Australians are currently buying up as many medium-sized SUVs as the factories can churn out, but this little blue number happens to be one of our favourites.
And there isn’t just one reason why this is the case. You could point your finger at numerous things that the RAV4 is decidedly good at, which makes it such a winner.
Sitting atop Toyota’s new so-called TNGA platform, which underpins all of Toyota’s new vehicles in one form or another, this 2021 Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid is the fifth-generation model that debuted at the New York Auto Show in 2018.
|2021 Toyota RAV4 GXL Hybrid AWD|
|Engine||2.5-litre, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol|
|Power and torque||131kW at 5700rpm, 221Nm at 3600–5200rpm|
|Transmission||E-CVT continuously variable transmission|
|Front electric motor||88kW, 202Nm|
|Rear electric motor||40kW, 121Nm|
|Drive type||Petrol-electric front, electric rear|
|Battery type and size||Nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH), 6.5Ah|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||4.8L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||5.8L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Five-star (May 2019)|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan X-Trail|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$42,915|
And since going on sale in Australia, there has been an often long waiting list of Australians keen to get behind the wheel of a hybrid RAV4. Toyota initially projected that seven out of 10 buyers would opt for the non-hybrid, 2.0-litre powertrain. Boy, was Toyota wrong.
While the range starts at $32,695 (2.0 FWD GX manual) and finishes at $48,915 (2.5 AWD Edge), our tester occupies the pragmatic middle ground. The GXL can be had for $37,415, but adding in hybrid power and all-wheel drive takes us to $42,915.
Throw in that dazzling Electric Blue paint ($600), and we are looking at a final asking price of $43,515 before on-road costs. That's a 10-grand jump over the base model, but we reckon this is arguably the RAV4 at its best (and best value).
Let’s go arse-about and start at the back. With up to 580L of storage space on offer, the RAV4 gets off on the right foot. There is good versatility on offer as well, with the ability to stow away the luggage blind. Or, you can choose to lower the floor slightly (just above the space-saver spare) for some extra storage space.
There’s also a handy nook on the driver's side (which we filled with nappies), and we found on a weekend away visiting family that there was plenty of space in the posterior for our young family of four.
The amount of space in the second row leaves a good impression, also. My litmus test of baby seats, one forward-facing and one rearward-facing, still left enough room for adults up the front to be comfortable over a long drive.
Adults in the second row will find decent leg room and toe room, along with good head room for the medium-SUV segment. Which is impressive, because the RAV4 is actually 5mm shorter than the previous generation. Although, the wheelbase has increased.
Air vents only allow a paltry flow of cool air on hot days, but the provision of USB and 12V power is a welcome addition.
Up the front, the air-conditioning performs more typically for a Toyota: blasting cold. The layout of buttons and dials – which might not draw praise from high-end designers – looks sharp enough in my opinion. But more importantly, it's easy to use and navigate through functions on the fly. Rubberised touchpoints add an element of uniqueness.
With the combination of three power sources available, the all-wheel-drive RAV4 Hybrid feels surprisingly sprightly when boot buries pedal. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising.
The 2.5-litre petrol engine, naturally aspirated and running on an efficient Atkinson cycle, makes 131kW at 5700rpm and 221Nm at 3600–5200rpm. Combine the two electric motors at each axle, and you’ve got a claimed combined output of 163kW. I assume because the multi-faceted powertrain can do a variety of output combinations at different speeds, Toyota doesn’t quote a combined torque figure.
For the number-crunchers: the front electric motor is rated to 88kW and 202Nm, while the rear is less powerful: 40kW and 121Nm.
The end result yields enough acceleration for the 1695kg of kerb mass. Only a few times did I see the needle swing to the maximum limit of the power meter (a hybrid take on a tachometer) while overtaking around highway speeds.
Most of the time, the petrol engine hums quietly under load or runs at low revs almost imperceptibly. Electric motors do as much of the heavy lifting as they can on take-off and cruising around town at low speeds. You can get up to 40 or 50km/h without any petrol intervention, but your acceleration feels a little slow. So, most of the time as you keep up with traffic, fossil fuels chime in by the time you reach 10 or 15 clicks.
The big gain in efficiency is throttle-off coasting around town, and holding sedate speed limits under straight (or majority) electric propulsion. But also impressive is the combination of all of the RAV4’s different driving modes.
Fuel economy in our testing averaged out at 5.8 litres per 100km, which is no doubt impressive. And don’t forget: this will run on your garden-variety 91RON and E10 fuels without a problem, so running costs should be low.
We didn’t meet Toyota’s claim of 4.8L/100km on the combined cycle for the all-wheel-drive hybrid, but managed to pull an indicated 3.6L/100km on a short city run with very light throttle inputs and maximum coasting time. So, the potential for very high efficiency is there, for short stints at least.
The good news is that this hybrid driveline, with all of its power inputs and regenerative abilities, feels very much like a ‘normal’ car to drive. The shifts in between petrol, electric, and the various combinations of both, are quite seamless and unobtrusive to the driver. All you need to do is just stick it in D and drive.
And when the fuel tank gets low, fill it up. There’s no plugging in to worry about with this car, side-stepping the whole charging infrastructure and range-anxiety issues.
The RAV4’s new platform also makes for a car that rides and steers well. Bump absorption is good, and becomes particularly great on rough and winding country roads. The steering balances lightness and response as well, and leaves the RAV4 feeling composed and easy to handle on highways and around town.
An 11.0m turning circle is average for an SUV of this size, and lets the RAV4 negotiate most carparks and tight scenarios well enough. The rear-view camera is of high enough quality and all-round visibility is also good. If you want a 360-degree surround-view camera, you’ll need to look further up the spec ladder.
Even though front and rear differentials aren’t connected by a propshaft, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this RAV4 has four driven wheels.
And despite the fact that these are now the status quo family car, SUV to me still dictates some form of ability on unsealed surfaces, rough roads and off-road tracks.
But does it work when the rear wheels are electric-driven and the front wheels are petrol/electric? In a word, yes.
We can’t say that we thrashed the RAV4 for miles off-road to find its limits. But, we did more than most would probably do: driving in sodden and muddy off-road trails through paddocks, which ended with a short, muddy creek crossing.
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Although there was plenty of wheel spin, and the RAV4 bottomed out and scraped, it never stopped and was able to clamber out the other side. I’d call that a win.
Another strong point for this RAV4 is the low cost of ownership. On top of sipping cheap fuel slowly enough to make Scrooge McDuck proud, servicing costs are kept low through Toyota’s capped-price program.
With servicing required every 12 months or 15,000km, the first five years are capped at $215 per year or $1075 total. From that point (outside of the warranty period), servicing costs increase noticeably, often costing around $600 or $700.
The warranty period – five years and unlimited kilometres – will also suit many Australian buyers in terms of usage and peace of mind. It’s not the best offering, but is good nonetheless.
While the waiting list for a hybrid-powered RAV4 has since steadied out, demand for Toyota’s fuel-sipping mid-sized SUV hasn’t waned. It’s impressive, but also not the least bit surprising.