3.8 out of 5 3.8
Parkers overall rating: 3.8 out of 5 3.8

Split-personality hybrid that's hard to fault; plug-in revives hot-hatch fun,

Toyota RAV4 SUV Review Video
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At a glance

New price £31,090 - £50,895
Lease from new From £317 p/m View lease deals
Used price £21,225 - £35,750
Used monthly cost From £530 per month
Fuel Economy 47.1 - 282.4 mpg
Road tax cost £140 - £465
Insurance group 25 - 35 How much is it to insure?
New

PROS

  • Practical and spacious interior
  • Lots of standard equipment 
  • Low running costs 

CONS

  • Styling is spec-sensitive 
  • Interior looks lower quality than it is
  • Quite pricey to buy

Toyota RAV4 SUV rivals

Written by Richard Kilpatrick on

The Toyota RAV4 is a medium-sized family SUV that had the distinction of being the only car of its type that came exclusively with a hybrid engine as the only method of propulsion when it was launched Toyota calls it a self-charging hybrid because you don't need to plug it in. That's changed now, though, as the firm has also added a plug-in hybrid option to the range and rivals have shuffled their offerings as well.

>> We rate the best hybrids for 2021

It’s the first SUV to be based on Toyota-Lexus’ GA-L architecture (Toyotaspeak for the chassis and mechanical bits under the body), plus it comes with the latest incarnation of the company's Safety Sense pack of driver assistance and safety systems.

Most rivals now include hybrid or plug-in hybrid options, so the RAV4 doesn't have the market to itself. Obvious alternatives include the Ford Kuga, Skoda Karoq and Hyundai Tucson, but the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 (and relatives) give the plug-in RAV4 an impressive benchmark to beat as well.

So, is the new platform and hybrid-only gamble enough to elevate the RAV4 above the competition? Read on to find out.

Solid interior, packed with kit but lacks glamour

Interior quality is a step up over the previous generation RAV4 and there’s still a reassuring feeling of durability from all of the switches and buttons. The dashboard display is clear, and the most important controls easy to operate.

There's not quite the design flair on show of the more fashionable C-HR, but the RAV4 is more about ruggedness, and as such there are big, chunky rubberised buttons and dials, with a thick gearlever to complement. It may not feel plush, but it certainly feels durable.

Perhaps emphasising the slow-and-strong approach, the infotainment system continues to lag behind rivals, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard across all trim levels: Icon, Design, Excel and Dynamic. Earlier models don't offer smartphone integration; worth remembering if you're buying nearly-new or used.

Plenty of rear-seat space and a capacious boot

Both front and rear seat passengers shouldn’t be short of space in the RAV4, with generous amounts of head and legroom afforded. What’s more, the tunnel running through the centre of the car is smaller than it is on most rivals, giving the rear middle seat passengers greater space to put their feet.

Bootspace is equally impressive, with oodles of room seats up or seats down and more than competitive with the RAV4’s rivals. Additional practicality aids include the absence of a loading lip, underfloor storage compartments and a 12V power supply. The only disappointment is the lack of a 40:20:40 seat-folding arrangement ­­– the 60:40 split hampering flexibility. 

RAV4’s hybrid engines: 302hp plug-in with 46 mile EV range

Returning to the RAV4's original spirit as a go-anywhere SUV with hot-hatch performance, the plug-in hybrid on sale from April 2021 adds battery capacity and performance for an impressive 302hp combined output or a 46-mile pure EV range.

Economy (up to 282.4mpg) and CO2 (22g/km) figures reap the benefit of the generous range on battery, and you do 'in-kind' as well when it comes to your company car tax bill; but that's missing part of the point. When the RAV4 was launched in the '90s it could match a Golf GTI for fun and performance, and now it's back on-form, challenging most hot hatches for pace while offering something different again.

The RAV4 plug-in hybrid is only offered in Dynamic or Dynamic Premium specifications, and can exceed £50,000 for the highest-spec models. However, it's got an almost identical twin that costs a little less, with correspondingly lower specification, in the form of the Suzuki Across. Performance is the same for both cars.

With an upgraded front electric motor, considerably larger battery and all-wheel drive as standard it can reach 62mph in six seconds; like the original RAV4 though, the ability to move quickly is not enough and it's in the balance of control, feedback and frankly, fun behind the wheel that the plug-in demonstrates once again how to make a sporty 4x4.

Despite those figures it's actually more subdued than the self-charging version, with the engine rarely asked to work hard to deliver a respectable pace thanks to the generously-sized battery and ample electric power.

Self-charging RAV4 is a very different experience

While more than punchy enough for everyday use, the 215hp (219hp on all-wheel drive models) 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor(s) combination lacks the polish and refinement of conventional petrol and diesel models in some situations, but is very responsive when you put your foot down.

Most attempts to make significant progress are met by flared revs and a raucous noise from under the bonnet as the CVT transmission selects a lower ratio. Such a setup can work well, and it does for the RAV4 around town. It's only in situations where you need to speed up quickly where things can become noisy. It's quieter than an equivalent Honda CR-V Hybrid, though. 

On the plus side, claimed fuel economy is up to 49.5mpg (impressive for a car of this size and performance), while CO2 emissions come in at just 129g/km on front-wheel drive models with 17-inch wheels.

Biased towards relaxed comfort and easy driving

The RAV4 deals well with 90% of road surfaces and only feels unsettled by smaller, scattered surface imperfections or large expansion joints and potholes. Otherwise, it’s pliant and well-judged, staying surprisingly controlled at normal speeds.

If you’re looking to have fun behind the wheel, however, you’re better off opting for a SEAT Ateca or Ford Kuga, both delivering sharper driving experiences than the RAV4 with more direct steering. On the other hand, if you're buying a family-friendly SUV the chances are this isn't a priority.The RAV4 remains composed and refined the majority of the time, and doesn't leave you feeling out of control if you somehow go too quickly into a corner, for example.

Toyota Safety Sense 2 fitted as standard

The second generation of the Japanese brand’s active safety technology, Toyota Safety Sense 2, is designed to help the vehicle avoid accidents by warning the driver of an impending collision or, in some cases, automatically taking evasive action.

Standard-fit on the RAV4, Safety Sense 2 includes a Pre-Collision System (essentially like autonomous emergency braking), Road Sign Assist (traffic sign recognition), Lane Tracing Assist (active lane-keeping technology) and adaptive cruise control. As for improvements over the first generation system, the technology is now capable of spotting pedestrians in low-light conditions, and cyclists in daylight hours.

Click through the next few pages to read everything you need to know about the Toyota RAV4 including its practicality, how much it costs to run, what it's like to drive – and whether we recommend buying one.

Toyota RAV4 SUV rivals

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