The Fun RAV4: The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE

toyota logo - lets go places letsgoplacesI’ve driven and owned more Toyota vehicles than those from any other manufacturer in the business. While in college I got my first new car: A gold Toyota Tercel hatchback. Ugly in retrospect, but a great workhorse that kept me on the move through road trips, a move from San Diego to Colorado and then a move from Colorado out to the San Francisco area. Never had an issue. Subsequent Toyota vehicles included a Sienna van, a much beloved targa-top Supra (from the short-lived era when they were designed like a classic American muscle car), a 2nd generation Prius and a Highlander Hybrid. I really liked them all, though the Prius was probably the worst fit for our family, and I always regretted paying the significant upcharge for the hybrid technology on the Highlander. I’m sure if I amortized the cost vs savings over the decade I owned the car it wasn’t even a break even.

Be that as it may, there’s no question, Toyota is top dog when it comes to vehicle manufacturing and they have a remarkable lineup of really splendid cars and trucks. One of their standouts in the lineup is also the humble little RAV4, their compact sport utility vehicle. The 2018 RAV4 was the best selling vehicle in Toyota’s lineup too, and outsold every other vehicle in its class here in the United States. The RAV4 is also a direct competitor to the car I own now, the Mazda CX-5. In fact, when I purchased my Mazda back in 2017, the two finalists were the CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4. Suffice to say, I know the vehicle well!

So when Toyota dropped off a 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE in Silver Sky Metallic / Black, I was eager to get it on the road for some driving time:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid xse exterior front

You can see the more aggressive styling – the angles are a bit sharper and more, well, angular, in the 2019 model design. Very attractive, really, and the hybrid offered a pretty fun drive. Toyota has absolutely mastered hybrid technology and actually license their engine tech to a lot of other car manufacturers at this point. I’ve driven a lot of EV and hybrid cars too, and generally speaking they’re quite peppy and fun. To my surprise, though, the RAV4 still had a slight hesitation on acceleration that’s usually more of an artifact of a gas engine than any sort of EV, which surprised me. The 2.5L DOHC 4-Cylinder engine featured an impressive 219 combined net horsepower. (by comparison, my Mazda CX-5 has 187hp).

Where hybrids really shine, however, is in fuel efficiency and the RAV4 Hybrid didn’t disappoint, offering up just a smidge shy of 40mpg. You can see in this somewhat disco shot of the main gauge display at night what I was seeing with my reasonably conservative driving style:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid - main gauge display - night

In fact, the RAV4 dashboard isn’t quite that groovy at night, not really sure how this picture came to pass. But it is pretty cool, isn’t it? 🙂

Where Toyota really shines in the hybrid department is with all the nerdy tech displays that you can pull up on the navigational system screen. For example, want to get a sense of how you’ve been driving? There’s a screen for that!

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid - driving efficiency analysis stats screen

A sprinkling of gamification sparkles and this could be a fun game for drivers to try and better their previous driving score. You can also get real-time information about whether you’re using the gas engine, the hybrid EV engine, a combination or charging up the batteries with your gradual braking:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid - power train animation display

I have to admit, I love this stuff and it’s one reason I miss hybrid technology in nmy CX-5. Then again, Mazda assures me that the 2020 CX-5 will have a hybrid option, which I’m going to guess will be the Toyota hybrid drivetrain system (given that Mazda already manufacturers one of the Toyota vehicles in their lineup). I feel like if we could all see the consequences of our more aggressive driving styles, we all might get to be a bit better drivers and save some millions of barrels of fuel each day.

Anyway, back to the RAV4! The interior dashboard offers a fairly compact cockpit in terms of controls, and it’s very comfortable to work with while you’re on the move:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid xse - front dashboard design

In fact, most all of the controls I found I needed to access while on the road were accessible through the (increasingly overloaded) steering wheel. Look at all those buttons! Phone, stereo, cruise control, voice navigation, and more, all at your fingertips. We humans might need to evolve to having a few more thumbs, but this has also become fairly standard on modern vehicles (and some manufacturers offer secret buttons behind the steering wheel crossbar, which is even more confusing!)

Some critics of the 2019 redesign have said that the entertainment system screen feels ‘retrofit’ on the dashboard, but I found the overall design to be quite aesthetic, if a bit dull and unimaginative. Compare this to the dashboard of the Fiat 500X, for example, and you’ll realize just how much styling they’re omitting with this standardized dashboard.

The outside has styling to spare, however, including the windswept design of the top rack area:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid xse exterior rear

Open up the back hatch (with the push of a button, of course) and there’s plenty of room:

2019 toyota rav4 hybrid xse interior hatch back open space room storage

Disappointingly, no 110V outlet on the side, however. That’s something I wish all car manufacturers would just add as a standard feature, actually. Makes it very nice if you tailgate or just want to charge up your computer en route to a client meeting.

The real star of the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, however, is the new Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system. That offers a lot of tech: pre-collision warning system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, dynamic radar cruise control (you’ll never look back once you drive a car with adaptive smart cruise control!), lane tracing assist and road sign assist. That’s a lot of tech jammed into a modest vehicle and a reflection of Toyota’s enthusiasm for the continued popularity of the RAV4 model.

One thing to know about the RAV4 Hybrid is that it does significantly lower your towing capacity. The standard 2.5-liter gas engine model can pull up to 3,500 pounds, but the Hybrid capacity is about half of that, 1,750 pounds. Enough for a boat or modern hipster mini-trailer, but this is not your best option if you have something substantial you want to have chugging along behind your compact SUV. Really, though, that’s about all the complaints I have with this terrific vehicle. Fun to drive, comfortable for a family of four, with decent cargo capacity, nice styling and oodles of safety features add up to making this one of the most desireable vehicles on the market.

AS DRIVEN: 2019 TOYOTA RAV4 HYBRID XSE AWD SUV with 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder engine, electronic continuous variable transmission and Sport/Eco/EVT/Trail and Normal drive modes. MSRP: $33,700. Additional options included with the XSE: XSE Weather Package, Entune 3.0 Premium Audio, XSE Technology Package and carpet and floor mats. As driven: $37,699.00.

Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the RAV4 for a week to drive in return for this review. Thanks, Toyota!

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