IN A NUTSHELL: Toyota continues its efforts to expand the appeal of hybrid vehicles, adding a petrol-electric powertrain to its popular mid-size SUV. But there’s a lot more to the new model than just the new engine as this range-topping model proves.

What is the Toyota Rav4 Hybrid?

TOYOTA HAS BEEN on a mission in recent years to change our perception. It wants to shed the image that the Japanese brand builds only boring but sensible cars, and at the same time, it wants to make hybrid powertrains cheaper and more accessible.

To do that it has invested in what is called the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) which is designed to not only be a modular underpinning (similar to Volkswagen Group’s MQB) but also a more dynamic basis. It has focused on goals such as a lower centre-of-gravity, for example, on all TNGA models to ensure more dynamic handling.

At the same time, it has persisted with what it now calls the ‘self-charging hybrid’ powertrain, which is a new name for an evolution of the petrol-electric combination it has used for years. While it may not be as cutting-edge as a modern plug-in hybrid, the system is so familiar to Toyota it now only charges a $2500 premium for it. That means it’s a far more affordable choice for many potential buyers, which is a positive step for many families looking for lower running costs and a cleaner choice.

What does the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser cost and what do you get?

We’re testing top-of-the-range RAV4, Cruiser trim level with the hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive. It’s priced from $44,640 (plus on-road costs) which puts it firmly at the high-end of the mainstream mid-size SUV market, but you do get plenty of equipment for your money.

It rides on 19-inch alloy wheels (there’s an 18-inch alloy spare), has automatic LED headlights and taillights, front fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, privacy glass, a unique silver grille, chrome door handles, a moonroof and a power tailgate.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid whee

Inside there’s leather-accented trim, heated front seats, ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control and keyless entry and ignition. New models now also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 interior like?

Design is still a work in progress for Toyota, but it’s definitely taking steps to be more bold with its looks – both outside and in. As a brand, it hasn’t quite hit the same cohesive high as say, Mazda or Kia, but there’s a major improvement in both style and presentation for this new model over its predecessor.

The leather-accented trim not only covers the seats but wraps around the doors and across the dashboard, creating a high-quality feeling. The addition of ambient lighting on the Cruiser continues that feeling when it gets dark – after all, it’s the little touches that make cars look and feel a step above.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  interior

There’s also clearly been a lot of thought about the functionality of the cabin, with plenty of good storage spaces. Aside from the usual lidded centre console box and cupholders, there are shelves integrated into the dashboard – a long one for the passenger and a small (but handy) one for the driver.

How much space is there in the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser?

The first generation RAV4 arguably launched the compact SUV boom, but it has continued to grow with every new model and now this latest generation is bordering on a large SUV in terms of size.

The front seats are comfortable and roomy while the second row offers good space even for adults. The high roofline makes for plenty of headroom and there’s more than enough room for knees and toes. So if you’re looking for a family-friendly mid-size SUV, even with teenage children, the RAV4 is worth consideration.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  boot

You’ll get a baby seat into the outer rear seats easily, too, as there are isofix anchor points and plenty of room.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser infotainment like?

As befitting the top-of-the-line model it gets a nine-speaker JBL-brand premium audio system with an 8-inch touchscreen. It incorporates Bluetooth, navigation with live traffic updates and Siri ‘eyes-free’. But the big news is the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, which is a long overdue first for any Toyota in Australia.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  infotainment

Using the infotainment system is easy and it show additional information such as the state of the hybrid-electric system. Though the graphics are not as crisp and glossy as some displays, everything is easy to read and the software is quick to operate. It also includes a wireless smartphone charging pad, which is another premium touch.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser engine like?

This is the first time the RAV4 has been available with a hybrid powertrain, joining the Camry and Corolla in the current range of high-volume models with the option of petrol or hybrid power.

The powertrain consists of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a pair of motor generators which draw energy from a nickel-metal hydride battery.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  ev button

The system is good for a combined output of 163kW of power with the engine providing 221Nm of torque.

It sends power to all four wheels via what Toyota calls an ‘e-CVT’ which combines a traditional flexible CVT layout with a fixed launch gear for better initial acceleration. 

It all sounds complicated but in reality, it’s a very smooth system that all works well together. There’s plenty of pulling power from the hybrid system, with the electric motors assisting the engine under hard acceleration and off the mark. Thanks to the launch gear it has good pick-up off the mark, removing that doughiness so common with continuously variable transmissions on take-off.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  driving

It can get a bit noisy when you push it for harder acceleration, but when you cruise along, the engine and motor work seamlessly in a very quiet and unfussed manner.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Fuel economy

Of course, the main reason to opt for the hybrid is to save fuel, and the RAV4 does an impressive job of that with a claimed combined cycle rating of just 4.8-litres per 100km. To put that in context, the turbo diesel Mazda CX-5 returns a commendable 6.0L/100km. Remarkably the spacious and sizeable RAV4 Hybrid actually consumes less fuel than the pint-sized Toyota Yaris (a claimed 5.8L/100km).

