What is it?
To coincide with the fourth-generation RAV4’s facelift, Toyota has added the option of hybrid power to its drivetrain line-up. It uses a similar set-up to the RAV4’s plusher cousin, the Lexus NX300h, with a 2.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine allied to a front-mounted electric motor in the front-drive version (available from £26,195) and supplemented by a further electric motor at the back in the four-wheel-drive version (from £29,795). Toyota says combined power output is 194bhp in each configuration, dished out by a CVT.
In either arrangement, the RAV4 Hybrid takes 8.4sec to reach 62mph, making it quicker than versions powered by either the new 2.0 diesel or revised 2.0 petrol engine, despite the hybrid carrying a 105kg weight penalty in front-drive form and a further 65kg in four-wheel-drive guise.
Exterior updates are focused on the front end, while the RAV4’s cabin has been gently refreshed with some new finishes, ambient lighting and a revised instrument binnacle featuring a 4.2-inch info display to supplement the main 7.0-inch touchscreen.
What's it like?
Despite the improvements, the cabin is still decidedly low-rent, even in the top-spec, leather-upholstered Excel trim driven here. Hard, hollow-feeling plastics abound - most vexingly on the steering wheel boss, complete with moulded-in ‘stitching’ - and what padded surfaces there are feel thin.
The well-bolstered, four-way electrically adjustable front seats are firm yet comfortable, but tall drivers test the limits of steering wheel reach and rake, and will struggle to see more than half of the heated seat and drive mode buttons that are tucked into the base of the centre console.
The rear seats have manually adjustable backrests, but don’t slide. Two tall passengers can sit comfortably; three would be a squeeze, especially for shoulder room.
Due to battery stowage, the hybrid’s electrically opened boot hosts a raised tool compartment that cuts cargo volume by around 50 litres with the rear seats up and twice that when they’re folded. Still, it's a useful, symmetrical space, with no lip, although the rear seats don’t fold totally flat.
The RAV4 Hybrid’s EV mode allows emissions-free travel below 30mph. In reality, however, it’s difficult to avoid the petrol engine chiming in, but in normal urban traffic it stays pretty quiet anyway. The same can’t be said for the ride, which lacks give and readily bangs over ridges, while the regenerative brakes become grabby towards the end of the pedal’s travel.
This lack of compliance endures on rural roads, where the RAV4 Hybrid jostles and pitches, yet also suffers significant body roll. The woolly steering does little to improve confidence, while the CVT causes the petrol engine to rev noisily hard.
However, despite being relatively brisk, this car was never intended to be worked hard. Its forte is the motorway, when the ride, steering and engine all combine to make steady-throttle progress peaceful and easy, despite some road noise from the 18-inch wheels.
Should I buy one?
RAV4 fans mainly confined to the city will be pleased to know the hybrid’s 55.4mpg average economy is equalled by its urban figure, meaning it betters the diesel version by 4mpg. That said, the diesel’s combined return of 60.1mpg will resonate more with everyone else. Bear in mind, too, that the Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 150 is similarly efficient, and will better satisfy those seeking more dynamic reward from their SUV.
The RAV4 Hybrid lacks the show-stealing economy, emissions and dynamic refinement required to more effectively leverage its technology, and is too compromised when it comes to daily driving anywhere apart from the motorway, all of which will significantly limit its appeal.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Excel AWD
Location Surrey; On sale Now; Price £30,795; Engine 4 cyls, 2494cc, petrol, plus two electric motors; Power 194bhp (combined); Torque 152lb ft at 4400-4800rpm (petrol engine); Gearbox CVT; Kerb weight 1775kg; 0-62mph 8.4sec; Top speed 112mph; Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 118g/km, 18%