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. Now for 2016, Toyota Motor Sales has given the RAV4 fourth generation a “mid-cycle” upgrade that includes a new model introduction (the SE) as well as tasteful interior and exterior changes.
Today, the RAV4 has adopted a more aggressive look and feel. These changes are notable in the higher hoodline, front grille and rear bumper area. Inside, changes to the instrument cluster design and dash are evident and more ergonomic, but more 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) powerplant that mates to a 141-hp small high-torque electric motor and unique transaxle. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system has a combined 194 system horsepower, according to Toyota.
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?
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 away from home. 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.
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, or $25 each. On that note, Toyota recommends 87 octange or higher unleaded, which gives owners options if price per gallon is a concern.
Because of the 12.3 gallon fuel tank in the hybrid model, fillups came more often than we would have liked, but still the mileage numbers were impressive. Actually, the hybrid model gains 8 mpg more than the standard RAV4 AWD model, and it accelerates better from 0-60 over the non-hybrid RAV4.
Another plus for the new RAV4 Hybrid Limited was the generous interior volume, enough room for 4 adults, but not the five as Toyota allued to in their press material, nevertheless, everyone enjoyed the ride and large Big Gulp-sized cupholders were plentiful.
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.