2020 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid AWD: The new Northwest favorite
For many years, environmentally-minded Pacific Northwest residents who love the outdoors faced a tough choice when considering a new vehicle. Those that delivered the best mileage — all-electric or hybrid models — did not offer all-wheel-drive, which improves traction in wet weather and helps with off-road driving. But those with all-wheel-drive got worse mileage than even two-wheel-drive versions of the same vehicle.
A simple idea began to change that not too long ago. Manufacturers started adding a second electric motor to their front-wheel-drive EVs and hybrids to power the rear wheels in slippery condition. Though not as rugged as mechanically-driven AWD or four-wheel-drive systems, the results were surprisingly effective, as I learned by driving some of them during the annual Mudfest comparison events organized by the Pacific Northwest Auto Writers Association.
The first to impress me was the AWD version of the 2017 Toyota RAV4 compact crossover, which handled the muddy off-road test tracks as well as most conventional SUVs. To be honest, I couldn't tell the rear wheel swere being driven by an electric motor instead of a driveshaft to a rear differential.
Many other AWD EVs and hybrids have been introduced since then, including both affordable and luxury models. Toyota even added a rear motor to the new version of the Prius, creating an AWD version of the vehicle that first introduced hybrids to the world.
And now Toyota has upped its game by redesigning the RAV4 as a more premium all-weather and off-road capable vehicle. Like the previous model, it mates a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine to two electric motors for great mileage and additional traction. But everything else is completely redesigned.
The transformation from what had essentially been an urban-oriented crossover is amazing. The last generation RAV4 seemed designed primarily to squeeze into small parking spaces while offering better traction in rain and light snow showers. But the 2019 model is larger and boxier, looking more like a smaller version of Toyota's more rugged crossovers. And with 8.4 to 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the new RAV4 is up to the challenge.
But the interior presents an equally big upgrade. The once just-OK design now rivals those found in Toyota's luxury brand Lexus models. Everything is bigger and better, from the size of the seats to the materials to the overall styling. The standard 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system now supports Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Audio smartphone integration. Higher trims upgrade that to an 8-inch touchscreen with support for onboard GPS navigation. A JBL premium audio system is optional.
The RAV4 also comes standard at all price points with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, including adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, pre-collision mitigation with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, lane departure alert with steering assistance, and automatic high beams.
During a week of day-to-day driving, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid AWD the perfect vehicle for the changing weather that moved through. It always felt solid and firmly planted on the road, while being very quiet and comfortable, thanks in part to the leather interior of the upper trim level. The hybrid is more powerful than the normally-aspirated RAV4, offering 2019 horsepower compard to 203. And rhe mileage was also exceptional for an AWD vehicle — over 30 mpg under all conditions.
The redesigned RAV4 also attracted attention everywhere I went. Bystanders were drawn to the bold styling and asked what it was. They were all impressed to learn it was the new RAV4, which has a well-deserved reputation for value and reliability. The dark blue paint and black alloy wheels on our XSE test version also helped create a serious first impression.
More AWD all-electric and hybrid vehilces are scheduled to be introduced in coming years, expanding the choices for those who value the environment and enjoy the outdoors. For practicality, styling, performance and value, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD is the one to beat, especially in the bold XSE trim.
2020 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid AWD
Base price: $28,100 (LE)
Price as tested: $38,407
Type: Compact crossover SUV
Powertrain: 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors (219 hp)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
Drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport
EPA estimated mileage: 41/28
Overall length: 181.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,710 to 3,800 pounds
Final assembly: Woodstock, Ontario, Canada
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