While it will depend on how much driving you typically do each year to work out when the $2500 additional cost is paid off, the hybrid powertrain feels strong on the road too, so you’re not simply paying for a more efficient vehicle.

What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser like to drive?

The advances Toyota has made with TNGA in terms of dynamic abilities have already been demonstrated with the Camry and Corolla, but the leap-forward for the RAV4 is still impressive.

Whereas the old model was largely forgettable, this new one has jumped towards the top of the mid-size SUV pack in terms of ride and handling.

The steering is a particular highlight, offering good response without resorting to adding weightiness to it. That means it’s still light enough to easily navigate tight traffic and cramped car parks but not vague and indirect to input.

Toyota Rav4 Hybrid  driving road

The ride isn’t as taut as some of its rivals, which means it’s not at the very head of the pack in terms of handling, but if the turn-in response and mid-corner poise are your top buying priorities you probably should be looking at an 86, not a RAV4. Still, having said that, it feels responsive and neutral so it’s far more enjoyable to drive than the old model.

It’s also more comfortable with many of its rivals because Toyota has opted for a softer suspension tune than some rivals, so it does a good job of soaking up bumps.

How safe is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser?

The Toyota RAV4 has a full five-star ANCAP rating.

Safety has been another area where Toyota has been pushing to keep up with the competition in recent years. It’s Toyota Safety Sense package is standard across the range, bringing autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, active cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning and speed limit recognition.

Also included are seven airbags, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera with panoramic view.

What are the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid alternatives? 

There’s a long list of rivals as the mid-size SUV segment is a key battleground for carmakers these days. The Mazda CX-5 outsells the RAV4 with the Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai Tucson and Mitsubishi Outlander behind.

Plus you can add to that list the Subaru Forester (soon to be hybrid), Kia Sportage, Ford Escape, Holden Equinox and Honda CR-V as mainstream options. Or if you feel like stepping outside the box there Volkswagen Tiguan, Skoda Karoq, Peugeot 3008 and Jeep Cherokee are all similar in size and price.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser Pricing And Specifications

Price From $44,640 plus ORCs Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 2.5L petrol-electric hybrid Power 163kW at 5700rpm Torque 221Nm at 3600-5200rpm Transmission e-CVT auto Drive all-wheel-drive Body 4600mm (l); 1855mm (w); 1685mm (h) Kerb weight 1745kg Seats 5 Thirst 4.8L/100km Fuel tank 55-litres Spare Space saver

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  1. When reviewing a car you probably need to get the specs right …… the cruiser has 18 inch wheels NOT 19 , i think 19s are on the edge version .

    1. The article and Cliff are both sort of wrong …. and right!
      The article is wrong in that all Cruiser Hybrids have 18″ wheels – flat black ones as per the picture in the article. Cliff is wrong in that the Non-Hybrid Cruiser has 19″ wheels (Chrome) as does the Edge – which are a mixture of black and chrome … and are very attractive.
      The article should have mentioned that the spare is a skinny temp one that can only be driven at a max of 80kph. I have a RAV4 Cruiser on order. It’s not in my driveway, so I can’t check, but I’m almost certain that the spare is not on an alloy rim. Never seen temp / space saver that is on any car.

      1. Update. I now have a RAV4 Hybrid Cruiser. The spare is a steel rim, very skinny temporary spare. Terrible tread pattern and not very deep either. In addition to a speed limitation of 80kph there is also a distance limitation of 80 kilometers. In addition, Toyota advises not to mount the temp spare on the front drive axle if conditions are less than ideal, eg. snow. Since the AWD would be working to its maximum benefit in such conditions I can’t see that one would be safe on the rear axle either! But the Manual doesn’t address that. Also you cannot tow anything with the temp fitted.
        Therefore: If you have a flat, it’d better be within 80ks of a tyre repairer. If in poor driving conditions, good luck! And if you have a van on back, leave it beside the road as you go off in search of a repairer. That could mean a night or two away if in the evening or on a weekend.. Why are these things even legal? Well, our temp spare has been replaced by a full size matching 18″ Black Rim and Tyre in the spare wheel well. Our Dealer said it couldn’t be done. It can.

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