2017 Toyota RAV4 Review

2017 Toyota RAV4 - Class-leading fuel economy doesn't mean compromise with RAV4 Hybrid.


The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a compact crossover that offers seating for five. Direct competitors are limited to the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, however, the Ford C-MAX, Kia Niro and Toyota's own Prius V are slightly smaller five-passenger wagon hybrid offerings. For 2017, Toyota has made Safety Sense standard. It includes forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and intervention, automatic high-beam control and adaptive cruise control.

RAV4 Hybrid is offered in three trim levels, XLE, SE and Limited. All of them powered by a hybrid system comprised of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, three electric motors, CVT automatic and battery that combine to produce 194 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard. Maximum towing capacity is 1750 pounds.

In addition to Toyota Safety Sense, standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, rear-view monitor, and dual-front, front-side, driver-knee, front-passenger seat-cushion and side-curtain airbags.

The XLE starts at $29,030, SE at $32,185 and Limited at $34,030. All models have a $940 destination charge. While most RAV4 models for sale in the United States are built in the Canada, the RAV4 Hybrid is built in Japan.

RAV4 Hybrid feels slightly quicker than the standard gasoline model -- and it should since the hybrid powertrain has nearly 20 more horsepower. Like most hybrids, the RAV4 Hybrid feels sleepy off the line, but acceleration builds quickly and passing punch is good. The CVT transmission seamlessly transitions between electric and gas/electric mode with nary a hiccup. There is an EV-only mode that works at low speeds and is great for parking lots.

RAV4 Hybrid's all-wheel drive has no low range and is made possible by an electric motor on the rear axle, meaning there is no direct connection between the engine and the rear wheels. While this system is fine for assisting on snowy or icy roads, it's not designed to be off-road capable.

EPA estimates of 34 mpg city and 30 mpg highway are class leading. However, as with all hybrid models, your fuel economy will depend on driving style -- and because it is a hybrid -- time of year. If you cruise gently and coast up to stoplights, which makes the most of the hybrid system you can easily eclipse the EPA ratings. On the flipside, if you accelerate hard away from stoplights and brake quickly, your economy won't be much better than a gas-only model. Economy also dips in extreme cold or heat.

RAV4 rides comfortably providing a fair amount of composure for a compact crossover. There's good bump absorption and undue body motions are nicely quelled. That said, RAV4 is far from athletic. The tires give up grip quickly in sharp turns and the steering has a numb and rubbery feel. Brakes have good stopping power but suffer because of a dull pedal that is difficult to modulate.

Interior noise levels are modest, although the engine drones a bit in hard acceleration. Thankfully highway cruising is nearly silent.

RAV4 Hybrid sports a fairly conventional interior. Drivers face twin dials flanking a central information center. The center stack boasts a large touch screen display and separate controls for the climate system. Materials are class appropriate and assembly is top notch. Unfortunately, Toyota's infotainment system does not support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Front seats are a bit firm and could use a little more bolstering for long-trip comfort. Head room is good, but leg room only acceptable. Those greater than 6-foot tall might wish for a few additional inches of rearward travel. Entry/exit is a snap and outward visibility is great. Second-row seats offer adequate room for two large adults, but putting three in back will squeeze everyone.

At nearly 36 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks up, cargo space is a pleasant surprise -- especially given the fact that Toyota had to grab a bit of cargo space for the battery pack. Fold the seatbacks and capacity grows to 70 cubic feet overall. Interior storage is just average with a single bin up front and a little cubby at the base of the center stack.

Toyota's RAV4 Hybrid is unusual in that it offers class-leading fuel economy with little compromise on interior space and performance. Towing capacity takes a bit of a hit, but few in this class tow. Prices are reasonable and the suite of standard safety features is impressive. If you are in the market for a compact crossover and fuel economy is a key concern, the RAV4 has to be at the top of your list.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.