There is indeed much that is right with the introduction of the Hybrid Synergy Drive to the RAV4 lineup.

Toyota started the race to produce compact crossovers that would appeal to active, young-at-heart drivers.

And for the past 21 years the Japanese producer has been at the forefront of innovation, if not sales, in North America, in this ever expanding the market segment. The segment has grown to the point that it is likely that CUVs soon will topple the sedan as the preferred vehicle of choice for Canadian families.

Toyota is the master of gas-hybrid technology, so it is perhaps surprising that a hybrid RAV4 has been so long in arriving. The manufacturer is truly a technology leader but it is also quite conservative in how it introduces new systems to its products. It prefers to refine and tailor its technology for each model. Now there’s a novel concept; get it right before proceeding!

There is indeed much that is right with the introduction of the Hybrid Synergy Drive to the RAV4 lineup. It starts with performance: the two trims offering a hybrid power plant (XLE, Limited) are available exclusively in an all-wheel drive configuration. Upfront a 150-hp, 2.5-litre, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine is coupled to a 141-hp, permanent-magnet electric motor using a CVT automatic transmission to send power to the front wheels. The rear wheels are powered by a 67-hp electric motor, which interestingly has no mechanical connection to the front wheels.

The system is named AWD-i, and Toyota claims it allows a great degree of flexibility in the front-to-rear power split. Most of the time the action comes from the front wheels, as is the case in most all-wheel drive systems. But here’s where the ‘i’ comes in: the system monitors the driver’s demands and the steering-wheel position to anticipate wheel spin and then send power to the rear before the front wheels begin to slip.

This setup also enables greater regenerative braking, capturing electrical energy through all four wheels, unlike rival systems that draw just from the two driven wheels. Not surprisingly, this makes a major contribution to fuel economy, enhanced still more by four selectable drive modes Toyota boasts best in class City and Combined fuel efficiency of 6.9/7.2 L/100 kms, respectively.

The Hybrid XLE starts at $34, 465 and is equipped with a six-speaker Display Audio System with 6.1-inch screen, dual zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and heated front seats. The 60/40 split fold-down rear seats provide comfort for up to five adults or lots of shopping and luggage!

Safety systems include Vehicle Proximity Notification and Rear Cross Traffic Alert Systems, and eight airbags.

Add such convenience features as a powered rear hatch, keyless entry with the Smart Key System with Push Button Start, heated front seats, rear privacy glass, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power moon roof and it qualifies as generously equipped.

The test car was a loaded Limited edition with a base sticker price of $38,265 – $40,000 and change with freight related charges. It’s loaded with an Enhanced Display Audio system with 7-inch screen, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, navigation system, power-adjustable leather driver’s seat with seat memory, and a backup camera.

If you have a spare $1,500 or so in your genes, you can go for the Technology Package, which includes the so-called Toyota Safety Sense system. This combines pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure alert, auto high-beam and dynamic radar cruise control. An 11-speaker JBL Synthesis Audio System, front and rear parking assist sonar and Toyota’s Bird’s Eye View Monitor, might tempt you to go for the extras!

One comment about looks: it is indeed more contemporary in looks but you are not buying this vehicle for its appearance.

Ok, there are the news flashes but what about the drive? – It is a smoother and quieter ride, as promised by Toyota engineers, and the added standard Hill-start Assist Control is a blessing for city drivers. Let’s face it every vehicle sold will likely roll over more black top than mud.

The added height offers that enhanced view of city traffic it seems many crave nowadays and is a nippy little machine for city dwellers delivering children to school or toting the family shop. It’s no slouch on the highway. The zero to 100 km/h numbers are an impressive at 8.1 seconds and passing at speed on the highway is no challenge.

Toyota has delivered again and it seems the price differential between hybrid and gas power is narrowing, making the green choice more attractive still.

keith [dot] morgan [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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