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Review: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD - The 33 MPG Honey Badger

The new 2016 RAV 4 Hybrid doesn’t care how you drive it, I found out as I test drove it to review it. You never drop below 33 MPG.

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The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid we tested this week impresses in many ways. However, the most impressive aspect of this vehicle is that it does not care how you drive it. Stop and go around town in traffic = 33 MPG or better. Sport mode on back roads pushing the legal limit = 33 MPG or better. Highway driving at 65 MPH on cruise control = 33 MPG or better. ECO Mode – OK I admit that I turned that off within a mile of trying it. Let’s assume 33 MPG or better. Having tested hundreds of vehicles for Torque News, no vehicle was so immune to driving style and environment as this RAV4 Hybrid.

With the regular gasoline this vehicle takes, my cost per mile over a week of testing was six cents per mile. With electricity in my area around 20 cents per kWh, I would not have saved money if I were in an EV. Perhaps this is why the newly released RAV4 Hybrid is outselling every electric vehicle model in the U.S. market right now.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited – Interior Design and Features
The RAV4 of all types has one huge advantage over all other compact crossovers on the market. Its dashboard and center section are up and away from the driver’s right knee. I love the affordable Subaru Forester and premium Lexus NX 200t, but when I sit in them, my knee is in constant contact with the hard plastic of the center tunnel. Only Toyota has figured this out and designed in a solution.

The dash of the RAV4 Hybrid Limited is a mixture of hard and soft plastic materials that has a modern look. Toyota does not offer leather seating in any RAV4, so this Hybrid Limited has the most premium material available. Called Softex, it has the look and feel of leather, but not the smell. Toyota must not be moving away from leather for animal rights reasons since the steering wheel is still covered in hide. I’m going to reserve judgment here and say that Softex has its charms. One being that Toyota puts on the dash, where it adds an upscale look and feel.

The driver’s seat in the RAV4 Hybrid Limited is power operated in all the ways one would expect. This is a very important feature for me. Toyota is stingy with power seats, and as far as I can tell only RAV4s priced well into the $30ks have power seats. A Subaru Forester, by contrast, offers a power seat for around $27K.

The infotainment system of the RAV4 Hybrid Limited is perfect. Easy to use touch interface, simple and effective Nav and a good audio system with Pandora and other apps ready to go. Unlike in the CR-V, there is also a volume and tuner knob. Toyota gets it.

Space is generous. I own a 2007 Highlander, and this RAV4 Hybrid has more usable passenger space inside. The rear seats, in particular, have ample legroom and headroom for 6-foot teenagers. The cargo area is large for the class, and under the cargo floor is a temporary spare tire! Bonus points for Toyota keeping it and resisting the urge to hide the battery there. The battery is instead up against the back bottom of the cargo area. It was never in my way while testing and seems like a very small compromise given the benefits of the hybrid drive.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited – The Drive
This RAV4 Hybrid Limited scoots. With 194 hp and loads of electric motor torque, the RAV4 Hybrid is the quickest RAV4 I have tested (since the V6 was discontinued) and seems much quicker than most vehicles in its class. The Sport mode helps this quite a bit. Though the gasoline engine is loud and seems to be either at 90% of max RPM or off, the system works. And did I mention it gets 33 MPG or better– ALL THE TIME.

Like all RAV4 Limiteds, the ride is a bit too stiff in my opinion. Handling is crisp, though. When I drive a crossover like this RAV4 Hybrid, I don’t toss the vehicle around like I would a compact sports sedan. Given its mission and personality, the RAV4 Hybrid handles nicely. Good luck finding a sportier ride if you limit your search to affordable, compact crossovers. Don’t trust the boy-racer reviewers who call Toyotas boring. They spend too much time in sports cars to understand how family cars are supposed to perform.

On the highway, the RAV4 Hybrid Limited really shines. It tracks perfectly straight and there is simply zero engine noise when cruising. The feel of the vehicle is that of a stable, much heavier, more expensive luxury crossover. Here the RAV4 Hybrid departs from the conventionally-powered RAV4s, which did not impress me this much on the highway.

