2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited Review by Ben Lewis

The compact SUV segment remains on fire, even if dealers are scrambling to find inventory to sell, and some are packing ridiculous markups on the sticker. And Outside of a few full-size pickup trucks, the number one selling vehicle is the RAV4.

So, we know Toyota knows what it’s doing, and it’s also probably in the crosshairs of every other carmaker. We recently tested the new Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 and they all are excellent, and none of them are standing still, with everything from small changes to all-new vehicles being touted in front of buyers to lure them away from #1.

And it’s interesting how times have changed. A couple years ago, gas was cheap, and looked to stay that way. No longer. And we’re seeing a major shift with intenders asking us about hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and EV models. So, it seemed like a perfect time to test the RAV4 Hybrid and see if it still is fit to wear the compact SUV crown.

Rugged RAV

When the model got redone in 2019, Toyota did a serious job of butching up the looks, moving away from the slabby design to a bulgey, muscular, and larger look. It is a design that’s aged well. Our tester was a Limited model, so you get a some added bling, but it still looks ready to handle the trails.

The front end has angry looking LED headlamps with chrome trim, a dark gray hexagon-patterned bar front grille that looks ideal for grating cheese, and a down-turned lower fascia that gives the RAV a menacing scowl. “Don’t mess with me!”

The ready-to-rumble looks lives in the profile with squared off wheel arches, a crisp shoulder line, and aero-style roof rails topping it off. Setting off our tester’s Blueprint dark blue paint where 18-inch, 5-spoke chrome-finished alloy wheels that really catch the eye.

At the rear, LED taillight flow across the tailgate with an integrated spoiler at the top of the rear window for a bit of sport and aerodynamics. A contrasting lower bumper and fascia have a chunky look that’s trucky and capable, while dual exhaust pipes hint at power – yep even on the Hybrid model.

Chunky and Cheerful

Inside, you have an interior that’s designed to be rugged and capable. It’s all squared off with an open-feeling horizontal dash. The gauges serve up two analog sweeps with a power/drive indicator on the left and fuel and temp on the right, with a 7-inch multi-function digital display in the center that gives you key info like speedometer, trip computer and other functions. It’s not quite the digital display like Hyundai’s Tucson, but it’s crisp and clear.

In the center is a large 8-inch touchscreen, and on our top-of-the line Limited trim, you get all the goodies, including navigation, 800-watt 11-speaker JBL audio system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa compatibility and Safety, Service, Remote and Wi-Fi connect features as well. Always worth a mention, we were pleased that Toyota provides a conventional volume and tuning knob – just the way we like it!

Toyota knows RAV4 owners put their vehicles to hard use, so the interior is made of high-quality soft-touch materials that look ready to stand up to years of abuse, including SofTex (vinyl) trimmed seats, and large knobs and controls that are easy to use, even with gloves on. We also like the contrasting color anti-slip dash storage trays color a hexagonal motif and blue ambient lighting.  Subtle and tasteful.

The front seats are well cushioned and taller drivers will find plenty of stretch out room. On our tester those thrones were perforated, heated and cooled to keep things especially comfy. Rear seats are also adult friendly, and there’s plenty of room when they are up. Fold them down, and you can adjust the cargo deck to create a flat floor with the seats or drop it down a couple inches for taller items. Maybe the best news is the RAV4 hybrid has the same amount of cargo space as the non-hybrid models.

Fast + Efficient = Fun

Driving the Hybrid model will definitely spoil you and make it hard to go back. Power is served up by a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinde combined with two electric motors for a grand total of 219 horsepower. (Non hybrids top out at 203). All Wheel Drive is standard on the hybrid, and that along with loads of low-end EV power make the RAV4 quick off the line.

While the CVT transmission is more of a smoother than a shifter, you still feel yourself riding a large wave of power that’s addicting and fun, especially so in Sport mode. An easy to reach dial on the console also lets you choose Eco, Normal, EV and Trail modes. Lots of choices.

We’re guessing 0-60 at just a hair over 7 seconds. If you want even more power the RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid clicks off the same run in under 6 seconds – making it one of the fastest Toyota’s you can buy.

Just as impressive as our tester’s strong oomph, was its fuel-sipping abilities. We drove it hard, really enjoying that acceleration, and yet our tester refused to average below 40 mpg, which is exactly the EPA’s combined MPG number. Compare that to the non-hybrids 29 mpg, and you see the Hybrid is driving your cake and eating it, too.

Handling is confident and capable as well – the hybrid running gear adds weight low in the chassis, and you can hustle the little RAV quite easily. Meantime, for the daily commute it will slip into EV mode for best fuel efficiency, but it also makes it impressively quiet.

Should I Pony Up for the added Ponies?

Well, that depends on a few things. You can get into a front wheel drive LE model for as little as $26,350, which is a load of capability for a reasonable amount. An all-wheel drive Limited model starts at $36,280 – but the Limited Hybrid is a small step up at $37,030. With the direction gas prices are going, plus the improved performance, the hybrid model is a no brainer.

Our tester had some added goodies, including Weather Package ($1,015), Advanced Technology Package ($1,025), Adaptive Front Headlights ($415), Panoramic Sunroof ($500), a few other accessories, plus destination ($1,175) and rang the bell at $42,317.

As we’ve noted when Toyota introduced the all-new model in 2019, they gave it premium pricing. Look at the competitors like the new Hyundai Tucson Hybrid at $38,685, and the Honda CR-V Hybrid at $39,197, and you are paying a premium for the Toyota, but with it being the best-seller in its class, we’re guessing buyers think it’s worth it.

Fast, efficient, stylish, and capable, the RAV4 remains one of our favorite compact SUV’s. And the RAV4 Hybrid is the one to choose!