All Toyota hybrids are superbly economical, but the RAV4 Cruiser is the high specification buyers covet most. But is it really worth the wait time?
What’s the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s secret? It seems the whole bloody world wants one, and such demand paired with well-publicised supply issues have seen wait times for a new one blow out to over a year, eighteen months or sometimes more.
Yet we keep putting deposits down. Because, in short, it lives up to the hype.
Almost four years after this generation’s introduction, it still looks the business, its size appeals to many buyer types, the drive’s a good blend of comfort and handling while ownership and running costs appear cheaper than any other midsize petrol SUV.
Throw in rock-solid resale and it’s a Toyota-badged home run.
The RAV4’s lack of availability may make headlines, but it was Australia’s third best-selling car of 2022, trumped only by our great population’s bewildering obsession with buying Hiluxes and Ford Rangers as urban transport.
And it’s the hybrid we want. From the 35,000 RAV4s delivered last year, 26,500 were hybrid-powered.
The longer wait aside, it’s a no-brainer to go hybrid. In desirable FWD Cruiser spec, as tested, it’s $45,700 (plus on-roads) with 127kW/203Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder, or $2500 extra for the hybrid with 160kW/221Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric.
There’s more power, better overall drivability and the fuel savings are significant.
Toyota’s evolved the model over the years, ensuring every grade can be had as a hybrid, while there’s been updates to safety and technology, most recently in December 2022. Prices have risen accordingly but expectedly to reflect enhancements, higher production costs and unwavering demand.
Regardless, even fresh-to-market midsize SUVs can’t seem to match the RAV4 Hybrid’s all-round appeal. Similar-priced hybrid rivals are scarce, and can’t topple the Toyota’s economy of 4.7L/100km.
Your RAV4 choice is lengthy. The range starts from $36,550 for a FWD GX with straight 2.0-litre engine. Hybrids kick off with the FWD GX at $39,050, followed by a GXL ($42,600), XSE ($46,375) and our Cruiser ($48,200).
All-wheel-drive versions of all variants add another $3000, while topping the range is an all-paw-only Edge for $55,150.
There are no diesels in the line-up, nor manuals. All use a CVT auto gearbox, excluding the more adventurous Edge grade with an eight-speed torque converter auto.
Our Cruiser appears the ideal pick for value and features, and ergo the most popular grade for shoppers. The leather-accented seats can be had in black or cabin-brightening nutmeg, while any colour bar white adds a $690 premium.
Biggest choice is whether to drop the extra $3000 on all-wheel drive. This adds a second electric motor on the rear axle, offering an extra 3kW but, more importantly, a decent (but undisclosed) torque bump. You also gain a Trail mode function altering throttle, wheel braking and torque distribution for improved traction on slippery surfaces.
The model’s just been gifted another update for 2023, Toyota keeping up its appreciated marginal gains technique by adding tech as it evolves and addressing grumbles from customers and car reviewers.
Prices are up between $2150 and $2820, but Cruiser (and XSE and Edge) now score a 10.5-inch multimedia touchscreen paired with a full-width 12.3-inch digital driver’s display.
Those buying lesser GX and GXLs make do with 8.0-inch infotainment and a 7.0-inch digital driver display. All run wireless Apple CarPlay, but Android Auto still needs a cable.
Pictured: the 8.0-inch unit is now only found in the GX and GXL grades
Also new is Toyota Connected Services range-wide (complimentary for the first 12 months), where your car’s paired to a myToyota Connect phone app to see the likes of fuel level, vehicle location and if doors are locked.
It has a ‘Hey Toyota’ voice assistant, over-the-air update functionality and will alert emergency services in the event of an on-road collision.
The Cruiser’s inclusions are lengthy and well-considered. You get 18-inch gloss black alloys, a moon roof, chrome-trimmed door handles and a silver grille.
Inside are leather-accented seats boasting power and three-stage heating and ventilation for the two front chairs. There’s ambient lighting, electric handbrake, a power tailgate and nine-speaker JBL audio.
These add to the spec included on cheaper RAV4s: an electric parking brake, inbuilt navigation, USB-A and USB-C ports, LED exterior lights all round, wireless phone charging, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, roof rails, DAB+ radio and lengthy active safety suite (see below).
