2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Written by Mary Chapman

Toyota RAV4 Winter Driving Experience

If there's one thing at which Toyota excels, it's the company’s de facto role as the chief purveyor of practical, mostly affordable about-town family haulers. Exhibit A: the 2017 RAV4 Hybrid XLE. Now, as with some similarly purposed models, if the vehicle's styling were ice cream, it would be the flavor that joins strawberry and chocolate to make Neopolitan. But that's okay. I prefer anodyne over sprezzatura, the latter a studied carelessness.

In other words, I don’t do contrived.


 This iteration of the hybrid compact crossover is essentially carried over from the last model year, the first for the RAV4 Hybrid. So, almost by definition, the ride isn't a hoot. Still, I like its performance. It rides and handles sans wrinkle, and oomph comes when called. Also, it's not annoying off the mark. Turns produce some roll, but not overly so. Braking is good for the segment too.

 I don't exactly relish the hybrid unit's attendant whine, but the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine -- with electric motors on all axles -- that's mated to a continuously variable transmission, does get 194 sprightly horses. Whinny happens to trump whine. So does petrol economy: 32 mpg combined. Front-wheel drive is the default, but the vehicle’s all-wheel drive system animates itself when necessary. Standard drive modes include EV, ECO and sport.

 The interior is reminiscent of the non-hybrid RAV4: a mish-mash of quality materials and plastic. Again, for the class, it's about what most expect. And again, that's fine, especially since most instruments are user friendly and intuitively placed. Few things are worse than, say, frantically searching for the defroster and it's not even in the traditional precinct. And no, surprise, surprise, we critics don't always comb through a vehicle the sec we jump in. Having said, the touchscreen can be a beat behind. But, I prefer that to the kind that jumps if you as much as look at it. The highly sensitive ones annoy, and once again, relativity reigns.

 I could use one or two more cupholders and places to put things, but the areas for people are ample; as both rows are roomy. Too, the cargo area has 35.6 cubic feet of space; folding down the back seats ups that to 78.6 cubic feet. That’s pretty good. Speaking of seats, the driver could use a mite more padding. Rear seats, however, can slide back, accommodating rangy passengers.

 There are a few changes: standard for all models now are adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning with steering assist. The three trim levels include XLE, Limited and in between, the SE. Other safety features include auto high beams, enhanced stability control, traction control and brake assist. Additional standard stuff includes dual zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls, a backup camera, push button start, three 12-volt power outlets and a USB port.

 Nearly $2,000 worth of extras ran the sticker on my vehicle to $31,965. Admittedly, that’s kind of getting up there. But, in my view, the ride’s still worth it. Those options, which come with the Convenience Package, include height adjustable power liftgate, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sonar, Entune primo audio with navigation and app suite, six speakers, auxiliary audio jack, USB 2.0 port with iPod connectivity and control, advanced voice recognition, hands-free phone capability, and Siri Eyes Free.

 Exterior aesthetics, what say? Again: meh, especially that front end. But unlike some vehicles I've been in, at least I wasn't ashamed to drive this. If the styling shouts “prudence” and “affordable,” fine. That keeps the panhandlers away. But seriously, it's the kind of vehicle, propped over 17-inch alloys, that blends in most anywhere. The rear spoiler on my loaner didn’t hurt. Bonuses included roof rails, power moonroof, and privacy glass.

 The RAV4 Hybrid runs with the likes of the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and the Volkswagen Tiguan. All that said, I'll end where I began: when it comes to gas/electric tuning, fuel efficiency and errand-running utility, Toyota's still the one to catch.