The new 2019 Toyota RAV4 hybrid takes what’s been good about the RAV4 and adds a few new, exciting wrinkles to the mix. Find out what’s pushing this new hybrid to the top of the pack.
Toyota knows what they’re doing with the RAV4. Its quietly become not just the best-selling SUV, but the best-selling non-truck in America, supplanting Toyota’s own Camry last year. Unassuming though it may be, it turns out people value consistency, reliability, and affordability. Jeeps and Subies might inspire more vocal devotees, but Americans vote with their wallets and they have clearly, if quietly, fallen for the RAV4.
The RAV4 has firmly entrenched itself in that sweet spot of quality and affordability and done quite well for Toyota as a result. But we’ve got to say the 2019 update to the RAV4 hybrid surprised with its punchy acceleration, aggressive styling, and a combined mpg rating that’ll prove the envy of the segment. The RAV4 hybrid builds on the ethos of being good at everything while not being great at any one thing, only now there are in fact great things about this RAV4.
The revised hybrid system in the RAV4 combines a 2.5L 4-cylinder paired with an electric motor for 219hp, higher than the conventional RAV4. The hybrid features a well-tuned CVT and AWD comes standard across the hybrid trims. The hybrid engine provided a welcomed new level of pep to the RAV4 that we found both enjoyable on the street and useful in highway passing.
Far and away the most impressive aspect of the new RAV4 was the gas mileage. The new hybrid sets the standard with a 41 city mpg, a 38 highway mpg, and a 40 combined mpg. That’s 10 mpg better than the standard RAV4 and tops in the class.
A word on the aesthetics of the RAV4. The popular SUV underwent a face-lift for this latest iteration, ditching the rounded lines of the prior generation for a more aggressive visage. While I for one am not entirely in love with the expansive lattice-works on the front of the RAV4, I did like the RAV4 Adventure’s mean looking grill. Too bad it’s exclusive to the Adventure and not available on any of the RAV4 hybrids. Maybe next year they can add that grill to the already best choice, the hybrid’s XSE trim level.
A close second to the improved gas mileage, the new-found kick coming from the RAV4 hybrid impressed us. Long gone are the early days of lackluster Prius acceleration, Tesla Roadsters and hybrid supercars like the Aston Martin Valkyrie have proven electric motors have the goods. The RAV4 hybrid isn’t going to blow your socks off, but it surprised us with its zippy highway passing. At 219hp, the RAV4 hybrid beats out the regular RAV4 (203hp) in raw power both on paper and on pavement.
Additionally, the 2019s re-tuned suspension, stiffer body, and improved steering combine to produce a much-improved driving experience from prior iterations of the RAV4. A well-tuned CVT responds to throttle inputs with no discernable delay. The once unremarkable drive has been successfully re-engineered into one we can credibly call engaging.
This isn’t to call the RAV4 hybrid perfect. There’s still a bit of detectable body roll in turning and the steering from center can feel vague at times, but overall the new RAV4 hybrid feels well-balanced and the handling is much improved.
The XSE trim level, a “sport” level in all but name, adds further tuning to the suspension producing a stiffer ride but also improving the handling.
The RAV4 hybrid also boasts 8.1-inches of ground clearance and 1750lbs of towing capacity. Cargo space is slightly above average with the rear seats up, at 37 cu. ft. and slightly below average with the seats down, at 69 cu. ft.
Interior materials in the new RAV4 hybrid are a cut above average. Nowhere is this more evident than in the base model where the quality of small details shines through. The textured, grippy rubber used in the cubby holes and dials and the quality cloth of even the entry-level upholstery were especially nice. Those seats can get more dressed up, too. The hybrid version of the RAV4 extends its signature blue accents all the way from the badging to the XSE’s SoftTex cloth seating.
In front, those seats do an able job cradling passenger and driver in turns. They’re not quite as cushy as you’ll find in a new Ford, who’ve set a high bar for comfortable seating, but they’re still pretty good. The rear seats were a little flatter than we liked, but this was balanced out somewhat by the ability to lean them back.
Cabin space was ample both fore and aft. Legroom in the rear was a cut above the average for the segment and there was plenty of elbowroom for driver and passenger alike. The battery pack is located under the rear seats so there’s virtually no space sacrificed in the hybridizing. The ceiling, however, has been lowered somewhat, and, when combined with the riding position up front, can lead taller drivers feeling constricted.
Visibility is good out the front windshield with the narrow A-pillars, but even with the optioned panoramic moonroof the RAV4 hybrid isn’t quite as open and airy as the Subaru Forester (an admittedly tough bar to match).
As we mentioned above, the RAV4 hybrid has an updated suspension that does well to absorb undulations and reduce sway around corners. Though you won’t confuse the RAV4 for a sporty SUV, despite the improved acceleration. Instead the real attraction here is how the RAV4 doesn’t call attention to itself. Inconspicuous isn’t a bad thing in this case.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of advanced safety features making their way into new cars. Like Subaru, Toyota has made the decision to offer many of these as standard features (as opposed to other manufacturers who still reserve such items for their higher trims).
Toyota’s Safety Sense provides forward collision and pedestrian warnings, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings, lane keep assist, road sign recognition, and automatic high beams.
Even the LE (base) level trim features quality materials that are a level above the entry points of comparably priced vehicles. We especially liked the XSE trim level which adds a sport tuned suspension and makes available an ungraded tech package including an 8-inch touchscreen, JBL 11-speaker sound system, Intelligence Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross-Traffic Breaking, and wireless cell-phone charging. The XSE ended up being the best mix of higher-end features and performance while not tipping over into the excessive. We felt the Limited Hybrid, the uppermost trim, was a little much for our tastes (and pocketbooks).
Dual-zone climate control, Entune 3.0 Infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, Blindspot Monitor (optional), Trail and EV mode selection buttons,
Smart key entry for front doors and liftgate, 5 USB ports, automatic high beams, powerslide moonroof (optional), XLE Weather and Tech package (opt.).
18” wheels, sport tuned suspension, two-tone exterior, heated front seats, tech package including JBL stereo and panoramic moonroof.
Heated rear seats, On-Demand AWD, “Advanced” tech package includes Bird’s-Eye View camera, hands-free power liftgate, wireless phone charger.
In the seemingly never-ending quest to find the most all-encompassing, most practical, most set-it-and-forget-it of all consumer vehicles the 2019 RAV4 hybrid makes a compelling case for itself.
Sure, the Mazda CX-5 might be more fun to drive and have a swankier interior. Sure, the Forester might ride better and feature more headroom (and a CD player!). But that 40-mpg rating and the snappy throttle response (with a CVT no less) kept calling us back to the RAV4 hybrid.
In the landscape of tough choices that is the midsize SUV segment, the RAV4’s new hybrid version may be what further distinguishes this class leader from the rest of the pack.