Boot’s a healthy 542L, but non-hybrid versions enjoy a two-tiered floor with a 580L total. Only a 17-inch temporary spare in the hybrid Cruiser will cause some to grumble, and if you’re planning on towing the FWD hybrids aren’t the pick.
They’ll manage just 480kg; the FWD non-hybrids do 800kg or 1500kg if the Edge, while all AWD hybrids manage 1500kg.
How should a family SUV drive? Easily, comfortably and safely. As you’d expect of Toyota’s golden goose, the RAV4 ticks all these boxes, then even manages to prove not half bad around a corner too.
Despite our test car sending power just to its front wheels and not having quite the control and oomph of an AWD version, the FWD’s multi-link rear suspension and overall setup result in a planted, communicative drive.
There’s decent grip (although the fronts will spin up on wet launches if you’re too eager), minimal body roll, and feedback and weight enough from the steering to make it decent fun to punt along. Brakes are up to the task too.
The hybrid power unit’s quite quick to respond through the CVT gearbox, and I found the acceleration more than ample despite no extra torque hit from a rear electric motor.
The radar cruise control is up there with the best I’ve tested – you can tell it’s been calibrated to the nth degree by engineers – and the lane keep system isn’t too invasive.
Others – looking at you Hyundai – I need to switch off after about 30 maddening seconds of driving. The JBL system’s seriously banging, while a big glasshouse, 360-degree camera and the high ride make it easy to park.
It’s of no surprise that it cruises quietly on the highway and does a sterling job of mopping up most bumps, but the drive is at its most impressive on the journeys we typically like least.
That means the urban crawl. Stop starting. Traffic. School runs. Busy commutes. This is where the EV mode shines in terms of peace, smoothness and fuel saving.
The car automatically starts in electric-only mode, making for near silent and butter-like forward progress. If there’s charge in the battery, you can amble along like this at under about 30km/h before the petrol engine has to join the party.
The battery charges while you decelerate or brake, and does so without you noticing. No obvious regeneration here. A button on the centre console lets you keep it in EV mode (if there’s battery charge and you’re not going too fast), which is a boon in slow speed traffic.
Impressively, there’s barely a rumble when the petrol/EV shift happens, so the drive remains polished.
A 160kW/221Nm four-cylinder and CVT transmission are rarely ingredients for driving excitement, so if you desire such things, the VW Tiguan 162TSI or Cupra Ateca VZx are probably more your bag. So, the RAV4 hybrid may be short on thrills, but the hybrid drivetrain is much like all else in this car: spot-on fit for purpose.
The RAV4 would be Goldilocks’ SUV of choice, it really is just the right size for many. It fits our family of four (ten- and seven-year-old kids) lifestyle pretty much bang on. Toyota’s Kluger is unnecessarily big and the C-HR too cramped.
The new Corolla Cross runs it close, but for not much more money the RAV4 fits our life that bit better – the former in Hybrid form has only a 380L boot, for example.
There’s a smart blend of latest technology and old-school familiarity in the RAV’s cabin. Toyota’s not fallen into the trap of trying to control Absolutely Bloody Everything through screens and touch pads (G’day, Volkswagen).
The RAV4’s climate control – the thing we reach for and fine-tune most often – has two large rubber-grip twisting dials with lovely, tactile feel to rapidly and non-distractingly set temperature and fan speed. Simple buttons too for your seat heating/cooling and to shift drive modes, plus a proper, chunky gear shifter.
A 10.5-inch touchscreen is a welcome newbie to replace the rather antique 8.0-inch effort in previous Cruisers.
Our test vehicle was too old to have it featured, but we’ve sampled the 10.5-incher in the new Corolla Cross where Curt Dupriez deemed it “easy to see, reach and use,” but suggested a preference for a volume knob rather than volume buttons. He also stated the digital driver’s display to be “fancy but not overbearing.”
Pictured: MY23 Toyota RAV4 Cruiser models feature a larger 10.5-inch screen
That fits with the RAV4’s overall plan. Keep things familiar, sensible and user-friendly and don’t fit tech for tech’s sake.
