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Posted: August 24, 2016

Test Drive: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

An all-around fun, fuel-efficient and capable small crossover SUV

By Larry Saavedra

Since it was first introduced in 1996, the Toyota RAV4 has enjoyed two decades of impressive sales in the ever-popular compact crossover SUV market. The RAV4’s fourth-generation is a “mid-cycle” upgrade that includes a new model introduction (the SE) as well as tasteful interior and exterior changes.

The latest version has adopted a more aggressive look and feel. These changes are notable in the higher hood line, front grille, and rear bumper area. Inside, changes to the instrument cluster design and dash are evident and more ergonomic, but additional subtle upgrades are seen elsewhere too.

However, the big news from Toyota Motor Sales is the introduction of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid model, an all-wheel-drive with an EPA fuel-efficiency rating of 34 city and 31 highway. The RAV4 Hybrid is offered in the Limited and XLE trim only, and front-wheel drive is not available this year.

At the heart of the new RAV4 Hybrid is its Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder (2.5 liter) power plant that mates to a 141-hp small high-torque electric motor and transaxle. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system has a combined 194 system horsepower, according to Toyota.
On The Road To Salt Lake City

The best test for a hybrid is a long-distance shake-down for fuel economy since that’s the reason most shoppers buy them and the classic silver metallic RAV4 Hybrid Limited we evaluated proved to be a perfect candidate. But where to go?

Our young outdoor editors from, an online adventure sport website, at the Nevada state line.

A quick fuel stop entering Las Vegas with our two youngest members of the evaluation team, editors from the outdoor adventure sport website


For us, the most fitting experience in the RAV4 Hybrid Limited meant packing the bags and leaving Orange County, California for the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah, a distance of 680 miles. It’s just the type of road trip that tests comfort, handling, and overall performance. Since this year’s summer show theme was all about thinking green, another advantage of traveling in a clean-burning hybrid was our collective contribution to lowering the carbon footprint we leave behind.

Our road trip would take us along one of the most traveled corridors in America, the infamous Interstate15 that runs through Las Vegas. Together, there were four adults seated comfortably inside, plus a load of camera gear and personal stuff all organized behind the rear passenger seats.








The Entune Premium Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite is only a touch away from either driver or passenger.


Surprisingly, everything fit and our leg room seemed more than generous. The fact that all four of us were from varying age groups and backgrounds; an artist, a musician, and two automotive journalists, made the trip even more interesting. While our tastes in music never quite meshed, some liked rock, others punk, we all did agree on how dynamic the optional 11-speaker Entune Premium JBL® Audio with Navigation system sounded, and with Bluetooth capabilities it made music selection a pleasure.

Most importantly, the four of us took notes of the miles traveled between fuel stops along the way. Considering we would travel a total of 1,400-miles across both flatlands and mountain terrain, none of us could predict if the RAV4 Hybrid would live up to 34/31 mpg rating. Of course, as hoped, the RAV4 did get an impressive 33/30.5 mpg over the course of the trip. Slightly off from EPA estimates, but reasonable. In fact, our round trip from Orange County to Salt Lake City cost less than $100. On that note, Toyota recommends 87 octane or higher unleaded, which gives owners options if the price per gallon is a concern.

Because of the 12.3-gallon fuel tank in the hybrid model, fill-ups came more often than we would have liked, but the mileage numbers were impressive nonetheless. Actually, the hybrid model was 8 mpg better than the standard RAV4 AWD model, and it accelerates better from 0-60 over the non-hybrid RAV4.
Comfort Inside

Another plus for the new RAV4 Hybrid Limited was the generous interior volume, enough room for four adults, but not the five as Toyota alluded to in their press material. Nevertheless, everyone enjoyed the ride and large Big Gulp-sized cup holders were plentiful.

The Limited model comes with leatherette throughout the interior and is extremely comfortable. 


