Toyota RAV4 Hybrid review
The Toyota RAV4 started life back in the 90s as a funky, distinctively styled SUV aimed at trendy young urbanites. Over the years and several generations, it has morphed into a conventional large family SUV, taking on smaller SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008, right up to larger alternatives such as the Honda CR-V, Skoda Kodiaq and Nissan X-Trail.
Its latest incarnation (the fifth generation) is offered in the UK in what Toyota calls 'self-charging' hybrid form only. With this technology, the hybrid battery is charged by the engine and regenerative braking, and the electric motor can then provide limited pure-electric driving for short distances at low speeds. The RAV4 can't be plugged in to charge, however; plug-in hybrids such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV offer longer electric driving range as a result.
The first thing most people are likely to notice about the latest RAV4 are its looks. Compared to the somewhat anonymous second, third and fourth-generation cars, the current offering boasts sharp edges, chunky square wheelarches and distinctive light designs front and rear. The smaller Toyota C-HR is no longer the only eye-catching SUV from the Japanese brand, then.
Power comes from a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, plus the aforementioned electric motor. Horsepower, fuel economy, CO2 emissions and acceleration figures differ very slightly between the front and four-wheel drive versions, while a CVT automatic gearbox is the only transmission available.
It's offered in the UK in four different trim levels: Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic (with Icon only being available in front-wheel-drive form). The RAV4 hasn't yet been crash-tested by Euro NCAP but it comes with class-leading standard safety equipment including traffic-sign recognition, lane-keeping assistance with steering input, adaptive cruise control and eight airbags. Given this, and Toyota's excellent crash safety record, we have no concerns about it faring very well in crash tests.
The latest RAV4 is both comfortable and reasonably engaging from behind the wheel. The only thing that's likely to bother you is the coarse petrol engine, which is quite noisy under even moderate acceleration - as much due to the CVT automatic gearbox as to the engine itself. In four-wheel-drive form, the RAV4 exhibits considerable rough-surface capability, so don't discount it if you've got a grassy lane or muddy yard to drive over regularly. Having said that, a Jeep or a Land Rover will be far better off-road, and the Toyota's maximum towing capacity of 1,650kg is well below the circa 2,000-2,500kg offered by plenty of rivals.
Inside, there's a decent amount of passenger and luggage room, combined with high interior trim quality. Although the RAV4 can't be said to be at the cutting edge of style or luxury, even compared to some rivals, it looks smart and has some great common-sense touches including rubberised grips on the inside of the door handles.
It's a good balance of honest utility and straightforward, decent-looking materials and interior design. It is, however, well into the price territory of cars like the Skoda Kodiaq, which offer seven-seat versatility that the five-seat-only Toyota can't compete with.
The infotainment system is a let-down in the RAV4, as well: an eight-inch screen with dated graphics and no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capability means the Toyota is well off the pace of rivals in this area. At least the touchscreen complete with simple, physical shortcut buttons is easy to use, and you do get plenty of USB inputs.
The RAV4's hybrid-only status means it has a far higher starting price than petrol or diesel-engined rivals, but that same hybrid powertrain gives it the low CO2 emissions that translate to affordable Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax for company-car users.
As an example, savings of about £120 a month compared to a petrol or diesel Volkswagen Tiguan are possible, and the Toyota is also usefully more efficient (and therefore cheaper for company-car users) than its closest rival, the hybrid Honda CR-V. Our test drive saw economy of around 40mpg on the motorway but that crept up to around 45mpg in town, where the electric running really pays off.
Overall, the latest Toyota RAV4 is an impressive package, with those low company-car costs and a very roomy, practical and comfortable interior among its strongest attributes that make it a great family car. But it doesn't trouble the class leaders for luggage capacity, driving enjoyment and in particular in-car technology, so it's one to think carefully about before signing on the dotted line.
For a more detailed look at the Toyota RAV4, read the rest of our in-depth review.