Toyota RAV4 HEV is breaking the boring stigma associated with hybrids

If there’s one crossover that has been overshadowed by SUVs, it’s the RAV4. Ever since the Fortuner arrived in the mid-2000s, the compact crossover has (figuratively) taken the back seat as its pickup-based sibling drove up the sales of Toyota’s fleet of high-riding SUVs.

Does this mean the RAV4 is no longer relevant to the Philippine market? Not exactly. Despite not being as popular as before, the RAV4 continues to be a favorite amongst niche buyers that still prefer a compact crossover with the ’T’ badge.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

But how do you reinvent what used to be a popular model into something that attracts more (niche) buyers and at the same time helps the environment in the process? By turning it into a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). That’s right, just like the updated Camry HEV launched late last year, the Toyota RAV4 joins Toyota’s (growing) list of electrified models.

But is going hybrid the right way for the RAV4? Does having an electrified powertrain mean it will have better fuel economy over the non-hybrid variants? And is the RAV4 Hybrid worth the paycheck to save on fuel bills in the long run?

Subtle Changes

Before we jump right into the RAV4's new hybrid powertrain, let's first take a look at what Toyota changed exterior-wise. While it may still look like the pre-updated version, it actually gets some neat styling updates.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

Immediately catching my attention were the revised LED headlights. Compared to the ones fitted on the pre-facelift version, the Hybrid gets new projector-style units, as well as a more distinct pair of LED daytime running lights. It also comes with a new set of LED foglights complete with new bezels.

Also new on the RAV4 Hybrid are the 18-inch alloy wheels that come with a twin-spoke design. Not only do the new wheels freshen up the crossover's design, they actually look better than the ones fitted on the 2.5 LTD from before.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

As much as I tried to see if there were any changes to its rear, the RAV4 Hybrid still looks the same as its non-hybrid counterparts. From the LED taillights, angular tailgate, black accents, and black body cladding, Toyota didn't bother to change the crossover's rear.

Some might argue Toyota could have done more to make the RAV4 Hybrid stand out from the crowd. But then again, that might have made the Hybrid more expensive. At least Toyota made some neat updates to the electrified crossover. Did we mention the RAV4 now comes with T badges that feature a blue halo?

Interior Updates

If the exterior saw some subtle updates here and there, the interior relatively remains the same. Those familiar with the RAV4 2.5 LTD will find the LTD Hybrid's cabin similar and still brimming with features.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

For starters, it gets dual-zone automatic climate control, full-leather interior, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, six-speaker sound system, power-adjustable driver's seat with memory function, moon roof, heated and ventilated front seats, and a wireless charging pad for mobile phones.

What's new are two new screens on the dashboard. First up is a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display. Aside from the fact that it's bigger than before, it now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also comes with Bluetooth, and USB for good measure.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

The other display is a 7-inch multi-info screen. It now serves to show drivers what's going on with the hybrid system while the vehicle is in motion. It can also display average fuel consumption, real-time powertrain monitoring, as well as your Eco Score, to see just how fuel-efficient the drive is. And instead of a traditional rev counter, it gets a unique charging display that shows when the system is recharging or providing extra oomph to the powertrain.

Speaking of powertrain, it's about time we talked about the RAV4's new engine.

A Hybrid Heart

The best thing about the RAV4 HEV, is its powertrain. It has a 2.5-liter, naturally-aspirated inline-four that’s helped along by an electric motor. The engine alone makes 178 PS and 221 Nm of torque. Compared to the 2.5-liter Dynamic Force that produces 203 PS with 243 Nm of pull from the pre-facelift version, this one makes slightly less power.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

But thanks to an electric motor, the RAV4 HEV has a total system output of 218 PS. This means it makes 15 PS more than the Dynamic Force engine. Combined torque output was not mentioned, but based on my ‘butt dyno’, it makes more than what the brochure says.

No eight-speed automatic transmission here as Toyota swapped it with a CVT. It even gets different driving modes that include Eco, Normal, and Sport. We'll talk more about those driving modes later.

