2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Toyota’s flagship sedan, with styling and luxuries that position it closer to a Lexus.

2016 Toyota Camry XSE

The XSE stands out from other Camrys on the road.

2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE

When Toyota first introduced the RAV4 in 1995, the Japanese automaker essentially created the compact crossover SUV market. The RAV4, which stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive,” became an instant hit. I must admit, however, that I was never a fan of those early models.

Twenty-one years later, the 2016 Toyota RAV4 remains true to the original RAV4 in terms of concept and purpose, yet is vastly improved and a much more attractive vehicle entering its fourth generation with sporty good looks and plenty of technology to boot.

The fourth generation RAV4, born in 2013, get a mid-cycle refresh. New for 2016 is the introduction of the first RAV4 Hybrid and a sporty new SE trim. The entire RAV4 lineup boasts refreshed exterior styling and updated interiors.

 The 2016 RAV4 Hybrid is available in three trim levels: the base LE, a more upscale XLE, and the flagship Limited edition.

The test Toyota RAV4 Hybrid came in XLE trim with a stunning Classic Silver Metallic exterior finish; as configured with all-wheel drive, its base price started at $29,795 (after destination charge). The XLE includes 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, power heated outside mirrors, a height-adjustable power liftgate, power moon roof and roof rails, among other perks.

Exterior
On the outside, the 2016 RAV4 showcases a vibrant exterior with a sleek roofline, bold design lines and a streamlined silhouette. The curves begin with the Halogen headlights, a low sloping hood, and athletically chiseled front and rear fenders, while the arc of the roofline leads rearward to the boldly styled tail lamps.

I’m a huge fan of rear spoilers, so I was pleased to see the functional roof spoiler, which extends the roofline and showcases a brilliant LED center brake light.

In a surprising departure from the original RAV4’s trademark side-hinged rear door, Toyota engineers went with a more functional roof-hinged lift gate. The rear door-mounted spare tire has been replaced by a space-saver spare that’s stored beneath the rear cargo floor.

Under the Hood
All Hybrid models are powered by a 2.5-liter DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder gasoline engine with dual VVT-I and electronic Toyota Direct Ignition with sequential fuel injection. Additional power is created by three electric motor generators that charge the batteries, drive the front and rear wheels, and regenerate motive force during braking.

The engine churns out 112 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, while generating 206 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,100 rpm; all together, the hybrid system generates 194 net horsepower. The versatile RAV4 Hybrid will zoom from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, nearly one second quicker than its gas counterparts.

The engine is paired with an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence (CVT-i) and an Electronic On-Demand All-Wheel-Drive System with intelligence (AWD-i), which automatically powers the rear wheels when it detects slippage.

There are obviously those who’ll complain about the lack of a V-6 power plant; in reality, the 2.5-liter four-banger cranks out more than enough power, with the advantage of greater fuel economy. The RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy measured out at 34 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway. The ride quality is stable and the handling is sporty.

Interior
The RAV4 Hybrid’s interior offers a premium appearance, boasting soft-touch surfaces and accents along with intuitive driver-focused controls. The asymmetrical dash panel is driver-centric with both primary and secondary controls within easy reach. On the passenger side, a fluid, scalloped dash panel creates an airy feel to the cabin.

The seats are fabric, with an eight-way power adjustment. The driver and front passenger enjoy available heated seats and dual zone automatic climate control, while a leather-wrapped steering wheel adds to the sportiness of the interior. Toyota’s 7-inch Entune touch-screen infotainment system is the centerpiece of the dashboard, though Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are not supported.

The Smart Key System is a game changer; once you use it, you’ll want this feature on every vehicle your drive. Just keep the Smart Key fob in your pocket or bag. RAV4 will know it’s there, so you can unlock the doors, open the liftgate and start the engine with just the push of a button.

There’s decent room for five adults, including 37.2 inches of rear legroom and, behind the rear seat, 35.6 cu. ft. of cargo capacity. With the 60/40 split rear seats folded, that space expands to 70.6 cu. ft. The rear seatbacks recline several degrees for added passenger comfort, and rear privacy glass is standard on all RAV4 models.

In Summary
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is firing on all cylinders, a gem of a compact crossover SUV that improves upon the original inside and outside, and now offers the enhanced efficiency of a hybrid system.

The 2016 RAV4 Hybrid delivers balanced performance and capability, along with impressive fuel economy and class-leading cargo capacity … all presented in strikingly designed form and an impressive list of standard features and amenities. If you’re in the market for a compact crossover, the Toyota RAV4 should be at the top of your wish list.

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