2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review

Toyota amps up its compact crossover for 2016.

The Toyota RAV4 is a pioneering compact crossover. It debuted about two decades ago when this nascent segment was little more than a glimmer of the blinding glory it would eventually achieve in the 21st century.

At the time of its introduction, customers were buying traditional, body-on-frame SUVs at a biblical pace, driving them onto public roads like a plague of insects descending on verdant farmland; no parking space or suburban thoroughfare was safe when this horde arrived.

Despite intense competition from these ungainly behemoths, something compounded by the inexpensive petroleum distillates that fueled them, Toyota found a sweet spot with its right-sized RAV4.

It offered a groundbreaking blend of car-like handling, comfort and efficiency in a package that provided station wagon versatility and soft-road capability. This recipe has been a sales success for 20 years and the addition of a gasoline-electric model looks like it’s only going to continue this tradition.

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Greater Efficiency AND Improved Performance

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid brings some impressive digits to the table. Out of the gate, it stickers at 34 miles per gallon highway and 31 in around-town motoring. Combined, it averages a claimed 33 mpg according to the U.S. EPA. Those figures are significantly better than what the standard model can muster. A “regular” all-wheel-drive RAV4 squeezes just 25 combined miles out of a gallon of dinosaur juice.

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Hybrid variants feature a specially modified 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It runs on the Atkinson cycle, a unique adaptation of the conventional four-stroke process. By delaying the closing of the intake valves, the engine is allowed to extract more out of the provided air-fuel mixture. This is great for hybrids and other applications where efficiency is paramount, though lousy for all-out performance.

A compact, high-torque electric motor augments this conventional internal-combustion engine. It’s fed by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack with a capacity of 6.5 ampere hours. All told, this electrified drivetrain puts out 194 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque.

Non-hybrid RAV4s are also hauled around by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, though it’s a bit less powerful, churning out 176 horses and 172 lb-ft of torque. In lieu of a continuously variable transmission, standard models feature a six-speed automatic gearbox.

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Of course, various control modules, an inverter, converter and other high-tech bits (and bytes) are required to make the hybrid system work. Fortunately, all of this is backed by Toyota for eight years or 100,000 miles. Certain states mandate even lengthier coverage. The vehicle’s battery pack is guaranteed for a decade or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first.

With all of that technical malarkey out of the way, what does this system do for the driver? Well, it can propel the RAV4 Hybrid to 60 miles an hour in just 8.1 seconds, which may not sound very impressive until you realize that it’s nearly a second quicker than gasoline-powered versions. Additionally, the hybrid model can travel more than half a mile solely on electricity at speeds less than 25 miles an hour.

Additionally, all amped-up RAV4s feature all-wheel drive, but it’s not four-corner grip like you’re used to. Instead of driveshafts and clutch packs, differentials and actuators, it uses a second electric motor mounted at the rear of the vehicle, which powers the aft wheels, providing extra grip when needed and minimizing parasitic losses the rest of the time. How’s that for a nifty parlor trick?

Appearance, Trim and Pricing

The refreshed 2016 Toyota RAV4 is offered in four different trim levels, though the Hybrid model is only available in XLE and Limited formats. Base price for one of these gasoline-electric crossovers is $29,270, including 900 buckaroos in shipping and handling fees. If you’re good with a calculator, that’s just $700 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid variant but a fair chunk of change more than a bottom-feeding, front-drive base model. They can be had for just $25,250, again, including destination charges.

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Outside, all 2016 RAV4s are dressed up with a bolder front fascia, new rocker covers and revised trim pieces around back. Available LED headlights give this crossover a more premium appearance, especially at night. Optional front and rear parking sensors make it a little easier to maneuver in crowded urban settings.

Three new exterior colors are also on the menu. These hues include Silver Sky Metallic, Electric Storm Blue and Black Currant Metallic

Aside from the availability of a hybrid model, the other big news with this crossover is a sporty SE trim level. This version ups the sport ante for 2016 with retuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, paddle shifters and more.

In addition to all of this, SE versions of the new RAV4 can be dressed up with a unique S-Code paint treatment, which changes all of the black molding to silver. This may sound a bit odd, but in person it’s quite striking.

Foundational Changes

As for actual engineering changes, Toyota made a few to this vehicle. It added more spot welds and extra mounts to the rear suspension. These enhancements reduce the intrusion of noise and vibration and help improve vehicle stability. New shock absorbers and retuned springs have been added at all four corners.

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An updated ABS actuator with fewer channels and less fluid supposedly provides a more linear feel to the pedal, which is always appreciated.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Toyota Prius Review – VIDEO

A larger floor silencer pad and an extra helping of noise-abatement material further enhances the RAV4’s refinement. These minor but appreciated alterations should make it the quietest one ever.

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Beyond all of this, hill-start assist is standard on every model, drivers can opt for an adjustable-height liftgate and Toyota Safety Sense is also available. This suite of cutting-edge features adds things like automatic high beams, lane-departure warning and pedestrian detection.

And if you’re curious, hybrid RAV4s have nearly 71 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, about three less than regular models.

The Drive

The RAV4 hybrid drives well. As expected, it’s quiet, refined and economical, plus acceleration is surprisingly strong, with a swell of electric torque hitting hard at lower speeds.

After decades of continual refinement, Toyota’s hybrid technology leads the industry. The RAV4’s engine, electric motor and transmission work together in near seamless harmony. This drivetrain switches between different modes almost without the driver noticing. If it weren’t for animations on the display screen, most people would have no clue an electro-mechanical symphony is being performed all around them.

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Like other hybrids this RAV4 has the ability to creep along solely on electric power, which is neat, though with less than one mile of range, it’s of fairly limited usefulness.

The vehicle’s regenerative braking is easy to modulate with none of the jerkiness found in earlier hybrid vehicles. Overall, there’s nothing about the way this highly functional compact crossover carries itself that should deter you from considering one.

The Verdict: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review

The new RAV4 – in all is forms – should be available at Toyota dealerships across the country right now. The company is on track to deliver more than 300,000 of these family-friendly trucklettes in 2015 and in future years they’re looking to grow that number to 400 grand – or more. With the improvements they’ve made and the addition of a hybrid model this growth trajectory seems plausible.

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Company representatives estimate the gasoline-electric variant will account for anywhere between 10 and 15 percent of the mix. Given the way it drives and the efficiency benefits it offers, there’s no reason not to get the hybrid. In fact, for these reasons and more it may be the best model in the RAV4 range.

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