More style than substance. The 2023 Toyota RAV4 may be a familiar sight, but it remains an appealing one. Its almost willful refusal to embrace curves – even around the wheel arches, where hexagons are deployed – gives it a blocky aesthetic befitting a compact SUV. The use of unpainted trim sections and contrasting stripes further elevates the overall aesthetic, helping the car to simultaneously seem smaller and more purposeful than it is.

As anyone who’s ever worn high heels on a night out will attest, style and comfort are often in direct conflict. So it is inside the RAV, where concave side doors reduce interior space that’s further hindered by a steeply raked windscreen and low roofline. In models with a standard-fit sunroof, that becomes even more of an issue – Marge Simpson hairdos won’t last long in here. At least rear legroom is more generous, while the seats are comfortable enough providing you skip entry-level LE’s manual front adjustment – they also lack lumbar support. The trunk is decent enough at 37 cubic feet, rising to 69 once the seatback is felled.

A simple if underwhelming cabin. Having established that there’s only moderate space throughout the RAV’s interior, let’s consider the design and quality of that cabin. The instrumentation is clear and the steering wheel isn’t overloaded with buttons, but the eight-inch infotainment screen looks a bit 1990s in its large grey plastic housing; the bigger 10.5-inch screen is a far more contemporary affair.

The central air vents look cheap and the plastics are dull rather than dynamic, but the climate controls are intuitive and everything feels assembled to the usual Toyota standards. What a shame there isn’t a bit more color or character – the rear is particularly monochrome, and even premium models lack any flair or points of interest.

2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Interior

Punchy acceleration and good roadholding. While the standard RAV4 is front-wheel drive, Hybrid models pin an electric motor to their rear axle for across-the-range AWD. Don’t expect any of the funky power splitting offered on some gas-only models, though – this isn’t the most sophisticated hybrid system in the world. On the upside, it does deliver strong and linear acceleration, with 219 hp accessible throughout the rev range. Given this punchy performance, it’s all the more remarkable that combined fuel economy stands at an estimated 40 MPG; that’s even better than Prime models with their electric-only modes can manage.

You don’t have to sacrifice comfort in the pursuit of economy, either. Every RAV4 Hybrid has responsive steering and grippy handling, while ride comfort is towards the upper end of the SUV league table. There’s little float or wallow, so passengers should arrive at their destination without green faces. Meanwhile, drivers can call upon more than enough power to keep up with traffic, even when fully loaded.

Limited trim certainly isn’t. Toyota offers a seven-strong array of trim levels on RAV4 Hybrids, starting with the circa $30,000 LE. Despite being the cheapest car in the range, it still offers wireless smartphone mirroring through an eight-inch touchscreen, cruise control and extensive safety gear – of which more in a moment. XSE trim is the first to receive a larger 10.5-inch screen and SofTex-trimmed seats with eight-way power and heating, while flagship Limited adds an 11-speaker JBL stereo. New for 2023 is a Woodland Edition model, which slots in between SE and XLE Premium but fails to eclipse the latter as our pick of the range, despite being possibly the only car on sale today with bronze-painted wheels.

We promised to come back to safety, though in truth, there’s not a huge amount to report. The NHTSA and IIHS have both given the RAV4 top marks, while standard fitments include automatic emergency braking, active lane control with adaptive cruise, and automatic high beams. On the downside, LE models have weak headlights and rear vision isn’t great, while Limited models are alone in receiving front and rear park assist. A 360-degree camera is only on the options list on Limited and XSE models, which seems unreasonable in this day and age.

Final thoughts. At the start of this article, we alluded to the familiarity of the RAV4, and ubiquity has dulled the more interesting points of its design. That throws a harsher light on its less interesting aspects – the drab cabin, underwhelming infotainment setup, and flat seats in particular. There’s nothing that offends the sensibilities like Volkswagen’s haptic temperature controls, but unlock the doors on a cold Monday morning, and there isn’t a single aspect of the RAV4’s cabin that’ll raise either your pulse or your spirits.

Things are much better on the move. Hybrid models are the most dynamically effective in the RAV4 range, blending punchy performance and excellent economy with fine roadholding and a comfortable ride. The cabin may lack headroom but it’s spacious enough in most other regards, with a large trunk and decent oddments storage. Avoid the sparsely-equipped LE model, and you’ll have a fine family runaround, which shouldn’t ever need to call upon its rather mean three-year warranty.

Check prices for the 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid »