Review: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD

Toyota's five-year warranty is not the only reason I'd buy the latest RAV4. There are two RAVs, more than 12 years old, in the family and they have an almost unblemished service record. Both were bought second-hand. One is a turbo diesel. One is a petrol automatic.
The RAV4 is uglier than the competition inside and outThe RAV4 is uglier than the competition inside and out
The RAV4 is uglier than the competition inside and out

Readers may recall a blip with the turbo a few years ago – with the official Toyota dealer saying it needed replacing. A Toyota specialist disagreed, saying the vanes were possibly gummed up. Indeed they were, because a few doses of Diesel Magic sorted the problem. Touch wood, several thousand miles on, there has been no trouble and no unnecessary replacement turbo.

Fuel economy is bearable – somewhere in the 30s for both. Before long the diesel, and maybe the petrol, will incur restrictions in major cities. Both are the models with the spare wheel hung on the back door from the days when that was what signified a 4x4. The RAV was the first compact SUV.

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Since then the wheel has gone out of sight and the RAV4 body has become longer, angular-wedgy, very fussy at the front where a sequence of ledges and angles makes a valeting nightmare. Actually, if you’ve been looking at an Evoque or Discovery Sport, Audi Q5 or BMW X3 (all of which have a price overlap with the RAV4), or a Mitsubishi or Nissan Qashqai, you may turn your head from the RAV4. It doesn’t look brilliant whichever end you are at. Step inside and it’s more confusion, with scattered, often small control buttons, some a stretch to reach. However, this is a quality car, with the promise of years and years of reliable use.

The Toyota website must have had the same designer. Click on to RAV4 overview and you are straight into buying plans, build-your-own, accessories etc. You have to be determined to discover what a basic RAV4 is.

My overview: It is a family-sized five-door SUV with a choice of front or all-wheel-drive, petrol, diesel or petrol electric hybrid power. Prices start at £27,450 for the 2-litre, 143hp diesel Icon with front-wheel drive. The 197hp 2.5-litre hybrid automatic Icon costs from £29,005. AWD models start at £32,325 for the 151hp 2-litre petrol automatic Design. The other AWD model is the hybrid, from £32,960 in Excel trim.

Owners love them. The RAV4 scores brilliantly with the people who actually buy them. A RAV4 is strong, safe in a crash, reliable.

Tested here is the hybrid AWD. I checked a few magazine reviews which came out lukewarm, with some criticism of the response, economy and handling.

Hybrid economy looks good on paper. In this case, 55.4mpg overall, with 118g of CO2. In my use it averaged 42 to 45 miles a gallon. This is good for a petrol SUV and the gap of 10mpg to the brochure figure is typical, and smaller than many cars I have tested over the same roads. As a comparison, the brochure figure for the manual diesel RAV4 is 60mpg and 124g. The petrol auto is quoted at 43.5mpg and 152g – which illustrates the advantage of the hybrid system.

I liked driving it. The electric motor is engaged all the time, sometimes unobtrusive, sometimes giving a silent wave of acceleration – accompanied by a pleasant snort from the petrol engine. I had no complaints about handling, and road noises were not harsh – the test car was on classy Bridgestone all-season Ecopia tyres. They gripped well and the car was notable for its quiet progress.

The control area lacks the allure of many rivals. An Evoque shows how it can be done. The RAV4 does have plenty of storage ideas, including a handy inset shelf in from of the passenger. The gate for the automatic gearshift is a snaggy dog’s leg – a clunky, slow and jerky action to move from P to D.

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The parking brake is the old-style pull-up ratchet handbrake, but I don’t mind that. The rear seats fold almost flat in an easy action. The door closure has a quality sound. The rear door is top-hinged; the jury is out on whether the original side-hinged door was better. One advantage of the top-hinge is the tailgate keeps you dry when loading – or sitting to change boots, river watching and similar spectator activities.

There are probably more Toyota hybrids than all the rest combined. It’s been at it longer. It offers a plug-in system on the pioneering Prius, which means you can charge the battery from the mains to give a decent range on pure electric power.

The RAV4 system gets its charge from the petrol engine and the slowing or braking of the car. It assists rather than takes over, but at low speeds on a flattish road you can run on purely electric power for maybe a mile. An EV light shows you are in that clean zone.

Verdict: Road manners are refined, light off-road potential on tap.