2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Review: Gem in the Lineup

© Motor Trend Staff

From Motor Trend

The Toyota RAV4 dominates the sales charts, but we've spent enough time behind the wheel to know it's a middling competitor in its segment. Although we've praised its stylish cabin and abundant safety features, we're quite unimpressed with its chassis and powertrain. Fortunately, the RAV4 Hybrid changes the narrative, correcting many of the gas RAV4's flaws, all while delivering 40 mpg.

RAV4 Hybrid Design

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We'd argue the RAV4 is one of the most attractive vehicles in its segment. Eschewing the bulbous look of many competitors, the RAV4 features chiseled lines and strong, squared-off corners. Our XSE Hybrid tester is particularly stylish, sporting black accents all around the exterior, including the fender arches, rocker panels, and roof. Eighteen-inch black wheels complete the look, giving this RAV4 a lot more presence than your average mainstream compact SUV.

RAV4 Hybrid Performance

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Forget what you think you know about hybrids—this vehicle is quick. In our track test, the RAV4 Hybrid ran from 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, making it particularly zippy among compact SUVs. In fact, it's almost a full second quicker to 60 mph than the gas-only RAV4 we've been driving for the past several months (8.0 seconds).

You can feel the difference on the road. The hybrid model, aided by its electric motors, delivers power quickly and smoothly whether you're merging onto the freeway or making a quick lane change. In contrast, the standard RAV4's powertrain feels rougher, almost gravelly. The power lags and it exhibits a gritty engine note.

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You might be tempted to think the hybrid packs a lot more horsepower than the standard RAV4, but in reality, it only has 16 extra ponies. A 2.5-liter engine and an electric motor work together to produce 219 hp, which is routed through a continuously variable transmission instead of an eight-speed auto. Fully electric all-wheel drive is standard.

The hybrid SUV rounded the bends of our figure eight in 27.6 seconds at an average of 0.63 g, essentially matching the regular RAV4's performance (27.6 seconds at 0.61 g). Testing director Kim Reynolds noted it's "remarkably fun" around the curvy course. "I used the lower gear, which gives it quite a lot of drag resistance with lift throttle, and that significantly rotates the car," he said. "It understeers, yes, but I can repeatedly erase it with frequent lifts."

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In everyday driving, the RAV4 Hybrid isn't as willing to play. Like the standard RAV4, the hybrid features soft steering that won't satisfy the sport-minded. Miguel Cortina, managing editor for MotorTrend en EspaƱol, lamented the steering wheel's lack of feedback compared to the segment's ride and handling king, the CR-V Hybrid. Zach Gale, our senior manager of content operations, deemed the steering adequate but "not too quick," adding the car "never feels light."

Our XSE tester came with a sport-tuned suspension, but don't get your hopes up. Much like the regular RAV4, the Hybrid suffers from a somewhat choppy ride. It fails to absorb bumps in the road—big or small—as well as it should.

How well does it brake, you ask? The SUV doesn't have the squishy brakes that many hybrids have, though you might notice they take a little longer to bite than usual. In terms of stopping distance, the hybrid performed well, even a smidgen better than the gas-only model. It came to a complete stop from 60 mph in 120 feet, compared to the standard RAV4's 121.

RAV4 Hybrid MPG

Given Toyota's extensive experience with hybrid technology, it should come as no surprise that the RAV4 Hybrid is one of the most fuel efficient small hybrid SUVs on the market. It's EPA-rated to achieve 41/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined, putting on par with the Ford Escape AWD (43/37/40 mpg). Both the Toyota and Ford are more efficient than the Honda CR-V Hybrid (40/35/38 mpg). If it's the standard RAV4 you want to compare it to, there's no contest. The gas-only RAV4 AWD tops out at 27/34/30 mpg.

RAV4 Hybrid Interior

Being an XSE model, one step below the top Limited trim, our RAV4 Hybrid came with an upscale interior. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, and well-placed controls give the cabin an uncluttered feel.

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Gale had plenty of praise for the model's interior design. "The pattern on the wireless charging tray, the bottom of the cupholders, the door sill accents, the trays carved into the dash are all part of one design," he said. "For those who notice and appreciate the details, this is a car you can be proud of."

Grippy climate control knobs are a nice touch, as is the drive mode rotary controller that changes colors as you switch between the Eco, Normal, and Sport drive modes, something Gale calls "a fun bit of theater." Blue contrast stitching adorns the dashboard and the seats, which are outfitted with Toyota's SofTex leatherette upholstery. On the tech front, our model came with sleek digital instrumentation, an 8-inch touchscreen (added as option), and five USB ports.

Cortina appreciated the spacious cabin. "Whether you sit in the front or rear, legroom and headroom are huge," he said. In the back, the drivetrain hump is just tall enough so that the middle passenger will likely have to borrow some legroom from the other two passengers, he noted. Perhaps the bigger issue is that the rear doors don't open as wide as we'd like. Along with plenty of space for passengers, the RAV4 Hybrid boasts a roomy cargo area: 37.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 69.8 cubic feet with them folded flat.

RAV4 Hybrid Safety

The RAV4 Hybrid comes standard with a wealth of safety technologies, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, and lane departure alert with steering assist to prevent you from drifting. It also features standard adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, as well as lane tracing assist to keep you centered in your lane.

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As expected, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid earned a five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This rating consists of four stars in the front test, five stars in the side test, and four stars in the rollover test.

The SUV was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This top distinction applies only to Hybrid Limited models equipped with adaptive front headlights. The headlights on other RAV4 Hybrid models earn a "Marginal" or "Poor" rating. That said, the SUV earned "Good" scores in all crash categories.

RAV4 Hybrid Price

Notable standard features on our tester include heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a digital rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a power liftgate. We tacked on a $1,620 premium audio package with navigation and an upgraded stereo system, as well as a $640 Technology package with front and rear parking assist and wireless smartphone charging. So although a base RAV4 Hybrid will cost you $29,470, our model rang out to $38,307. It's priced competitively against a similarly equipped Honda CR-V Hybrid, but there's one feature we wish we had on our RAV4 Hybrid at this price: a power passenger seat.

Summary: Should you buy a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid?

Although the RAV4 Hybrid suffers the ride and handling compromises of the gas model, it benefits from a much smoother powertrain. This trait combined with its impressive fuel economy and a healthy dose of style and feature content make it a competitive choice. No doubt, it's the gem of the RAV4 lineup. Now we can't wait to test the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime, a powerful new plug-in hybrid variant coming this year.

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Autos Magazine: 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Review: Gem in the Lineup
2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Review: Gem in the Lineup
The 2020 RAV4 Hybrid changes the narrative, correcting many of the gas RAV4's flaws, all while delivering 40 mpg.
Autos Magazine
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