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2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: A Prime Alternative

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

Canadian motorists don’t really need an introduction to the popular RAV4, the flagship model that leads the charge for Toyota-badged sport utility vehicles. Available in no fewer than 10 iterations, including six non-hybrid and four hybrid versions excluding the Prime version, the RAV4 is the brand's Swiss Army knife. We put the 2021 RAV4 XLE AWD hybrid to the test and were able to evaluate its 4-wheel drive system, the efficiency of the hybrid system in temperatures that were often close to -20 and its fuel consumption in winter.

The exterior
Based on Toyota's new global architecture (TNGA), the 2021 Toyota RAV4 features a dynamic design, highlighted by a chiseled silhouette, a commanding stance and a rugged look.  

At the front, the high-perched headlights highlighted by LED daytime running lights are placed at the ends of the front fascia. Just below them are the fog lights, which by the way are not LED on the XLE version. In the middle is a grille that remains discreet for Toyota.

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2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, front
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, front

From the side, the ground clearance of the Toyota RAV4 is actually high for this segment. A small Hybrid logo is inscribed at the top of the front fender. At the rear, the lights are dominant and the bumper is imposing, and made of plastic. We also notice that the plastic surrounds the entire lower vehicle to enhance its images as a more adventurous vehicle.

The interior
As soon as you get on board, you notice that the plastic is present in the vehicle to further underline its desire to go where things can get a little rough… and dirty. The buttons and controls placed here and there have been placed where they are with practicality in mind. Under the armrest you'll find a respectable amount of storage space, and under the centre console, a large pocket. At the top, a 7-inch multimedia screen reigns. At first, you may think it's small, but frankly that’s the kind of thing you quickly stop thinking about. Apple CarPlay and Android auto are available with a wired connection.

Our XLE model - not one of the range-topping models I should point out - offered dual-zone climate control and heated front seats. In the middle, to the left of the gearshift lever, we find the Toyota driving mode selector with EV, ECO, Normal and Sport modes. As with the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, we only used the ECO mode during a snowstorm, as there is no snow driving mode. The rest of the time, we stuck with the Normal mode, which offers the best balance of driving dynamics and comfort.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, interior
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, interior

In the back, nothing special to report for those familiar with the model: the 60/40 split rear seat offers a comfortable experience, and there’s enough room for passengers of all sizes; for a compact SUV, this model is pretty roomy. The RAV4 Hybrid offers the same cargo space as the regular model, 1059 litres normally and 1,977 litres with the rear seats folded.

2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, seocnd row of seats
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, seocnd row of seats
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, cargo area
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, cargo area

The drive
Hybrid models are powered by a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine assisted by two electric motors that produce a total of 219 hp. The CVT transmission does a discreet job as long as you don't overdo it with your right foot. The 4-wheel drive configuration was standard and we were able to see how well it worked during a healthy snowstorm. The system switches from the front wheels to the rear in search of the best grip at all times. Helped by very good Blizzak W90 tires, the result was remarkable.

Note that we were able to drive in electric mode for a few (very few) kilometres at cruising speed. Otherwise, at under 30 km/h, you can have fun seeing how far you can get in pure electric mode.

On the fuel consumption side, things are not quite as impressive. Toyota announces figures of 6.0L/100km. We totaled, after several days of suburban commuting covering about 300 km, an average of 7.4L/100km. Fortunately, over the weekend, we took off for the mountains and drove 165 km at an average of 80 km/h on secondary roads. Our recorded fuel consumption in this context was a very satisfactory 5.8L/100km.

2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, profile
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, profile

The versions
As mentioned, four RAV4 models are available with a hybrid powertrain. There are the LE, XLE, XSE (also available with the Technology package) and Limited. The price ranges from $35,289 to $45,689, and for that you get the superb Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package that gives you adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning (with a beep first, followed by a slight steering correction), lane keep assist, automatic high beams and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection.

Other standard safety features include a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, a rearview camera and 10 airbags.

We recommend the $38,289 XLE model, which offers dual-zone air conditioning, heated seats and steering wheel and a sunroof.

2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, three-quarters rear
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, three-quarters rear

Conclusion
Surprisingly, there still isn't that much competition for the RAV4 Hybrid. Aside from the Prime version of the same model, which remains somewhat limited for now thanks to very high demand, the choices are limited. So while we wait for the Prime version to become available or for the competition to loosen up, we recommend buying a hybrid version.

The vehicle is spacious, solid, well-made and economical. The XLE hybrid AWD version is only $1,660 less than the equivalent non-hybrid version. If you take into account the reduced consumption, it's worth it!

We like

Hybrid powertrain
Safety systems
Spacious interior

We like less

Passenger seat less comfortable than the driver's seat
Quite a bit of plastic (in the XLE)
Winter fuel consumption
Backup camera lens gets dirty very quickly

The competition

Ford Escape Hybrid
2022 Hyundai Tucson (coming soon)
Toyota RAV4 Prime (the SE, less expensive and better equipped than the XLE version with government incentives)
Toyota Venza LE

2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, rear
Photo: Auto123
2021 Toyota RAV4 hybrid, rear

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