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2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

Combining the useful functionality of a small crossover with hybrid efficiency


            • SEE ALSO: Toyota Research and Buyers Guide

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

What took so long?

Toyota’s RAV4 kickstarted the compact crossover class when it debuted twenty years ago. At a time when large truck-based SUVs were the most popular things on four wheels, the RAV4 offered that style in a small form more manageable in everyday life, and on a car, not truck, chassis for the comfort and quiet that were lacking in many SUVs, especially small truck-based ones. Fuel economy was significantly better than that of small truck SUVs. Originally sold in four-wheel drive trim only — the name was an acronym for Recreational Active Vehicle 4WD — and in two- and four-door body styles, the RAV4 changed with its market. Front-wheel drive only became available, and the two-door version went the way of the two-door SUV. Now solidly in its fourth generation, the RAV4 is still a class benchmark.

In parallel, Toyota was (and is) a leader in development of internal combustion-electric hybrid vehicles. The first Prius sedan debuted in the North American market in 2000. Hybrid versions of other Toyotas followed, including the mid-size Highlander crossover. But never a RAV4… until now.

Enter the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Positioned at the top of the RAV4 lineup and so offered in XLE and Limited grades, the Hybrid shares freshened styling with its non-hybrid brethren, distinguished only by badging. It’s all-wheel drive only, but the AWD system is not that of other AWD RAV4s. An electric motor drives the rear wheels under computer control, with an implementation of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive that uses a modified version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine found in other RAV4s plus two motor-generator units providing power through the front wheels.

Maximum system horsepower is 194, besting the regular RAV’s 176. A three hundred pound weight increase from all of the hybrid system components would seem to negate that, but gearing and electric motor torque mean that the hybrid’s acceleration is actually quicker. And the hybrid uses less unleaded regular, with EPA estimates of 34mpg city, 31 highway, and 33 overall compared to an equivalent AWD regular model’s 22/29/25. Interior space is decreased by an insignificant three cubic feet, and the price premium over a non-hybrid AWD equivalent is about $700. I suspect that I’ll be seeing quite a few RAV4 Hybrids on the road…

I’ve just spent a week with a Limited example. Conveniently-sized for the ever-narrower local highway lanes and parking lot spaces, it was comfortable and quiet on the road, with good stability on the highway even in strong winds. It was surprisingly capable on steep, twisting mountain roads, with a suspension calibration that provided a good ride quality with minimal body motion. With regenerative braking added to the four-wheel discs, stopping was quick. After over fifteen years of continuous development, Toyota’s hybrid system is transparent in operation, with no sudden surprises or nonlinear throttle response. The air conditioning worked perfectly, even in 100-degree heat, even in EV mode. The only noticeable difference between this RAV4 Hybrid and other comparable small crossovers was gas mileage — if the 30 mpg I got for the week wasn’t up to the EPA tests, it was better than the 25 that is typical for non-hybrid compact crossovers in the same driving conditions. And I don’t think the EPA tests include steep hills, high-speed highway traffic, pedal-to-the-metal merging acceleration, and triple-digit temperatures.

APPEARANCE: The current RAV4 debuted in 2013 and gets a typical mid-product cycle styling freshening for 2016. Most apparent is the new front treatment, with stacked body-colored panels replacing the previous grille. Somebody likes samurai armor. It’s distinctive, and blends well with the existing lines. Other changes are less noticeable: the lower perimeter, including the wheel arches, is still the crossover-standard textured black plastic, but the rocker panels and rear bumper have been restyled a bit. Limited models get LED headlights, running lights, and taillights. The Hybrid gets blue-tinged “T” logos front and rear, standard Toyota hybrid badges, plus “hybrid” badging on the front fenders and tailgate and AWD-i badges at the bottom of each rear door.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

