With just about the whole car market shifting towards crossover sport utility vehicles, every automaker is jumping aboard the bandwagon in an attempt to cash in and satiate consumer demand. As one of the pioneers that helped define the segment starting in the 1990s, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Technology also aims to takes advantage of the electrification of cars in general with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain. As the second generation for the hybrid, progress in technology alone appears to make a good case for a strong seller for Toyota.
The XSE Technology trim level starts out life as a RAV4 Hybrid XLE, which goes for $35,090. At this price point, standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual zone automatic climate control, pushbutton start, rain sensing wiper, a power moonroof, and a powered rear liftgate. Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system is standard equipment on all trims, and consists of a pre-collision braking system with bicycle and pedestrian detection, automatic high beam, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, lane tracing assist, and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.
The XSE with Tech package is another $5,800, and adds an 8-inch touch screen for the infotainment, 18-inch alloy wheels, wireless phone charging, premium JBL audio, and a sport tuned suspension. In the safety department, the rear cross traffic system adds autonomous braking for obstacles. The key thing to note here is that in all trim levels, the price delta for the hybrid is only $1,400, which is practically unheard of. In the past, the premium for a hybrid powertrain was usually in the thousands of dollars, which made things cost prohibitive for those who drove fewer kilometres every year. With the addition of $255 for the Blizzard Pearl with black roof paint work, the as-tested price came out to $41,145.
Inside, even with the hybrid battery stowed under the passenger cabin, the RAV4 doesn’t sacrifice passenger comfort and cargo room one bit. Rated cargo capacity remains the same behind the first and second rows, coming in at 1,065 and 1,976 litres (37.6 and 69.8 cubic feet) respectively. The slightly faster sloping rear liftgate cuts into space a bit, and this means that the RAV4 gets edged out slightly by the Honda CR-V, which comes in non-hybrid only. Comfort and space at all seating positions is great for four to five passengers, and the RAV4 is the perfect size for those not requiring a third row of seating.
Whether you’re behind the wheel or sitting as a passenger, the RAV4 XSE with Tech feels quite modern thanks to its 8-inch touch screen infotainment. The system is well laid out and easy to use, with enough hard buttons flanking the screen to keep driver distraction to a minimum. The heating and air conditioning controls are also perfectly placed and intuitive, and the knurled-like rubber surrounds on the dials feel good to the touch. For 2019, Apple CarPlay is now standard equipment, which is a very welcome addition. Android users are out of luck until at least the 2020 model year for RAV4, but Toyota is starting to roll it out across the whole model range, so it’s only a matter of time – retrofit options may become available, as well. Both connectivity suites are the gold standard for smartphone mirroring, and it’s great news that Toyota is now on board.
Under the hood of all RAV4s equipped with the hybrid powertrain is a 2.5-litre inline four cylinder gasoline engine, coupled to two electric motors – one at the front, and one at the rear. All hybrids are all-wheel drive, but there is no driveshaft connecting the front and rear axles. Instead, the gas engine and one electric motor power the front wheels, and another motor routes power to the back as needed. The front motor puts out 118 horsepower and 149 lb-ft of torque, and the rear is capable of 54 horsepower and 89 lb-ft of torque. When all combined, total system horsepower is 219, which is an appreciable bump over the gas-only model’s 203 horsepower. Batteries are Nickel-metal hydride, which are lighter than older lithium ion technology.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is coupled to the engines to perform shifting duty, and with that, the refinement of the gas-electric system is as good as ever for Toyota hybrids. The internal combustion engine cuts in and out seamlessly depending on driver demand, and some of the noise, vibration, and harshness of the gasoline-only engine and eight-speed automatic are completely eliminated with the hybrid. The whole system is always in the right mode at the right time, and there’s never any second guessing about what the car is doing compared to what the driver is asking for.
Rated fuel economy for the new generation RAV4 hybrid is nothing short of impressive, with 5.8L/100KM happening in the city, and 6.3L/100KM happening on the highway. Observed economy over a week of mixed driving managed to beat these numbers, with 5.7L/100KM. All it took to achieve this value was to be more mindful of the hybrid system, and backing off the accelerator to encourage the gas engine to shut off. This isn’t an extreme hypermiling technique, and doesn’t necessarily require drivers to go dangerously slow on the road. Fuel tank capacity is 55 litres, which could mean up to 1,000 kilometres of range between fillups!
On the road, the 2019 RAV4 is greatly improved in terms of driving dynamics. With Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda decreeing that all new products must be fun to drive, the effort put into the latest Toyota New Global Architecture platform is paying great dividends. Add to that the sport tuned suspension of the XSE packages (the struts and shock absorbers are blue!), and the end result is a crossover sport utility that handles very much like a conventional car. When throwing the car into turns, body roll is surprisingly absent, and the RAV4 takes corners as flat as a pancake. Contrary to Toyota stereotypes of the past, the new chassis is wonderful, and can easily be regarded as an industry-best. Yes – it can even be more fun than a Mazda CX-5, with better fuel economy to boot!
After spending a week with the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE Technology, we came away thoroughly impressed with Toyota’s accomplishments with their newest bread-and-butter product. Not only is it a good value for money compared to the model it replaces, it turns out that it’s a good driver’s car with kickass fuel economy to boot. With a price delta of only $1,400 for hybrids, it’s an absolute no brainer on any shopping list, and most drivers will pay that amount back within the car’s warranty period. The hybrid addresses a few of our refinement concerns with the conventional gasser RAV4, and we foresee it being nominated for some year-end awards at minimum. Our hat is off to you, Toyota.