The leather-accent seats have a classy air and are comfy without being sink-in plush; there’s soft-touch material for the dash and higher-up door plastics, and everything looks and feels very durable, if a bit lacking in excitement.
But it just works. The cup holders, wireless phone charging tray, oddments bins and a handy little rubberised tray in the dashboard in front of the passenger – all are tremendously fit for purpose.
It’s well packaged too. Ample room up front, good high-riding visibility and seriously sizable in the back. The transmission tunnel barely encroaches on the rear floor, meaning middle seat occupants aren’t too badly done by.
Three adults are possible back here thanks to ample head and leg room, plus air vents, fold-down armrest and two USB ports aid the comfort. The rear seat reclines, but if only it were on runners it would up the versatility.
With the RAV4’s latest updates it’s getting harder to find things to grumble about.
The auto tailgate used to open and close with the urgency of a sloth, but Toyota’s listened to customers (and maybe even motoring journalists) and shaved almost three seconds off its closing time. But seriously, what were they thinking before?
The RAV4 was awarded a maximum 5 stars with ANCAP on its 2019 test. It scored 93 percent for adult occupant safety, 89 percent for child occupant safety, 85 percent for vulnerable road user and 83 percent for safety assist.
The Toyota Safety Sense suite, plus extra safety goodies, are included range-wide and offers:
Pre-collision safety system (AEB) with day/night pedestrian and day cyclist detection
The Cruiser also features a panoramic view monitor plus an underfloor view showing terrain underneath.
Why buy the hybrid? Fuel use. Or lack thereof.
I’ve sampled Toyota’s series-parallel hybrid drive vehicles for longer than I care to remember, and their economy – especially around town where petrol is normally gulped down – is deeply impressive. Dream car for a taxi or Uber driver? Normally a Toyota hybrid.
The RAV4 Hybrid has a quoted figure of 4.7L/100km overall and 4.8L/100km in town. Compare that to the non-RAV4 2.5-litre’s 7.3L/100km and 9.4L/100km marks and fuel savings can be exceptional, especially if the bulk of your journeys are urban.
In the real world? We returned 5.3L/100km over some 1000km, highway, school drop-off and country drives included. The figure actually climbed slightly on my final 120km highway trip, showing just how damn efficient this thing is for daily town use. It only needs 91 RON as well.
Toyota offers fixed price servicing for the first five years, and it’s cheap versus rivals. Visits are annual or every 15,000km and cost $260 a pop. A very reasonable $1300 for your first five.
If you want to continue the Connected Services subscription after 12 months, packages start from $9.95 per month for Connect+ – that’s your guest driver settings, remote connect and stolen vehicle tracking (SVT).
If, like me, you’re not enthused by subscriptions for things in your car (we’ve already got enough in our lives), not having the SVT because you didn’t pay your monthly fees does particularly grate.
As they should, the SOS call and collision notification services remain complimentary. It’s a further $12.50 per month to maintain Connected Multimedia – your navigation and voice assistant for example, but with CarPlay/Android Auto already there I’m not sure why you would.
Warranty is five years/unlimited-kilometres, which is bang-on average. Despite Toyota’s reputation for reliability, the likes of Kia, Mitsubishi and MG offer longer warranties.
The waiting list is long for a reason. The RAV4 Hybrid is simply a superb all-rounder and still a go-to medium SUV recommendation…enough to make you stomach a year-long wait.
The fact that this Toyota still feels segment leader some four years after its introduction – and against properly good opposition – is hugely telling.
Cleverly packaged, attractive, smart, safe, comfy and engaging to drive – then it thumps hybrid rivals on the economy front. The range is long to suit most budgets, but in Cruiser spec – if you can afford it – you really want for nothing. The cabin would delight all but the most luxe-demanding buyer.
The temptation would be to drop an extra $3000 on an AWD version, but urbanites really need not. Rural buyers could make a case for it, but it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
Reality is, if you’re after an economical mid-size SUV and have a bit of time on your side, it’d be hard to advise against getting your name on the waiting list.
Jumping on board the hybrid bandwagon as Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid rockets to the top of the SUV sales charts, the Subaru Forester Hybrid hopes to offer meaningful competition.
Key specs (as tested)
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