Parkers overall rating: 3.8 out of 5 3.8
  • One petrol-hybrid engine on offer, plus a plug-in hybrid
  • Comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT)
  • Choice between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive

For this fifth generation of Toyota RAV4 the only powertrain on offer initially was a petrol hybrid available with either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, with Toyota calling it a self-charging hybrid because you don't have to plug it in. That changed when a plug-in version was added to the line-up later on.

>> We rate the best hybrid SUVs for 2020

The regular hybrid setup uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine teamed with an 88kW electric motor on the front axle (all-wheel drive versions also get a 40kW motor on the rear axle).

Total power output is 218hp for the front-wheel drive model and 222hp for the all-wheel drive variant, translating into 0-62mph times of 8.4 and 8.1 seconds respectively. Top speed for both is 112mph, while torque output (of the engine) is 221Nm – rising to significantly more than this when one or both electric motors are engaged.

Unsurprisingly, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the real-world acceleration on offer in the front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions. Both feel surprisingly punchy, with more than enough outright power to reach motorway speeds quickly and safely.

As is the way with most hybrids paired with a CVT, when you put your foot down acceleration is nice and smooth with far less of the delay that you'd get with other automatic gearboxes. The main issue is that it results in quite an intrusive din coming from the engine bay, which spoils the overall refinement. 

It can end up sounding quite strained, especially as there are no gears for the automatic to go through, so there's a constant mooing sound until you're up to speed and you can lift off the accelerator. Still, it's quieter than its Honda CR-V Hybrid, and because it's also quicker, you'll find the sound can die down sooner in the Toyota, too. 

Around town, the RAV4 defaults to driving on just battery power for short bursts, as long as you're gentle on the accelerator pedal. You'll see a small green EV light in the instrument cluster to let you know it's doing so, but there's also a button on the centre console to select battery power specifically. If there's enough juice in it, the engine will cut in to assist. When it does, it's quick to engage and provides ample acceleration. 

Overall, the RAV4 is a smooth and responsive performer, just one that can be a little noisy if you need to accelerate quickly. However, it's not the kind of car to encourage that driving style, so it's unlikely most potential buyers will be put off by this.

RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid arrives later in 2020

Using the same 2.5-litre as the regular RAV4 Hybrid, the Plug-in Hybrid version adds a bigger battery pack that combines to up the total power output of the RAV4 to 300hp, while also being able to travel around 37 miles on battery power alone. And with a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds, it's quite a bit quicker than the regular model. We're yet to drive this version, but it's set to take on plug-in hybrid versions of the Vauxhall Grandland X and Peugeot 3008 when it does arrive, which also come with around 300hp each.

How does it handle?

  • Competent, but feels hefty at speeds
  • All-round visibility is good
  • Off-road gadgets and 1,600kg towing capacity

If you’re not overly fussed with the ‘Sports’ part of Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), then the RAV4 should prove an excellent place to spend your money. The overall drive over twisty roads is safe and competent, with far more emphasis placed on its urban and motorway cruising ability. If you want a sportier-feeling SUV, you'll want something like a Ford Kuga or SEAT Ateca.

It may not have the dimensions of some of the larger SUVs on sale at the moment, but the RAV4 still feels fairly hefty on the road. Navigating through towns at low speeds isn’t so much a problem (thanks to good visibility and light steering), it's more that you notice its height and weight if you have to turn quickly on something like a country road..

The suspension feels soft all round but can mean the front end of the car dips noticeably when you have to hit the grabby brakes in a hurry. Still, if you are on a twisty piece of road, the RAV4 doesn't feel out of its depth, it's just more suited to a leisurely pace which feels appropriate for a hybrid SUV with incredibly light steering.

Electric all-wheel drive system adds traction

Regardless of what your intentions with the vehicle are, the electric all-wheel drive system is well worth a look, not least because of the extra traction it delivers when accelerating. With 218hp on tap in the front-wheel drive model, the RAV4 is hardly underpowered and it does sometimes struggle to make a clean getaway when the road isn’t bone dry. The all-wheel drive version, meanwhile, has no such issues, and could well be worth a look if you live somewhere prone to wetter, more slippery conditions.

Upgraded for the fifth-generation model, the RAV4’s all-wheel drive system is capable of sending up to 100% of the engine's power to the front wheels, and 80% to the back depending on which has the most traction.

Also new is a feature called Trail Mode. This is designed to help out in more serious off-road situations where a driven wheel may lose contact with the ground. If this happens, the free rotating wheel will be braked and the torque will instead be sent to the opposite wheel that’s in contact with the ground, increasing the car’s chances of getting you out of a sticky situation.

Towing ability

If you want to do any kind of meaningful towing in the RAV4 then it’s essential you opt for the all-wheel drive version. With a braked towing capacity of 1,650kg it far exceeds what the front-wheel drive version is capable of (800kg) and even outdoes the old 2.0-litre diesel model by 50kg.