The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has won the Car of the Year award by our sister publication Drive – the second time a petrol-electric vehicle has taken out top prize.
It was unanimously voted the winner from a record field of 89 contenders and 57 finalists across 20 categories.
Reflecting Australia’s changing taste in cars, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a family SUV with frugal fuel economy, previously regarded as an impossible double-act.
While Toyota vehicles are known for their reliability and low running costs, they had been criticised for being mundane to drive.
However, the judges praised the RAV4 Hybrid’s road-holding ability, long list of creature comforts, and advanced safety technology which, unlike most rivals, is standard across the range.
The managing editor of Drive, Trent Nikolic, said testing showed the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid used half as much fuel as other SUVs of the same size “with no serious attempt to be a fuel miser behind the wheel”.
Unlike pure electric cars, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid does not need to be plugged in and instead charges its onboard battery pack while driving. The electric motor is mostly used to move the car from rest, the thirstiest aspect of commuter driving.
“The reason hybrid cars make so much sense for so many people is that they don’t feel weird to drive, and you don’t need to change the way you drive,” said Mr Nikolic. “Whereas a pure electric vehicle requires you to reset the way you use a car.”
One downside: the RAV4 Hybrid is sold out for up to six months. Some customers have reported longer delays, however Toyota Australia says it is working overtime to clear the backlog.
Toyota forecast hybrid models would account for about one-third of RAV4 sales, but the current order rate shows at least half of all buyers want the petrol-electric model, leaving a severe stock shortage. The company has introduced a loan car program at selected dealers in the interim.
The Tesla was praised for its long range and excellent driving dynamics but patchy build quality and a lack of basics such as an AM radio and a spare tyre weighed against it.
The Toyota Supra (pictured below) brings thoroughbred performance to a mainstream brand, but the other finalists had more relevance to today’s car buyers.
Click here to see every category winner for this year's awards.