Toyota's best-selling model is better as a hybrid.
Not counting pickup trucks, the Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Hybrid combine to be the best-selling vehicle in the United States, so it doesn't really need us to pump up its tires. In fact, Toyota's hybrid sales were up by 28.7 percent in the US last year and we believe the latest RAV4 is a big reason why. The fifth-generation RAV4 debuted as a 2019 model and now enters the 2020 model year with some notable improvements.
We drove both the standard and hybrid models as they were first launched and recently drove a 2020 RAV4 Hybrid Limited model. After spending a week with it, we are convinced that the RAV4 deserves to be the best-selling vehicle in the US but it is the hybrid model that easily outclasses its conventional counterpart. Here's why:
Driving a hybrid like the Toyota Prius used to make an announcement to the world that you wanted to get great gas mileage at the expense of styling, comfort, and driving enjoyment. This is no longer the case. Toyota still offers the Prius but it is now joined in the lineup by hybrid variants of the Corolla, Camry, Avalon, RAV4, and Highlander, so there is a Toyota hybrid model for all size requirements. None of these can match the 58-mpg figure of the Prius but a few of them can get close without looking quite so ugly (worth the trade-off).
Of all the Toyota hybrid models, we think the RAV4 is the most stylish. It looks the most like its non-hybrid counterpart and can even be had in the XSE grade with black wheels and a black roof, giving a more sporty appearance than the Limited grade we were sent for testing. We even love the squared-off wheel arches, which give it a more rugged look.
The RAV4 is not the most spacious hybrid in Toyota's lineup (that honor goes to the Highlander) but it is more usable than a Prius. 37.5 cubic feet of space is available behind the second row and that number stretches to 69.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. Some of the RAV4's competitors, like the Honda CR-V, are larger but Toyota has cleverly designed the RAV4 so the hybrid model doesn't lose any space compared to the standard model.
Toyota sent us the highest trim RAV4 Hybrid, a Limited model with a few optional packages. The starting MSRP for the Limited is $36,630 and our tester rang in at $40,899, so it is a significant increase over the base LE, which starts at $28,100. That being said, you are getting luxury car features at this price. Our tester came with a 360-degree camera, wireless charger, dual-zone climate control, heated and ventilated seats, heated rear seats, smart key, digital rearview mirror, and a hands-free liftgate.
Even lower grades come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as-standard, giving you adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic high beams, road sign assist, and lane trace assist. For the first time, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also come standard, so now Apple and Android users will be able to enjoy smartphone connectivity in their Toyota.
Opting for the hybrid version of any car is usually a trade-off between performance and fuel economy but the RAV4 Hybrid bucks this trend. Both versions of the RAV4 are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine but with assistance from the electric motor, total output in the hybrid is 219 horsepower compared to 203 in the standard car. Not only is the hybrid more powerful, but it is also smoother with its continuously variable transmission. Yes, we understand that CVTs have a poor reputation amongst enthusiasts but we recommend giving this one a try. Compared to the eight-speed automatic in the standard RAV4, this CVT is much smoother and more responsive.
The EPA rates the RAV4 Hybrid at 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. These numbers are frankly excellent but in our week of testing, we bested the EPA's city figure by averaging over 45 mpg. On the highway though, we only saw around 34 mpg. We attribute this discrepancy to keeping up with Florida's typical highway traffic speeds, which are most likely much higher than what the EPA tests.
A standard RAV4 should achieve around 36 mpg on the highway but around town, it will only be able to get around 26 mpg. So if you do mostly highway driving, the standard RAV4 should be fine. But if you drive a lot in town, the RAV4 Hybrid will easily save you money in the long run. We did the math, and it will only take around three years of fuel savings to pay off the RAV4's hybrid premium.