Capability and cachet. If you’re looking for all-wheel-drive capability with reasonable fuel economy, your options are limited. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is one of the only choices.

The RAV4 Hybrid looks like a regular RAV4, and that’s a good thing in our eyes. Drawing inspiration from the Toyota 4Runner and Toyota Tacoma, the RAV4 Hybrid distinguishes itself from a sea of compact crossovers with a dramatic roofline and just the right amount of ruggedness.

It won’t off-road like the 4Runner, but every RAV4 Hybrid comes with standard all-wheel drive. The rear wheels are driven by their own electric motor, which disconnects when it isn’t needed to increase efficiency. The system adds significant weight, but it works well in inclement weather.

All-weather efficiency. The RAV4 Hybrid starts with the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine as the base RAV4. An 88-kW electric motor joins the fray for a total of 219 horsepower, 16 more than the gas-powered version. You can feel the extra pep under the pedal, and the torque from the electric motor is a blessing around town.

Fuel economy is predictably stellar: the EPA estimates that the RAV4 Hybrid achieves 40 miles per gallon combined. That’s excellent for a crossover. Toyota has more competition than they used to, however – the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape both offer hybrid powertrains with similar efficiency.

Like the regular RAV4, the RAV4 Hybrid isn’t a corner carver. It’s hampered slightly by the additional weight, but it remains comfortable and well behaved on the road.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Compromises in the cabin. Unlike the new plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime, the RAV4 Hybrid doesn’t sacrifice any cabin space to the powertrain. This means it keeps the same cargo capacity as the conventional RAV4, with 37.6 cubic feet behind the second row. That’s good for the class, and better than CR-V and Escape hybrids.

The RAV4 Hybrid does, however, sacrifice some space to its roofline. Tall front-row passengers may wish for more head room, especially with the optional power moonroof.

Rear passengers get good head room and decent leg room, although the CR-V offers more. We’re more concerned with the seat bottoms, which are thinner than we’d like. It isn’t an issue in most circumstances, but comfort takes a hit on long trips.

Family friendly. The RAV4 Hybrid benefits from the same excellent safety technology as the rest of the brand’s lineup. Last year’s model earned a sterling report card from the IIHS, and we expect no different this year.

Combined with standard features like a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen, that makes the RAV4 Hybrid a decent value for family buyers. It’s priced competitively against rivals from Ford and Honda, and the trim range is wide enough to accommodate most preferences (the XLE is our favorite).

Ironically, the RAV4 Hybrid’s biggest competition may come from within the family. The new RAV4 Prime starts close to $40,000, but if you qualify for the federal electric vehicle tax credit, it comes down into the ballpark of the RAV4 Hybrid. The Prime offers more power and decent electric-only driving range, which may make it the best of all worlds.

Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid improves on a popular formula without changing it much. This is the RAV4 you know and love – just with fewer stops at the gas pump.

Cabin space could be improved, but the stylish exterior is a worthy trade-off, and the rest of the formula works well. If you’re in the market for efficiency and practicality, the RAV4 Hybrid should be on the list.

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