2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Review

Making well-rounded for the environmentally conscious


Wade Thiel, Staff Writer



Positives: A smorgasbord of standard equipment and technology, good options packages, respectable fuel economy.
Negatives: As exciting as toast, loud engine noises during heavy acceleration, interior ergonomics a little wonky.
Bottom Line: The RAV4 Hybrid is a good vehicle all around. It offers practicality and efficiency in an affordable package. If you want a CUV, a brand known for reliability and a hybrid powertrain, this is a smart choice. Don't get too excited, though. This vehicle wasn't built to thrill you. If you buy it, you'll have to get your thrills elsewhere.
The Toyota RAV4 is the saltine cracker of the crossover segment. Sure, it’s got a little salt on it, and it goes good with everything, but few people are really passionate about it. The Hybrid version of this CUV is like a saltine cracker with a piece of cheese on top, meaning there’s a little extra something there. That makes it more satisfying, and it doesn’t ruin its original appeal at all. To make sure this analogy was accurate, we got behind the wheel of the RAV4 Hybrid for a week. Here’s what we found.
 

Driving Experience

6.7

 

The RAV4 Hybrid drives like you’d expect a CUV marketed to the masses to drive. It’s easy to manage but not very interesting. Most of the people driving this crossover will be too busy navigating crowded city streets, ordering food at a drive through or hollering at their kids in the back seat to worry about how their car stacks up when it comes to driving dynamics. In short, the RAV4 Hybrid does just fine. Having said that, it will not satisfy anyone looking for driving enjoyment.

Ride Quality: The ride was mostly smooth, but we felt larger bumps and cracks in the road more than expected. We suspect going with the 17-inch wheels instead of the 18-inch ones on our test vehicle would alleviate some of these issues.

Acceleration: The RAV4 Hybrid is surprisingly quick off the line for a vehicle of this ilk. Zero to 60 mph comes in around 8 seconds. The only issue is that the engine makes a lot of noise when you really put your foot down.

Braking: The brakes didn’t stop the RAV4 with authority, and reported braking distance numbers place the RAV4 Hybrid near the bottom of its class.

Steering: The electric power steering doesn’t offer much road-feel but it is pretty responsive. It’s not difficult to place the RAV4 in turns, and it doesn’t take long to get used to how the vehicle reacts to steering inputs. It's on the light side, but not bad.

Handling: The RAV4 Hybrid walks a fine line between sporty handling and comfort. There’s a fair amount of body roll, but the vehicle can handle a twisty road reasonably well despite its tendency to understeer. It’s easy to feel where the CUV’s limits are, which allows you to back off when necessary and push it when you can.

Technology

7.9

 

The RAV4 Hybrid in the Limited trim level comes with a fair amount of standard technology. These features include things like a backup camera, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams and dynamic radar cruise control as well as an infotainment system with navigation. On top of that, you can add additional infotainment-related features in the form of an Advanced Technology Package, which our tester had. This includes advanced app and connectivity features, some extra auxiliary power and audio jacks and an upgraded audio system.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch touchscreen display was responsive and fairly easy to use. It offered an interface with access to Toyota’s Entune app suite, Bluetooth connectivity, Siri Eyes Free and navigation. The graphics are dated and dull, but they do a fine job of displaying necessary information.

Controls: The infotainment controls in the RAV4 make sense and are fairly intuitive (there’s a nice mix of buttons, touchscreen and steering wheel controls). However, reaching some of the knobs and buttons from the driver’s seat meant you had to lean forward in your seat, which could get annoying over time. We kept wishing the infotainment system was an inch or two closer to the steering wheel or angled towards the driver a little.

Bluetooth Pairing: Connecting a phone proved easy and reconnecting upon reentry to the vehicle was seamless.

Voice Call Quality: Calls were clear on both ends with no issues to speak of.

Styling

6.2

 

The RAV4 is no beautiful specimen. It’s a vehicle that is built for the masses. As good as it is at appealing to a wide swath of American car buyers, styling isn’t the main reason to buy this vehicle. Don’t get us wrong. The RAV4 is no Pontiac Aztek. It’s not a so-ugly-we-can’t-bear-to-look-at-it CUV. It’s just kind of bland.

Front: The RAV4 looks out at the world with a disinterested stare. The headlights blend into the topmost character line and Toyota logo well. The split grille design beneath the headlights and logo stretch all the way across the nose of the vehicle. It’s not a terrible looking front end, and it's a big improvement from the last car but still a bit vanilla for our tastes.

Rear: From the back, you get a pretty typical look for a compact CUV. Features include wraparound taillights, a large liftgate and some model-specific badging. The rear styling doesn’t push any envelopes and we’re kind of ready for Toyota to do something different.

