Toyota made a big push with its redesigned 2019 RAV4 compact SUV, updating and improving it with a tougher look (especially in its Adventure trim level), a better-appointed interior with plusher materials, and a more sophisticated ride-and-handling balance.
Not that it needed to be totally revamped: The outgoing 2018 model was not only Toyota’s biggest seller, it outsold every other vehicle in the United States except for the three most popular full-size pickup trucks.
While we’ve tested several of the latest RAV4s and found them to be more attractive and engaging to drive than before, the conventional models also are noisy and can offer less value than some competitors, such as the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5.
The RAV4 hybrid variant, however, addresses one of those negatives and delivers far better fuel economy in the process.
We’ve already vetted the conventional RAV4 in isolation as well as pitted it against the class-leading and 10Best-winning Mazda CX-5 in a comparison test.
But the hybrid model returns impressive advantages over its stablemate in fuel efficiency and performance.
Thanks to the extra torque provided by the hybrid system, which powers the rear wheels through a rear-mounted electric motor, it felt considerably peppier than the standard RAV4 despite weighing 156 pounds more.
(A second electric motor, along with a 176-hp 2.5-liter inline-four, powers the front wheels; total system output amounts to 219 horses.)
That seat-of-the-pants impression was backed up by its 7.4-second zero-to-60-mph time, which is 0.7 second quicker than an all-wheel-drive nonhybrid Adventure model we tested that was powered by a 203-hp version of the 2.5-liter.
Along with quicker acceleration comes fuel economy that buries the standard-engine RAV4’s.
The EPA rates the hybrid at 40 mpg combined, 41 city, and 38 highway versus the lesser RAV4’s already good 30 mpg combined, 27 city, and 34 highway.
We saw 37 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, handily beating the RAV4 Adventure’s 32 mpg, and our observed mixed-driving average of 32 mpg is 9 mpg better than the normal version’s.
The hybrid’s slightly smaller 225/60R-18 Dunlop Grandtrek PT20 all-season tires, however, don’t grip the road as strongly as our previous test car’s 235/55R-19 Toyo A39 Open Country all-seasons.
The hybrid’s 182-foot stop from 70 mph is a significant 21 feet longer than the nonhybrid’s, and its orbit around the skidpad fell from 0.84 g to 0.81 g.
Familiar Yet Better
The RAV4 hybrid shares its distinctive looks with the regular model—although it cannot be had in the more butch Adventure trim—as well as its handsome and roomy interior, a long list of standard safety tech, comfortable front seats, and its nicely balanced ride, handling, and steering.
Aside from the mushiness of its standard continuously variable automatic transmission versus the conventional model’s eight-speed automatic, it’s almost impossible to tell you’re driving a hybrid.
Its 1.6-kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery pack is small enough to fit under the rear seat, so there’s no loss in passenger or cargo space.
Possibly best of all, in a RAV4 hybrid your ears won’t ring from the aural assault doled out by the standard RAV4’s obnoxious, grating engine note.
At 73 decibels at wide-open throttle, the hybrid’s sound reading is 3 decibels quieter than the regular version’s, although noise levels are about the same at a 70-mph cruise.
This compact ute will never sing Ferrari-style arias, but the sounds coming from under the hood are notably muffled and are now at least acceptable compared to other vehicles in this class.
Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay for the RAV4 hybrid’s improvements. While the hybrid’s pricing opens at $28,945 for the LE model, our loaded Limited test vehicle stickered at $40,160.
A top-spec Touring version of the Honda CR-V is significantly cheaper at around $35K, and the Mazda CX-5 Signature is comparable to the Toyota in price but feels downright luxurious when driven back to back.
Adding the hybrid powertrain to most of the RAV4’s trim levels costs $2200—with one notable exception.
The XSE hybrid, which is equipped similarly to the conventional midrange Adventure trim, costs only $800 more at $34,945 to start.
That pricing structure may be confusing, but it makes the XSE hybrid the clear value play of the lineup, and the one we’d recommend if you have to have a new RAV4.