
- + Advanced safety features
- - Steering feel
- - Understated styling
- - Price
During its mid-cycle refresh, the RAV4 took on a more aggressive tone. That seems to be the standard these days, but that styling works particularly well with the small-yet-sleek construction of this crossover.
The grille makes an immediate impact with redesigned LED headlights that connect to a Toyota logo that’s been outlined in light blue shade to identify it as a hybrid. It pops off the black background and works well with the radiator grille flanked by sharp-looking fog lights. More hybrid badging is found on the sides and rear.
The sloping roofline with its rack and power moonroof adds to a charming look and makes up for the lack of character throughout its body and rear, enhanced only by 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels found in the Limited trim.
Toyota has started to push the envelope when it comes to its interiors. In the past, Toyota products have been ultra conservative from a styling perspective. In the 2016 refresh, the RAV4 received more premium touches, which is a good starting point. It’s always smart to make gradual changes, as opposed to drastic ones that could upset your loyal customer base.
Soft grey leather with stitching on the dash and seats set the tone for this quiet environment. Premium touches are found with the addition of chrome inner door handles, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and a new seven-inch touchscreen and instrument cluster.
The power-adjustable and bolstered seats are comfortable for long drives; while the rear is only good for two adults in order to make room for the battery pack. But don’t worry too much about cargo numbers, as there’s not much difference between the regular gas version and the hybrid. Behind the second row, you’ll find 1,008 litres of cargo space and that can be expanded to 1,999 litres when the second row is folded down – only 79 total litres less in both configurations than the gas version.
One of the best new features in the RAV4 Hybrid is the suite of safety technology it comes with. In 2016, Toyota’s Safety Sense P was optional, but for 2017 it comes standard on all trims and includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams. In addition, the SE and Limited trims come with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert to assist in your safety.
As for in-vehicle entertainment, the new seven-inch touchscreen is easy to use and comes with Sirius/XM satellite radio and navigation. It’s all displayed neatly and organized for ease of use with plenty of knobs and buttons to play with.
You can look at all the other categories, but the only reason someone is buying the RAV4 Hybrid is for its alternative powertrain. Yes, standardizing Safety Sense P and all-wheel-drive is a big bonus, but it’s all about the electrification and the promised combined 7.3 L/100 km fuel economy that comes with it.
Under the hood is a sophisticated system that’s built around a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that works with an electric motor to produce a total net of 194 hp and 206 lb.-ft. of torque. All of this is matched to Toyota’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) that enables it to produce best-in-class fuel efficiency numbers.
Low fuel consumption is achieved with help from a regenerating braking system that’s able to convert kinetic energy to electricity from all four wheels to power the vehicle. It’s tuned to be always be fuel-efficient, and that includes running on pure electricity for short intervals.
There are four driving modes to choose from: normal, sport, eco and EV. It’s nice to have all of these options, but normal seems to work best. It doesn’t get bogged down as it does in eco, and you’re still able to save gas but in a peaceful and relaxing manner. As for the other options, EV doesn’t add a lot and sport is useless for a crossover that has been configured to optimally be fuel efficient and comfortable.
In normal mode, the RAV4 can get off the line quickly thanks to its high torque number. Once you get up to speed, the comfortable drive kicks in. The hybrid does an admirable job going over bumps and potholes on the road with minimal road noise. If there’s a need to speed up, the RAV4 works best with gradual acceleration; rather than pumping hard on the throttle.
As comforting and smooth as the ride is, the RAV4 Hybrid lacks a good driving feel and unity with the road. Instead, you’ll experience more of a numb steering feel reminiscent of a driving simulator. This isn’t uncommon with hybrids or EVs and it just takes time to adjust. The good news is the RAV4 stays balanced in turns with help from its AWD system.
It’s hard to find initial value with hybrids; that’s found in the long term when one starts to calculate fuel costs over the years.
The 2017 RAV4 Hybrid starts out at $34,405 – close to $7,000 more than the regular gas version. It may seem like a lot more, but there’s value to be had in the fact that all hybrids come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense P and all-wheel-drive.
The Limited trim that I tested comes in at $41,760. All top trims get up in price, but the extras don’t seem worth that high price tag. My advice would be to opt for the base or SE trim at $38,610.
Toyota has become the king of hybrids and it only makes sense for it to produce one in the popular compact crossover segment. The 2017 RAV4 Hybrid is in its second year, and provides a greener alternative for families that are looking for the same driving comfort, quiet cabin and active safety technology in a more fuel-efficient package.