Again, the 35.6 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the rear seats was enough to hold all our belongings.  If the 60/40 split rear seats were folded flat, it expands the cargo space to 70.6 cu. ft., slightly less than the non-hybrid edition. The youngest member of our entourage commented that a roof-mounted luggage or bike rack would be one of their first purchases. Considering the RAV4 can be outfitted with a Class 3 hitch-mounted bike rack, someone could have a roof luggage carrier and a bike rack too with little effort. For those seeking to tow a small tent trailer for other gear, the hybrid has a maximum of 1,700-pound towing capacity and 150-pound hitch weight.

At the Outdoor Retailer show, we caught a glimpse of several small tent type trailers that could be towed behind the RAV4 Hybrid, including several models that support carrying along kayaks from Freespirit Recreation in Bend, Oregon. Inside the convention center, Yakima also had their new RAV4 outfitted with a rooftop mounted tent.

The Outdoor Retailer Show gave us a sneak peek at a new roof-top mounted tent from Yakima made for the 2016 RAV4. These tents are currently available.


There’s lots of comfort in the driver’s seat, and lots of decisions to make as well. Like whether to run in EV mode for short bursts in the city under 25 mph, or ECO mode, for the best fuel economy. The driver can monitor the in-dash hybrid system and fuel consumption indicator. The HVAC and instrumentation were easy to read and well-positioned in the new RAV4. 

While getting acquainted with the controls and features takes some time, one of the most useful in our eyes was the accident-avoidance feature called Safety Sense, which is standard on the Limited model. With it, drivers can engage a forward collision warning system (with pedestrian detection), forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, a lane-departure warning and intervention system and automatic high-beam headlight control. It’s all quite straightforward to manage, and with the big rigs of Interstate 15, it was functional to have at our fingertips. Whether or not it saved or used more fuel is debatable, but our four person team of evaluators really liked this safety feature.

The youngest member of our group said, “Driving the RAV4 was very comfortable and very easy. I felt safe driving with the Safety Sense engaged. Overall it was a joy to drive.”    

Overall Performance

For starters, the RAV4 Hybrid is no sports car. But it’s no slouch either. The new RAV4 Hybrid uses the same powertrain as the Lexus NX 300h and Toyota Camry Hybrid. That’s great news for demanding consumers, and we found it plenty powerful for even the steepest and twisty roads. Passing power was also effortless. So if you’re not looking for gobs of power to keep up with the Fast and Furious crowd, the RAV4 Hybrid held its own along the Interstate.

The new RAV4 Hybrid Limited offered plenty of room for four adults as well as enough cup holders for all to enjoy.


Braking was very good, although at times they tended to feel artificial probably due to the electric hardware of the hybrid engine assisting the stopping performance. But with 11-inch ventilated discs at all four corners, braking was well beyond our expectations.

While we made several driver changes to stop for lunch and fuel, we all had ample time behind the wheel to come to the conclusion that the RAV4 Hybrid was the right vehicle for the trip, not only did it have enough room, but the memory function seating positions made it easy for us to adjust to our time behind the wheel. And the blind spot warning indicators that are standard in the Limited sure helped out in heavy traffic conditions.

Limited Model Pluses

While the XLE is available for less money, the Limited is packed with features. Perhaps the most useful are the front heated seats, eight-way power driver seat with lumbar support, leatherette upholstery, adaptive cruise control, 7-inch touchscreen with navigation, smartphone app integration and 18-inch wheels. If that’s not enough to lure you away, the XLE model is just as nice in every other way. MSRP for the RAV4 Hybrid Limited as reviewed is $34,510.


The 2016 RAV4 looking aggressive with its mid-cycle upgrade.


Fuel economy comes from its Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder.


A steak burrito from our favorite Mexican restaurant in St. George, Utah, Cafe Rio. 


The Limited edition RAV4 comes standard with 18-inch wheels.


After nine hours on the road, we had arrived in Salt Lake City for the 2016 Summer Outdoor Retailer Show.


Photography by Dan Sanchez, Larry Saavedra, and courtesly Toyota Motor Company

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