Profile: The side view of the RAV4 is nothing special to look at, but at least it's not boxy. It kind of mimics the first-generation Nissan Murano in its silhouette.

Cabin: Toyota isn’t known for its interiors. The RAV4 reinforces this. The cabin is clad in a lot of hard-looking plastics, but there are several leather touches to make it appear more upscale. The upright dash has multiple layers and, depending on the interior trim you choose, a few different colors. Overall, it’s a little too busy, but it’s not the worst-looking interior out there. Our near orangish-brown leatherette upholstery is not the right choice against the bright blue paint. Ick.

Comfort

7.4

 

The RAV4 Hybrid’s interior certainly couldn’t be called opulent, but it definitely qualifies as comfy. The seats are great, there’s plenty of room and the steering wheel, driver controls and gear shifter are all easily within reach (the same can't be said for the infotainment controls).

Front Seats: The SofTex-trimmed 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat offers plenty of support and adjustment. The passenger seat isn’t as easily adjustable, but it also offers a supportive seating surface. The heating function makes these seats lovely even on a really cold day, and there’s plenty of room to stretch out your legs on longer trips.

Rear Seats: The rear seats are supportive and offer a generous amount of leg, hip and headroom. They recline and fold flat easily.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The RAV4 Hybrid is a quiet and composed machine most of the time. However, when you step on the gas you do get a lot of engine noise.

Visibility: Good visibility all around. You won’t have many issues seeing your surroundings, whether that be parking or on the road.

Climate: The dual-zone climate control and heated seats make keeping the cabin of the vehicle at the optimal temperature extremely easy.

Safety

8.9

 

If you’re looking for a safe crossover, the RAV4 fits the bill. It received excellent ratings from the IIHS, and the NHTSA awarded it five stars overall. This overall score was comprised of a four-star frontal crash test, a five-star side crash test and a four-star rollover crash test.

IIHS Rating: The Toyota RAV4 is a Top Safety Pick+. It received good ratings in every crash category and offers a lot of accident avoidance technology. The only negative things to note are the marginal rating for child seat anchor use and the acceptable rating for the headlights.

Standard Tech: The Rav4 Hybrid comes equipped with a lot of standard safety tech in Limited trim level, including Toyota Safety Sense: pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, auto high-beams and dynamic radar cruise control; Star Safety System: enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology; blind spot monitor; rear cross traffic alert; front and rear parking sonar; LATCH lower anchor and tether for children.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

7

 

The RAV4’s storage layout inside the interior, specifically the center stack and dash, is somewhat oddly laid out. It almost feels like Toyota made the crossover and then said, oh yeah, we have to do storage too. The bins and areas to put things seem to be stuck wherever there was space. This leads to some storage bins that had us scratching our heads.

Storage Space: The cup holders are placed far apart and some of the bins and storage containers in the center stack directly in front of the shifter are a little tough to reach. Having said that there are quite a few places to stow items. The space underneath the armrest is reasonably sized and easy to access. We just wish Toyota had spent more time thinking about how easy it would be to reach all of the storage space on the fly. Other automakers do storage space better.

Cargo Room: The cargo area offers over 35 cubic feet of room with all seats in place and up to 70.6 cubic feet with the second row folded. That’s better than some competition but not as good as other vehicles in this class like the Honda CR-V.

Fuel Economy

8.4

 

It’s a hybrid, so you can expect to get good gas mileage. The RAV4 Hybrid can deliver city MPG numbers few other crossovers can. The highway numbers are good, but not as impressive. Still, if you’re after efficiency, this vehicle is one of the best little CUVs to own.

Observed: We saw an average of 30 mpg in our week with the vehicle.

Driving Factors: We drove a lot in the city with a fair amount of heavy throttle when appropriate. Even driving the RAV4 fairly hard yielded good results from a fuel economy standpoint.

Audio

8.8

 

Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional Advanced Technology Package, which came with the excellent premium JBL audio system. The system offers rich, full-bodied sound at basically any volume. When paired with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, there isn’t too much to complain about. It’s one of the better systems out there.



Final Thoughts

The RAV4 Hybrid is the best version of the RAV4, so far, but that doesn't equate to anything approaching greatness. It offers practicality, versatility, efficiency and a reasonable amount of performance all in one package. Is it exciting? No. However, it is one of the better CUVs out there if you need a family crossover that can basically do it all except for real off-roading. It’s a good crossover that just happens to be a hybrid, which means you get to enjoy the benefits that come with this vehicle with the added bonus of higher gas mileage. For individuals and small families that need efficiency, utility and reliability, it should find a place on your shopping list.
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