2015 Toyota RAV4

As one of the first compact crossovers to hit the market, Toyota's RAV4 has helped to define what has become an extraordinarily fast-growing segment. The latest version of the RAV4 - that's short for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive - isn't the most stylish or exciting CUV around, but it does provide the space, comfort and efficiency that buyers prize, and now offers a rare-for-the-segment hybrid configuration.

Recent Changes
The latest model year represents the mid-cycle refresh of the fourth-generation RAV4. The hybrid model is the 8th to join Toyota's lineup, and it's available in two of the four available trim levels.

Overview
Now in its fourth generation, the RAV4 features Camry-inspired headlights and a traditional crossover shape. In what may seem to run contrary to the styling goals of most small crossovers, Toyota decided to emphasize the RAV4's SUV-like roots.

Aiming for a higher, wider stance, Toyota took some of the rake out of the RAV4's front end, making it more upright and abrupt rather than swept and car-like. The front and rear bumpers received new treatments to emphasize this, including body-coded paint in the rear and a skid plate finish panel in the front that has become standard to emphasize the RAV4's more rugged character. A shark-fin style antenna is also standard across the board.

Interior materials have been upgraded, especially in common contact points but the layout is essentially identical. Toyota's Entune 2.5 infotainment suite has been made standard as well. Mid-tier models get Entune + connected apps; top-tier models add full-blown navigation.

Due to clever packaging, the RAV4 can lay claim to class-leading cargo room: behind the rear seats there's 36.4 cubic inches of space, and seventy-three cubes are available with just the front seats upright. Unlike the previous RAV4, the latest model doesn't offer a third-row seat - those looking for a seven-passenger crossover will need to step up to the Highlander.

Providing motivation is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. Shifting duties are handled by a six-speed with an s-mode that blips the throttle during downshifts and helps the front-wheel-drive RAV4 return 24/31 mpg.

Opting for all-wheel-drive increases surefootedness but lowers mileage to 21/27 mpg. AWD models can optimize traction by apportioning torque between the front and rear axles, while a locking mode sends more power to the rear wheels to give the crossover extra grip in low-speed situations.

The all-new hybrid model is available only in the XLE or Limited trims, and is exclusively available with all-wheel-drive.

The all-wheel-drive hybrid system used in the RAV4 is similar to that found in Toyota's Highlander hybrid or the Lexus NX. The gas engine sits in the front. There are two electric motors--one in the front and one in the rear. While the gas engine charges the battery which powers both electric units (as is the case with any parallel hybrid), there's no physical connection between the axles.

Instead, the rear electric motor is activated when traction, acceleration or stability demands it. This is Toyota's AWD-i, or all-wheel-drive with "intelligence." Our primary concern was how the battery's state of charge would impact all-wheel-drive operation if it is dependent on an all-electric component, but the gasoline engine will keep it charged sufficiently to prevent any degradation in performance.

The hybrid is endowed with the highest power output of any 2016 RAV4--194 total system horsepower. It's also rated at 206 lb-ft of torque, giving it the most grunt and the quickest acceleration of the bunch. It also boasts the highest EPA mileage ratings at 34 city, 31 highway and 33 combined.

Trim Level Breakdown
The RAV4 can be had in LE, XLE, SE and Limited trim levels.

The entry-level LE features A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control, a 6.1-inch touchscreen display with Entune, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and 17-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.

The XLE ups the ante with dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, fog lights, heated exterior mirrors, roof rails, French stitching for the interior, a six-way power adjustable driver's seat and 17-inch alloy wheels. This is also the entry-level trim for the RAV4 Hybrid.

The SE gets unique wheels, a beefed-up sport suspension, paddle shifters and some unique exterior dress-up (blacked-out mesh grille, etc.). Like the other non-hybrid trims, the SE is available in either front- or all-wheel-drive. What you won't find in the SE model is the most powerful engine. That honor goes to the hybrid, which Toyota claims is also the quickest to 60 mph.

The Limited coddles with leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a power liftgate, a proximity key and 18-inch alloy wheels. The Limited is also available as a hybrid.

Options include a 576-watt JBL premium audio system, a navigation system and an App Suite for Entune.

The Technology Package adds blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert and auto on/off high-beams.

Occupant Safety
All RAV4 models come standard with eight airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

A blind spot monitor system with cross traffic alert is available as an extra-cost feature - when backing up, cross traffic alert uses radar sensors to detect vehicles approaching from either direction and provides an audible warning combined with a flashing indicator in the appropriate outside mirror. The system is bundled with lane departure alert, which warns the driver if the RAV4 begins to wander into an adjacent lane.

Key Competitors
Rivals to the RAV4 include the capable Honda CR-V, the efficient Chevrolet Equinox as well as the popular Ford Escape.