We recently tested the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, and came away hugely impressed. It’s a total rethink of the RAV4, and it’s bigger, better, more handsome. A winner. But in an interesting twist, Toyota made the Hybrid the performance model, with 219 horsepower, and in our XSE tester a performance tuned suspension.
We’re wondering if we had been sucked in by the top of the line hybrid power version. So now, we’re back testing a well-equipped but non-hybrid model – the kind most people will end up buying to see if the standard model is as good.
Since we first tested the new RAV4, they’ve become available for sale, and we’re seeing a lot of them on the road. And we’re finding that although there’s some variations in models, they all have a great sense of style. The XSE model we tested before was intended to be the rugged, sporty model. Sporting a two-tone paint scheme with black wheels and fender well lips against a white body, it looked aggressive and sharp – like a baby 4Runner.
Our Limited model swaps out some of the sport for a more laid-back, elegant vibe that’s just as appealing. The front end features Multi-LED headlights with chrome bezels, LED daytime running lamps and integrated fog lights. Like our previous XSE, the handsome LED lights flank the a prominent dark gray metallic-colored hexagon pattern grille.
The profile is another area that leaves the old RAV in the dust. The slabby lines are gone, replaced with a longer wheelbase, polygonal wheel arches, and a enough folds and creases to make an origami expert giggle. Or a body man cry. Color-keyed mirrors, and chrome door handles add some bling, while out back, crisp lines and prominent LED taillamps stand out. A small touch, the optional black out emblem overlays give off a cool vibe and melt into the design. Tasteful. Perhaps most tasteful was our tester’s Magnetic Gray Metallic paint – subtle and rich, the dark color takes away some of the aggressive nature of the design, but replaces it with an elevated nature that’s rare in this class. We loved it.
Room to Roam
Inside is much like our XSE, with a few differences. Things that are shared include loads of room, excellent, supportive front seats, and leggy rear seats. Again like the XSE, the cargo space is a tad smaller than the outgoing model – but there’s plenty here. The design is still modern and trucky, with large controls, and lots of knubbly, rubbery, grippy things where your hands fall to place. Everything looks built to last – which it probably will – hey, it’s a Toyota.
Stepping away from the XSE’s sporty motif, our Limited featured Toyota’s SofTex trimmed seats which are either faux leather, or viny, depending on how you feel about those things. It’s actually quite good, and don’t feel cheap. In fact, even after we were swaddled in luxury in our recent Lexus UX250h, the RAV4 didn’t disappoint.
The high-tech touches are there to please, including a digital speedometer teamed up with analog tach, temp and fuel gauges, and a handy 7” Multi-info display with customizable settings, and the usual stuff like tripmeters, outside temp, fuel-economy info and the like. We did really like the design of the displays – modern, crisp and inviting.
The large 8-inch info-tainment tablet is easy to see and use. And although Toyota was late to the game adding Apple CarPlay, it’s here – and we loved using Waze on the big screen. Tech is up to date with 4 USB ports, Siri Eyes Free, Wi-Fi capability, and available wireless charging. Toyota Connected Services is along for the ride and watching out for you. The optional 11-speaker JBL premium sound system had no problem filling up the interior with premium sound. Speaking of the Lexus UX, we were glad that Toyota kept the touchscreen interface simple and effective.
To Hybrid or not to Hybrid?
Well, that’s the big question. Doing its best to sway you to the non-hybrid side, the RAV4 features a new 2.5-liter four cylinder that kicks out a solid 203 horsepower, and 184 lb.-ft. at a somewhat high 5,000 rpm. We were surprised how sporty this engine felt, and we really liked the throaty exhaust note when you gave it some boot. Not loud or obnoxious – just a little love note from under the hood saying it enjoys being driven.
The 8-speed automatic is honey, too. A traditional auto, with plenty of cogs to choose from, you get a nice jump off the line, and passing is easy and effortless. None of the drone and drag that CVT transmissions provide.
Toyota also offers not one, not two, but three(!) all-wheel drive setups, depending on model. Our Limited tester had the more advanced version which includes torque vectoring for better handling and the ability to disconnect the rear axle for more fuel efficiency. We’re guessing any of the systems will be more than capable for the light off-roading and poor-weathering most RAV’s will be asked to negotiate.
Toyota says the EPA estimates are 25/33/28 mpg for city/highway/combined. We probably were lead footing it more than most, but saw an average of 25 mpg in mixed driving.
While our Hybrid tester was the XSE with the sport suspension that got our juices flowing, our Limited actually served up a lovely blend of ride and handling. The ride is supple and comfortable, and feels solid and well built. The steering is excellent with plenty of feel, and there’s impressive amount of grip in the corners. It’s that ideal blend of a nice commuter that will coddle friends, coworkers and kids, but when you want to hoon around a bit, it’s up for the game.
Everything here is pretty much true for the XSE Hybrid we recently tested. That model’s 219 horsepower gave it extra punch, and our average of 38 mpg makes it a very tempting choice. Also, on a Limited like our tester, the Hybrid is only $800 more. Decisions, decisions.
So this has us scratching our heads. The RAV4 is a great choice. Solid looks, performance, tech, safety. It’s a no brainer. But which model? A little tougher.
The value shopper can go straight to the entry-level LE, with a $25,650 base price for a front-wheel drive model. LED lights, 17-inch steel wheels, Toyota Safety Sense, Apple CarPlay – we love the good looks combined with the utilitarian vibe. Stepping up to the XLE gets you Alloy wheels, fog lights, dual-zone climate control, and more for $27,450.
The XLE Premium is in the middle of the line-up, and is probably the strongest value, adding handsome 19-inch alloys, SofTex leatherette front seats, power liftgate and more. Yours for $29,650. Feeling a little more rugged? The Adventure model comes standard with the more advanced AWD system, an especially rugged look, a cool 120V/100W deck-mounted power outlet, and a 7” Multi Information Display. Another smart value at $33, 050.
Our top of the line Limited all-wheel drive tester started at $34,900. We enjoyed the upgraded 11-speaker JBL audio system ($580), Limited Grade Advanced Tech package, including Smart Key on all doors and liftgate, Birds-eye 360-degree camera, ($1,095), Panoramic Sunroof ($200 bargain!) and Blackout Emblems ($315). Add in some additional accessories, and $1,0995 for Destination, and we totaled in at $39,005.
Competitors? Well the RAV4 XSE Hybrid we tested came in at $37,980. We loved its sporty nature. But if you want luxury, the Limited (also available in Hybrid) is your ride. A comparably equipped Honda CR-V is $35,345. The Mazda CX-5 Signature is $38,235. So you’re paying a bit of a premium. If you want to keep it in the family, a comparable Lexus UX200 is $39,400. A smaller vehicle, but more luxuriously equipped.
We loved the time spent with our RAV4 Limited. It does everything so well. And it’s a Toyota – the reliability is legendary. And unlike some of its turbo-powered competitors, there’s less to go wrong – important if you’re planning on keeping one for a long, long, time. Depending on how long you do keep it, the Hybrid may make more financial sense. But whichever RAV4 you choose, you’re making a great choice.
Driving the 2019 RAV4 Limited convinced us – Toyota remains the king of the small crossover.
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.