Along with some new styling for the 2016 model year that gives a more premium and upright look, the popular Toyota RAV4 this year gains for the first time, a hybrid model that we recently got our first taste of in Southern California.

It was something customers had been asking for, and an obvious thing for Toyota to offer given they’re the biggest game in town when it comes to hybrids. After all, they have sold over 9,000,000 of them since the first Prius arrived.

The 2016 RAV4 Hybrid has the same 2.5 liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine and two-motor hybrid transmission similar to that of the Camry Hybrid or the Lexus NX Hybrid. The RAV4 Hybrid comes standard with an additional electric motor at the rear axle, and therefore standard all-wheel drive.

The system offers a total 194 horsepower, making it the most powerful RAV4 available. Even with the extra power, its expected to offer a very impressive 34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined.

We didn’t get to test the mpg, but did spend time driving the RAV4 Hybrid in California’s coastal hills. Here we found its power to be more than adequate for pulling grades and accelerating from a stop. Its hybrid drive system as expected works seamlessly in switching between or combining gasoline and electric power.

Its ECVT continuously variable transmission is designed to offer the feel of a traditional automatic transmission with a six-range sequential shift simulation. This is a nice bone to throw people who don’t care for the rubber-band feel of a CVT.

With minor tuning revisions to the suspension for 2016, the Toyota RAV4 has a more refined feel and handling demeanor whether on the pavement or off. The one thing we did notice with the Hybrid model is its low grip level on curvy roads, likely due to its low rolling resistance tires.

Starting at $28,370 for the XLE trim grade, the Hybrid is well equipped from the outset. The interior for 2016 gets some revised trims here and there to give it a more upmarket appeal. And stepping up to the Limited trim brings some vivid new color choices.

One notable interior fact is that the addition of the hybrid battery pack under the rear seat area only too 2.8 cubic feet from the cargo area. As you can see, it’s hardly impacted, leaving the RAV4 with most of its cargo capabilities in tact.

Optional this year is the new Toyota Safety Sense system which for a low price combine a number of key driver-assistance aids and crash-prevention features in a stand alone package. The availability of these new features and its robust structure earn it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2016.

While a more detailed review will come soon when we get more time with the 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, our first impressions are that it lives up to the same feel and performance Toyota drivers have come to expect from their other hybrid models.

Toyota expects the hybrid models will account for 10-15% of sales for the 2016 RAV4 which is beginning to arrive at dealerships now.


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