Occasionally you get legitimately surprised in this business. At this point I’ve driven hundreds of cars, trucks, and SUVs and it’s easy to become a little jaded. The average window sticker of cars that get dropped off at my house is well north of $40,000. So when Toyota loaned me the new RAV4, it didn’t pique my interest initially. That was a mistake because it’s damn good.
The RAV4 dates back to 1994 with our first taste here in the states coming the following year in 1995. Built off of an adapted Corolla platform, you could get the RAV4 in both 3 and 5 door variants. There was even a convertible and a full electric version of the first generation RAV.
Fast forward to 2012 and the fourth generation was released with a host of upgrades and new styling. We’ve tested that particular version a couple of times. We even got to beat on one during an off road outing with the Trail Trek Tour. My previous take on the RAV4 was that it was a practical do-it-all daily driver. It didn’t particularly stand out in a crowd though, at least from a styling perspective. Just like Toyota did with the Camry, Toyota changed that for the RAV4’s fifth generation.
I’ll start with the biggest change, the exterior design. While the old RAV could be mistaken for a variety of other crossovers from a distance, the new iteration stands out as being pure Toyota. The new front end emulates the more buff 4-Runner and ends up being a much more rugged looking SUV.
Now riding on the same global chassis that underpins the Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES, the new RAV4 is larger. Which is funny, because to me, it looks smaller. Perhaps it was the black roof on our XSE test car, but it felt lower to the ground and not quite as tall, all good things in my opinion. That, combined with the edgy looks make for an almost wagon’esque profile.
Personally I think the XSE Hybrid is the best looking out of the RAV4 lineup by a good margin. The combination of black roof and black wheels looks fantastic. Even my wife, who isn’t always a fan of more economy-focused cars, noted that it looked quite nice. She even let me park it in front of the house, something she threatened to veto when I was driving the Kia Soul last week. You can have your XSE Hybrid in any color you want, as long as it’s black, grey, silver, or blue!
The outgoing RAV4 already had a decent interior. I recall being a little enamored with the cool stitching and upgraded materials, particularly compared to Toyota’s other truck and SUV offerings. The new car keeps that tradition moving in the right direction with an impressive new interior.
The dash layout is one of the best from a new Toyota in some time. The simple large dual-button HVAC controls give the interior a nice focal point and everything falls easily to hand with plenty of storage and a lot of impressive options. The large screen falls into the “a little tacked on” but almost every manufacturer is doing it these days, and I can’t complain too much because it had a volume knob for the stereo. Although on my first attempt, I turned the automatic climate control knob to the right when a song I like came on Pandora.
Speaking of Pandora, it’s there, alone with Waze, as part of the Apple CarPlay integration. It worked pretty well, there are still some times that the interaction gets choppy. For example, if my phone dings or makes some sort of alert while I was listening to XM, the system plays it through the speakers and then says “I guess we’ve switched to your phone now” and your music stops playing altogether. You have to go back to the Audio section and select your source again to turn it on. Annoying, but not the end of the world. I’ve had that same issue using other automakers CarPlay integration.
Like with the last RAV, I really liked the stitching throughout the cabin, blue in this case. It gives a little pop of color and an upscale feel to the interior. The seats were quite good, on a long road trip up to Pennsylvania and back to D.C., we were all comfortable with no complaints. I’m a sucker for a good side bolster, which comes from my time trying to get lower lap times. My wife did note that the passenger seat was not power adjustable, which is the case with a lot of new cars these days.
It’s no sports sedan, but the 2.5L Hybrid engine does the job. Merging onto a busy highway was done with a surprising amount of oomph, especially for a Hybrid. The XSE has a variety of driving modes including Sport, Eco, Normal, Trail and EV. That ends up with a jack-of-all-trades ability to cover whatever you need it to cover.
The AWD system in Trail mode made short work of a series of farm roads in rural Pennsylvania. Ground clearance (8.1″) isn’t quite Jeep-level, but it got the job done without any thunks or clunks along the way. And yes, with traction control off it will slide around on a dirt trail.
Pricing and Options
The XSE Hybrid starts at $33,859 and fits into the top half of the RAV4 lineup. Below that, you have the base LE, which will run you $25,650, then you move up to the XLE ($27,450), XLE Premium ($31,050), and the Adventure ($33,050). Only the Limited has a higher starting price at $35,050.
Our test car came with just about every option. Toyota bundles packages into larger packages and this XSE Hybrid has the $2,835 Entune 3.0 Premium Audio, XSE Tech Package, Dual Pano Moonroof and XSE Cold Weather Package:
- XSE Technology Package – Intelligence Clearance Sonar with Rear Cross-Traffic Braking, and Qi-compatiable wireless smartphone charging.
- XSE Weather Package – Heated steering wheel, rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers with de-icer function.
- Entune 3.0 Premium Audio with Dynamic Navigation and JBL w/Clari-Fi with 11 speakers (including a sub and amp), 8″ touchscreen, four USB ports and a whole bunch of other features.
- Panoramic glass roof with front power tilt/slide moonroof
That lands this particular RAV4 at $37,780 including delivery, processing, blah, blah. That’s a lot for a RAV4, but you have to realize that, like a lot of vehicles, the RAV4 has grown up. It’s larger and offers more than it did in previous generations.
The title says it all, the new 2019 RAV4 XSE Hybrid is damn good. It took everything I threw at it over the week I drove it. It took care of kid-hauling duty, grocery shopping, a long-weekend road trip, and some AWD off-road antics across a dusty, rocky, farm. It never complained, and neither would if I had to drive one of these every day.