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First drive: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.

First drive: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Hybrid tech, all-wheel drive and a facelift for Toyota's RAV4.

   



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Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5

Toyota gives the fourth generation of its RAV4 C-segment SUV a facelift, while also bringing in all-wheel drive and the sort of hybrid technology that both it and spin-off brand Lexus are famed for. The resulting model is a perfectly acceptable crossover, but various compromises in terms of refinement, cost and finishing mean there are better alternatives in this segment - and also within the RAV4 range.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD
Pricing: RAV4 from 23,695; Hybrid from 26,195, Hybrid AWD from 29,795
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol with two AC permanent magnet synchronous electric motors
Transmission: four-wheel drive, electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT)
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 118g/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 55.4mpg
Top speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Power: petrol 152hp at 5,700rpm, front electric motor 143hp, rear electric motor 68hp, combined system maximum output 197hp
Torque: petrol 206Nm at 4,400- to 4,800rpm, front electric motor 270Nm at 0rpm, rear electric motor 139Nm from 0rpm, no system maximum output quoted

What's this?

Toyota is doing a lot of stuff to its RAV4 mid-sized crossover/SUV, a vehicle that has sold more than six million units in its 22-year history - and, apparently, 90 per cent of those are still bumbling about on the world's roads. However, the compact SUV market has become an intense battleground in recent years and this fourth-generation car, launched in 2013, has never looked likely to challenge for top honours. So the Japanese giant has decided to enact a multitude of upgrades at once, bringing in a fairly daring facelift, the addition of all-wheel drive and also a hybrid drivetrain, which is fast becoming Toyota/Lexus's USP.

In the case of the RAV4 Hybrid, that all-wheel drive technology is actually called E-Four and no, that's not the youth-oriented version of Channel 4 that brought us The Inbetweeners and endless repeats of The Big Bang Theory, but rather a clever system that sees an extra 50kW electric motor grafted onto the RAV4's rear axle - meaning it's four-wheel drive without any need for a hefty central propshaft. Also, Toyota's use of the 2.5-litre petrol engine with mild hybrid technology (it's not a plug-in EV) means there is no starter motor, clutch or alternator belt, saving weight. Although, at 1,775kg at least in AWD trim, this is not a light SUV by any stretch of the imagination.

There is a two-wheel drive version of the Hybrid, which doesn't have the rear-mounted AC motor, but Toyota quotes the same peak output for this model and also marginally better green figures. The front-drive RAV4 Hybrid manages 57.6mpg and 115g/km CO2, neither of which are hugely ahead of the AWD's 55.4mpg and 118g/km (meaning all RAV4 Hybrids are in VED Band C). The front-wheel drive Hybrid is exclusively available in a one-off trim called Business Edition Plus, while the all-wheel drive versions come as higher-spec Icon and Excel models - meaning they're at least a rather hefty 29,795. Ouch.

Otherwise, all that's happened is the car has been facelifted for every variant, the 2.2-litre diesel has bit the dust in favour of the Hybrid (the latter is now expected to take 50 per cent of all RAV4 UK sales going forward, leaving the 2.0-litre D-4D diesel and 2.0 Valvematic petrol to pick up the other 40 and 10 per cent respectively) and there's now 'regular' all-wheel drive on the automatic-only petrol model. In terms of the looks, we think the facelift is particularly neat. These 2016MY RAV4s are markedly different to their predecessors, with a much narrower radiator grille and neat LED-infused light clusters. While maybe not a beautiful vehicle, by same token nor is it boringly anonymous, so Toyota deserves some credit here.

The interior, however, is another matter. It's all bolted together well, it's very spacious and ergonomically it's (largely) sound... but it doesn't look nice, nor is it pleasant to the touch. In the Hybrid we tested, there's a riot of different texture finishes on the dash and door cards, only a few of which actually feel decent - some of the silvery plastics are particularly nasty and scratchy. There's an odd vent hole centre top of the dash, that looks like it was cut out with a bread knife at the last minute as an afterthought, the EV/drive mode select buttons are hidden way down on the centre console in a place that's not easy to reach and the gear lever looks like it was lifted from a 1987 Toyota Crown. Fancy displays showing the Hybrid's energy usage in the 4.2-inch TFT instrument cluster screen do not cover up the fact this cabin lags some way behind the class leaders in terms of finish.

How does it drive?

For the purposes of a reliable, safe and comfortable means of transport that sits a little higher than other road users, it's absolutely fine. Customers in this sector are not bothered about a sparkling chassis or rip-snorting performance, which is good because - despite the Hybrid being the most powerful RAV4 of the lot - it doesn't possess either of these attributes. But it has a supple ride, high levels of noise suppression when just cruising along a motorway or ambling through urban areas and light, easy-to-use major controls. The brakes feel fine, the steering has almost non-existent levels of feedback, but is at least consistent in its responses and generally the drivetrain switches smoothly between full EV running and its hybrid modes.

The problems come whenever you want to get even the slightest move on. Like every Toyota and Lexus hybrid, the poor old RAV4 is saddled with a CVT and yet again it's a clunker. Sure, it's smooth because there's no physical switching of actual cogs, but demand anything over 30 per cent throttle and the noise the drivetrain serves up as the 2.5-litre petrol engine suddenly revs out to maximum power (at 5,700rpm) is deeply unpleasant. All this SUV needs is a regular automatic gearbox, which would sacrifice only a tiny bit of economy for a whole heap of extra refinement, and it would be much easier to at least recommend as an interesting alternative to the mainstream.

Although you won't want to go fast anyway, as the chassis quickly runs out of ideas. There's a marked amount of body roll and a weird feeling of imprecision when attempting to tackle corners at anything other than Eastbourne speeds. So trying to throw the RAV4 around in a pseudo-sporty manner is an exercise in futility. Toyota makes a big deal of the 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds, but even that feels wildly optimistic and we can't help feeling the diesel RAV4 would be every bit as punchy in reality, despite the Hybrid's on-paper advantages.

Finally, our car was showing an average fuel consumption of 7.5 litres/100km. That's around 37.7mpg - hardly the sort of stellar figures that would make you shell out the 2,800 premium required to sit yourself in the equivalent specification Hybrid compared to a D-4D model, which will likely get a lot closer to its 60.1mpg offical return. So we're rather left wondering why anyone would opt for the Hybrid, save for fleet managers who are primarily concerned about VED and BIK.

Verdict

Toyota is proud of its hybrid heritage and clearly, UK buyers like these part-electric vehicles immensely, if the projected sales figures of the RAV4 Hybrid are anything to go by. Yet we're not convinced at all. The Hybrid is expensive compared to the (admittedly front-drive only) diesel RAV4s, it doesn't really return startling economy figures, it's nothing like as cheap to tax and own as, say, a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the compromises forced onto it by that CVT are just too much to swallow. You'd be better off with the D-4D RAV4, but even then, you're left with a competent but slightly dull SUV with a below-par cabin, when there are far more appealing competitors in this class.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

2 2 2 2 2 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Driving Dynamics

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 15 Jan 2016



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2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.



2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Image by Toyota.
 






 

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