Review: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offers surprisingly good efficiency

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Not everyone will like how this compact crossover looks, but with this hybrid model, it has virtually no competition worth mentioning(Credit: Aaron Turpen/Gizmag)

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Toyota has taken many of its best-selling vehicles and turned them into efficient hybrids. These have then grabbed significant sales shares. The latest electrified introduction is the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, which rides in on a mid-cycle refresh for the crossover.

The Toyota RAV4 is a top-seller in the compact crossover segment and is often credited with being the first crossover-SUV sold as a compact-sized vehicle. The RAV4 has, frankly, been long overdue for the electrification treatment from Toyota, whose corporate name has become almost synonymous with the idea of gasoline-electric hybrids. Most assumed that when Toyota introduced a limited-run of battery-electric RAV4s a few years ago that the hybrid would soon follow. It took a while, but the wait might be worth it for many buyers as the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid is one of the best hybrids we've seen in a while.

The powertrain in the RAV4 is a relative no-brainer so far as Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive setup goes. It's the same 2.5-liter engine, continuously variable transmission (CVT), and electric motor/generators found in the Camry Hybrid and many others in the Toyota line, coupled with the all-wheel drive setup that debuted in the new Lexus NX 300h last year. In fact, the drivetrain in this new RAV4 Hybrid is virtually identical to that in the NX 300h. Which is a good thing.

The 2.5 L four-cylinder engine under the hood powers the front wheels through the CVT, as does a pair of motors designed to act as both propulsion and power generation during regenerative braking. The CVT does not, however, have a transfer case or physical connection to the rear wheels, so no driveshaft or other mechanicals normally associated with AWD are present to weigh down the RAV4 Hybrid.

Instead, a single electric motor resides on the rear axle and engages when requested. Total system output is 194 horsepower (145 kW). This means that most of the time, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid is front-wheel drive, engaging the rear drive only when it's needed. It doesn't take an engineer to understand that removing the mechanical connections, clutches, and other power drags and weight-adds to the drivetrain is MENSA-level smart.

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has an EPA rating of 33 mpg combined, with 34 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway (7.1/6.9/7.6 l/100 km). In our real world driving for about a week, we averaged 31 mpg (7.6 l/100 km) in just over 200 miles (322 km) of driving in a highway-heavy mix and with a luggage carrier strapped on top of the roof rails. That's more than just best-in-segment MPG returns, that's well beyond what even the closest competitor can claim.

This is also one of the most driveable RAV4s available. The standard gasoline RAV4 is, in general, a bit sluggish, a little drab in the chassis, and just generally not all that engaging to drive. It's good enough for most and emphasizes fuel efficiency and five-seat versatility over fun. Something of a Toyota hallmark, so that's no surprise. The RAV4 Hybrid, however, has far more low-end torque output, so it accelerates much more quickly than its gasoline counterpart, doing the 0-60 mph (0-92 km/h) sprint a full second faster.

This does not make the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid perfect, though. The hybrid model is available only in the two topmost trims for the crossover, the XLE and Limited models. That makes it comparatively expensive to a lower-tier trim (entry-level or mid-tier) RAV4.

In cost comparison with the same trims (which have roughly the same content) in those gasoline models, however, the RAV4 Hybrid does not command much of a "hybrid premium" on the window sticker considering the huge fuel savings gained. The hybrid model runs about $2,100 US over its gasoline-only model, but gives 8 mpg more in combined fuel economy.

In the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid's interior, things are much the same as they are with the other RAV4s in the line. The interior's design is about three years old and was considered unusually upscale and forward-thinking when it hit the market in 2013 and is now aging well with a definite contemporary appeal.

The up-lifted dashboard, with added utility tray, are perfect for gadgets and odds and ends, and the smart placement of pass-throughs for the wiring and plugs that accompany those gadgets is very ergonomic. Seating is good and comfortable, including in the rear with room for most average adults.

Cargo space is a bit smaller than the non-hybrid RAV4 models, but still rings in at a solid 35.6 cubic feet (1,008 liters) and the split-fold rear seating is retained, so volume can be increased 70.6 cu ft (1,999 liters). A power operated and height-adjustable rear liftgate is standard equipment and the flat and low loading floor is a bonus.

In all, everything about the new RAV4 Hybrid is adding points to the plus side for the little crossover. Not everyone will like how this compact crossover looks, but with this hybrid model, it has virtually no competition worth mentioning.

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