Seizing the Sales Crown: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid [Review]

[Photo: TFLcar]

Among Toyota’s Hybrids, the RAV4 will soon be the king.

It’s a bold claim, but I’m going to make it anyway. The RAV4 Hybrid will soon eclipse the Prius as the brand’s best-selling hybrid. We’re not quite there yet – Toyota moved just north of 50,000 RAV4 Hybrids in 2017. At the same time, the company sold 108,000 examples of the Prius (including all its variants). That may look like a huge margin, but the gap is quickly shrinking as crossover sales pick up and sedan sales decline. So how does the newest RAV4 Hybrid stack up as a hybrid and against its crossover competition?

Getting to Know the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Toyota introduced the RAV4 with the model’s mid-cycle refresh for the 2016 model year. It comes in four trim levels. There’s the base LE, then the XLE, SE, and Limited. The Hybrid lineup omits the top-of-the-range Platinum level. I tested the SE model, but whichever Hybrid trim you buy, expect to pay between $1,325 and $2,040 over comparable, non-hybrid AWD RAV4 models.

The RAV4 Hybrid shares its powertrain components with its Camry sibling. To that end, you get a 150 horsepower 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder mated to an electronically-controlled CVT. That’s not all though – there are also three electric motors on board. One only functions as a generator to charge the battery and re-start the engine. The two other motors drive each set of wheels. Combined, the RAV4 Hybrid makes 194 horsepower.

All RAV4 Hybrids get this powertrain, so you don’t get a choice in the matter. Not that it’s a bad thing, mind you, since its output makes this model the most powerful and fastest RAV4 you can buy. Hybrid models are also all-wheel drive, in any trim.

Fuel economy for all Hybrid models is pegged at 34 City/30 Highway MPG. That makes this car one of the most fuel efficient crossovers in its class in the city – mainly due to the addition of EV mode. It’s worth noting, however, that while it beats the Nissan Rogue Hybrid in the city, it loses out on the highway (the Rogue makes 34 Highway MPG).

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE
[Photo: TFLcar]

The RAV4 offers up comfort, convenience in spades

While it’s not the most electric (no pun intended) cars to drive, comfort is where it absolutely shines. The soft-touch leather and fabulously comfortable seats made the RAV4 feel like more of a premium crossover. I wasn’t completely sold on the “Cinnamon Softrex” two-tone leather scheme, and if you feel the same way, you can buy the SE model in all black. Limited models add Nutmeg and Ash (gray) to the mix as well. LE and XLE models just get a choice of black or gray fabric and trim.

The 2018 RAV4 Hybrid I tested pretty much has everything you’d need. Toyota Safety Sense comes standard, which includes Pre-Collision Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with steering assist, Auto High Beams, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. There’s also a 6.1-inch Entune infotainment system, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights and running lights, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The adaptive cruise control works well, and the infotainment system – despite its lack of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capability – is pretty intuitive and easy to use.

If you feel like speccing up a bit, you can buy the $2,785 Advanced Technology Package fitted to this Rav4 Hybrid SE. For your money, you’ll get a 360-degree Bird’s Eye Camera system, front and rear parking sensors, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a 7-inch infotainment screen with an 11-speaker JBL GreenEdge premium audio system.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has 35.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up, and 70.6 cubic feet with the seats down. That puts it ahead of the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, and Mazda CX-5, on par with the Nissan Rogue, but behind the Honda CR-V. Legroom in the rear is a bit cramped at 37.2 inches – only edging out the Ford Escape. If you’d like the retractable tonneau cover to hide your precious cargo, it’s a $90 option.

It has some power, but it won’t set your hair on fire

While the RAV4 Hybrid is the most powerful variant, the added weight betrays any performance gains. It puts out around as much power as the 1.5-liter turbo Honda CR-V or the 2.5-liter Mazda CX5, but it weighs about 500 pounds more. It felt reasonably solid on the road, but the way it delivers its power takes some getting used to. There isn’t a normal driveshaft here linking the front and rear axles together like a normal RAV4. Instead, the Hybrid relies on its electric motors and lots of code to distribute the power. It never felt terribly unsettled, but I had some trouble predicting when (and where) the power was going to come on at any given moment.

Against its compact crossover rivals – particularly the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape – the RAV4’s dynamics aren’t particularly exciting. The regenerative braking, while effective, leads to somewhat spongy brake feel. A softer suspension setup and the increased weight also led to some body roll in the corners. On the flip side, however, the car is extremely comfortable and the transitions between the engine and pure EV mode were practically seamless.

TFLcar’s Take

There’s a reason the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is outpacing its hybrid breathren. It’s more practical, its comfortable, and its still pretty darn efficient. As you’d expect from the brand, this car is a good all-rounder. At $36,055, its price tops out a little higher than its non-hybrid competitors.

You can buy cars in this class with nicer cabins and a better “fun-to-drive” factor. But for comfort, cargo space, and fuel economy, this car is hard to fault. As far as hybrids go, the sheer convenience of a crossover explains why the RAV4 is selling like hot cakes.

To check out how the Toyota RAV4 – albeit the normal version – matches up against the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, check out the video below! Subscribe to The Fast Lane Car and TFLnow your more news, views, and real-world crossover reviews.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

On Sale: Now
Base MSRP: $32,190 (including destination charges)
Price as Tested: $36,055
Engine: 2.5-liter, DOHC 4-cylinder w/ Dual VVT-i, plus 3 electric motors (one front, one rear drive motor)
Drivetrain (Layout): Front engine, all-wheel drive
Horsepower: Engine: 150 hp @ 5,700 RPM

Front electric motor: 141 hp max (105 kW)

Rear electric motor: 67 hp max (50 kW)

Hybrid Net power: 194 horsepower

Torque: Engine: 152 lb-ft @ 4,400 RPM

Electric motors: Not listed

Transmission: Electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) w/ manual shift mode
Suspension: Front: Independent MacPherson strut w/ stabilizer bar and hydraulic shock absorbersRear: Double-wishbone style multi-link w/ coil springs, trailing arms, stabilizer bar, and hydraulic shock absorbers
Brakes: Front: 11.6-inch vented rotorRear: 11.1-inch solid rotor
Tires: Bridgestone Ecopia H/L 422 Plus P235/55 R18 all-season
Fuel capacity: 14.8 gallons
Fuel economy (EPA): 34 City/30 Highway/32 Combined MPG


Wheelbase: 104.7 inches
Length:  183.5 inches
Width: 72.6 inches
Height:  67.5 inches (w/ roof rails)
Cargo Volume Seats up: 35.6 cubic feet

Seats down: 70.6 cubic feet

Ground Clearance: 7.4 inches (SE)
Turning Circle: 36.7 feet
Curb Weight: 3,950 pounds