In the highly competitive market for compact SUVs, it's helpful to offer a hybrid option, and no automaker produces more hybrids than Toyota. The company is also a leader in SUVs generally, and the leadership is strongest in the particular go-anywhere niche occupied by the RAV4. Toyota sold over 350,000 of these sturdy little SUVs last year.
Many compact SUVs are designed for urban use. They may offer all-wheel-drive, but they're really designed for household utility. But the RAV4 has always been a little more aggressive when it comes to leaving the pavement. That's a key feature, and it's helped keep the RAV4 as one of the best-selling small SUVs on the market.
The RAV4 engine is a capable 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, with Toyota's proven Hybrid Synergy electric motor system. The engine is mated to a continuously variable transmission, and Toyota's respected All-Wheel-Drive system. The result is plenty of power under your foot, and variable gearing to get you and your gear up the trail. On top of that, you'll still get 34 MPG in the city, and 31 on the highway, which is great for an SUV of this size.
Toyota also offers the RAV4 with as much safety equipment as you can find in any passenger car or SUV on the market. In the higher-end Limited trim, you'll find features including traction and stability controls, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, front and rear-looking parking sonar, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, backup camera and auto high beams.
Inside, the RAV4 is comfortable for five adults. In keeping with Toyota's new philosophy that its vehicles should not be boring, the RAV4 offers some bold interior styling, with features like saddle brown leather upholstery inserts that Toyota calls "Terra Cotta." You might love it as I did, or you might hate it, but Toyota deserves some praise for offering a distinct alternative to basic black.
The bold color treatments continue outside — the test model I drove was a beautiful brilliant jewel blue, which Toyota calls "Electric Storm Blue." Any bright and cheerful color is a welcome relief from the endless procession of nondescript silver and gray SUVs on the market today.
On the road, the RAV4 hybrid has no bad habits. It's got enough power to keep most people happy, and you'll enjoy the visibility from sitting up higher than in a passenger car. The RAV4 handles like a crossover SUV, which is to say it's less nimble than a passenger car, but better than a truck. With good performance and an excellent feature list, there are many reasons why the 2017 Toyota RAV4 hybrid is one of the most popular choices on the market.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Base price: $29,990
Price as tested: $36,231
Type: Compact Hybrid SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 cylinder with electric motor (194 hp, 206 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable
Road noise: Average
EPA estimated mileage: 34 city/31 highway
Overall length: 184 inches
Curb weight: 3,630 pounds
Final assembly: Aichi, Japan