2016 Toyota RAV4 hybrid offers best of 2 worlds

Toyota is about to be richly rewarded for what seems, in retrospect, to be a corporate no-brainer: combining its expertise in hybrid drivetrains with buyers’ insatiable appetite for small crossover SUVs.

The ★★★ 2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD hybrid fills the gap Ford created when it bewilderingly stopped building the popular hybrid version of its popular Escape compact SUV a few years ago.

It combines the features people love most about SUVs — all-wheel drive and a high seating position — with unrivaled fuel economy.

At 194 horsepower, the hybrid is the most powerful version of the RAV4, one of America’s favorite small SUVs. It has an innovative hybrid system that adds an electrically powered rear axle to what is otherwise essentially a front-wheel-drive RAV4.

RAV4 hybrid prices start at $28,370. All RAV4 hybrids come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors. All-wheel-drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission are standard.

I tested a very-well-equipped, top-of-the-line RAV4 hybrid Limited with navigation, Bluetooth phone and music compatibility, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot alert, JBL audio and more. It stickered at $37,100. All prices exclude destination charges.

At that price, a loaded RAV4 hybrid is among the most expensive — and best-equipped — compact crossovers from a non-luxury brand.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the RAV4 hybrid at 34 m.p.g. in the city, 31 on the highway and 33 in combined driving.

That’s so much higher than any other compact crossover that it’s hardly worth mentioning their ratings, but I’m feeling mean: They all trail the RAV4 by 6-10 m.p.g. in combined driving. The C-Max hybrid minivan Ford hoped would replace the Escape hybrid rates higher, but it lacks all-wheel-drive (AWD) and the appeal that’s made compact SUVs as popular as lilac blooms in spring.

According to EPA estimates, it would take about nine years for a RAV4 Limited hybrid’s fuel savings to repay its price premium versus the most fuel-efficient, gas-burning competitor, the AWD Hyundai Tucson Limited. The payback falls to less than a year versus the Honda CR-V AWD Touring.

Hybrid and electric vehicle sales are struggling during the oil glut of 2016. When oil prices resume their usual upward trend, the economics will shift in the RAV4 hybrid’s favor.

The RAV4’s electrically driven rear axle is a harbinger of future drivetrains. Unlike earlier AWD hybrids, the rear axle has no physical connection to the engine. The rear wheels are driven solely by electricity when the RAV4 needs power at all four wheels.

It’s the same principle the exotic BMW i8 plug-in hybrid uses. It’ll become more common as automakers turn to compact and efficient electrically powered axles to deliver AWD, performance and high fuel efficiency.

The RAV4 hybrid has plenty of power for comfortable acceleration and highway cruising, but it competes with other SUVs’ gas-sipping models, not pocket rockets like the 245-hp Ford Escape 2.0L Ecoboost. The ride is comfortable. It cushions bumps, but won’t encourage you to embrace high-speed curves. The hybrid can tow 1,750 pounds, 250 more than a gasoline RAV4.

The 2.5-liter gasoline engine generates a surprising amount of noise and vibration. Road noise is quite noticeable at highway speeds.

The cab offers plenty of passenger space. Despite using relatively bulky nickel-metal hydride batteries, the RAV4 hybrid has more cargo space than all its competitors but the CR-V.

The voice-recognition system is fast and accurate, but the touch screen is small and hard to use in a moving vehicle. The arm rest on the center console in the front seat gave a loud “crack” whenever the driver leaned on it.

The RAV4 hybrid’s fuel economy, AWD and practical SUV layout will win it plenty of happy owners, but goofs like a noisy engine and creaky arm rest are surprising in a Toyota.


Article courtesy of: http://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/mark-phelan/2016/05/18/review-2016-toyota-rav4-hybrid-suv-crossover/84474284/?

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