Test Drive: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The 2018 Toyota RAV4 will be replaced this winter with an all-new model that looks both beefier and more upscale in publicity photos. But if you want the highest mileage version, the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, you're going to have wait awhile. It won't be available until early next year.
Which makes the outgoing 2018 version worth considering now. Although the one will undoubtably have a lot of improvements and new features, it will also be more expensive, too. So if you're interested in a compact crossover with good mileage and all-wheel-drive -- and you don't need the newest everything -- now is the time to visiit your local Toyota dealer.
Even a short test drive will convince you that the current version of the RAV4 Hybrid has a lot going for it. For starters, it's stylish without being overly flashy. It has a tremendous amount of interior room for a compact crossover, including a lot behind the back row of seats. The ride is smooth and comfortable. And of course it gets good mileage, an EPA estimated 34 mpg in town and 30 on the highway.
And while it isn't the fastest compact crossover on the market, accelaration is reasonable -- and actually faster than the non-hybrid version. That's because it comes with the same 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine but adds three electric motors that boost fuel economy. Together, they produce 194 horsepower, compared to 176 for the non-hybrid version.
On top of that, one of the electric motors drives the rear wheels, which means the Rav4 Hybrid comes standards with all-wheel-drive. That's especially important in the wet Pacific Northwest. While no mechanical driveshaft connects the engine to the rear wheels, we found the 2016 version handled slick trails pretty well during that year's Mudfest, the annual competition of outdoor activity vehicles conducted by the Pacific Northwest Automotive Press Association.
In fact, the 2018 is one of only two affordable hybrid crossovers with awd on the market. The other is the new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which is good, but costs more because it is a plug-in hybrid. Subura offered a hybrid version of the last generation Crosstrek, but dropped it when the current model came out. Its mileage wasn't significantly better that the gas-only version, but it had a lot more power.
RAV4 is an acronym for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4WD. It may be the most influential motor vehicle in the last 20 years. If that sounds like an overstatement, consider that the RAV4 was the first compact crossover sold in America. Since it was introduced in 1995, compact crossovers have become the hottest automotive market niche. Practically every automaker now offers one, including luxury manufacturers.
This year, the RAV4 comes stadard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P), which combines the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC). It is one of the most advanced safety systems in the world to be offered in even base models.
Although all hybrids still cost more than equivilent gas-only vehicles, an available state rebate can help lower the price. The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid starts at a reasonable $27,235 for the base LE model, but can climb to over $34,000 for the top-of-the-line Limited model without additional options. Our well-equipped SE model was priced at $36,450.
Although the additional cost might not seem worth it now, gas prices are increasing after a prolonged period below the highs of previous years. The higher they go, the more sense the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid makes -- or the 2019 version if you're willing to wait that long.
2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Base price: $27,235
Price as tested: $36,340
Type: Compact crossover
Engine: 2.5-liter inline 4 plus three electric motors (194 hp)
Transmission: Continuously Variable with Eco and Sport modes
EPA estimated mileage: 34/30
Overall length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,925-3,950 pounds
Final assembly: Obu, Aichi, Japan