Browse over 9,000 car reviews

Sorry, there are no cars that match your search

Toyota RAV4 2020 review: Cruiser hybrid AWD off-road test

Do you want a mid-size SUV that looks nice, drives well, has impressive fuel economy and will help you single-handedly save the world? (Well, that last claim is not entirely accurate but, at this point in the history of the world, every little bit helps).

Meet the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser AWD hybrid.

Meet the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser AWD hybrid. Meet the Toyota RAV4 Cruiser AWD hybrid.

We’ve reviewed the new RAV4 in terms of (mostly) on-road characteristics and it’s impressed us but how does it perform when you get off the bitumen and the hybrid’s all-wheel drive capabilities are tested? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

This RAV4 is the second-from-top spec in the fifth-generation RAV4’s range. It costs $45,240 as tested.

Standard features include leather-accented seats and door trims, 10-way electric adjustable driver’s seat (with memory settings), heated front seats, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system (with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as Apple Carplay and Android Auto available as a free upgrade soon), wireless charging, electric park brakes, 7.0-inch driver info display, a reversing camera with a 360-degree monitor, 7.0-inch driver info display, ambient lighting, a power tailgate and more.

Standard features include an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Standard features include an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

All versions of the new RAV4 carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on the latest 2019 standards and safety gear includes seven airbags (front, front side, full length curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag), ISOFIX child restraint anchorage points, panoramic view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera (with guidelines), blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, lane trace assist (auto CVT only), active cruise control (all-speed on auto CVT), hill start assist, trailer sway control and more.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

This RAV4 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (131kW and 221Nm), an electric motor on the front axle (88kW/202Nm) and an electric motor on the rear axle (40kW/121Nm).

Total combined power is listed as 163kW. No combined torque figure is listed.

This RAV4 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, an electric motor on the front axle and an electric motor on the rear axle. This RAV4 has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, an electric motor on the front axle and an electric motor on the rear axle.

In basic terms, the petrol engine drives the front wheels, the front electric motor helps out with overall efficiency and the electric motor at the back kicks in on that rear axle to give the RAV4 an extra boost when needed.

The hybrid’s battery is a 6.5 Amp hour nickel-metal hydride system, and it re-charges through the vehicle’s forward motion – basically when you’re free-wheeling and not braking – so instead of wasting energy as heat through the brakes, it uses it to top up the battery.

All hybrid models have an auto/e-CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) as standard.

This RAV4 has several driving modes including Eco, Normal and Sport, all geared at producing ride and handling via optimised engine performance and tuning, steering and throttle response, best suited to the selected mode and the terrain and conditions.

There’s also an EV mode – for driving only on battery power at low speed and for short distances – and that’s to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. EV mode will not engage if it deems there is not enough battery power – seems to be any level below half – and it will not engage if you’re driving faster than 60km/h. 

There’s also an EV mode – for driving only on battery power at low speed and for short distances. There’s also an EV mode – for driving only on battery power at low speed and for short distances.

And Trail mode, which taps into that rear motor to provide rear-axle power, sending up to 80 per cent of total drive torque to the rear wheels.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

If you’re obsessed with appearances, don’t worry, you should be fine in the RAV4.

From the outside, it looks good. From the outside, it looks good.

From the outside, it looks good: it has a real low-set, chunky presence.

It’s been developed according to the Toyota New Global Architecture platform and so has a shorter, lower and wider body than before, but has a longer wheelbase and wider track.

For the measurement nerds among you, this RAV4 is 4600mm long (with a 2690mm wheelbase), 1855mm wide, 1685mm high and weighs 1745kg.

Style-wise, it has that distinctive grille and black touches all over the place. Style-wise, it has that distinctive grille and black touches all over the place.

Style-wise, it has that distinctive grille, black touches all over the place – including those 18-inch alloys – and there’s also chrome door handles, a moon roof and more.

How practical is the space inside?

