There's a waiting list for the all-new Toyota RAV4. Now that's a sentence you never thought you'd hear in this lifetime.
But, if you were to walk into a Toyota dealership right now, you'd be told to grab a spot in the queue and wait up to six months for your desired specification of Toyota RAV4 to land.
Personally, I did think the hype around the 2019 Toyota RAV4 could be a little unfounded, so I was keen to get behind the wheel of the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid All-wheel-drive (AWD) model to see if it was worth waiting up to six months for.
The RAV4 range kicks off with the price leader, the RAV4 GX at $30,640 (plus on-road costs). It's powered by a fairly wheezy 2.0-litre petrol engine and doesn't really do the all-new platform any justice.
The cheapest way to get yourself into a hybrid is the $35,140 (plus on-road costs) GX Hybrid model, which mates an electric motor to a punchier 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.
Further to that, the cheapest entry point for an all-wheel-drive hybrid RAV4 is the $38,140 (plus on-road costs) RAV4 GX Hybrid AWD that adds an additional electric motor to the rear axle.
The model tested here – one down from the top-specification all-wheel-drive RAV4 Edge – is the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD, which comes with a list price of $44,640 (plus on-road costs) and it's arguably the sweet spot of the entire RAV4 range.
Under the bonnet of the car you see here is a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 131kW of power and 221Nm of torque. The petrol engine is mated to two electric motors that produce a combined power output of 163kW. The electric motor fitted to the front axle produces a maximum of 202Nm of torque, while the electric motor on the rear axle can produce a maximum of 121Nm of torque.
Battery storage comes in the form of a 6.5Ah nickel metal hydride system, which is charged through the vehicle's kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost as heat in the friction braking system.
One of the big benefits of this set-up is the lack of driveline down the centre of the cabin. This means extra leg room for occupants given the electric motor fitted to the rear axle is electronically controlled, as opposed to being driven by an input shaft.
This set-up results in a combined fuel economy of just 4.8 litres of fuel per 100km. That makes it more efficient and cheaper to run than the diesel SUVs in this segment.
As we discovered during our 10 SUV mega test, the RAV4 is fairly brisk thanks to the hybrid powertrain with a 0–100km/h sprint time of 8.1 seconds, making it one of the quickest SUVs in the segment (behind the Tiguan, CX-5 and Equinox).
The exterior design has taken on rugged edges and Jeep-esque squared-off wheel arches that give it a somewhat utilitarian appearance. While it may not be to everybody's tastes, it looks quite nice in person.
Inside the cabin, Toyota has gone to huge lengths to make it a premium place to be seated. The outgoing RAV4 just felt cheap and nasty in parts, and while it was acceptable at the entry level, it didn't really sit well at the top end of the range.
All of the vehicle's touchpoints feel durable but higher end. That means resting your arm on the door sill or centre console won't have it aching from firm plastics after a long drive. Even minor details like the tyre-etched rubber surrounds on the dual-zone climate control make the interior feel like a nice place to be seated.
Central to the entertainment controls is the latest version of Toyota's infotainment system. Measuring 8.0 inches, it features a colour touchscreen, updated mapping software, and a new voice-recognition system.
It will also be upgradable to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto before the end of 2019. This will be a free-of-charge upgrade that will happen when a customer brings their vehicle in for a regular service.
It's an easy-to-use infotainment system and is now backed by intuitive voice-recognition controls – a massive step forward from the laggy and often buggy system featured on older Toyota models.
If you're using the RAV4 as a family vehicle, you'll love the amount of room on offer throughout the cabin. The second row offers adequate knee, leg and toe room, with a centre folding armrest with cup holders, and ISOFIX anchorage points on the two outboard seats.
Visibility out of the cabin is excellent with a large glass area – the Cruiser also brings with it privacy glass for the second row and a sunroof for the first row.
