It has a small battery that is charged by energy regenerated from the engine, and the car offers a limited electric-only range when driven with a very light foot. The transition between petrol and electric power is almost imperceptible. There’s no jolt; just a change in sound as the engine chimes in and out, making for a smooth power delivery.
We’ve encountered some annoying continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) but this isn’t one of them. It has simulated gearshifts to make it feel like a regular automatic, and doesn’t drone away like some of its ilk.
It’s a smooth-driving car whose high-profile tyres make for a cushy ride. It’s solidly built and has a sturdy, rattle-free feel. For an SUV, it feels perky through the cut-and-thrust of corners too.
The test car fell short of Toyota’s optimistic 4.7l/100km claim, but its 6.4l/100km was still impressively frugal for a midsized SUV. Interestingly, the fuel consumption stayed the same whether cruising on freeways or stop-start urban driving, compared with non-hybrid cars, which tend to be thirstier around town than on open roads. An animated power flow meter on the infotainment screen shows how the petrol and electric energy is being managed in real time, and it became somewhat addictive to see how long I could keep it in pure electric mode.
The Rav4 started life in 1994 as a cute, tonka-toy-like SUV but has grown considerably over the years. At 4.6m in length, it’s one of the largest medium SUVs in a segment that includes the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Opel Grandland X, Peugeot 3008 and Hyundai Tucson. It is very spacious inside, and family practicality is further served by a large boot with a low sill that makes easy work of loading and has a full-sized spare wheel.