DETROIT – Toyota’s RAV4 literally invented the compact crossover segment and after more than 20 years, it continues to dominate.
It went through a thorough makeover last year. It looked more muscular, got more angles in the sheet metal — basically, it is no longer a soft-looking vehicle. It got bigger too.
It was longer, lower and wider. We spent a week test-driving the RAV4 Hybrid Limited all-wheel drive. It was powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and combined with electric motors on the axles made 219 horsepower. There was what Toyota is branding an electronic continuous variable transmission.
Mileage was impressive. The 2020 RAV4 Hybrid got 41 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway and 40 mpg combine. Even more impressive was the RAV4’s driving characteristics.
It handled well. Of course, it was super quiet. Cornering was good, so too was braking. Our test vehicle was outfitted with running boards but the RAV4 didn’t need them. It looked like a rugged SUV, but it was a crossover. What we mean is that we stepped into the vehicle, it was low enough to the ground that we did not have to climb up into it like a pickup or full-size SUV. Those running boards were functional and they did look good, but we never used them because we didn’t need them.
We were impressed with the RAV4 Hybrid’s acceleration. Yes, that continual variable transmission whined uninterruptedly during aggressive acceleration, but we got up to speed quickly and it was quiet while cruising, no matter the speed.
The simplicity of the RAV4 Hybrid’s interior was impressive. Today’s vehicles can do more. Toyota designers have found ways to put the controls so that they are unobtrusive. Around the floating touch infotainment screen were buttons that linked us to the audio system, the phone, the apps and the navigation system.
The climate controls were underneath the screen and underneath them were the controls for the heated and cooled seats. Beneath those controls, there was an area that held the pad for wireless charging and two USB jacks, an auxiliary jack and a 12V jack.
The 2020 RAV4 had three driving modes: eco, normal and sport. And you could make that four if you counted the button that could put it in electric vehicle mode.
In a move that more interior designers are making, some of the RAV4’s controls were placed on the bottom third of the dash on the left side of the vehicle. The off-on button for the automatic high beams was there, the power liftgate control was there, the heated steering wheel, the button to turn on the camera was over there too.
What we’ve always liked about the new generation RAV4 was the shelf. Just beneath the dash, this ambient lit space extended the width of the car. When you think about it, there’s a lot of potential space that’s wasted along any dash. RAV4 designers found a use for it.
We got into the back seats and found them spacious, there seemed to be enough room for three people to sit abreast and those seats were heated. There were two more USB jacks in the back and the panoramic roof let in plenty of light back there. We didn’t get to use it much since it was overcast just about the entire week that we test-drove the 2020 RAV4.
The all-wheel-drive system used separate rear-mounted electric motors to power the rear wheels when needed. The system was standard on all RAV4 Hybrids and increased torque to the rear wheels by 30 percent compared to the previous system. Thank goodness we didn’t need it.
Our test vehicle was chock full of comforts and premium equipment. It had LED headlights and daytime running lights. It had a premium audio system, voice controls, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There was Toyota Safety Sense 2.0: pre-collision with pedestrian detection, full-speed range adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist and automatic high beams.
The crossover read road signs, had a backup camera with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear parking assist with automated braking, blind-spot monitoring and 18-inch alloy wheels.
For $41,235 as tested, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid offered a lot for the money.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.