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2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid review: Hybrid performance without sacrificing crossover utility

Compact crossovers have taken over as the de facto family vehicle of the modern age. They must be comfortable, spacious, and flexible enough to handle the rigors of family life. What if you’re looking for one that’s also fuel-efficient and powerful? Luckily, there’s one that fits the bill: the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Does this crossover fulfill its promise of giving you the best of both worlds? Let’s find out.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid exterior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Right away, the RAV4 Hybrid’s most standout design feature is its muscular styling, looking like a baby 4Runner from most angles. Credit its boxy proportions and front fascia for the tough appearance. Hybrid models don’t have many cues differentiating them from the standard model. All you get are hybrid badges on the liftgate and front fenders, and Toyota badges with blue highlights.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid interior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The rugged theme continues inside the RAV4 Hybrid’s interior where you find neat touches like big knobs, and cool patterns on the speaker grilles, cupholders, and wireless charging pad. There’s also a convenient tray above the glove box for your mobile devices just like in the three-row Highlander. Passenger space is generous in both rows; however, the rear doors could open wider to make entering, exiting, and installing child seats easier. The front passenger’s seat could also use height adjustment so that it can better accommodate tall people.

If you need to haul stuff, the RAV4 Hybrid has a massive cargo area even with all seats in place. Folding the 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs increases capacity even more and gets you a nearly flat floor. Thanks to the battery placed under the rear seats, you get a nice square space with no intrusions.

The RAV4’s utilitarian feel is most apparent in the cabin’s fit and finish. There are extensive soft plastics and padding on the dash and door cards. Hard plastics are also present but they’re nicely textured. While the materials aren’t exactly luxurious, they’re right in line with the RAV4’s rugged character. They won’t look worn even after taking multiple rounds of abuse from kids or grown-up toys. More sound insulation would help, though, because there are noticeable amounts of wind noise at highway speeds.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The latest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system has a simple layout featuring traditional knobs and buttons, and a 7.0- or 8.0-inch touch screen (our test car had the latter). However, it takes time to learn because some of its features are buried under multiple submenus. Additionally, its response times are slow and the graphics, especially the built-in navigation’s map, could use an update to bring it up to par with newer interfaces. One aspect that stands out in the RAV4’s multimedia experience is the JBL audio system. The 11 speakers are well-placed, allowing them to cover the cabin evenly and produce crisp sound.

Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) suite of driver assistance technologies is standard on all RAV4 models. The systems included work without bringing much attention to themselves. Lane-keeping assist gently re-centers if you drift away. With adaptive cruise control active, the centering function activates, allowing the car to help you navigate through gentle curves. Although adaptive cruise control’s distancing is tuned conservatively, it’s appropriate when you consider that the RAV4 veers on the larger end of its class. You get smooth acceleration and braking in traffic meaning you won’t get jerked around in stop-and-go situations.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid driving impression

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

If comfort is your priority, the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid is right up your alley. The suspension does a fantastic job isolating the passenger cabin from road imperfections. You don’t feel much harshness because the suspension soaks everything up like a sponge. The trade-off, however, is overall composure. You get secondary and tertiary vertical motions over big bumps. Throwing the RAV4 into a corner results in noticeable amounts of body roll. Although it’s not unwieldy, they add to the crossover’s top-heavy road manners. During braking, you get some nose dive, further making the RAV4 feel trucklike. Steering, on the other hand, is accurate, allowing you to easily place the vehicle on the road.

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Perhaps the highlight of the RAV4 Hybrid’s driving experience is the powertrain. This system couples a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with two electric motors, a lithium-ion battery (certain trims use a nickel-metal-hydride unit), and a planetary gear set. The total output is 219 hp. You’re never short on power when you put your foot down and delivery is consistently smooth. Stopping is equally impressive thanks to imperceptible handoffs from regenerative to mechanical braking and a good pedal feel. The electric motor at each axle also allows the RAV4 to replenish its battery quickly up to full via regenerative braking.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid pricing

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid starts at $29,825 for the base LE grade. Our range-topping Limited test vehicle with the Advanced Technology package, panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, Weather package, and several dealer-installed accessories cost $42,317.

Final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac

Without a doubt, the electrified RAV4 is the one to get, building on the conventional model with refinement, power, and efficiency. Even with its quibbles, it’s a solid choice if you’re looking for a versatile hybrid crossover that focuses on comfort. So yes, the RAV4 Hybrid lets you have the best of both worlds and proves that you don’t need to sacrifice much to get what you want out of your family vehicle.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Toyota
  • Model: RAV4 Hybrid
  • Trim: Limited
  • Type: 4-door compact crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 219 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 41/38/40
  • Pros: Comfortable ride, excellent powertrain
  • Cons: Lots of body roll, slow infotainment system
  • Base price: $29,825
  • Price as tested: $42,317
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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