The race to be Australia’s top-selling vehicle is typically a story of ute-on-ute action. But for the last several months, the ongoing HiLux vs Ranger showdown was interrupted by a challenger – the Toyota RAV4.
In fact, sales of hybrid RAV4 variants almost single-handedly drove a 64 per cent spike in overall hybrid sales in April 2020, when the RAV4 knocked the Ford Ranger out of its second-place spot.
And in July 2020, despite a dwindling market, the RAV4 managed a 78 per cent year-on-year spike, claiming its place as Australia's best-selling car for the first time ever.
But despite the apparent hysteria (waiting lists have hit up to 10 months in the past), I’d never driven a RAV4, let alone a hybrid one, before this review. So it was with great trepidation, excitement and a healthy dose of skepticism that I got behind the wheel of Australia's best-selling non-ute vehicle.
How does the Toyota RAV4 hybrid's price compare to competitors?
In 2020 Toyota RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid AWD guise, I was behind the wheel of the second-most expensive RAV4 money could buy. Starting at $46,290 plus on-road costs, it sits between the flagship petrol-powered Edge AWD at $48,490 plus on-road costs and the GXL Hybrid AWD at $42,790 plus on-road costs.
For context, the Cruiser Hybrid AWD is exactly $300 more than a top-spec Subaru Forester hybrid, or about the same price as a mid-spec, petrol-powered Mazda CX-5 GT AWD. Both the Forester and CX-5 serve as the RAV4’s main competition in its class.
What standard equipment does the Toyota RAV4 hybrid have?
Upon hopping inside, first impressions were good. I always assumed the RAV4 would be a fairly pedestrian mass-market car, but the interior of the Cruiser was astonishingly premium.
It’s leather-accented, with thought given to making even typically unattractive inclusions – like a wireless phone charger – look elegant. Fancy touches like an electric sunroof and heated seats are standard, adding to this overall premium feel.
In fact, possibly the only thing that may remind you you’re not in a BMW or Mercedes is Toyota’s infotainment screen and system. Measuring 8.0 inches, the touchscreen feels incongruously small and low-res for such a premium interior. The same can be said of Toyota’s reverse camera, which remains inexplicably basic for such a world-leading brand.
While we’re on the topic of cameras – the inclusion of a surround-view camera is to be applauded, but the quality is a far cry from prestige brands. In fact, if you hit the button to kick-start the surround-view camera, it plays a comically rudimentary clip of the car’s immediate surroundings rendered in 3D that was probably designed to be impressive, but looks more like it belongs in a game of The Sims.
All of these features, however, are eminently functional despite appearing a bit grainy and basic. Paired with front and rear sensors, they’re also really helpful when driving in the city and parking what is a solidly sized car (4.6m long and 1.85m wide, to be exact).
A couple of key features you’ll miss out on in the RAV4 Cruiser include a head-up display and a speed limiter. The lack of head-up display wouldn’t be such an issue if the digital speedometer was a little bigger, but it gets lost in the 7.0-inch instrument display, making it hard to monitor your speed. A speed limiter would have been a welcome addition that could have solved this problem.
Still, I was impressed to find the RAV4 offered active cruise control with lane-trace assist – something I usually expect to feature on more expensive cars. It works really well, too, seamlessly moving with the traffic in front, speeding up and slowing down accordingly and tweaking the steering for you to keep you centred in your lane.
What's under the bonnet of the Toyota RAV4 hybrid?
Toyota has its closed hybrid system down to a fine art, and in the RAV4 it takes the form of a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine plus an 88kW electric motor paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission. The car uses an electric all-wheel-drive system that adds another 40kW motor generator to power the back wheels when you need it.
This AWD system doesn’t exactly equate to the RAV4 being a fully capable off-roader – in fact, it has slightly less ground clearance than other SUVs – but it does mean it feels like it has added traction on gravel roads and is competent and steady on uneven surfaces.
What is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid like to drive?
