26 September 2023

More Spark For The Rav4

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By Paul Gover.

It could take you a year – or even more – to get a new RAV4 Hybrid.

Toyota dealers are quoting delivery times between six and nine months for the green-power family SUV, but the official word from Toyota Australia is more like 12 months.

That’s an awful long time to wait, but it’s not just down to the continuing production dramas in Japan.

The RAV4 Hybrid is one of the darlings of the electrification effort in Australia and sales of the combustion-plus-battery model are higher than the conventional petrol-powered RAV at the moment. Right now, more than 70 per cent of RAV buyers are choosing the hybrid.

That’s a result that even overpowers the Tesla Model 3, now officially Australia’s top selling battery electric car after the American manufacturer decided to share sales numbers that indicate 15,000 deliveries in 2021.

But the RAV4 was third overall in last year’s official VFacts sales total, beaten only by the rampaging run by Toyota’s HiLux and the Ford Ranger that finished 1-2 – again – as Australians continue to flock to pick-up trucks.

What makes the RAV4 so popular is its family-sized cabin, Toyota quality in every area, and the chance to make a green move with a hybrid.

It also helps – a lot – that a hybrid RAV will be a big money saver on typical stop-start city and suburban runs, where it does the most battery running and also gets the best regenerative braking – when the car slows with resistance from the electric motor instead of normal friction brakes – to charge its battery.

The hybrid RAV is not cheap as, although the basic model starts at just over $37,000, most people are going for the fully-loaded, all-wheel drive Cruiser model that ramps the showroom sticker up to $46,415. But there is an obvious $3000 saving, as the all-wheel drive system on the test car is unnecessary for most people.

Driving the RAV is a reminder that Toyota still does things right, despite its many challengers, from the brilliant aircon to the rock-solid feel and the excellent cabin finishing. The design is nothing special, and the interior is a bit of a miso-mash without the elegance of some other family SUVs, but it does the job.

Performance is good, the ride is good, with braking and cornering grip that does the job.

The hybrid package is typically under-stated, but it’s fun to bring up the display that shows the system doing its work. It’s a definite talking point and fun for kids.

Talking of kids, the space is good in the back and the boot is roomy for the class.

But the RAV is not as impressive as the new Kia and Hyundai twins – Sportage and Tucson – that now lead the rankings for family SUVs. It’s still top five, depending on your needs and budget, and that giant T-badge is an instant winner for many people.

The best thing about the RAV4 hybrid is that it makes no demands. You don’t need to alter your travel plans or worry about finding a plug-in station, yet the returns are obvious.

During a long and mixed week of test driving, the fuel economy drops to a very impressive 5.9 litres/100km.

But, and it’s a big but, if you’re doing a lot of highway driving and spending most of your time above 80 km/h then the RAV, like all hybrids, becomes a fully combustion car to maintain the speed. It’s still efficient in that role, but hybrids do their best work in stop-start conditions and even dipping midway into the accelerator pedal is likely to end the quietness and efficiency of electric driving by firing the combustion engine.

So the RAV4 Hybrid is not the best SUV, and it is about to be overtaken – at least in dinner table conversation – by the newer breed of plug-in hybrids which promise more electric-only range.

But it’s a very good car, ticks all the right boxes for modern families, and is worth the wait.


Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Price: from $37,070

Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol hybrid

Power: 160kW

Transmission: 7-speed auto, front-wheel drive

Position: hybrid family SUV

Plus: green, economical, Toyota badge

Minus: not cheap, giant wait


Score: 8/10

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