2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: The Dependable One

I’m sometimes criticized for my choices among peers for supporting Toyota cars. As an auto journo and enthusiast, I guess I’m expected to only drool over Celicas and the Supras but I love pretty much everything it makes.

The simple reason for that is, you can buy any Toyota and chances are it will outlast everything else you own. Irrespective of what it makes, you can trust a Toyota to work no matter what is thrown at it. Toyota cars are like that dependable friend that is always there to fetch you when you’re in a pickle.

They might not be the best looking of the group, not the brightest nor the most athletic, but they are dependable. And that’s why I have the respect for Toyota that I do. And with that relative bias in mind, I stepped into the 2020 RAV4 Hybrid for a week-long review.

Let’s drive

Clearly, with this being a hybrid, I should be explaining about the hybrid system and its frugality first. But sometimes it’s better to start with topics that will require a little less real estate.

It drives well, there are no two ways about it. It drives as a monocoque crossover should and I can’t fault its ride either. The suspension is on the softer side but it feels planted on the highway and quite comfortable on city roads and even bad surfaces and undulations. It does tend to unsettle if you go over bumps on an angle especially while turning. It isn’t entirely uncomfortable but you will notice it.

The RAV4 hybrid comes with AWD as standard but it’s an on-demand system that only activates when the system detects a slip or loss of traction. Although that will be rare unless it’s winter as the hybrid rides on 225-section Michelin Primacy4 tires that are as grippy as they are quiet. Yes, they don’t last as long as other harder compound rubber out there and are pricey to replace. But the cost of nearly $1,000 a set is worth the grip and comfort they provide.

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If you are looking for a crossover that will pull at your heartstrings, look elsewhere. The steering, while light in the city and nicely weighted on the highway, lacks feel while the brakes lack a sense of connection. You are never really sure where the bite begins. But if you press, they work every single time. If you are seriously considering buying a RAV4, driving dynamics are likely quite low on the priority list.

Frugality

But this is a topic of interest. The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle engine makes 219 combined horsepower from the hybrid powertrain and upwards of 230 lb-ft of torque. That makes the RAV4 hybrid quite sprightly to drive, especially on the highway. Overtakes are quick and non-dread invoking, especially when overtaking a semi. And all your spurs of enthusiasm seem to have little effect on the frugality of the RAV4 hybrid. Be warned though, if you think you’ll cruise home easy in full-electric mode, you’re in for a small disappointment.

The battery capacity is 1.6 kWh which translates to a full EV mode of about three miles. But what you might lose in bragging rights, you gain on average. The battery might be tiny but the electric motor on the rear axle steps in wherever it can. Going off a green signal, you can feel the lack of activity from the engine bay before the engine spurs to life once you gain some momentum. So in essence, it tries to minimize the stress on the combustion engine as much as possible. As a result of those tiny pushes here and there, it returned 41 mpg overall. Unfortunately, though, it runs out of juice in rush hour traffic pretty quickly. But unless you’re always in rush hour traffic, you should be fine.

Seats of the pants

This is usually the first or the second on the buy-car priority list—as it should be—because no matter how good the car looks, you sit in it. And the hybrid’s cabin feels high quality. The trim we had for the review was the XSE which starts from $35,475 (including destination) and comes with soft-feel plastic on the dash that feels upmarket. There is stitched faux leather upholstery everywhere, including the door panels which is a nice touch. There’s an electrically adjustable driver’s seat but no memory function.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Ford Escape Titanium Review

The cabin is a pleasant place to be. You will genuinely enjoy the feel of the cabin and the comfort of the seats. Front seats offer great back comfort and side support but tend to feel a tad higher than they should be, even on the lowest setting. Passengers on the rear bench get at least 31.7 inches of realistic legroom with the front seats occupied which is adequate even for taller passengers. The front is airy and the rear glasshouse is quite large too but the size of the standard sunroof eats into the feeling of space. But worry not, there is plenty of it, especially in the trunk.

With a 38-inch depth the trunk is quite cavernous and thanks to sitting just 27 inches off the ground it is easily accessible too. In terms of luggage, it swallowed my three-year old’s almost 45-pound stroller and his bicycle with ease. The trunk cover though could be of better quality.

On the move, the cabin feels quiet and comfortable. The NVH is quite good and not much sound filters into the cabin especially at city speeds. Out on the highway there is little tire roar to report but that, as we mentioned before, is in part thanks to the tires. But you will hear large vehicles woosh by at speed and there is a fair amount of wind noise north of 60mph as well. Having said that, the NVH is better than the Ford Escape hybrid.

The Achilles heel

Our tester came with the optional $2,260 Technology package which adds automatic braking to the parking assist for both front and rear, an 11-speaker JBL audio system, and Qi-enabled wireless charging to the existing package which comes with an 8.0-inch screen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard.

The specs look decent on paper but in application, the infotainment system needs to be replaced. It is not intuitive; you constantly need to fish for menus and controls. Figuring out controls is a task in its own right. Though the navigation works, you will find it hard to get rid of the split-screen. There is no pinch-to-zoom and the brightness doesn’t automatically adjust when it’s dark out. This means, you either have the screen off or have a chandelier light up in your face while you drive.

Thankfully though, the map also visible on the all-digital instrument cluster which means you can have the screen off is you like. But it’s not one touch and you still have to deal with the dreaded menus. The infotainment truly is the Achilles’ heel of the otherwise plush and comfortable RAV4 cabin.

Left to its own devices

As I said before everything works fine and nothing falters especially not the driver assistance systems. A few other adaptive cruise control systems tend to accelerate while changing lanes or while merging into traffic but Toyota’s system maintains its speed unless prompted otherwise by the driver. Some would argue that it is better to accelerate while changing lanes to be safer, but the maneuver is unnerving when making an exit off the freeway. So in that regard, the decision should be left up to the driver and kudos to Toyota for that.

Also, the adaptive cruise control system leaves extra room between it and the car in front. Which is a good thing as it leaves room for error in case the driver needs to step in to take control back from the car. The only gripe here is the braking. In cruise mode, you sometimes tend to think that the system isn’t working properly as it brakes later than it should. The experience can be a bit alarming at first but then you do get used to it. And same is the case with acceleration. The system wants to climb as fast as it can to the specified speed and then coast. The acceleration is rarely gradual and you can feel the urgency that is not always pleasant.

Aesthetic appeal

The current generation RAV4 is easily the best looking RAV4 so far and the hybrid is the best looking of the lot, though I think the RAV4 Prime in red would be the best RAV4 ever and not just the best looking.

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The overall design is striking and though the front fascia is a bit aggressive, the overall design doesn’t seem overtly so or trying too hard. The slightly sloping roofline and the sleek tail lamps give the RAV4 a sleek appearance and it looks a bit more compact than it is. Then there are the underbody vortex generators and active grille shutters that maximize aerodynamic efficiency which is honestly, quite cool. Though I could have done without the plastic panels on the A and C-pillars and the gloss roof rails as they would be the first to scratch if you mounted anything on the roof.

Verdict: 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The Toyota RAV4 is a robust, idiot-proof family crossover that works flawlessly in every situation. The cabin is plush and comfortable, there is plenty of space and a pliant ride. And if you don’t find the XSE to be premium enough, you can upgrade to the Limited and opt for the panoramic moonroof package which definitely helps the feeling of space. And did we mention the trunk space? It can carry a child’s bicycle in the back without folding the seats.

Driving feel, rather the lack of it is a downside but yet, less bothersome than the infotainment system which Toyota should really sort out with the 2021 model. If you can move past the infotainment system and get used to it, the RAV4 is an ideal family car, one that will never leave you in a lurch.