2019 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid – Review By Ben Lewis

Toyota has found their mojo.

The new Camry is awesome.

The Hybrid version, is too. The Corolla Hatch? Desirable and fun.

Even the Avalon is sexy now. Yes, the Avalon.

But it’s the SUVs and Crossovers that are make or break for manufacturers. And since the RAV4 pretty much invented the small car-based SUV 22 years ago, it’s been a big hit. In fact, Toyota says the RAV4 is not only the best-selling vehicle in its class, it’s the best-selling non-pickup in the country.

That would make a lot of manufacturers cautious, careful and conservative. Don’t rock that money boat!

Instead, Toyota did something amazing, radically redesigning and rethinking the small SUV.

So, is the new RAV4 a segment buster, or just a bust?

Well, it crushes it in the styling department. Gone is the pleasant persona – the new RAV has attitude. The front end has a strongly family resemblance to the 4Runner and Tacoma, with a prominent, sculpted grille, angular lines and sharp creases. A low underbody cladding style gives a tough look.

It looks noticeably larger, with a longer wheelbase pushing out the edges more, even though the overall length seems the same.

The profile is also athletic and truck-like, with polygonal shaped wheel arches giving an impression of riding high – not just an impression as the new model has half an inch more ground clearance. More sharp folds give depth that separates it from the previous model’s slabby style.

Our tester was the HSE Hybrid, and it further stands out from the crowd with piano-black accents across the front end, mirror caps, fender arches, and lower rockers. Add in, projector-beam LED headlamps and unique signature LED daytime running lamps on the upper trim Hybrid models, and you have a hybrid that turns heads.

The total package was enhanced by our tester’s Blizzard Pearl with Midnight Black Metallic roof, riding proud over gloss black rims.  We’re totally gaga over the new gray/green Lunar Rock color, but unfortunately, it’s not offered on the hybrid. Decisions, decisions…

Bigger, Better, and Beautiful

Inside is as much a thrilling departure as the exterior.

It feels more open and airy inside, thanks to a slimmer profile on the instrument panel. The gauges include a 7-inch multi-function display, that calls up a variety of information, including specific hybrid-type stuff like battery charging, etc. The design of the gauges is excellent; everything looks fresh and modern.

There’s a large 8-inch touch screen, tablet-style display, and Toyota has finally joined the tech wars – every 2019 RAV4 model is equipped with Entune 3.0 multimedia, including Wi-Fi Connect powered by Verizon, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant capability, and drum roll please! Apple CarPlay compatibility. If that wasn’t enough, our loaded tester also enjoyed the 11-speaker, 800-watt JBL audio system.

The seats are redesigned front and rear, and the front buckets feel like supportive, sport models, trimmed in faux-leather Soft-tex, with contrasting blue stitching. They’re handsome and comfortable for the daily commute or your next long adventure. There’s also a substantial leather-wrapped steering wheel, chunky center console with fat shift lever, and large rotating control for driver modes.

Everything feels great to the hand – Toyota took extra car to use that polygonal motif inside, and there’s lots of texture on controls, from the Audio to the Climate control, to pieces of trim. They feel durable and substantial. Part truck-grade stuff, part premium ride. Impressive

Also impressive, Toyota also really thought about the details – the heated front seats provide greater heat in the center of the back and thighs, which many people find more comfortable. The center console is 1.5-inches wider and sits 7 tenths of an inch higher to match the door armrest. Our XSE also added some other premium touches like blue LED mood lighting, and when the RAV is in reverse, the tray lights are dimmed to prevent driver distraction.  Who thinks of these things? Toyota does!

Those in back also enjoy larger, more comfortable seats, with easier entry. The cargo area is actually a tad smaller than the previous model in overall volume – you probably wouldn’t notice that, but you will notice the cargo area is 2.5 inches longer, and there’s an adjustable cargo deck heights – a higher one that creates a nearly flat surface with the seats folded down, and a lower setting that drops about 2 inches for taller stuff.

The deck board even flips over to provide a plastic surface for carrying wet or dirty objects. Who thinks of these things…you get it…

Its beauty is much more than skin deep.