Cool, Calm & Collected

With a push of a button, all that you hear is a beep to signal it's ready to go. That's because the RAV4 Hybrid always starts on EV mode, provided there's sufficient charge from the batteries. Put the transmission to 'D' and you're ready to go to your destination.

With a light tap on the accelerator pedal, the crossover moves with ease. Keep a light foot on the accelerator and the RAV4 will actually keep on moving on just electric power when you're just tooling around town. If you want to go faster, the system will seamlessly switch to the gasoline engine, and back when needed.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

Thanks to good sound insulation, outside noise is kept to a minimum. However, it's a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to riding comfort. When seated in the front seats, ride quality is actually alright. But once you're seated at the back, ride quality is slightly stiffer. While it dampened the overall riding comfort of the hybrid, this could have been deliberately done in order to offset the weight of the batteries at back. After all, this is a hybrid electric vehicle, and the batteries do make the crossover heavier.

Fast Mover

Despite the added weight, forget every notion you have about hybrids being slow and boring. With a combined system output of nearly 220 PS, the RAV4 Hybrid is no slouch. Thanks to the electrified powertrain, it's actually quite fast on its feet.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

Even when driving on Normal Mode, once you bury your foot on the accelerator, there's immediate acceleration going to the wheels. Set the vehicle to Sport Mode, and the revs are sharper while the hybrid system sends all available power to the engine at the cost of fuel efficiency. As the RAV4 Hybrid was doing a great job during the drive event, we actually kept it on Normal mode most of the time. And if you really do want to have some fun, it comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

Show the RAV4 Hybrid some turns and the crossover will oblige. But since it has batteries at the back, it's slightly heavier compared to other crossovers. You could actually feel the weight of the batteries as you turn into tight bends or corners. Still, thanks to the hybrid's light steering, pointing the crossover turn after turn was easy.

Fuel Sipper

One of the best attributes of the RAV4 HEV is its improved fuel economy. Sure, we were able to achieve 15.5 km/l with the non-hybrid LTD. But Toyota believes the RAV4 can do so much better as a hybrid.

And true enough, the electrified crossover was able to prove that it can sip much less fuel. With a chill drive from Quezon City all the way to Clark, Pampanga, we were able to achieve 18.5 km/l with the RAV4 Hybrid. We actually had to double-check if our readings were correct and it came back with the same results.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

The result was also similar when we drove from Clark, Pampanga to Tarlac City, Tarlac. At an average speed of 100 km/h (thanks to adaptive cruise control), the RAV4 was able to return around 18.2 km/l. It's a little bit lower compared to our previous run as it involved some overtaking but this proves that the hybrid technology reduces the crossover's fuel consumption.

Should one be able to hyper-mile the RAV4 Hybrid, we won't be surprised if drivers will achieve over 19 km/l easily (or maybe even 20 km/l). And with a 55-liter fuel tank, the RAV4 Hybrid can cover more ground while using less fuel, a win-win situation if you ask me.

Is it worth it?

So the RAV4 HEV impressed us with its fuel economy, power delivery, and wide array of features/amenities. But at PHP 2.5 million for the top-of-the-line LTD Hybrid, is it worth paying for the added hybrid tech?

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

While hybrids do benefit from additional tax breaks, the RAV4 HEV's current price means it's still a niche vehicle for most. But for die-hard fans who want a RAV4 that's easy on the fuel bills, the hybrid variant could be what they're looking for.

To give customers some peace of mind, the RAV4 HEV also comes with Toyota Safety Sense as standard. It comes with intelligent driver aids such as a pre-collision system, automatic high beam, lane-tracing assist, lane departure alert, and dynamic radar cruise control (aka adaptive cruise control). It even gets a rear-cross traffic alert, 360-degree camera, and blind-spot monitoring for good measure.

HEV Drive: This Toyota RAV4 was able to average 18.5 km/l image

For drivers who see the RAV4 as a gas-guzzling crossover, the all-new Hybrid could change that notion really fast. Now if we can just do something about lowering the price of hybrid vehicles to make them more attractive to buyers.