It’s kind of hard to get excited about the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid, unless you’re the sort of person who goes crazy over practicality, that is. Even if you are, though, chances are that you’ve already marked your calendar in anticipation of the day the 2019 Rav4 Hybrid hits dealer lots. The completely redesigned crossover looks sharper than the current model, is better equipped and can go up to 600 miles on a single tank of gas. The Rav4 has been killing it in the crossover segment and the 2019 model looks like it will continue that run of dominance.
But until that time comes — “that time” is January of 2019 — there’s the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid. We recently spent a week with the eco-friendly CUV thanks to the folks over at Toyota. Spoiler alert: If you’re one of the aforementioned people who go crazy over practicality, then you will absolutely love this car. For everyone else, the relationship will be a bit more complicated and less passionate.
All 2018 Toyota Rav4 Hybrids come equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with two electric motors, one which sends additional power to the front wheels and another that powers the rear wheels when all-wheel drive is called upon. The combined output is 194 horsepower, which tops the 176 ponies produced by the non-hybrid Rav4. As you’d expect, though, this extra power comes at a price: The Rav4 Hybrid has a curb weight of 3,925 pounds and is 295 pounds heavier than an all-wheel drive SE model — our tester was an SE — equipped with AWD.
The good news is that the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid doesn’t feel heavy when you’re behind the wheel. There’s good pickup when you put your foot down on the gas, provided of course you aren’t driving in Eco Mode. Passing at speed isn’t really an issue either with the CVT always ready to serve up power and a faux manual shifting mode for when a power surge is needed. A run from 0 to 60 mph takes 8.1 seconds, which is almost a full second quicker than the Nissan Rogue Hybrid.
Other than an engine that’s got some pep, there’s not much more to write home about from a drivability standpoint. The steering is numb and the suspension, while being tuned for comfort, wasn’t able to soak up bumps on the road as well as we would have liked. Maybe the new Rav4 Hybrid will be fun to drive, but the 2018 model certainly isn’t. That’s more than alright, though, because that’s not the value proposition Toyota is presenting.
People who buy the Rav4 Hybrid are doing so because they want a practical crossover that gets great gas mileage, and on that front Toyota more than delivers. The EPA rates the hybrid CUV at 34/30/32 (city, highway, combined). Our tester averaged a combined 28.1 mpg. The majority of our time behind the wheel was spent driving to Milwaukee and back from Chicago, although there was a fair amount of in-city driving as well.
It’s not hard to believe that the crossover could hit its EPA estimated mpg figures under normal driving conditions. After all, normal drivers aren’t constantly cycling through driving modes and slamming down on the gas for fun...right?
Speaking of drive modes, the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid features an all-electric mode. In our experience, this mode works one of two ways. First: You engage it and are told there’s not enough juice to power the vehicle. Second: You engage EV mode and travel several feet before being told that the Rav4 Hybrid is unable to continue under electric power any further. We didn’t expect to be able to circle the city on electric power alone, but it we were left wondering why Toyota decided to include an electric mode that is only useful for senior living centers where the speed limit signs never go above five miles per hour.
It’s easy to ignore the disappointing electric drive mode, but it’s a lot harder to overlook the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid SE’s bland cabin. The dashboard has a lifeless look and the design mandate for the center stack seems to have involved cramming as many buttons in as humanly possible. Despite what the seats lack in looks, they’re actually pretty comfortable. It’s not hard to find a good position in the driver’s seat, which features power adjustable bolsters and lumbar support.
Passengers in the back will find plenty of headroom and legroom (and cup holders), even when they’re sitting behind a driver standing over 6’0”. Hell, the second row of seats may even be roomy enough for five adults, although we weren’t brave enough to test that theory. Despite having to make room for a battery pack, the hybrid still offers 35.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up and 70.6 cubic feet of space with them folded. For reference, the non-hybrid Rav4 offers a cargo space split of 38.4/73.4 cubic feet.
Standard SE trim features include a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels which, when paired with the optional Electric Storm Blue paint, actually give the ho-hum Rav4 some visual appeal. Our tester came equipped with one of two available options packages. Notable features from the literally named $1,310 Entune Premium JBL Audio with Integrated Navigation and Entune App Suite include a 7-inch infotainment screen, an 11-speaker JBL GreenEdge sound system complete with a subwoofer, Siri Eyes Free compatibility and navigation.
If it were our money, we’d pass on this package. The upgraded audio system didn’t blow us away and the navigation system is desperate need of an update, both in terms of design and speed. Toyota would have been much better off by making Android Auto or Apple CarPlay standard or part of an optional package. That’s the route Nissan recently took with the Rogue Hybrid.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to tech. There’s actually a fair amount of safety and driver’s assistance tech that comes standard on the Rav4 Hybrid. The bundled Toyota Safety Sense-P features a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, radar cruise control featuring lane tracing assist and automatic high beams. Other than being a bit quick to brake, the Rav4 hybrid’s radar cruise control works well and makes life easier on long road trips and during periodic highway slowdowns. Additional standard safety features available on the SE trim include blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert. A 360-degree camera and front and rear parking sensors are also available as part of the second optional package, which runs $2,785.
At the end of the day, buyers considering the Rav4 Hybrid have two questions to answer: Should I go for this over the gas-powered Rav4, and how does this stack up to the competition? For the first question, our recommendation is to go green. The Rav4 LE Hybrid starts at $27,385. A base Rav4 optioned with all-wheel drive checks in at $26,060. Our tester, with its options package included, rang in at $34,580, a figure which includes the $995 delivery fee. A gas-powered Rav4 SE comes standard with AWD and is just $2,000 cheaper than the SE Hybrid.
When it comes to the competition, there’s the Nissan Rogue Hybrid, new-ish Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and...that’s it. The Rogue Hybrid and Rav4 Hybrid are pretty evenly matched, with the Toyota offering more power and the Rogue more style and better tech. For some strange reason the Rogue Hybrid isn’t available across the entire United States, which means some consumers won’t even get the chance to pick between the two. The Outlander PHEV offers more max cargo space (78 cubic feet) and can actually do some electric driving; it’s all-electric range checks in at about 20 miles. That said, it’s a bit pricier than the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid, with a starting MSRP of $34,495.
Really, the 2018 Rav4 Hybrid’s biggest competition is the upcoming 2019 Rav4 Hybrid. Until the 2019 model drops, it’ll be hard to find a better hybrid compact crossover...mostly because there are so few out there. When that day does come, though, the 2018 hybrid Rav4 will look pretty dated. Unless you’re dying to go green, our advice is to hold out until January.