Braking is perfectly normal. You don’t sense the regenerative braking in the pedal, but you can hear it, and it sounds very cool. When starting off, the vehicle is usually in EV mode and not using the engine. Occasionally, the gas engine would kick in while I was backing up slowly out of a garage. That is the only time one notices the hybrid drive alternating between electric, gas engine or both. The engine and CVT behave a little differently from cars with a geared transmission do, but the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and all the top crossovers in this class are now using CVTs, so this is not unique to the RAV4 Hybrid Limited. During my April test, it snowed like the Dickens. Click here to see how the RAV4 Hybrid's unique AWD system performed.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited – Safety
The 2016 RAV4 has scored “Good” on all IIHS crash tests. The Hybrid Limited comes standard with superior-rated forward crash prevention, and thus, it is a Top Safety Pick Plus vehicle. No compact crossover at any price has higher safety ratings. Even better, the lane departure warning system can be turned off (we all hate these systems) and it does not show you an idiot light when off (like the Forester and other crossovers do). Rear cross traffic alert, backup sonar, and backup camera are standard on RAV4 Hybrid Limited. Don’t buy a crossover without these.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited – Value and Green Credentials
At $35,945 including destination, this RAV 4 Hybrid Limited is a good value by comparison to the CR-V Touring and other competitors’ top trims. It has all the options one expects at the top of the affordable market. The RAV4 Hybrid Limited also has more power than the CR-V, gets dramatically better fuel economy, and has much lower CO2 emissions (270 g/m compared to CR-V’s 323). The RAV4 Hybrid Limited is cleaner too. It scores an 8 out of 10 on EPA’s smog scale, compared to the CR-V’s 6 (higher is better). On a cost basis, the RAV4 Hybrid Limited is a viable alternative to the current fleet of range-limited, safety-challenged battery electric vehicles for sale today under $40K.

The 206 RAV4 Hybrid Limited is a green vehicle with no compromises. It earns the highest fuel efficiency ratings in its class by a wide margin. Although its price is not as low as some competitors, it is very close, and if gasoline prices return to their prior highs, it will repay the owner in a handful of years. With top safety scores, the best brand reliability in its class, and Toyota’s reputation for durability, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid Limited should be considered a front-runner for those shopping the top trims of this wildly popular segment.

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STEVE (not verified)    April 10, 2016 - 11:57AM

I purchased the XLE Hybrid version about a month ago, trading in my 2015 RAV4 Limited. It is a great vehicle, and I go t the convenience package which incorporates the adaptive radar, front collision avoidance, pedestrian avoidance, blind spot protection, front parking assist, rear parking assist, and more.

I have gotten between 29mpg and 33mpg, so far with about 2000 miles logged. Idling takes a heavy toll, but even with no idling, it seems 33mpg is harder for me to get than I hoped. But if I can manage 31 most of the time, I'll be thrilled.

The fact that I'm saving gas while sitting at a traffic light, or when cruising into my development, makes me realize I"m still saving gas, and I like that. To be honest, I knew I would not be getting 50mpg like a prius or whatever, and I'm happy with what I get realizing my driving style and the area I live in (very aggressive drivers) makes you have to do faster starts from a red light than other parts of the Country.

I'm sure if I could drive very slowly, in particular from a stop, I'd probably be more like 33 mpg.

No worries, I really like this version of the RAV4, and am very happy to have the additional crash avoidance and parking assist stuff.....I think these are invaluable for everyone.

STEVE (not verified)    April 20, 2016 - 8:10PM

In reply to by STEVE (not verified)

I have an update to my review. Having taken a trip from Philly to Baltimore, via I95, staying around the posted speed limit of mostly 65mph (and setting cruise to 70mph), I am pleased to announce that I got a whopping 37.5 mpg. I left from home (Philly suburbs) and came back to home, and spent a short period of time in center city Baltimore. I filled up before I left home, and filled up when I got back. It was about a 200 mile round trip....and I calculate MPG on actual, not allowing the computer to be the guide as they are not usually correct. Additionally, I used the adaptive radar cruise control, which I will attribute to the phenomenal mpg's on this trip. It wasn't rush hour, so I felt it was safe to do the speed limit.

I'm the Steve that traded in my 2015 RAV4 Limited for the 2016 RAV4 XLE hybrid. With about 2500 miles on the odometer now, the only minor regret I have is that the handling is not as good as the limited; I notice some torque steer on heavy acceleration, sometimes brake pull when braking, and the car following the road more than the limited did. Sometimes it is annoying, but saving the gas makes it worthwhile. When I see the front of the car, I notice the 17" tires on the XLE look much more narrow than the 18" tires on the limited, which is probably why it follows the road imperfections. Again, no worries, you get used to things like this and saving gas is really the reason to get the hybrid anyway, and that is happening.

