Toyota made many changes to the Rav4 for 2019, including a new chassis, new bold look, and more space. How will Toyota’s top seller in the United States fare with these new changes? Coming in at $37,699, is this loaded crossover worth the coin?
The Rav4 has long been a big seller for Toyota. It was an early, if not the first, car-based SUV, now called crossovers. For 2019, the Rav4 is more aggressive with a higher stance and a half inch higher ground clearance. This bodes well for the Rav4 Adventure whose focus is on outdoorsy people who may be cross shopping with a Subaru Outback or Jeep Cherokee.
Our test model was an XSE Hybrid with a base price of $33,700. The added options included the weather package ($375), premium audio ($1620), technology package ($640), and carpet floor and cargo mats ($269).
The AWD system on the hybrid works by using an electric motor to power the rear wheels and the gas engine with an electric motor to power the front. For the hybrid, the gas engine has been detuned to make 176 horsepower while the standard Rav4 makes 206 horsepower. That difference is made up with the electric motors, bringing the total horsepower to 219. The front electric motor packs 118 horsepower while the rear comes in at 54 horsepower.
Making bold changes to the Rav4 might have been a risky move for Toyota, but they delivered with the 2019 model. It no longer has the outdated jellybean smooth shapes of yesteryear, and is now sporting hard creases with a big vertical grill up front. The D pillar is extra wide but adds to the lines nicely. We found that the round fog lights look good even though they are located in an oddly shaped opening.
Blue ovals inside of the front and rear Toyota badges, along with a couple of hybrid badges, make it clear that this is the hybrid model.
Inside, the XSE hybrid has sporty blue stitching on the leather seats. This accents the blue Toyota badging on the outside very well and keeps with the hybrid theme. Up front, the heated seats are quite comfortable and supportive.
The infotainment system was easy to use and the 8-inch touchscreen was clear and easy to navigate. It was nice having physical buttons for all the features, which makes adjustments to the climate control or radio a breeze. Having the upgraded Entune with 11 speakers brought crisp and clear sound to the comfortable cabin.
The rear outboard seats are comfortable and roomy enough for an average-height person. Taller people may struggle to fit comfortably. The middle rear seat is tiny and better for short trips or children. There is a center arm rest that folds down with two cup holders inside of it that provides more comfort when the middle seat isn’t needed.
The rear seats also fold mostly flat to create a larger cargo area. The seats are actually at an angle to the cargo floor when folded, but the angle actually nicely lines up with the front arm rest for transporting long skinny items.
Many hybrid systems have jerky starts and transitions between the electric motors and gas engine, but not so in the Rav4. With the two electric motors producing plenty of power to move off the line, there is no delay when waiting for the stop start system to fire up the gas engine before leaving a stop light. If more power is needed, the gas engine fires up smoothly and quickly.
The ride and handling are still smooth and composed, despite having a few hundred extra pounds from the hybrid system. It handles potholes without being unsettled and makes for a smooth freeway cruiser. The steering is tight and predictable, but slightly nonlinear.
Off-road is where the hybrid version lacks when compared to other models like the Adventure. In our experience, many CVT transmissions have difficulty climbing steep inclines while also lifting a wheel off the ground, and the Rav4 Hybrid is no exception to this. We were unable to lift a wheel off the ground when crawling forward up a steep embankment. For most people in most situations, the AWD system will be more than enough to get through.
The Rav returned 38 mpg average during our testing. While this was good, the EPA estimates 41 city 38 highway with a 40 mpg average. This is significantly better than the Lexus RX450h hybrid we recently drove, which came in close to the 31 mpg mark.
The Rav4 Hybrid is better than ever and should still prove to be a strong seller for Toyota. We like what has been done with the body, and the chassis seems very well-sorted. Having a smooth hybrid powertrain makes all the difference and Toyota delivers. Adventurous city dwellers should opt for the hybrid as it returns excellent fuel mileage for city driving, but still provides a decent AWD system for driving well-maintained dirt and gravel roads, or snow covered slopes.
Matthew Barnes is an experienced towing expert. He works as a mechanical engineer and his day job involves testing a variety of vehicles while towing trailers of all types and sizes. Matt shares his knowledge by writing for automotive news outlets in the evenings. When he’s not working he can be found spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, and backpacking. Whenever possible he spends time riding in or on any power sports vehicle he can find and claims he can drive anything with a motor, which probably isn’t true.