Toyota could have stopped right there with the athletic bod and comfy confines, but that was just the beginning. Underneath the skin is Toyota’s new TNGA platform, and it’s a honey. It starts with a unibody that’s 57-percent more rigid than the previous model. That’s huge – and it gives the RAV4 a solid, vault-like feel that’s impressive.

Under the hood of lesser (you know, non-hybrid) RAV4’s is a new 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, punching out an impressive 203 horsepower, and with a new 8-speed automatic transmission, it gets an estimated combined EPA of 35 mpg for front drive and 33-34 MPG for all-wheel drive. Seriously good numbers.

But not as good as our Hybrid! With a combined 219 horsepower, it’s the muscle of the family, and those electric motors give instant torque for a strong low-end punch. A downer in our eyes is the hybrid-exclusive CVT transmission. In normal driving, it’s smooth and refined. But when you want to take advantage of those 219 ponies, even in Sport mode, it seems less inclined to play.

But play we did, and enjoying all the power, we still averaged 37 mpg, which is stellar. Also impressive, the uptick for the Hybrid system is only $800. All Hybrid RAV4’s feature standard All Wheel Drive, and Toyota shows evidence of deep thinking here as well.

The Hybrid’s AWD system is unique, and features a separate rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels, increasing total torque to the rear wheels 30% over the old model. This reduces front-wheel slip off the line, and enhances handling on -road. Off-road, it gives better hill-climbing performance. The driver-selectable Trail Mode enhances grip even more.

More coolness? Hybrid models feature Predictive Efficient Drive that essentially reads the road and learns driver patterns to help optimize hybrid battery charging and discharging operations based on actual driving conditions. The system accumulates data as the vehicle is driven and “remembers” features such as hills and stoplights, for example, and adjusts the hybrid powertrain operation to maximize efficiency. Operation is transparent to the driver. Who thinks of these things?

Whichever powertrain floats your boat, the RAV4 has plenty more to offer. That new platform makes the RAV impressively quiet, and it feels solid over bumps and ruts. We stayed on-road, and the handling was loads of fun, steering feel is Euro good – take that BMW! The sport-tuned suspension on our XSE hybrid – touted as the ultimate performance RAV4! – was a beautiful blend of firm and comfortable. We honestly looked forward to every drive in our test vehicle. That says a lot.

We’re enthusiasts, but we’re family types, too, so safety is important. Every 2019 RAV4 is equipped with the second generation of Toyota Safety Sense (TSS 2.0), including Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beam, along with 2 new features, Lane Tracing Assist and Road Sign Assist.

Our XSE model enjoyed even more, with available Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Rear Cross Traffic Braking, and Intelligent Clearance Sonar.

Is it a Budget Buster?

Well, that’s up to you. The RAV4 comes in a huge lineup of choices. It starts with the RAV4 LE at $25,500. You get a handsome vehicle, LED lights, 17-inch wheels, the upgraded Entune system and all the safety gear. That’s a heck of a lot of vehicle for the money. You can run up the ladder to XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure and Limited trims. In the Hybrids, you have a choice of LE, Limited, and Hybrid-exclusive XSE trims.

Our RAV4 XSE started at $33,700. The Blizzard Pearl/midnight black roof paint was $395, the XSE Technology package which gives the added safety goodies, was $640, the weather package, including heated steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers was $375, premium JBL audio system $1,620 and Panoramic sunroof, $200. With $1,045 for destination, our tester rang the bell at $37,980.

Competition is a little tricky – the CR-V Touring is $34,000, the Subaru Forester Limited is $35,270, but neither are hybrids. The Kia Niro is a Hybrid, at $32,000 –  and it’s impressive, but not really an SUV, set up for rough roads/weather. The Nissan Rogue Hybrid comes in at $36,035, but 176 hp vs. 219, and against the RAV’s rugged looks, make it a tough choice.

The vehicle that created the class, is the class of its class. The all-new 2019 RAV4 is an awesome small SUV.

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.

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