2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: A Popular SUV Revamped for MPG and Luxury

A Girls Guide To Cars | 2016 Toyota Rav4 Hybrid: A Popular Suv Revamped For Mpg And Luxury - 2016 Rav4
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid we test drove in Laguna Niguel, CA

This is big. The only small hybrid SUV on the road gets up to 33MPG. YAY!

I feel like the five year old who, upon her first time meeting him, says to Santa Claus, “I’ve been waiting all my life to meet you!”

Of course, that’s funny because she’s so young and five years isn’t that long, but really it’s not: this moment will change her life forever.

Setting Off To Drive With Team Toyota

Setting off to drive with Team Toyota

That’s how I felt upon meeting the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the only hybrid in the compact SUV category: nothing will be the same again. Between the increased fuel economy, fantastic new safety features and smart conveniences, Toyota has reinvented this popular small SUV in a glorious new way.

The sad irony of small SUVs: small MPG

It’s long been the sad irony of our beloved SUVs that if you buy one, you have to relegate MPG—usually at the top of our car buying wish list—to the ‘Ok, it doesn’t matter that much’ bottom of your list, along with automatic window screens and power ports in the cargo space: if the car has it, great, but if not, there are other items that are more important.

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Look at this a cup holder that holds your coffee mug with a handle 2016 RAV4

Toyota tinkered with the idea of an all electric plug-in RAV4 a decade ago, producing a small number for mostly commercial buyers and mostly in California, but never brought the concept to the consumer market. This is the first wide-appeal, wide distribution of an alternative fuel RAV4.

The average compact AWD SUV gets about 22MPG in the city and about 31 MPG highway, and remember, those are EPA estimates; your actual MPG can vary based on driver behavior, fuel quality and road conditions.

Save time AND fuel: An added 10 MPG is a big deal

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The 2016 Toyota RAV4’s leaner, meaner front end

Now certainly, 23 MPG in the city is way better than the 14 MPG I got in my first Jeep Cherokee, and better than the 19 MPG most larger SUVs get in city driving these days. The Toyota Highlander, which has served as both a performance and styling inspiration for the RAV4 hybrid, rolls in at a commendable 27MPG. 

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The 2016 Toyota RAV4 took away the dark bumpers for a more streamlined view; it reminds me of its big sister the Toyota Highlander

But the RAV4 Hybrid earns a combined fuel economy estimated to be 10 MPG better, or a 33% increase over comparable gas engine compact SUVs. That’s huge. And more than savings at the gas pump, even at $2 a gallon these days, I love not having to stop for gas. Like you, my time is valuable and every time I get to drive by the gas station without stopping, it’s a win.

This Hybrid SUV comes with an even lower cost of ownership

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Rear cargo space 2016 RAV4

Then consider this: the Hybrid version of the RAV4 is a $700 premium over its gas-powered sister. That means that you can recoup the added cost in the first year and a half, even if gas is only $2 a gallon: Assuming you drive 12,000 miles a year, get 22MPG and pay $2 a gallon, you’ll spend $1090 on gas; that same 12,000 miles at 33MPG will cost you $727. That’s a big change over the early hybrid systems that came at a premium of thousands of dollars.

But oh, then there’s the car… and it’s a really nice one at that

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View from the driver’s seat 2016 RAV4; notice how the forward cup holder is designed–designed!— to hold a coffee mug with a handle.

So getting past the whole hybrid, gas-sipping, quiet riding, silent when idling, near zero emissions factors of the RAV4 Hybrid, there’s the car itself: is it worth the investment?

Toyota stepped up its game with this car. Realizing that its customers want more than just great MPG, Toyota ramped up its interior and tech features in the 2016 RAV4, and most of those great features are in the Hybrid version, too.

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2016 RAV4 center console storage spaces

Starting with a clean, well appointed, well organized interior—it’s very pretty and comfortable—the RAV4 Hybrid feels more expensive than it is. The Limited model that we tested out had leather trim and leatherette seating (called SofTex in Toyota speak) which is designed to give you the feel and performance of leather but be more durable and more stain resistant. We’ll wait and see on that one, but in any case, it’s very comfortable.

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2016 RAV4 stuff shelf

Putting its beliefs where its profits are: Toyota introduces change-the-world advanced safety systems

Just as Toyota invested in hybrid systems a decade ago and changed the world’s expectation of MPG, now the company is betting it can up the auto industry’s game by making safety technology standard in many cases and optional in all cases. Many of these great safety features are standard all RAV4 models, including:

  • Enhanced vehicle stability control
  • Traction control
  • Anti-lock brake system
  • Electronic brake-force distribution
  • Brake assist
  • Smart stop technology
  • Hill start assist
  • Sway control

Also standard on all RV4 models is two years of Toyota Care, or scheduled maintenance (including oil changes!)

Then, these features are standard on the RAV4 Hybrid limited and can be added to all other models:

  • Blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert
  • Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection
  • Lane departure alert with steering assist
    Automatic high beams
  • Dynamic radar cruise control
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The rimless rear view mirror in the 2016 RAV4

The RAV 4 is available in 6 different trim levels; the hybrid option is available on two, the XLE, and the highest level, the Limited. Both offer a whole bunch of great features, including:

  • A power lift gate that allows you to set the height it opens to
  • Roof rails for hauling extra cargo
  • Three drive modes including Eco (which also adjusts engine performance and climate control for max efficiency), sport (a little more power for times you want it) and EV (allows you to drive using only battery power for short distances at low speeds)
  • Power windows with auto up/down and jam protection
  • Smart key with push button start
  • Power moon roof
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The hatch has height settings so you can customize how high opens in the 2016 RAV4

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You can set the opening width of the hatchback

One big difference is that the XLE has fabric seats with a manually adjustable drivers and passenger’s seat and SofTex seating is not an option.

Dialed-up luxury in the RAV4 Limited

The Limited definitely has a premium feel over the XLE; some of these features that 

  • SofTex upholstery
  • rear view camera with birds eye view that can zoom in for a closer view
  • Premium Entune sound and navigation package with a 4.2 inch touch screen
  • rear cross traffic alert
  • frameless rear view mirror
  • heated front seats
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Crossed leg test in the back seat of the 2016 RAV4

And before your gearhead friends start to slam the RAV4 hybrid for being underpowered versus gas engines, you can site this stat: The RAV4 Hybrid has more horsepower and torque (194 and 206) than the gas engine RAV4 (175 and 172). And, it weighs about 320 lbs. more than its comparable gas-powered sister.

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A nice little detail: the air vents in the 2016 RAV4 have a retro feel; push it or turn it to adjust air flow

The RAV4 XLE Hybrid will hit the market priced at about $28,000, the Limited will be priced at about $33,000 and both are only available in AWD.

For more on the RAV4 Hybrid SUV, you can see our tour through the model here:

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Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest at the drive event, with travel and accommodations provided. I was not compensated for this story and all opinions expressed are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss