Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid brings good fuel economy,

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Since moving into a new generation two years ago, the popular Toyota RAV4 compact crossover now comes in hybrid-electric versions.

The hybrid models joined the lineup as the RAV4 entered its new generation four years ago, with a redesign that made it lower and sleeker, and gave it lots of new technology.

Two years ago, Toyota added a plug-in hybrid version, called the RAV4 Prime. This model can go up to 42 miles on battery power alone, can and be recharged externally. There are two trim levels for 2023: the Prime SE ($41,590) and the Prime XSE ($45,460).

Also for 2023, there are seven regular RAV4 Hybrid models, none of which has external charging capability. All of them come with all-wheel drive.

Models include the LE ($30,225); XLE ($31,735); SE ($32,920); off-road oriented Woodland Special Edition ($33,025); XLE Premium ($34,625); XSE ($35,885), the model we tested; and the Limited ($38,530).   

RAV4 is a five-passenger vehicle, and has been since Toyota dropped the third-row-seat option with the fourth generation that arrived for 2013.

Gasoline-only models for 2023 include the special TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Off-Road all-wheel-drive model, which starts at $37,195.

The other gasoline models are the entry-level LE ($26,250, front-wheel drive; $28,975, AWD); XLE ($29,085, front drive; $30,485, AWD); XLE Premium ($31,975, front drive; $33,375, AWD); Adventure ($33,770, all-wheel-drive only); and Limited ($35,880, front drive; $37,280, AWD).

The RAV4’s newest exterior styling was intended to give it a bolder, more-athletic look. The body is 57 percent more rigid than before, and ground clearance has been increased by a half-inch to allow for improved off-road ability.

There’s also no longer a full-size spare tire mounted on the outside of the rear door of the RAV4, which disappeared with the fourth generation. For some RAV4 fans, that was one of its most-distinctive features – and one of its most practical.

Compared with the previous model, the current generation is 0.2 inches shorter, at 180.9 inches long, but has a wheelbase that’s 1.2 inches longer, at 105.9 inches. It’s 0.4 inches wider, and 0.2 inches lower than the fourth generation.

Gasoline models are still powered by a normally aspirated 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine, producing 203 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, a boost from the previous generation. A new eight-speed direct-shift automatic transmission replaced the previous six-speed automatic on the gasoline models.

Even with the power boost, the new RAV4 gasoline-only model has better fuel economy than that of the previous generation. EPA ratings are 26 mpg city/35 highway/30 combined for all front-drive gasoline-only trims. Surprisingly, the LE all-wheel-drive model has the best city fuel economy; ratings are 27 city/34 highway/30 combined. Other all-wheel-drive trims are rated at 25/33/28 mpg.

Hybrid models come with a different 2.5-liter engine, with 176 horsepower, and have an electric drive motor and a continuously variable automatic transmission. The electric motor gives the hybrid more start-up power than the gasoline-only models.

Total for the hybrid system is 219 combined horsepower. All the hybrid models except the Woodland Edition have the same EPA ratings: 41 city/37 highway/39 combined. The Woodland Edition is rated at 38 city/35 highway/37 combined.

The TRD Off-Road comes with high-rise roof rails, large over-fenders, and aggressive bumper and grille designs and fog-light surrounds similar to those on the Adventure model.

It also comes with the higher 8.6-inch ground clearance of the Adventure model, but adds a special suspension, wheels and tires engineered specifically for trail driving.

Also standard on the TRD Off-Road is Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with Driveline Disconnect. It’s rated to tow trailers weighing up to 3,500 pounds.

The Adventure model, added with the 2019 redesign, also has a more-rugged exterior look, and is designed for limited off-road driving. It comes with high-rise roof rails and large over-fenders, along with a unique grille and special fog light trim, and special wheels.

It also can tow trailers up to 3,500 pounds. Other gasoline RAV4 models are limited to 1,500-pound maximum trailer weight, but the regular hybrid can tow up to 1,750 pounds.

Adventure also includes Dynamic Torque Vectoring with Rear Driveline Disconnect. That system also comes on Limited models with the AWD option.

