Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The RAV4 is a regular hybrid, which means it's the type you don’t need to plug in and charge up. This is obviously good for convenience, but it means you can’t go very far at all on pure electric power; even with 'EV mode’ selected you’ll be lucky to get more than a few hundred yards before the 2.5-litre petrol engine kicks in to provide assistance.
With that in mind, you're better off leaving the RAV4 in its 'normal' driving mode and allowing the car decide for itself when’s best to deploy the electric motor and petrol engine. This generally means electric power alone in stop-start traffic and a combination of both power sources at higher speeds.
The main point of hybrid technology is, of course, to improve fuel economy, although having both an electric motor and petrol engine giving their all in unison means acceleration isn’t too shabby, either. There’s that electric-car characteristic of almost instant power when you put your foot down, too, so joining roundabout or overtaking is a breeze. The two-wheel drive model can do 0-60mph in 8.4sec, while the four-wheel drive is fractionally quicker, taking just 8.1sec, thanks to that extra traction from a standstill.
Suspension and ride comfort
Ride comfort isn't the RAV4's strongest suit. The suspension is rather firm so the RAV4 thuds over potholes and motorway expansion joints more than you might like in a family car. It’s by no means back-breakingly uncomfortable, but it never feels particularly settled and you’ll find it twitches as you drive along all but the smoothest of tarmacs.
It's main rival, the Honda CR-V hybrid, is noticeably more settled around town and retains its composure better over sharp ridges and potholes.
The Peugeot 5008, which isn't available as a hybrid but is roughly the same size as the RAV4, is also a more comfortable alternative. However, the RAV4 isn't as firm is the Mazda CX-5 and is less wearing on long motorway journeys.
The Mazda CX-5 is living proof that large SUVs can be relatively good fun to drive. Sadly, the RAV4 isn't cut from the same cloth; it never feels particularly willing to change direction quickly, due to its heavier weight causing it to roll into corners more, and it doesn't have a great deal of grip compared with rivals, either, unless you choose a model with the added traction of four-wheel drive.
Admittedly, hybrids rarely handle as tidily as pure petrol and diesel cars because of the extra weight of their batteries and electric motors. However, the CR-V hybrid feels more stable through tight twists and turns and has more naturally weighted steering, too. The RAV4 is relatively easy to manoeuvre at low speeds, though.
Noise and vibration
Put your foot down and the RAV4's petrol engine immediately starts revving hard, almost as though you’re stuck in first gear, except the car keeps accelerating and the revs only start to subside when ease off with your right foot. This is due to the RAV4's CVT automatic gearbox.
It isn’t what you’d call a relaxing experience, especially since the petrol engine sounds rather coarse and channels vibrations up through the soles of your feet. There’s also considerable tyre noise and wind intrusion at motorway speeds that will have you cranking the radio volume up. The rival CR-V hybrid's petrol engine is noticeably less intrusive and that car also suffers from a bit less tyre roar on the motorway.
Mind you, thanks to that hybrid set-up, the RAV4 is remarkably hushed compared with the majority of pure petrol and diesel rivals, especially in stop-start traffic,. As with many hybrids, the brakes tend to be a bit grabby as the regeneration system tops battery up under deceleration, and this can make it hard to slow your progress smoothly. It’s something you get used to in time, though.