2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Review

Looks like a truck, drives like a fuel-sipper.

DANA POINT, California -- The only thing surprising about the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is that people are surprised to see a hybrid version of a compact sport-utility. But now that the sport-utility has become the official default setting of the Great American Automobile -- that is, the majority of sales, surpassing the conventional sedan configuration -- then it's pretty logical to make a fuel-sipping gas/electric hybrid version of this compact ute, don't you think?

After all, people are embracing compact sport-utilities for much the same reasons that they choose compact sedans. They're thinking a right-size passenger package with a right-size price, not to mention right-size fuel economy. And since the RAV4 (like the Lexus NX) rides on the same platform that underpins the Toyota Corolla, well, you can see where we're going with this.

Sipping fuel like a Corolla

Now that every 2016 Toyota RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, it has proven no trouble at all to give this package a hybrid powertrain. A 112-hp Atkinson-cycle version of the engine has been matched with an electronically controlled CVT, and a battery-powered 105-kilowatt electric motor pulls you away from stoplights and then supplements the engine occasionally. Unlike the 2016 Prius with its compact (and relatively expensive) lithium-ion battery pack, the RAV4 Hybrid sticks with a tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride battery located behind the rear seat.

It's essentially the same kind of setup that you find in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, only scaled for this RAV4 package. As we motor sensibly past the espresso shops of this upscale town in Orange County, California, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid does all the sensible things that you expect of a Toyota-engineered hybrid. When you come to a stoplight (which you cannot fail to do in this beach town with its famous harbor and equally attractive surf beach), you sit in eerie silence. The light turns green, and then the electric motor pulls you forward, and when the engine engages and takes over the burden, the CVT smooths the process so it all feels natural.

It's the natural feel of this low-speed acceleration that is the best part of Toyota's execution of hybrid engineering. Of course this is not to mention the fuel savings that you get from shutting down the engine in stop-and-go traffic, which is why a hybrid gets great mpg in the city, and the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is rated at 34/31 mpg city/highway.

Looks like a truck, feels like a car

When this fourth-generation of the RAV4 arrived for 2013, it had the look of a crossover, which is to say something from the generic aisle down at the supermarket. With this refreshed version for 2016, the RAV4 has embraced Toyota's truck heritage a bit more. This is most noticeable in the re-profiled nose, which rides a bit higher and carries a grille treatment that is expressive without being self-conscious. Overall, the 2016 Toyota RAV4 looks a lot better.

Of course, we won't kid you and pretend we're unhappy that the hybrid version of the RAV4 comes only in the upscale, carlike XLE and Limited trim levels. Just the simple measure of adding soft-touch materials and a two-tone color treatment makes the RAV4 a far more enjoyable experience for us.

Although the passenger package still seems a little narrow to our eyes, you have 100.7 cubic feet for five people, which should be enough. And as is Toyota's usual preference, the RAV4 doesn't shortchange you in terms of cargo capacity, because there's 35.6 cubic feet behind the second-row seat (70.6 cubic feet behind the first-row seats). This is just 2.8 fewer cubic feet than the non-hybrid because of the space taken up by the battery pack, and we think the relatively small ledge in the cargo floor shouldn't make things difficult when you go to Home Depot.

Maybe an even more important consequence of carlike thinking in an upscale model of the RAV4 lies in the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited version, which incorporates Toyota's new suite of active-safety features. This includes precollision warning (with pedestrian detection), lane-keeping warning and assist, and automatic high-beam control. It also includes radar-controlled active cruise control, although this system ranges only between 30 and80 mph, so it can't be used to follow the car ahead in stop-and-go traffic (which the active cruise control in the 2016 Prius can deliver).

Let's motor in SoCal

Now that the Great Recession is behind us, Toyota has spent a little money to build some refinement into the 2016 RAV4. The structure carries more spot welds for added rigidity, an acoustically insulated windshield is employed, and a very comprehensive layer of acoustic insulation lies beneath your feet. Some useful engineering has gone into the front suspension as well, and now more sophisticated front dampers add a much-needed measure of compliance to the way the RAV4 rides along the highway. The RAV4 Hybrid is also notable for the effort made to smooth the way the brakes engage as they make the transition from battery regeneration during light-effort braking to mechanical braking when things get serious with the 3,950 pounds of the RAV4 Hybrid Limited.

Even so, the RAV4 tells you that it's ute, not a car. When you're riding along a smooth section of the freeway, the Limited feels pretty great, and its twin-motor hybrid configuration even delivers a measure of all-wheel drive. But when this ute encounters seams between the cement slabs or even those colored reflectors between lanes, there's no smothering the harshness of the impacts. Frankly we're inclined to blame the stiff sidewalls of the Limited's P235/55R-18 tires, and it might be that the XLE's P225/65R-17 tires would be a better choice. You'll also notice that the effort level of the electric-assist steering decreases to a light arcade-game calibration at low speed, although considering the amount of time that you cruise parking lots in Southern California in the search for an open space, maybe this is a good thing.

No waiting, operators are standing by

When you walk into your Toyota store, you'll find the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE priced at $29,270 and the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited priced at $34,510. Toyota tells us that the premium here in the 2016 RAV4 for the actual hybrid powertrain over a comparably equipped conventional RAV4 is just $700. We haven't checked the math, but this promises a pretty quick payback for your hybrid investment.

It's been a long time since AUTOMOBILE named the Toyota RAV4 its Automobile of the Year in 1997, but even then we could see the way that a compact sport-utility could change the way that Americans motor around the country. With the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited, we're seeing that promise fulfilled, as this ute now delivers both trucklike utility and carlike practicality, refinement, and fuel economy. If you want to figure out why Americans are choosing sport-utilities over sedans, you don't have to look any further than the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Specifications

  • On Sale: Now
  • Price: $34,510/$34,510 (base/as-tested)
  • Engine: 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/112-hp @ 5,700 rpm, 206-lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm plus AC electric motor/105 hp, 199-lb-ft; 194 hp, combined
  • Transmission: CVT
  • Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
  • EPA Mileage: 34/31 mpg (city/hwy)
  • Suspension F/R: Strut-type, coil springs/twin wishbones, coil springs
  • Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs
  • Tires: P235/55R-18 Bridgestone Ecopia H/L 422 Plus
  • L x W x H: 181.1 x 72.6 x 65.9 in
  • Wheelbase: 104.7 in
  • Headroom F/R: 39.8/38.9 in
  • Legroom F/R: 42.6/37.2 in
  • Shoulder Room F/R: 57.3/55.4 in
  • Cargo Room: 35.6/70.6 cu ft
  • Weight: 3,950 lb
  • Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
  • 0-60 mph:

    • N/A
  • ¼ Mile: N/A
  • Top Speed: N/A

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