First Drive: Toyota RAV4 gets facelift and hybrid technology

The new hybrid variant is great for urban driving but comes at a premium

Make: Toyota

Model: RAV4

Year: 2016

Fuel: Hybrid

Date Reviewed: January 25, 2016

Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 01:00


Toyota may be one of the world’s biggest brands but it has also established itself as the pioneer hybrid brand at this stage. Sales of hybrid versions within the Toyota and Lexus brands have hit more than 8 million, and over a million Toyota hybrids have sold in Europe. Toyota’s hybrid sales experienced a 17 per cent increase in 2015 compared with 2014. One in three new Toyota vehicles sold in Europe are now hybrids.

With the hybrid trend expected to continue its growth, Toyota has introduced a new hybrid variant to its compact SUV, the RAV4. In Ireland the C-SUV segment had sales of 19,486 new vehicles in 2015, representing a market share of 15.6 per cent. Vehicles in this category include the ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-5, Honda HR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander.

This fourth generation RAV4 receives a midlife facelift for 2016, along with optional all-wheel drive and hybrid technology. The exterior design features a slimmer front grille with Toyota’s emblem prominently set in the centre, a wider grille sits below, LED daytime running lights are set within the light clusters.

The rear benefits from new LED lamp clusters along with a restyled bumper and diffuser. The interior offers all occupants comfort and freedom, with a solid feel to the main controls.

The driver’s instrument binnacle now incorporates a 4.2-inch display screen, with a 7-inch full-colour touchscreen housed in the centre console that controls the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system.

Powering the RAV4 hybrid is Toyota’s familiar 2.5-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine, combined with a 105 kilowatt electric motor. The all-wheel drive variant utilises a second rear-mounted 50 kilowatt electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Both models produce 197hp and are mated to an electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT).

Relaxed drive

We drove both the front- wheel drive and all-wheel drive models at launch. Initially the transmission interfered with our driving experience, if you accelerate firmly it sends the engine into a flurry of revs for what seems like an eternity, before settling down. You have to alter your driving style with a light right foot to extract the best from this automatic transmission.

Once you accept this and have a light touch to the accelerator the RAV4 comes into its own, offering an extremely relaxed drive around town and on the motorway. Parts of our test route took us up mountainous roads, high above the Spanish city of Alicante. If you push on along these tight and twisty roads, which are dotted with hairpins, the RAV4 experiences some understeer with a degree of body roll.

This won’t cause any apprehension for the vast majority of drivers who will rarely venture outside of the city. It’s here that the Mazda CX-5 wins over, offering a more involved driving experience with a tauter chassis.

On road, there is little to distinguish between the front-wheel and all-wheel drive variants, the all-wheel drive capabilities only come to the fore when you venture off-road. We would envisage the front-wheel drive model to account for the vast majority of Irish sales.

Combined fuel 

This new RAV4 hybrid is priced from €37,950, which represents an €8,000 premium over the 2.0-litre diesel entry-level model. Toyota Ireland estimates that 10 per cent of its RAV4 sales will be hybrid models. It’s hard to see the gains over the diesel model with such a large price gap. As it stands the diesel-powered RAV4 offers a very reasonable 143hp and 320Nm of torque, along with a combined fuel consumption of 4.7L/100km versus the hybrid’s 5.0L/100km.

Emissions are not too far apart either with the diesel model emitting 123g/km of CO2 compared to 115g/km for the hybrid. If the vast majority of your driving is in and around urban areas there is a case for the RAV4 hybrid, however it comes at a premium.

The lowdown: Toyota RAV4
: 2,494cc four-cylinder petrol with two permanent magnet synchronous electric motors putting out 197hp at 5,700rpm with an E-CVT automatic transmission
Performance: 0-100km/h 8.3 seconds, max speed 180km/h
Economy: Combined 5.0l/100km (56.5mpg)
Emissions (motor tax):E 115g/km (€200)
Specifications: Standard features on the Hybrid Sol include 18” alloy wheels, leather upholstery, power tailgate, front and rear parking sensors, 7” Toyota Touch 2, cruise control, reverse camera, front fog lights and Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Price: RAV4 Hybrid from €37,950 (Hybrid Sol as tested €41,500)