Boot space is 580 litres, so there’s heaps of room. That area has a cargo blind, four tie-down points, a 12V point, as well as a removeable floor liner that can sit lower or higher in the floor depending on your requirements.

Boot space is 580 litres, so there’s heaps of room. Boot space is 580 litres, so there’s heaps of room.

Space in the back seat is pretty good – with plenty of head, shoulders, knees and toes room – and there are USB points, air-vents and an arm-rest with cupholders.

The good looks and that premium aura continue up front which feels clear, clean and classy.

Space in the back seat is pretty good, with plenty of head, shoulders, knees and toes room. Space in the back seat is pretty good, with plenty of head, shoulders, knees and toes room.

Fit and finish is impressive and there are soft-touch surfaces everywhere, including these textured little control bits, leather-accented seats and door trims, the driver's seat is 10-way electric adjustable with memory settings and the front seats are heated.

There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system – with Apple Carplay and Android Auto available as a free upgrade soon – and wireless charging.

There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and wireless charging. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and wireless charging.

There’s a 7.0-inch driver info display, with switchable views, some of which show speed, trip computer, a real-time view of engine output and wheel-slip – and where the torque is going – and more.

There are also storage spaces galore – including nifty shelves (a long one for the front-seat passenger and a small one for the driver) as well as USB points.

The driver and front passenger have plenty of room. The driver and front passenger have plenty of room.

And it’s comfortable as well – driver and front passenger have plenty of room, plenty of visibility, it's easy enough to access to everything, and occupants are able to keep all tech gear charged up and ready.

What's it like as a daily driver?

It’s incredibly quiet – bloody quiet – and it’s also very nice to drive.

It has smooth, immediate acceleration and it quickly settles into an easy groove at higher speeds.

Steering is sharp and precise on all surfaces. Steering is sharp and precise on all surfaces.

Steering is sharp and precise on all surfaces, visibility is good all round, it sits rather nicely on bitumen – and later on gravel and dirt tracks – because it is quite low and wide, and it always feels settled.

What's it like for touring?

As mentioned, it does ride nicely on gravel and dirt surfaces but it does skip around on rougher sections, especially the rear end, and that’s due to its firm suspension and road tyres.

But, most importantly and most impressively, this RAV4 hybrid has no problem getting torque to the ground on any surface because the combination of petrol engine, electric motors and CVT is so bloody effective it always seems to find the sweet spot. As long as you’re driving on well-maintained gravel roads and dirt tracks in dry conditions.

This RAV4 hybrid has no problem getting torque to the ground on any surface. This RAV4 hybrid has no problem getting torque to the ground on any surface.

When it comes to off-roading, however, a few factors impact the RAV4’s capability: it’s let down by low ground clearance, its 18-inch wheel and road tyre combination, ordinary wheel articulation, and a lack of hill descent control.

You can forgive it for those things though, because the RAV4 is not intended to be a hard-core off-roader – but it is a capable all-wheel drive vehicle if the full extent of your AWD adventures stretch only take in bitumen or those well-maintained surfaces I mentioned above.

A set of all-terrain tyres would help it cope better when the going gets a little bit tougher.

Trail mode brings the rear axle into play, engages the RAV4’s off-road systems, and is also capable of delivering up to 80 per cent of the total drive torque through the rear wheels. So, working in conjunction with the RAV4’s traction control system, that should theoretically be a big help in getting the vehicle through traction-challenged terrain, if it’s effective in delivery.

But that wasn’t the case when I drove it over undulating terrain and intentionally put tyres in the air in an attempt to force the AWD/traction control system into operation. The terrain wasn’t too severe in the grand scheme of things, but certainly at the outer limits of a low-set AWD’s capabilities.

I drove it over undulating terrain and intentionally put tyres in the air in an attempt to force the AWD/traction control system into operation. I drove it over undulating terrain and intentionally put tyres in the air in an attempt to force the AWD/traction control system into operation.

With its front left wheel only just touching the ground and its rear right dangling in the air, the RAV4 spun wheels freely, uselessly, so much so that it didn’t seem like any traction control was being applied to any wheels at all.