At this pricepoint, Toyota has loaded the car with standard features. Some of the standouts include wireless phone charging, heated seats, leather interior, electric seat adjustment with memory, DAB+ digital radio with an excellent nine-speaker sound system, LED headlights, low- and high-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), keyless entry and start, along with a powered tailgate.
The only real limitation of the hybrid system occupying the rear part of the vehicle is a lack of full-size spare tyre. Instead, you'll find a space-saver spare tyre. The battery system is contained beneath the second row of seats to minimise space wastage.
Cargo capacity comes in at 542L with the second row in place (which expands to 580L when the cargo floor is dropped to a lower level). Towing capacity for the hybrid all-wheel-drive models is capped at 1500kg with a braked trailer.
While you won't be lining up a trip across the Simpson Desert, the hybrid all-wheel-drive Cruiser model comes with a 'Trail' mode that engages the rear axle and allows it to contribute to tractive requirements off-road.
It should work well in theory, but we found the traction-control system on the rear axle to be a little inadequate, allowing the rear wheels to spin freely once a tyre leaves the ground.
The 190mm ground clearance is also a little low compared to some of the competitors in the segment. Either way, we subjected the top 10 SUVs in the segment to our off-road course to see which was best, and you can see the RAV4 in action on video in that article.
As you'd expect, when you set off in the hybrid RAV4, it's incredibly quiet. Before you give the throttle a proper push, it runs entirely on electric power. It can even be locked into an EV-only mode at lower speeds. Once you're up to speed, the petrol engine kicks on to supplement the electric portion of the drivetrain.
For the most part, it works really well. The system is mated to what Toyota calls an 'e-CVT'. It's a little confusing, but I'll do my best to explain how the whole system functions.
The two electric motors (Toyota calls them motor generators) are connected to a planetary gearbox.
Motor Generator 1 (MG1) can be used to start the engine, and can also be used to charge the battery system as a generator. MG2 can also act as a supplementary motor to drive the vehicle, along with a generator to charge the battery system through kinetic energy recovery (regenerative braking).
Interestingly, MG1 is also able to generate torque to balance engine and drive input to the gearbox from MG2. That full-EV mode switch forces the internal combustion engine to be switched off and decoupled from the system without the need for a clutch.
The net result of this is a very smooth drive with an imperceptible switch from electric to petrol and vice versa. Where it falls apart, though, is the amount of noise that makes its way into the cabin under heavier throttle loads.
The 2.5-litre petrol engine can sound quite thrashy, and as is the nature of a CVT, it requires the engine to sit within its peak torque zone, which is often at the higher end of the rev band. This transforms the normally quiet cabin into a noisy environment if you need to hop onto the throttle suddenly.
Put this to one side, though, and you're left with one of the best-riding SUVs in the segment. Despite sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels, the multi-link rear suspension set-up works perfectly with an inbuilt stabiliser bar to keep the RAV4 fairly flat through corners.
The steering feel isn't incredible, but it's responsive enough to make it fun to drive if you find a twisty set of corners. And despite the extra weight of the hybrid components, kerb weight still comes in at 1745kg, which is acceptable given the fuel economy you get in return.
If we were to pick holes in the RAV4 and point out negatives, they'd really only come down to a lack of head-up display (available in a few of its competitors) and a very poor 360-degree camera – it lacks clarity to make it a worthwhile addition to the car.
Outside of this, the RAV4 really nails the brief on size, on-road dynamics, cabin noise and features. It's rewarding to drive, efficient, and it's not hard to see why there is a line around the corner of people wanting to get themselves into one.
Toyota has also sweetened the deal by now offering a five-year warranty with 12-month, 15,000km service intervals and capped-price servicing.
At $210 per service, it'll only cost you $1050 over five years to service. A comparative bargain to something like the Volkswagen Tiguan Highline, which comes in at an eye-watering $3320 for the same period.
So, is a waiting list justified for the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid? Yes, absolutely. It's the reason we crowned it the best medium-sized SUV on sale at the moment, and outside of a few minor gripes, it's an incredibly good car that provides outstanding value for money.