With other worthy options to consider, the RAV4 Hybrid isn’t the slam dunk you might expect.
– Cleveland, Ohio
If you’re shopping for an affordable all-wheel-drive hybrid, the pickings are slim, especially if you want a crossover. Your options become more plentiful if you’re willing to spend, thanks to the many hybrid and plug-in hybrid crossovers now offered by traditional luxury automakers, but the rest of us have only a few options that ring in around $30,000.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has been on that short list since it debuted in 2016. Even in this era of inexpensive fuel, it’s proven popular with the people, outselling Toyota’s other utilitarian hybrid, the front-wheel-drive-only Prius V, by a healthy margin. For 2017, though, the RAV4 Hybrid has been joined by a couple of equally compelling options: the new Nissan Rogue Hybrid and Kia Niro. The fact it’s powered by the guts of a Prius and enjoys Toyota’s reputation for reliability all work in the RAV4 Hybrid’s favor, but it’s not the only game in town.
Big inside. Though it’s smaller on the outside than the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, the RAV4 is actually roomier inside, especially when comparing cargo areas. The RAV4 Hybrid offers a max volume with its seats folded of 70.6 cubic feet to the Rogue Hybrid’s 61.4. Its rear floor and liftover height are also significantly lower than the Rogue Hybrid’s, which makes loading and unloading objects easier in the Toyota. The tradeoff is an uneven floor when the rear passenger seats are folded forward, but that’s a price worth paying for the extra cubes of space.
Reputation for reliability. Toyota as a brand continues to enjoy a reputation for quality and reliability that applies to the RAV4 Hybrid, and the vehicle’s powertrain comes straight out of the Prius where it’s proven to be practically bulletproof over the years (the Prius is one of Consumer Reports’ 10 Most Reliable Cars for 2016). The odds you’ll have many trouble-free years driving the RAV4 Hybrid is high.
Lower-than-advertised fuel economy. The EPA says to expect 32 miles per gallon combined from the RAV4 Hybrid, but my trip computer never rose above 30 and settled on 28.3 after a week of driving. I’m not a leadfoot, particularly when driving vehicles whose sole purpose is saving fuel, so the low number was extra disappointing.
Aging interior. The interior of the RAV4 in general, not just the hybrid model, still looks dated despite a recent refresh. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system also looks and operates like it’s a generation or two behind its competitors, and there’s still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. The RAV4 Hybrid only begins at the standard RAV4’s middle XLE trim level, so its starting price is a lot higher than the Nissan Rogue Hybrid ($26,240) and Kia Niro ($22,890). And at $31,965 out-the-door, the model I drove feels more like a mid-level trim inside despite costing what I’d expect to pay for a loaded one.
No fun to drive. From the powertrain to the steering to the braking to handling, everything about the RAV4 Hybrid’s driving dynamics are dialed in for efficiency over fun. Throttle and steering inputs are obeyed slowly, the regenerative braking is non-linear, and getting places requires a tortoise’s mentality versus a hare’s. I can live with all that if what’s sacrificed in driving enjoyment is repaid in full with efficiency, but neither the RAV4 Hybrid’s real-world fuel economy nor its quoted EPA ratings are high enough to justify the tradeoff.
How important is AWD to you? If you must have all-wheel drive and can’t afford a luxury hybrid crossover, it’s a toss up between your only two options: this RAV4 Hybrid and the Nissan Rogue Hybrid. The Rogue’s a little more fuel efficient on paper, but has less cargo room and lacks Toyota’s reputation in the hybrid game. If fuel economy is your top priority, though, then welcome the front-wheel-drive Kia Niro into the mix. Rather than a crossover-turned-hybrid like the other two, it was built from the ground up to be a hybrid (like the Prius) and hits an EPA-rated 50 mpg combined in its most efficient configuration, compared to 32 mpg (again, on paper) for the RAV4 Hybrid. It offers less cargo space and lacks all-wheel drive, but its hatchback-cum-crossover shape and equal ride height to the RAV4 earn it some consideration.
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com