Toyota moved the outside mirrors lower on the new RAV4’s body for better forward visibility. Visibility to the sides was also improved, thanks to a lower belt line and larger rear-quarter windows.

Our XSE Hybrid is a sporty version that comes with piano-black accents on the front end, mirror caps, fender arches and lower rocker panels. There are projector-beam LED headlights on all hybrids.

The XSE version also has a two-tone exterior that includes a black roof paired with Blizzard Pearl, Silver Sky Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic or Blueprint paint. It has a black interior with SofTex faux-leather upholstery and blue accents.

Our test vehicle came with the Silver Sky Metallic/black roof paint scheme.

All gasoline-only models with all-wheel drive come with Multi-Terrain Select, which allows the driver to choose the appropriate driving mode for the current road condition, to maximize traction. Settings are provided for driving through snow, mud, sand or rocks. It’s controlled by a dial or buttons in the center console to the left of the shifter.

The Adventure model can be equipped with an Ice Edge-colored roof paired with one of three exterior colors: Midnight Black Metallic, Blue Flame or Lunar Rock. Seats can be either black or mocha-colored SofTex. Orange stitching helps accent the interior.

The Limited model comes with 19-inch alloy wheels and chrome accents, a front moon roof, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory and two-way lumbar support, a new seven-inch Multi-Information Display, and the new Digital Display Rearview Mirror. It can be used in conventional mirror format, or with the flip of the switch, it can become the monitor for a high-mounted, wide-angle, high-definition camera at the rear of vehicle.

RAV4 also comes with a standard backup camera and electronic parking brake.

Optional features include ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a panoramic moon roof. There is also an available hands-free power liftgate, which opens by waving a foot below the rear bumper (with the key fob at hand).

All RAV4 models come with the latest Toyota Safety Sense features. They include the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection; adaptive cruise control; Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist; Forward Collision Warning with Automatic Emergency Braking; Automatic High Beams; Lane Tracing Assist, which recognizes white or yellow lane markings to keep the vehicle centered in its lane, or when the marker lines are absent, it can follow the route of the vehicle in front; and  Road Sign Assist, which identifies Stop, Yield, Do Not Enter and Speed Limit signs and gives alerts audibly and on the Multi-Information Display.

Eight air bags are standard, as is the Toyota Star Safety System, which includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution with Brake Assist, four-wheel antilock disc brakes and the Smart Stop technology.

Options include the Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Bird’s Eye View Camera, Intelligent Clearance Sonar, and Rear Cross Traffic Braking.

In addition, every RAV4 has the Toyota Entune multimedia system including Wi-Fi, hands-free access to Amazon Alexa, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

There are up to five USB ports front and rear, and an available wireless charging tray for smartphones at the front of the center console.

Extras on our tester included the JBL Premium Audio/Navigation Package ($580); and the XSE Technology Package ($2,010), with Front and Rear Parking Assist with automatic braking; wireless smartphone charging; smart-key system on all doors; hands-free, foot-activated power rear hatch; panoramic view camera system; eight-way power driver’s seat with memory; and 12.3-inch color LCD gauge cluster.

We also had the XSE Weather Package ($375), with heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers with de-icer; panoramic glass sunroof ($500); digital rearview mirror with Homelink ($200); carpeted floor mats/cargo mat ($309); and roof-rack cross bars ($315).

The ride is surprisingly smooth and quiet, much more so than that of previous generations. The front seats were quite comfortable, even on a long drive. Outboard rear passengers had adequate leg and knee room as long as the front seats weren’t fully back on their tracks; the middle rear position is best left to a child.

Our hybrid system gave us an average of 39.2 mpg in a mix of about 60/40 local/highway driving.

The electric motor gave us some extra power quickly for passing and merging from uphill freeway ramps, as well as pulling away from stops.

Total sticker price of our 2023 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid was $41,509, including freight and options.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Express-News since 2000. Contact him at or on Twitter @gchambers3. His driving partner Emma Jayne Williams contributed to this report.

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