► Toyota RAV4 Hybrid costs £26k
► FWD, CVT, 0-62mph in 8.4sec
► Claimed to average 56.7mpg
This could be a case for the most obvious iteration of a new car currently on sale. The Toyota RAV4 began the incredibly popular C-SUV craze, back in 1994 when it was launched, and it’s sold over 6.5 million units. Now, however, there are 20 protagonists competing for your cash in that segment.
How best to capitalise on this success? Well, with 20 percent of Toyota’s total sales comprising cars powered by a petrol-electric combo, guess what? Yes, you can now get a petrol-electric hybrid RAV4.
It also helps pave the way for the introduction of the C-HR arriving later this year, which means a car already bought predominately by the grey brigade has become even more sensible.
Oh. So is the new RAV4 Hybrid an interesting car to drive?
No. It’s very easy, but at the expense of anything approaching engagement. The most entertaining thing about it is the regenerative braking system, which sounds just like a tube train when you slow from high speeds. Other than that, it’s nothing to write home about.
Though it’s got a large petrol engine for this sort of car – displacing 2.5 litres and benefitting from a relatively high 12.5:1 compression ratio, no less – the noise it makes is a disappointing generic hum. To make matters worse it’s bolted to a CVT gearbox, so push the throttle pedal hard and you’ll get a dollop of dismal din with little in the way of meaningful progress.
Of course, it’s possible to drive quite efficiently if you’re happy racing mobility scooters or longshore drift, and in some cases it’ll get close to the claimed fuel economy – but the mpg figure soon tumbles if you ask anything more than gentle pottering on flat surfaces.
When the RAV4's driven gently, the petrol engine is assisted by a single electric motor fed by a nickel-metal-hydride battery. It offers less than two miles of total range as per the rest of the hybrid cars in the line-up (stand up Yaris, Auris, Prius) but its 194bhp output makes it the most powerful hybrid system yet installed in a Toyota.
The most powerful hybrid Toyota ever, eh?
Hold your horses. Its performance figures proudly state a 0-62mph time of less than 10 seconds, but frankly we had to resort to our stopwatch to verify this because it really doesn’t feel that fast.
It’s possible to have an additional motor to power the rear wheels upon demand, but not on this Business Edition Plus trim – front-wheel drive is the only option. That seems baffling when you consider that the ‘4’ in the name originally stood for – you’ve guessed it – four-wheel drive.
What’s the RAV4’s cabin like?
Clearly this is a car at its best driven slowly, then, which is fortunate because Toyota has done a lot of work on reducing the noise, vibration and harshness you’re subjected to, improving comfort on longer trips.
These revisions are backed up with the ability to travel almost silently on electric power, ride quality that has been dramatically improved and a neat TFT screen with crisp graphics nestled between speedo and rev counter. All of a sudden the RAV4 begins to feel a bit like a quality product.
There’s a big but here, though: it doesn’t feel as upmarket as a Lexus. It can’t. Otherwise, we’d be looking at a brand identity crisis of previously undiscovered proportions. The materials in the cabin are on the hard-wearing side, with low-rent scratchy plastics obvious on the dash, door cards and nearly everywhere else.
Sure, there’s a smattering of softer leather on some touchpoints, but there’s an overriding impression it’s been rolled in glitter rather than built well to start with. Dogproof it might be, but emotionally attractive it ain’t. At least there's plenty of space, both up front and in the back.
Has Toyota at least nailed the multimedia?
Erm. We weren’t blown away by the seven-inch touchscreen either. There was a time when Japanese firms were right at the forefront of infotainment tech, but this one feels clunky to use and nowhere near as responsive as it could be. An Astra’s screen is far better.
Spend a moment trying to locate the Sport button (or the EV mode, or the Eco mode) and eventually it’ll dawn on you that they’re hidden under the strange ridge in the central console underneath the touchscreen. There’s a USB and 12-volt socket there too, but you really have to reach down and under – and you haven’t got a hope of seeing which button you’re pressing when on the move. It simply feels like Toyota doesn’t expect you to use them, so we have to ask: why bother?
You do get a fair amount of kit, though, which is a welcome treat. Highlights include LED lighting at both ends, a powered tailgate (which takes so long to open you’ll grow roots) and a keyless entry and ignition system. The sat-nav is standard here, but confusingly it’ll cost you an extra £750 if you want to order it on higher trim levels.
It’s very difficult to recommend the front-wheel-drive RAV4 Hybrid unless outright CO2 emissions govern your decision above all else. In other words, unless you’re a benefit-in-kind-paying company car driver. It’s easy to see why the only trim offered with this drivetrain in the UK is called Business Edition Plus.
On the launch event in Spain, Toyota was proud to use the tagline ‘Always a better way’. We can think of several. Perhaps a 1.6-litre diesel Honda CR-V, for example.