Tom Solnok (not verified)    May 4, 2016 - 12:34AM

Rav4 Hybrid LImited with Tech Package has 5500 miles on it... Kansas interstates are 75mph as are Oklahoma toll roads. This part of the country has mild hills but lots of wind to make up for lack of hills..
First off, Interior noise is minimal, ride is smooth and handling is accurate (not a sports car but also not a lumbering beast). I point it, it goes there.
Had a 2007 Camry Hybrid before so my foot has by Hybridized by all the feedback these vehicles give.
Gas Mileage:
Normal driving for me - half city, half 55-60 highway: 34-35 mpg.
Wichita KS to Tulsa OK RT (half at 75-80, quarter at 60-70, quarter city - 550 to 600 miles total) 32mpg consistently, 4 RT since I got my Rav4... my Camry would do 33-34mpg.
Rav4 has great safety features, dynamic cruise control, sound system and comfort... excellent little vehicle.
Can you tell I love it? :-)

Krista (not verified)    May 23, 2016 - 3:54AM

I have been driving my Rav4 Hybrid XLE for almost 3 months. I love my new car. It rides smooth and stops on a dime. The blue color is spectacular. Unfortunately, my mpg seems to average about 22mpg. I am trying to figure out how to improve this because it's not even close to what is advertised. I drive to work and it's about 9 miles each way including about 6 miles on the interstate. I really wish I was getting better. I'm thinking because it's a short trip where I have to speed up quickly several times and it sucks up the gas..

John Goreham    May 23, 2016 - 9:36AM

In reply to by Krista (not verified)

Hi Krista. If I owned a RAV4 Hybrid that was getting less than 30 MPG in any scenario I would return to the dealer. This based on my testing. One option if you think it is the route, is to simply fill up the tank and zero the trip odometer. Then take the car for a ride on the highway or take a trip someplace. Then fill the tank again, note the miles traveled and gallons used and divide to get your mileage. See what the result is. When you fill up, be sure to stop the gasoline nozzle as soon as the tank is full and the nozzle clicks off. Don't "Top off." Let us know if you see any difference. I forget off hand how to zero the mileage counter on the RAV4, but it would be good to check that correlates to the MPG you get by doing the math yourself.

Krista (not verified)    May 24, 2016 - 9:17PM

In reply to by John Goreham

I filled up yesterday and reset the trip setting. I also went back and counted how many times I have filled up since I bought the car. An average of 11 gallon fill ups, six times, 1500 miles. Not exact, but I'm working on that. I will have more accurate info on my next fill up. My guess is I drive it just under the amount of time and drive too quickly to have the electric battery be useful while going to work and home. But, I'm sure I'm not the only person that drives about 10 miles to work. I drove it yesterday over a mountain grade and back home and ran errands. My total driving was well over an hour and the performance was better. I have tried adjusting my driving too and from work, at my most careful I got 27mpg. It would be nice to just be able to drive the car and not stress over settings. Eco mode does not allow me to speed up quickly enough to safely get on to a CA freeway. I will contact the dealership after I have manually tracked the mpg and it's not any better.
Thank you for the help.

Steve (not verified)    May 23, 2016 - 7:58PM

In reply to by Krista (not verified)

Krista - As suggested, do a manual sampling of the MPG's. With the hybrid, there are 3 MPG options in the is the mpg since last started, two is the mpg since holding and doing a reset, and three is the mpg since refuel. To set the odometer, so you can do the manual tracking of miles, just press the odometer button until you get to trip A and hold it to reset. Then you can easily see how many miles you have travelled when you do the next fill up. I have found the computer shows less mpg on short trips as you described, when looking at the computer version of the mpg's. I've found idling kills the mpg, so if you do that, it will kill off any big mpg's. I've also found keeping it at 55-65 mph will help the mpg's. Also as suggested, return to the dealer if the mpg's are around 30 as a minimum.

Tom Solnok (not verified)    May 23, 2016 - 9:35PM

One other check - there are three settings for the hybrid features... I run either Eco or whatever normal is. I do not use the Sport setting. My salesperson told me her husband always runs in Sport and he got lousy gas mileage... The buttons are underneath the center of the dashboard slightly above the floor board.

