Utility in the 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited

Looking for a compact SUV with a hybrid drive system? Check out the manufacturer who co-introduced the modern sport-cute and put the first commercially successful hybrid vehicles on the road. That’s what I did during my week with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited.

First impressions

The utility part of this vehicle stands out more than the sport part. In a now-crowded field, that’s par for the course among its competitors. A pointed front end that features the Toyota logo jutting out from the grill, 18” wheels and taillights that stick out a little from the back end are about all that distinguish the RAV4 on the road.

The subtly handsome Magnetic Grey Metallic colour of my tester ought to appeal to buyers who want to keep a low profile. Flashier colour options include Barcelona Red Metallic and Electric Storm Blue.

Interior

Front heated seats and a heated steering wheel make this little hauler a comfortably cold-weather drive. Roominess all around is the order of the day, in the front seats and the back. The overall feel isn’t of luxury, but the great fit and finish, punctuated by contrasting stitching on leather surfaces, gives off a slightly upscale vibe.

The back seat is not cramped, even for tall people, although my thighs cold not rest on the seat cushions. As in its Lexus cousin, the RAV4’s  ceiling in the back seat slopes up before getting to where passengers’ heads would be. There’s no sense in having the cavity for the moonroof go all the way back to the hatch.

Two driver position memory switches will be handy for a vehicle that’s likely to be driven by more than one person, such is its utility. The manual says nothing about adjusting the side power mirrors, and the steering wheel is manually adjustable.

Hockey bag test

My equipment slid in easily and didn’t touch the sides, the rear seats or the tailgate when I closed it.

This is a utility hatch, given the netting that hangs from two bars that slide into purpose-built slots on the sides of the hatch. This netting was great for keeping small grocery bags from sliding around the cavernous hatch. It fits neatly under the privacy cover.

In-cabin technology

A 7” touchscreen lets front passengers decide what sounds come from the 11 speaker JBL Synthesis Audio System. The Limited ships with just about every option a driver could want, from Integrated Sirius XM to navigation to SMS-to-Speech and Email-to-Speech.

While most of this is easily accessible, the power liftgate buttons is, for some reason, hidden behind the steering wheel. Buyers will get used to feeling for it quickly enough, but I still don’t understand the logic of putting buttons behind the steering wheel where the driver can’t easily see it. FWIW, Toyota isn’t the only automaker to commit this design mistake.

Driving

The 2.5 Litre Hybrid Synergy engine puts power through a continuously variable transmission to the wheels. Ride quality was about as smooth as midwinter Toronto and area roads would allow. I had no complaints, and neither did any of my passengers.

image courtesy Toyota

Toyota didn’t trick out the RAV4 with trendy paddle shifters, which would seem out of place given the CVT. What is out of place is a shifter on the floor that lets drivers go to six preprogrammed “gears” (see image below).

image courtesy Toyota

Call me stodgy if you must, but the whole point of a hybrid is to let the car make the best choices under all driving conditions. Drivers who want to shift gears ought to find a vehicle with a proper manual transmission, clutch pedal and all. This is one area where Toyota could simplify the vehicle and maybe shave a few dollars off the price.

The centre stack boasts three drive mode buttons: EV, eco and sport. Sport proved useful on highway drives when a little extra passing power was called for. Otherwise, I let the Dynamic radar cruise control keep the pace.

Eco is what most buyers will likely use to get the fuel efficiency that hybrids promise. EV is handy for creeping around parking lots without burning a drop of gas. I also managed to keep the RAV4 battery-operated on certain residential streets at speeds of up to 30 km/h, and sometimes quicker, as long as I didn’t hit the acelerator too hard. Hit a long enough uphill slope, though, and it doesn’t matter how slow you go – the gas engine kicks in.

Stopping power comes from front ventilated discs and solid rear discs. Electronic break force distribution and brake assist ought to help keep “whoopsies” to a minimum.

The base RAV4 can be had for well under $30,000. Toyota can justify the elevated price of the Hybrid Limited given the active safety technology crammed into this trim level. Vehicle stability control, a traction control system, hill-start assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, even a trailer sway control feature (part of vehicle stability control) ought to help keep RAV4 drivers safely on the road.

And that’s just the technology hooked up to the drivetrain. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic gives drivers proverbial eyes in the backs of their heads. The RAV4 also ships with more modern sets of “eyes” known as the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection. The RAV4 beeps at you and flashes “BRAKE” on the multi-information display between the gauges if the vehicle gets a little too close to whatever’s in front of it.

Fuel economy

Toyota claims 6.8 L/100km city, which is where hybrids save gas. 7.8 L/100km on the highway is the same as the front-wheel-drive RAV4. I got pretty good combined mileage on lengthy drives, even recording under 7 L/100km. This might have been the most pleasant surprise in my whole week with the RAV4, which isn’t a small vehicle.

The RAV4 takes 87 octane fuel in its 56 litre tank.

Conclusions

The Limited 2017 RAV4 hybrid is a fully-loaded model – nothing is optional – so taxes and fees push the MSRP up to $43,648.47. Is it worth the premium? This vehicle’s utility is undeniable, and fuel consumption was better than I expected. People who do enough driving when the spigots are tightened will appreciate the hybrid’s frugality. Sure, it’s on the higher end of the price range for compact SUVs, but the RAV4 Hybrid has so much going for it – great ride, roominess, comfortable interior and fuel economy that rivals consumption in compact cars – that I expect many drivers will find this RAV4 a compelling choice.

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