Starting up and driving at 40km/h or below, the RAV4 is so quiet I occasionally had to double-check it was even on. At lower speeds, the handover between electric motor and petrol engine is virtually imperceptible, but at higher speeds engine noise can kick in and occasionally sound a little whiny as it catches up to pedal input.
The combined outputs of 163kW of power and 221Nm of torque mean the RAV4 is quick and instantaneous in its acceleration from a standing start. And, while it doesn’t boast the obvious grunt of SUVs with bigger engines, it’s got more than enough power when you need it, which for most buyers is when overtaking, tackling steep terrain or contending with four passengers and a full boot.
On-road, the RAV4 is a serious all-rounder. It’s a comfortable, capable ride – quiet and pleasingly easy to handle thanks to the light, responsive steering that makes you feel as though you’re driving a much smaller car. There is some tyre noise and the car doesn’t completely eliminate the rougher edges of speed bumps or jagged surfaces, but it’s an even-handed behind-the-wheel experience that proves very agreeable on longer trips.
Driver positioning is such that you eliminate the unsettling excess height of some SUVs without compromising on the benefits of ride height and visibility. On the latter, the RAV4 excels. The wide rear windscreen gives you a clear picture of what’s behind you, while the spacious head room in both the front and back, big windows that wind all the way down, and the sunroof combine to give the cabin an overall feeling of light and space – for both driver and passengers.
How much cabin space does the Toyota RAV4 hybrid have?
In the back seat, there are also ISOFIX points on the rear outboard seats, a big central armrest with cupholders, air vents and USB ports, with oodles of leg room. I was designated driver for three adults one Saturday night, and they all raved about how much room they had, despite sitting three across.
The RAV4 offers a power tailgate, but it’s on the slow side, so make sure you hit the button to open it when you’re at least 10m away from the car. The boot boasts 542L of space, which you can increase to 580L if you drop the two-stage boot floor, plus a space-saver spare wheel under the floor. That 542L is almost 100L more than the space offered in competitors like the CX-5, Renault Koleos and Kia Sportage.
Is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid a fuel-efficient car?
Of course, one of the main reasons to choose a hybrid variant is the promise of reduced fuel consumption and a reduced impact on the environment. Toyota quotes a combined fuel consumption figure of 4.8L/100km for the RAV4 and 109g/km of carbon dioxide emissions – around 50–80g/km less than some of its purely petrol-powered rivals.
A week of mostly city driving returned a real-world consumption figure of 6.3L/100km. That’s pretty great for a petrol SUV – especially since I was coming off reviewing similarly sized or even smaller cars like the Audi Q3, which returned numbers on or above 13L/100km without even breaking a sweat.
Is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid a safe and reliable car?
The other inherent benefit of opting for a RAV4 hybrid is Toyota’s reputation for reliability and safety. The car and its hybrid battery offer a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, but Toyota will add up to two years' extra driveline and five years' extra battery warranty provided service and warranty are carried out to schedule.
All Toyota cars come with low capped-price servicing, which sees the first five visits (every 12 months or 15,000km) priced at just $215 each.
The RAV4 scored five stars for safety from ANCAP in 2019, and the car’s seven airbags are bolstered by a Safety Sense suite including a pre-collision safety system with night and day pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection, lane-departure alert, auto high beam and road sign assist.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and CarPlay is refreshingly quick to load and start. There are automatic wipers and headlights (although the former can take a while to register rain), keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, three USB ports in the front and two in the back, and – the pièce de résistance – an excellent nine-speaker JBL sound system that sounds just as great taking phone calls as it does blasting Taylor Swift.
Should I buy a Toyota RAV4 hybrid?
To answer the unspoken question all those non-converts are probably asking, there’s a good reason the RAV4 continues to dominate Australian new car sales. Like the Miss Congeniality of the motoring world, it has something to appeal to every buyer, whether that be fuel economy, cabin space, premium feel or driver technology and safety systems.
There’s a lot of standard kit for your spend, and it’s all packaged up with premium finesse and paired to a comfortable and economical on-road experience. It may not be a standout on any single front, but the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid’s ability to tick almost every box with aplomb makes it a head-turner in its own right.