2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid review: SUV sales champ gets an electrified heart

  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain All Wheel, All Wheel Drive
  • MPG 40 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type Crossovers, SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.9 Overall
  • Performance 7.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Design 8
  • Media 7.5

The Good The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid feature excellent fuel economy, comfortable ride, nice interior and lots of standard tech features.

The Bad Entune infotainment system still doesn't support Android Auto and features dated graphics.

The Bottom Line The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is the top electrified compact SUV today.

Note: If you're looking for 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid information after seeing the automaker's new Super Bowl commercial featuring Antoinette "Toni" Harris, you've come to the right place. We've spent a lot of quality time with this new gas-electric version of America's best-selling SUV, and have a full scored review below. If you're looking for info on the conventional gas version, Roadshow by CNET has you covered there, too. Check out our first drive review of the 2019 Toyota RAV4

Toyota sold upwards of 400,000 examples of its RAV4 crossover SUV last year. So when it came time to redo its sales superstar, the pressure was high to not screw up its golden goose. Fortunately, Toyota's done a great job with this new RAV4, but there's another trick up this SUV's sleeve. Meet the RAV4 Hybrid, a model that takes all of the accolades Toyota's compact crossover has earned and adds a strong dose of efficiency -- and driving performance.

Hybrid benefits

While the majority of RAV4s driving off dealer lots will be gasoline-only models with a 203-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, people who really value efficiency will likely be enticed by the hybrid. It's got stellar EPA-estimated fuel economy figures of 41 miles per gallon in the city and 37 mpg on the highway -- a huge benefit over the 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway ratings of the standard RAV4. All-wheel drive is standard with a rear-mounted electric motor moving the back wheels, and as a whole, the powertrain is a little more powerful than its gas-only sibling, with a combined system output of 219 horsepower.

Working with a continuously variable transmission, the engine provides more than enough kick to get up to speed in a semi-quick fashion. The CVT hallmark of annoyingly loud engine drone under hard acceleration remains, but the way that the drivetrain switches between gas, electric or a combination of the two for propulsion is impressively seamless.

Regenerative brake tuning is also on point, offering strong stopping muscle and modulation abilities. Older Toyota hybrids had brake pedals that felt like on/off switches when switching between regenerative and mechanical braking, and this is one area where the company has really come a long way.

Middle-ground handling

At the foundation of all fifth-generation RAV4s is a variant of the TNGA-K platform that's also underpins the Avalon and Camry sedans. That accounts for 57 percent better rigidity than the outgoing car and allows the drivetrain to be mounted lower, bringing the center of gravity closer to the ground.

Ride comfort is high on the 18-inch Dunlop tires.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

All of that sounds promising dynamically speaking, but a more forgiving suspension and numb off-center steering response prevent the RAV4 from having reflexes as sharp as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. Overall handling characteristics are still decent for a 3,800-pound crossover, with controlled initial body roll entering corners. The 18-inch wheels and Dunlop Grandtrek tires offer a ride quality that will satisfy the majority of consumers, as well. Dreaded Midwest roads littered with potholes and frost heaves don't rattle the RAV4 as the suspension soaks up impacts. This is a noticeable improvement over the old car that felt crashy over small- to medium-sized bumps.

Beefier looks and better comfort

As most of its competitors adopt rounder, car-like lines, designers took the RAV4 in a boxier and more substantial-looking direction. The front takes cues from Toyota trucks like the 4Runner and Tacoma with my Limited test car wearing a hexagon-pattern grille insert. At the sides, there are squared-off wheel arches, while the rear also strikes a chunkier appearance. As a big fan of the boxy 4Runner, I do like the new look.

Inside, a blockier dash and door panels continue the truck-like theme. Thankfully, unlike the RAV4's truck brethren that are filled with acres of hard plastic, materials inside this Toyota are near the top of its class. All major surfaces have soft-touch surfacing with some accent stitching sprinkled in for good measure. Other nice touches are the rubber door pull handles and center stack knobs that add to the crossover's slightly more premium feel.

The outside adopts a boxier look from Toyota trucks like the 4Runner and Tacoma.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Both cabin comfort and functionality are good. The front seats are cushy but could use a little more side bolstering. Outward visibility is excellent from all angles. There's serviceable room for adults in both rows, and lots of storage cubbies to stash items. The 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space in back is helpful during a weekly grocery run, but a trip to the wholesale restaurant supply store (hey, I've got to help the family business when I can) requires folding the rear seats to use all of the RAV4's 69.8 cubic feet of hauling real estate.

Stronger tech

Taking care of infotainment duties in my range-topping Hybrid Limited test car is the Toyota Entune 3 interface with a responsive 8-inch touchscreen. This tester comes with onboard navigation, an 11-speaker JBL audio setup, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility. The Entune screen is intuitively laid out with big and clear screen icons and handy hard shortcut buttons flanking the screen to quickly call up the most commonly used menus. As for Entune knocks, it still doesn't offer Android Auto, and the graphics look seriously dated.

Entune's 8-inch touchscreen is responsive, but graphics look dated.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

To charge phones and tablets, a USB port, 12-volt outlet and optional wireless charge pad sit at the base of the center stack, while a couple of 2.1-amp USBs reside in the center armrest. Rear passengers also have easy access to two 2.1-amp USB ports on the back of the center console.

All RAV4 Hybrids receive forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, road sign assist and lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist. Limited trims also get standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and an adjustable, digital rearview mirror. A 360-degree surround-view camera is available as an option.

How I'd spec it

As enticing as the more affordable XSE model, I would go with a Limited for the extra creature comforts and blind-spot monitoring. The Limited begins at a not-too-expensive $36,745, including $1,045 for destination. I would only add the $1,015 Limited Weather Package mostly for the heated steering wheel to bring the price tag of my RAV4 Hybrid to $37,760. The car pictured here punches in at $39,565.

Make my RAV4 Hybrid a full-zoot Limited.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Top choice

When it comes to small gas/electric crossovers, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has a lot going for it. With a base price of $28,745, it only carries are $800 price premium over its gas-only counterparts so it won't break the bank. Making it a more compelling package are the fuel economy benefits along with the new styling, nicer interior and tech upgrades.

The only direct mild hybrid competitor at the moment is the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, with its forgettable looks, not to mention the fact that it's painfully slow and doesn't come close to matching the Toyota's efficiency. So if you're shopping for a compact hybrid crossover, the new RAV4 truly is the best thing going.

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