And if the above suggestions don't get you to at least 29mpg - have a talk with your dealer. Of course, if you always drive uphill into a stiff headwind... :-)

John Goreham    May 25, 2016 - 5:18PM

Hi Krista. I just did a new story that re-reports the latest Consumer Reports test results of the RAV4 Hybrid XLE. Guess what? In the city they got closer results to what you are seeing. The story will be live at Torque News the evening of May 25th. I would give you a direct link to the CR story, but they are subscription only.

Daniel Watkins (not verified)    October 10, 2016 - 11:58PM

31MPG highway, even though it is AWD (electrically driven), .. that is not impressive at all for an Atkinson cycle engine. It should be in the high 30s IMO. It's not even as good as the crappy Subaru Crosstrek hybrid of 34MPG highway, and that does not have an Atkinson cycle engine in it, just regular OTTO cycle.
Prius V is 44MPG. CRV highway is better at 33 highway.

Why is the engine thermal efficiency so unimpressive Toyota? The Prius is 40%, 55-60MPG is easily achievable.

John Goreham    October 12, 2016 - 4:06PM

In reply to by Daniel Watkins (not verified)

The Crosstrek and Prius are not the same category of vehicles. Is is lower to the ground and has a thinner width. The RAV4 hybrid's main challenge on the highway is its height and forward area. The 2016 Honda CR-V AWD is not rated at 33 MPG highway, but 31.

danwat1234 (not verified)    October 12, 2016 - 4:12PM

In reply to by John Goreham

I realize that. But Toyota is supposed to be the hybrid leader, yet really it's EPA numbers are not superior to the crappy mild hybrid Subaru Crosstrek. Rav4 may have worse aero a bit more weight, but it's clearly not Toyota's best effort. Needs the next gen hybrid synergy drive and so does the Camry, Highlander, C and V Prius.

Steve (not verified)    October 11, 2016 - 2:03PM

With 9200 miles now on the odometer, I'm averaging about 31-33 mpg. This is a combination of highway and city, and some idle time. Truth is when I had a Prius, I never got more than 40-45 on average.....I drive hybrids as I normally drive with a heavy start which is the worst, but slow starts in my area would get me rear ended.

danwat1234 (not verified)    October 12, 2016 - 3:18AM

In reply to by Steve (not verified)

The new Prius is a lot more efficient. But it's the only Toyota hybrid that has the next generation of Hybrid Synergy Drive. Highlander, Rav4, Camry and the other Priuses are still previous gen. An easy 50MPG+ driving the new Prius aggressively I bet.
33MPG with the Rav4 hybrid, it's just not competitive. Prius V, C-max, even regular Subarus can get close. Needs an update.
Probably 38MPG+ with an update to date engine.

Scott Lepley (not verified)    January 29, 2017 - 9:16PM

Bought a RAV4 Hybrid SE a few weeks ago after having a non-hybrid Limited for a couple years. I drive about 10 miles each way to work through 15 traffic lights, plus about 1/4 of my use is highway. The first tank of gas returned 39 mpg, second shows 36 mpg so far. I've noticed that when I leave for work, I may show only 20 mpg after the first 2 miles, but it climbs steadily to easily record 36-42 mpg by the time I get to the office. I admit that I drive like a grandfather (I am one), but I drove my old RAV the same way. Definitely seeing at least 3 mpg better on the highway and 12 mpg better around town compared to the non-hybrid. You can buy the hybrid for $700 more than the non-hybrid and save at least $300 a year on gas. Try putting that same $700 in the bank and see what they give you each year, maybe 70 cents.

John Goreham    January 30, 2017 - 9:00AM

In reply to by Scott Lepley (not verified)

Scott, thank you so much for the feedback! Your commute seems perfect for a hybrid, with plenty of time for the regenerative braking to add back energy a conventional vehicle would lose. That lag in the averaging of the fuel economy in the display is normal, and I see it often in many different brands of test-vehicle. One other thing you bring up is that all green cars do best when the owner drives like an adult. They are not designed to help those that want jack-rabbit starts and high speeds with lots of hard braking. Thanks again for your comments.

Steve Hutch (not verified)    September 15, 2017 - 8:48AM

Purchased a 17 Limited in December of 16. I've put 7,600 miles on it so far and I'm averaging 36 mpg.
Something is wrong if some of you folks are only getting mpg's in the 20's.