© Photo by Scott Tilley
The Toyota RAV4 has been a vehicle that has seen a number of firsts over the years since its introduction back in 1995 when Toyota changed the SUV game and created what is now the crossover utility vehicle (CUV) market. Toyota again changed the CUV market in 1997 by selling the first all-electric CUV, the RAV4 EV, through the fleet program to cities and utilities and then to the general public in 2002. In 2012, Toyota released a second generation RAV4 EV, this time in a development program with Tesla. Today, Toyota is again pushing the envelope with the first in class RAV4 hybrid. Toyota decided to do a refresh of the popular RAV4, and while at it decided to add the hybrid power plant as well. You can still get a traditional petro version; but for the first time, you can now get the RAV4 with a Hybrid power plant. This brings the total number of hybrids in the Toyota fleet to eight.
Real World Test
The week I had the Rav4, I had a trip scheduled to drive from Dallas to Houston. I was writing for the Houston Auto Show, where it just so happened that Toyota would be announcing the Rav4 hybrid's release. The drive would be a great opportunity to see how well the new hybrid package would perform in real world conditions. It would be a four+ hour trip door to door with the trip starting out in cool and sunny yet windy weather and ending in Houston in wet and sloppy rainy weather.
More Horsepower and Torque Than Gas-Powered RAV4
I have come to believe the day has finally arrived when you no longer have to choose between performance and MPG's when buying certain hybrids, and the RAV4 is one hybrid that will offer you both. Now, when I'm talking performance, I'm not suggesting you roll up to Road Atlanta and compete with high-performance-based cars; I am saying that when it comes to meeting your everyday daily driver or long haul vacation trips, you will likely be pleased with the performance the RAV4 hybrid will provide. The hybrid power plant and platform is the same one found in the highly-successful Lexus NX300h. Both vehicles use the 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine along with a small high-torque electric motor through the RAV4's unique transaxle. Since the hybrid model is only offered as an AWD, it comes with a second 50kw high-voltage rear mounted electric motor. That means you have an electric motor for each axle for better handling and traction just like the Lexus NX as well as the Lexus RX crossovers. The combined power system will create 194hp as it moves seamlessly between the gas engine and electric motors working in concert as needed. Toyota says the RAV4 hybrid is lighter than the Lexus NX300h and will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, which is almost one second faster than the gas RAV4.
I had a chance to test the validity of the Rav4's quickness on an on-ramp after my usual Buc-ee's stop in Madisonville, Texas. As I rolled onto the I45 on-ramp, I flipped the mode switch into Sport Mode, accelerated down the on-ramp, and was able to reach Texas Interstate speed and merge into traffic safely and efficiently with very little effort whatsoever. I then flipped the switch back to Eco mode and continued onto Houston. It did a real nice job of keeping up, and if I needed to a little extra to get around a vehicle or two, there was no lag and it did the job with no issues.
Beat Mileage Expectations
Before I left Dallas, I filled the gas tank up because I'm still a bit of a skeptic when it comes to all this hybrid and electric car stuff. I wanted to see for myself what this vehicle would do on the open highway; so when I arrived just outside of Houston, I stopped and filled up again. To my surprise, it only cost me 10.00 top off the tank, and the MPG's came in a little over 38mpgs. I beat the advertised MPGs by over 7 gallons a mile. I wasn't nursing it either. I was driving Texas interstate speeds. Now we did have a slight tail wind, but I can't imagine enough to get 38mpgs worth.
Driving Around Houston
After the gas stop just outside of downtown, I headed onto my hotel. This would be a great chance to see how well the hybrid performed in the Houston bumper-to-bumper traffic and also to and from the NRG Center where the Houston Auto Show was held. Toyota says the hybrid system is optimized around town because the electric power does its best work augmenting the gas engine at lower speeds which demand lower power. I will give the RAV4 high marks here as well.
Final Word on Power Plant
This is where the whole hybrid thing gets beyond my pay grade. Toyota says the RAV4 hybrid has a regenerative braking system that will change the electric motor to a generator so it can capture the kinetic energy when the brake is applied. That captured energy is then stored in nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs under the back seat. When this is concept is discussed with me, all I see is Doc in
Back to the Future rewinding the VHS tape of himself talking about 1.21 gigawatts.
Updated Interior for 2016
The updated interior for 2016 gives the RAV4 a more premium and plush feel. One of the most noticeable updates to me was the improvement of the cabin sound quality made to the RAv4 across both gas and hybrid lines. The amount of sound-deadening material was increased to reduce noise and vibration which made for a more quiet and enjoyable ride. That is something that is high on my list. I want to be able to carry on a normal conversation with someone sitting anywhere in the vehicle without having to strain to talk. I would imagine it would be real easy to chat with your children as they sit in the back seat.
I like the center stack design as well which has a 6.1-inch touch screen that made using the rearview camera a breeze. Also navigating within the infotainment system was not much of a problem either. It has been well thought out. I have an athletic build at almost 6'2" (most of which is legs), so I'm always concerned about cabin space and legroom. I also live a pretty active life, so I'm pretty sensitive to seat comfort and cabin space. The RAV4 was comfortable and roomy even with the power moonroof (which I'm a huge fan of) that comes standard. I was able to sit 4+ hours from Dallas to Houston and back without any back or leg pains.
Am I a Car or a Truck?
It would appear that some of the CUV manufacturers struggle with this idea when it comes to the exterior designs. The CUV's have been around long enough now, that it's probably time for the class to have its own look and then own it. I think the new design of the RAV4 is doing just that. The engineers have reshaped the front end by closing it down for a more complete and sleek look, and the headlamps now flow into the grill area for a distinguished and refined look. Gone is the day-to-day utilitarian look as the rocker panels and the lower side panels have been reworked to give a fun and sporty aggressive look that has heads turning and people asking you
What is that vehicle? (which happened to me three different times while I was having the RAV4 washed).
For All Seasons of Life
The RAV4 hybrid is a type of vehicle that will do very well following a person through their many facets of life. This would make a great first car after graduating college because there should be low day-to-day and maintenance costs and then factor in the reliability that Toyota/Lexus is well known for and you have a great starter vehicle. The RAV4 is also one of those vehicles you could hang onto once you decided to start a family. This vehicle would be very functional for transporting kids to and from all their different activities until they probably reached those bigger teen years when space becomes more of a premium. The RAV4 also makes a great vehicle for those that are close to retirement for the same reasons you would have bought it right out of college, but it will also meet the discerning style and comfort tastes of mature adults.
Toyota is projecting the RAV4 Hybrid will make up 10 to 15 percent of the RAV4's sales this year; and with all the upgrades to the exterior as well as the interior, it is easy to see why. The starting costs within the hybrid class are beginning to come down because there are a number of players in the segment now, so the RAV4 is very competitively priced versus its gas sibling. The RAV4 I test drove for the week was the XLE level Hybrid that comes standard with AWD and its cost was $29.795.00, so you can see the pricing is very competitive. I'll readily admit I am a 50+ plus guy who is late to the whole hybrid party, but just like the Highlander hybrid I test drove last year, the RAV4 hybrid has pleasantly exceeded my expectations.
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE AWD
Classic Silver Metallic
MPG Rating: EPA ratings of 34 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 33 mpg combined
Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating: 8 out of 10
Safety Rating: Top of the line at Good
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