2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD review

As the huge demand for SUVs but low running costs continues, Toyota releases its RAV4 in petrol-electric hybrid form for the first time. We drive it on UK roads...

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What Car? team
22 January 2016

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD review

Although the Toyota RAV4 SUV is in its fourth generation, this is the first time it’s been available with hybrid drive. This new offering has been introduced alongside a facelift that gently updates the front end design, refreshes the interior and gives the trim levels a shake-up.

A new diesel engine and a revised petrol engine have also been launched, allowing a choice of three powertrains, and the hybrid is available with either front- or four-wheel drive.

We’ve previously rated the RAV4 highly for its spaciousness and equipment levels, but the quality of its cabin materials and disappointing refinement have let it down, so hybrid drive and interior updates could be just what the RAV4 needs.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid like to drive?

There’s a full electric-only mode you can engage under 30mph, which is theoretically perfect for near-silent, emissions-free travel around town, but add more than a little throttle and the petrol engine fires up again.

Unless you’re rushing, though, it doesn’t disturb the peace too much - bigger problems are the harsh ride quality when crossing potholes and ridges, which send a jolt through the car, and while the ‘regenerative’ brakes help charge the RAV4’s batteries, they also feel a bit grabby in stop-start traffic.

On country roads, there’s decent acceleration available between corners, but the CVT gearbox means such a style of driving has the engine blaring away at high revs, which quickly becomes tiresome, and the jostling ride and slow steering do nothing to improve the experience.

There’s a manual mode that allows you to shift between six gears via the centrally mounted selector, but the added responsiveness this brings is at the expense of further engine noise.

Where the RAV4 Hybrid does shine is on the motorway. It cruises quietly and steadily, making long-distance journeys stress-free. There’s a little road roar from the Excel model’s upgraded 18in wheels, but that’s not a great threat to the peace.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid like inside?

Upgrades to the RAV4’s cabin include a new instrument cluster featuring a handy 4.2in screen that displays journey information and allows operation of the vehicle’s settings via buttons on the steering wheel.

The 7.0in Toyota Touch 2 screen remains in the centre of the dashboard and includes sat-nav as standard in Business Edition and new Business Edition Plus specifications. The system is easy enough to use but is hesitant at times.

There have also been small improvements to front cabin storage, and efforts have been made to increase what Toyota calls ‘tactile quality’ with new materials on the armrest and door trim. However, there are still lots of hard, moulded plastics, and the padded surfaces feel thin.

The electrically adjustable seats - leather-trimmed in the top-of-the-range Excel specification we tested - are firm but nicely shaped, and offer good all-round visibility, although taller drivers will find the row of buttons that control the heated seats and driving modes partly obscured by the climate control panel.

In the back, there’s spacious seating for two; a slim third occupant can also fit fairly comfortably in the middle seat, and the 60:40-splitting and folding seatbacks are adjustable.

The RAV4 Hybrid has to accommodate under-floor batteries, reducing boot space by about 50 litres when the seats are up, and 100 litres when they’re folded, but the volume figures are still very healthy for this class at 501 litres and 1633 litres respectively. There’s no lip to the boot, the load space is symmetrical and a power tailgate is standard on every Hybrid.

Should I buy one?

Those good motorway manners and short stints of enjoyable electric-only driving in town are outweighed by the RAV4 Hybrid’s noisy petrol engine and compromised ride, and the interior updates have done little to raise the quality of the cabin. While the four-wheel-drive all-weather abilities, leather upholstery and front parking sensors of the Excel model we tested are welcome, you can benefit from most of the RAV4’s key benefits much further down the range.

You’ll get a slightly bigger boot and the same spacious cabin in the entry-level diesel Active model that’s front-wheel drive and costs £7100 less, yet still comes with a reversing camera, a DAB radio and 17in alloys as standard. The diesel is slightly less economical in town, but will still cost less to fuel than the hybrid overall, although that said, the diesel’s benefit-in-kind (BIK) company car tax rating of 22% is much higher than the lower-emissions hybrid’s at 18%.

Those seeking a little more fun from their SUV might want to consider the relatively keen-handling Ford Kuga while Mazda’s CX-5 in 2.2-litre diesel form offers a more rounded proposition overall.

What Car? says...


Ford Kuga

Mazda CX-5

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Engine size 2.5-litre petrol, plus two electric motors

Price from £29,795

Power 194bhp (combined)

Torque 152lb ft (engine only)

0-62mph 8.4 seconds

Top speed 112mph

Fuel economy 55.4mpg

CO2 118g/km