COMFORT: At Limited level, the RAV4, regular or Hybrid, has everything you really need and most features you might want as standard equipment. Handsome, functional design, space, good seat comfort, and useful storage spaces handle the basics. Entune Premium Audio with Navigation, App Suite, and seven-inch touchscreen interface is included. Meaning all current infotainment possibilities. The upper parts of the dash and doors are dark, textured plastic to reduce glare. Brushed-matte silver accents brighten the interior, and the stitched leatherette on the lower part of the dash is a pleasant upscale-looking surprise. The bolstered front bucket seats offer good support and comfort, with the driver’s power-adjustable with memory. The Softex leatherette feels almost like leather. The steering wheel is adjustable for both tilt and reach, and the spokes have controls for audio, information display, and Bluetooth systems. Useful cabin storage includes bottle holders in the doors, an open tray above the large, non-locking glove box, and both open and covered storage on the console. A tilt-and-slide sunroof is standard. The rear seat is spacious and comfortable for the car's size, and a near-flat floor makes the center position reasonable, at least for a small passenger. Not only does the 60/40 split seatback flop forward for extra cargo capacity, with flaps that cover the juncture of the passenger and cargo areas, each back section has adjustable angle for comfort preference. Or headroom if the occupant is extra tall. Fold the rear seat, and the cargo area is nearly five and a half feet long. Under the load floor is the space-saver spare and some storage space. The hybrid system battery reduces interior space by a minimal amount.

SAFETY: Like all current Toyotas, the RAV4 Hybrid has the Star Safety System™, which combines VehicleStabilityControl, traction control, antilock brakes (four-wheel discs), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST). The front seats are designed to decrease damage from whiplash. The RAV4's unibody structure uses high-strength steel for strength, rigidity, and protection with decreased weight. Limited models have a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert. Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) is also standard here, with the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Steering Assist, automatic high beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: With a properly-tuned, fully-independent suspension by MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones in the rear, the RAV4 Hybrid gives a stable, comfortable ride around town and on the highway. It tracks true even in strong winds, with low interior noise levels. When the road gets interesting, the Hybrid is up to the task. No, it doesn’t have the cornering prowess of a sports car — but you won’t get four or five people and lots of stuff in comfort in even a Scion FR-S/Toyota GT-86. Strong four-wheel disc brakes are aided by the hybrid system’s regenerative braking. The electrically-assisted power steering provides a reasonable amount of feedback, with little of the numbness that such systems can have.

PERFORMANCE: The first internal-combustion/electric hybrid systems were optimized for fuel efficiency. “Performance” in that context meant high mileage. More recently, performance and luxury hybrids have utilized their electric motors’ instant torque to aid acceleration, as well as using electric power for reduced fuel consumption. The RAV4’s implementation of the Hybrid Synergy Drive does both. 0-60 acceleration is around eight seconds, a half-second or so quicker than the regular version. EPA fuel consumption ratings are 34 mpg city, 31 highway, and 33 overall. I “merely” got 30 — but that compares well with 23 from a regular AWD RAV4 and 25 or so from competitive small crossovers in FWD trim. The gasoline engine here is an Atkinson-cycle modification of the 2.5-liter four found in the regular RAV4. It makes 150 hp at 5700 rpm, with 152 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. The front traction motor-generator can add up to 141 horsepower, torque not mentioned but likely more than that. Power from those sources is blended seamlessly through a computerized CVT. The rear electric motor can add up to 67 hp through the rear wheels as deemed necessary.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid combines the useful functionality of a small crossover with hybrid efficiency.


2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD

Base Price $ 33,610

Price As Tested $ 34,874

Engine Type Atkinson cycle DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with Dual VVT-i valve timing and lift management

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 150 @ 5700 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 152 @ 4400 rpm

Electric Motors:

Motor-Generator 1 engine starter motor, generator, charges hybrid battery

Power n/a

Motor-Generator 2 drives front wheels, provides regenerative braking

power 141 hp torque not specified

Motor-Generator R drives rear wheels, provides regenerative braking

power 67 hp, torque not specified

Hybrid battery NiMH, 244.8 VDC (204x1.2V)

Transmission CVT front, electric motor rear

Maximum System Horsepower 194

Wheelbase / Length 104.7 in. / 181.1 in.

Curb Weight 3950 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 20.4

Fuel Capacity 14.8 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires P235/55R18 Yokohama Geolander

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc plus regenerative braking

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone

Minimum Ground Clearance 6.3

Drivetrain Transverse front engine and electric motor hybrid system with rear drive by electric motor


EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 34 / 31 / 30

Towing Capacity 1750 lbs.

0 to 60 mph 8.1 sec


Four Season Floor Mat Package $364

Delivery Charge $900