Newly redesigned this year, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 is a well-rounded compact crossover offering a pleasant ride, decent handling, a spacious and comfortable interior and tons of standard safety features.
But when we tested one this past spring, we did not love the engine. Although it has more horsepower than most of its competitors, the RAV4’s engine makes a lot of noise without providing a lot of zip.
That said, there is a way to get a quicker, quieter powertrain in the RAV4 for just $800 more. And if that is not tempting enough, this upgrade also pays for itself with dramatically improved gas mileage.
We are talking about the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which uses the same gas-electric technology as the famous Toyota Prius. An electric motor helps reduce the efforts made by the gasoline engine, which reduces fuel usage, and the vehicle’s electric batteries recharge themselves while you drive normally.
The EPA estimates that the RAV4 Hybrid will achieve 41 miles per gallon in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 40 mpg overall. That is the best of any crossover on the market that you do not have to plug in. It improves over the already-impressive 2018 RAV4 Hybrid’s scores of 34 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 32 mpg overall.
And it trounces the gas-only all-wheel-drive 2019 RAV4’s ratings, which max out at 27 mpg city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 mpg overall.
In stop-and-go driving, such as puttering around the Metro region or trudging through rush hour, that means the gas RAV4 burns 52 percent more fuel than the RAV4 Hybrid. And what’s more, if you drive the RAV4 Hybrid carefully, you can maximize the time in which the electric motor propels the car with the gasoline engine switched off entirely — burning no gas.
It can do this at steady speeds, coasting to a stop or downhill, or even during gentle acceleration from a stop. That is how we beat the EPA estimates, to average 46 mpg during a weeklong test.
These numbers are all the more impressive when you consider how little you have to give up for the RAV4 Hybrid. This isn’t a slow, small, sad hybrid like the stereotype of an old Prius. The RAV4 Hybrid has go-anywhere all-wheel-drive, ample passenger and cargo space, and a peppy 219 horsepower.
Again, it’s both quicker and quieter than the gasoline-only RAV4, thanks to the extra thrust from its electric motor.
We mentioned that all this costs just $800 more than a comparable gas-only RAV4. That comes with a couple of slight caveats. First of all, you cannot get a front-wheel-drive RAV4 Hybrid; cost-conscious buyers of the gas model can shave off $1,400 from the price by skipping all-wheel-drive.
Secondly, the gas RAV4 tends to cost more than most of its competitors, such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester. That means the hybrid’s additional price premium lifts it even further.
Once this is all considered, the RAV4 Hybrid starts at $28,970 and can reach $40,000, fully loaded. That is not too cheap. On the other hand, it is a well-rounded vehicle with remarkably low operating costs.
Like every RAV4, the hybrid model has a more-rugged design aesthetic this year, which also helps it stand out from the more luxury- or performance-themed competition.
And while it lacks the extra-polished driving dynamics of a Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5 or even the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, its improved ride and handling make it more competitive in its class.
If you know for sure you want a super-high gas mileage crossover, there are not many alternatives. There is the subcompact, front-wheel-drive Kia Niro, which is more like a hatchback than an SUV. There iss the soon-to-be-discontinued Nissan Rogue Hybrid, which gets far-worse mileage than the RAV4 Hybrid.
And there is the upcoming 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid, which promises to come close to the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy — with more luxury to boot — but it’s not yet on sale.
Overall, if you know you want a RAV4, especially one with all-wheel-drive, there are few reasons not to choose the hybrid model.
Even though many competitors are less expensive, drive better or both, there are plenty of reasons to choose any RAV4.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.