If you have eyes and been outside in the past ten years, you may have noticed that SUV’s are everywhere. SUV’s have largely morphed away from the rugged, trucky, inefficient origins that made them the bane of the Prius crowd. With SUV’s becoming more car-like and surprisingly economical, the market has adopted them over traditional sedans. Toyota’s latest RAV4 greeted us in in XSE Hybrid trim and tried to make its case as a truly economical SUV. Does this RAV4 earn its ubiquity? After a week, the conclusion is a resounding yes.
Starting with the exterior design, our tester’s XSE trim brought some flair to the RAV4 that sets it apart from your grandma’s RAV4. With a black roof and black wheels to contrast with the dark blue paint, this RAV4 looked about as “sharp” as any cute-ute is going to. During its week stay in the LSB fleet, the RAV4 drew its fair share of admiring glances, mostly from other cute-ute drivers. Did we mention compact SUV’s are everywhere? Get the XSE trim if you want to stand out from the monotony. The XSE trim also spruces up the interior with contrasting blue accents in the seats, which looks more visually exciting than you may have been expecting. The seats, which are a vinyl grained to resemble leather, emitted a bizarre synthetic odor, which was not unique to our tester, as other Toyota’s with similar seat material smell similarly. You may just accept it as a “new-car smell,” but to this tester seasoned nose, it was peculiar and a bit off-putting.
Strange smells aside, the RAV4’s interior is a well-done take on what a cute-ute interior should be. Most of the materials are relatively hard, but seem durable, are grained nicely, and fit together well. All of the center stack controls are well weighted, which adds to a sense of quality in the cabin. The seats were initially comfortable, but lacked support, rolling out from under the legs early. Also, the seats were under-stuffed, and ultimately, flat and un-supportive. Not bad, but not the best in the segment. Toyota’s infotainment looks modern and was relatively easy to use. The Hybrid trim brings with it some energy-saving related information, if you’re into that kind of thing. The XSE Hybrid we had came equipped with a JBL sound system that was somewhere above decent and below great. The Bose system in the Mazda CX-5, for instance, is substantially more clear and had less distortion at high volume, but all but the most discerning audiophile will find the RAV4’s system to be perfectly enjoyable.
On the road, the RAV4’s chassis is exemplary. The steering is well-weighted and very accurate. Don’t expect any sort of road feedback or feel however, as the rack is totally numb. The RAV4 rides particularly well, with nearly perfect suspension damping in all scenarios. It could ultimately be somewhat less firm, but that would probably hinder what is the its’s most surprising dynamic virtue: its handling. Unlike RAV4’s of yore (of which I have driven each generation), this new one has been setup to handle surprisingly well. Corners never fazed the chassis unless absolutely stupid speeds were summoned; you get the feeling that you could keep up with most hot hatches through most corners at around 7/10ths driving. The RAV4 Hybrid’s engine and transmission do nothing to inspire the joys of driving, however. Although responsive off the line, the RAV’4s powertrain quickly loses steam above 45mph, emitting a generic “mooing” sound in the process. At least it’s quiet while mooing out all the power it can. The regenerative brakes in this generation feel very refined; not perfect, but its much easier to get in tune with these brakes than with prior generations. The pedal feel is much more natural and the build of braking forces much more “normal.
All that hybrid tech is good for something, however. Stepping up to the Hybrid trim level of the RAV4 actually brings authentically stellar fuel economy: even in the hot-footed LSB fleet, we managed a combined weekly average of 35 mpg, outstanding for a small SUV that was essentially driven at full throttle 75% of the time. Furthermore, the hybrid could ease along at low speeds totally under electric power, and even this lover of a loud V8 can admit it was nice to have a total lack of noise, vibration, or harshness behind the wheel.. The RAV4 Hybrid would be a nice place to spend stop and go traffic time, if there were ever a nice place to.
As an SUV, the RAV4 has strong practicality and utility baked right in. Room in front and back and in the cargo areas could best be described as “commodious;” if you can’t fit what you need inside it, you may very well just need a minivan. You can easily pack a weekend away for 2, 3, or 4 people in the RAV4, and everyone will arrive at their destination safely, reasonably comfortably, and in awe of the magical fuel economy earned by the clever hybrid system. Cute-utes may not be the first choice for driving enthusiasts, but their ubiquity suggests that they can’t be terrible; there *must* be something to them. The 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is about as strong a testament to the segments’ excellence as any. Scoring high on practicality, utility, economy and even style, the RAV4 goes to show that a cute-ute need not be a penalty box. Did we mention they’re everywhere?
|2020 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid
|Blueprint/Midnight Black Metallic||N/C|
|Black/Blue Interior Color||N/C|
|Adventure Grade Technology Package||$1,265|
|XSE Technology Package, Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation and JBL® and Dual Pano Moonroof||$2,760|
|As Tested MSRP||$38,180|