2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Ted LaturnusSometimes it seems like every other vehicle on the road these days is a compact SUV of some kind. Virtually all the major carmakers have something on offer, and names like Tucson, Equinox, Escape, Rogue, Sportage, Outlander, Outback, CR-V, etc, etc fill the highways and cities of Canada.

And let’s not forget RAV4, one of the first compact SUVs that really got the ball rolling, when it was introduced, back in 1994. Since then Toyota has gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of the popular SUV and manufactures them in Woodstock, Ontario….among other place.

These days, the RAV4 is offered in nine different variations, including a hybrid model, which I recently spent time in, and by itself comes in three different trim levels.

A few specs. Power is delivered by a 2.5 litre Atkinson cycle four cylinder engine mated to Toyota’s hybrid Synergy drive electric drivetrain. The Atkinson cycle set-up basically sustains valve lift long enough to get maximum combustion and fuel efficiency…..at the cost of engine compression and power. It’s a proven technology and used throughout the industry.

In this configuration, the RAV4 Hybrid develops some 194 horsepower and the powertrain is mated to a CVT. Again, this is with a view to fuel economy, with performance definitely taking a back seat here. I am not a fan of CVT technology, but it doesn’t matter; virtually every carmaker uses it these days.

Interestingly, the RAV4 Hybrid has all-wheel-drive, and, among other things, a hill-holder assist, as well as traction control and a trailer stability feature. Until recently, towing a vehicle with a hybrid drivetrain was a definite no-no, but that seems to have changed. As you would expect from any Toyota, the RAV4 hybrid is very driver-accessible and immensely driveable.

Inside, you’ll get just over 70 cubic feet (1982 litres) of cargo space with the back seat folded down, and my tester, the LE model, features a power rear tailgate. By way of comparison, a non-hybrid RAV4 will give you almost 74 cubic feet (2100 litres) of cargo room.

This is because the RAV4 Hybrid has some of its mechanical/electrical components located under the rear seat, which doesn’t allow for a full fold-flat back deck. Not a big deal, but if you plan on taking this one camping, you won’t be able to sleep in it with any degree of comfort. It also interferes with storage, and you have to be kind of thoughtful when it comes to loading it up with gear. My standard test for cargo capacity – a set of acoustic drums – fits, no problem, but needs to be arranged so that everything doesn’t slide to the back of the vehicle.

My other quibble with the RAV4 Hybrid is that unless you keep it in “Sport” mode, you’ll be holding up traffic. In “Eco” mode, it is completely gutless, with feeble take-off power and virtually no highway inertia. Of course, as with any hybrid vehicle, performance isn’t really part of the equation, but, boy howdy, in “Eco” mode, this one is slow and you really have to keep your foot in it just to stay with traffic.

Which kind of defeats the purpose, it seems to me. Yes, the RAV4 gets decent fuel economy – 7.3 L/100 km, combined rating – but, driven sensibly, it’s a drag. In “Sport” model, everything is just ducky, but fuel economy goes out the window. By way of comparison, a non-hybrid RAV4 will return 9.0 L/100 km.

A word about pricing. My test LE, at almost thirty-eight large, is the least expensive trim level of the RAV4 Hybrid, whereas a non-hybrid RAV4 starts at about ten grand less. Is it worth the extra money? Only time will tell.

But it’s still not difficult to see why the RAV4 is so popular. It’s comfortable, driveable, reasonably roomy, thrifty, and, with Toyota’s hybrid system having proven itself all over the world, reliable.

That, I suspect, is right at the top of the list of most buyer’s “must-haves”.

Engine: 2.5 litre four cylinder / electric motor
Transmission: CVT
Drive: AWD
Horsepower: 194 hp
Torque:  n/a
Price: $37,804.47 as tested.

Alternatives: Lexus NX300h, Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, Audi Q5 Hybrid, BMW Active Hybrid 3.

Manufacturer’s Site: Toyota

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist Of The Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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