The Toyota RAV-4 is well on its way to being the best-selling vehicle in the Toyota lineup, beating out the perennial top dog, the Camry sedan. The reason for this is that compact SUVs are the hottest selling vehicles in the auto business. Beyond that, the RAV-4 is the most popular SUV in its segment

Most of the RAV-4 models are gas-only vehicles, but Toyota also offers a gas-electric hybrid. It’s one of only two compact SUVs (Nissan Rogue is the other) with a hybrid power train. The principle advantage of the RAV-4 Hybrid is excellent gas mileage, 32 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

However, I can’t say it was love at first sight when my RAV-4 Hybrid test car arrived recently, I was a bit put-off by the strange combination of an electric blue body color and a two-tone tan and black interior. But once I got passed that, I liked the overall body styling. In fact, the nose looked kind of cute, like the face of an angry bug, when the LED running light were on.

Moving inside, the two-tone black and tan trim in the cabin was actually quite appealing. You’d almost think that you were sitting in a more expensive SUV. Moreover, the leatherette seats not only looked good, they felt good. The ones up front provided a commanding view of the road, and those in the rear delivered ample head- and legroom. Additionally, I was impressed with the spacious storage area behind the seats. It’s the largest in its class at 35.6 cubic feet.

Toyota offers the RAV-4 Hybrid in three levels of trim, XLE, SE and Limited. The base XLE costs a cool $30,000, but it comes very well equipped. Upscale features, like a moonroof, automatic climate control, and Toyota’s Safety Sense system are all included in the base price. Safety Sense delivers desirable features, such as pre-collision warning and braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure alert.

If you move up a notch to the SE, you will also get a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels and jazzy styling touches. But if your taste runs more toward luxury, the Limited ups the ante with Entune premium audio, navigation and parking sensors.

Toyota powers the Hybrid with a 2.4-liter gas engine teamed with two electric motors. Together, they generate a solid 194 horsepower, and drive all four wheels via a continuously variable (automatic) transmission (CVT). Although the Hybrid weighs over 300 pounds more than its gas-only sibling, the Hybrid has plenty of pep, and is actually faster than the standard model, while delivering 28-percent better gas mileage.

Behind the wheel, the Hybrid is easy to live with, but not exciting to drive. However, I doubt that the Hybrid buyers will be looking for thrills on the road. The steering is reasonably precise, and conveys a decent amount of road-feel. Overall, the handling is predictable. The ride quality is pretty good too. The suspension takes the hard edge off of bumps in the pavement, although you do feel a lot of small movements on two lane roads. The noise level in the cabin is moderate at freeway speeds and relatively quiet around town.

The RAV-4 Hybrid has a high starting price ($30,000), but compensates for this with a lot of standard equipment. My test car was an SE model ($33,025) with the optional Advanced Technology package ($2440) with a long list of equipment, including JBL audio and a bird’s eye view camera, as well as $1248 worth of smaller options. The suggested retail price was a lofty $36,833.



Lots of Standard Features

Excellent Gas Mileage

High Price

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