Trail mode is supposed to act in a similar way to an automatic limited-slip differential, by applying brake force to any free-rotating wheels and sending that torque to the wheel with traction, in order to get you moving again.

On the driver display it showed power going to the rear, but the wheels in the air continued to spin freely.

The RAV4 eventually traversed the terrain, creeping forward with a fair bit of throttle encouragement, but we spun a lot of wheels to get through and it was definitely a case of winning ugly.

I spend the lion’s share of my time in taller vehicles, generally 4WDs, so the 190mm of ground clearance, while not terrible for an urban-focussed mid-size SUV, grated on me because I knew the RAV4, with some prompting, would be able to go further than it did, in terms of more difficult off-road terrain, but its clearance wouldn’t safely allow that to happen.

The 190mm of ground clearance grated on me because I knew the RAV4 would be able to go further than it did, but its clearance wouldn’t safely allow that to happen. The 190mm of ground clearance grated on me because I knew the RAV4 would be able to go further than it did, but its clearance wouldn’t safely allow that to happen.

While I’m having a go at it, this RAV4 has a pretty ordinary panoramic view monitor; it’s a bit muddy-looking on the screen and it’s difficult to see what’s actually out there at times.

In the RAV4’s favour though is its tight 11.0-metre turning circle, which makes it an easy steerer on tight bush tracks.

Any concerns over the potential of rear-axle battery depletion leaving a vehicle stranded in 2WD while still on all-wheel drive terrain seem unfounded – this hybrid did deplete the battery fairly swiftly in Trail mode, but it also regenerated quite rapidly as well.

However, that’s when the RAV4 is being driven on nice gravel roads and dirt tracks in good weather.

When you do low-speed, low-traction all-wheel-driving, this RAV4 tends to work hard for forward momentum and it chews through battery power pretty fast.

And, for that reason – and the fact the RAV4 is quite low – I’d avoid driving on any sand, other than very firm-packed sand, and even then I wouldn’t spend much time on that surface. Sand-driving puts heavy stress on a vehicle and also the RAV4 would belly out on tall crests in between deeper wheel ruts on a beach.

This RAV4 hybrid AWD has a 750kg unbraked towing capacity and 1500kg braked towing capacity, so decent enough for an SUV this size.

It has a space-saver spare tyre, which is not ideal for touring. It has a space-saver spare tyre, which is not ideal for touring.

It has a space-saver spare tyre, which is not ideal for touring.

How much fuel does it consume?

Best fuel consumption is listed as 4.8L/100km (combined), which is very impressive, but our actual fuel-consumption on the test was 5.9L/100km. The Rav4 has a 55-litre fuel tank.

 

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

All versions of the new RAV4 carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on the latest 2019 standards.

Safety gear includes seven airbags (front, front side, full length curtain airbags and driver’s knee airbag), ISOFIX child restraint anchorage points, panoramic view monitor, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert, lane trace assist (auto CVT only), active cruise control (all-speed on auto CVT), trailer sway control and more.

Safety gear includes front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and blind spot monitoring. Safety gear includes front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and blind spot monitoring.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The RAV4 range has a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is set at 12-month, 15,000km intervals and will cost $210 per service.

The 6.5 Amp hour nickel-metal hydride battery is covered for eight years.

The Toyota RAV4 Cruiser AWD hybrid marks the real arrival of a very capable, very driveable hybrid SUV to our shores.

It’s bold and bulky – in a good way – but it’s also practical, refined, and it’s fun to drive. 

It’s not a hard-core off-roader by any means, but it scores so highly as a light-duty off-roader because it’s supremely well-suited to life in the city or suburbs and is quite a capable all-wheel drive vehicle if you’re sticking to bitumen or well-maintained gravel and dirt tracks on your trips, with a very occasional foray into only slightly tougher territory than that.

Most of all, the RAV4 is a nice blend of efficiency, comfort and day-to-day useability and driveability.

$45,240

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

4/5

Adventure score

4/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'