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Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE: Reality Check

It's a funny thing, the day you make a choice that goes against everything you believe in but end up not regretting it; not one all. I won't start on bashing hybrid vehicles, especially those made by Toyota. If you asked me 15 years ago or so, I'd respond in disgust at owning a car intended to just sip gas. Fast-forward a couple of decades after the first Prius hit the road and hybrids are common place and they don't all look, or act like the economical egg Toyota introduced at the dawn of the millennium. You can get some sort of hybrid vehicle from any brand really, and they come in all different sizes, maybe except true sports cars; but that's ok, let's leave internal combustion engines to do their duty for how ever many years we have left. Hybrids are supposedly out of vogue if you ask anyone trying to market the very few all-electric cars on sale right now; but for my growing family a hybrid is the remedy to our dilemma.

The automotive landscape changes over time and tends to push out one type of vehicle and then reintroduce it as a sales leader a decade or so later; this hasn't been the case for compact SUVs. Since the first Toyota Rav4 hit the marketplace sales have continued steadily upward. Blending in was one of my conundrums, do I trade in a sedan for an SUV? Sedans are losing in sales across the board which has forced some brands to shift to higher riding vehicles all together, did I want to be that guy? Well I am now, my soon to be wife loved her previous vehicle (a 2018 Mazda 3 Touring hatchback) but regardless of all of the features it was loaded up with, it failed in two places for her: MPGs and back seat space. I have a weekend car for when I'm not using my work truck, it's a 1995 Toyota Starlet and it's pretty easy to get my toddler boy in and out of his car seat while giving him adequate space to stretch his legs, it sounds crazy but the cushioning and side airbags have removed some useable space in most vehicle interiors. Compact SUVs however, are a bit different; the Rav4 provides a large enough back seat so that neither one of us have to do some very awkward shoulder-arm-waist movement to get our baby safely secured. Safety is evident in our new Toyota, without going into features yet, the mere size and visibility of our new family ride adds a significant advantage when driving through a sea of like-sized vehicles with sometimes distracted drivers who check their phone screen more than the windscreen.

I mentioned MPG being important to my fiancé, she wanted to pay less at the pump and go further, the Mazda never really got close to the 30 MPG advertised which meant frequent trips to the gas station as prices of fuel continue to slowly rise. Nothing honestly does better on gas than a Toyota hybrid, call me partial to the brand but they did kind of perfect it right? I'm not sold on an all electric alternative yet as gas is readily available on so many corners around the United States so range anxiety isn't a challenge. Our new car comes with all-wheel drive, that thing you really don't need in Florida or so you think. With sand, clay, dirt, and grass all over the state at mostly sea level, it's an added peace of mind that if we ever get a wave runner we can unload and load it back on it's trailer without much effort (It's what you do when you live by the water right?). You need that little bit of rear thrust to work with the front wheels as you battle you way back to pavement when unloading your water vessel of choice, in a way the right car can open new opportunities. But maybe I'm being too romantic, this isn't a 4Runner TRD Pro and I don't live in Colorado, trips to the beach will be exponentially easy when it comes to lugging along our fairly large cooler and all of these things that you must bring when you have a child, that's more than enough of a reason for an SUV.

So I've betrayed gasoline cars to a certain extent, sports cars, sedans, and the manual transmission, but let me say this one thing, I wasn't a fan of CVT transmissions until now. Since I've driven the current Prius while on a trip in California a few years ago, a CVT paired with a hybrid setup is actually really good, it's an instrument of comfort that helps mesh these energy saving systems together. I haven't betrayed my belief in Toyota making some of the best cars around regardless of price point, I also didn't betray my family when choosing a car that would fit our growing needs. Sometimes you need a reality check, I've been lucky to own my AE86 for close to 17 years but all of those years it wasn't running I had to feed my needs first and my wants later; that meant taking public transportation and driving cars that weren't necessarily enthusiast oriented but helped me save money. This time we were able to feed our needs and wants, we like the Rav4, the styling is ruggedly handsome and we know that we're getting a vehicle that retains its value...for when the time comes to get back into a sports sedan later...right? We didn't break the bank but even in this difficult time to finding the right car on the lot in the spec you intended to buy, the LE model didn't leave much to be desired, it continues to surprise us with its many features which we'll go into now.

You see them in every parking lot, at the mall and grocery store, but the fast selling Toyota Rav4 is more than meets the eye; and for the hybrid model even a little bit more. Under the hood is a 2.5L 4 cylinder that makes 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque, in addition the rear mounted electric motor adds AWD to the otherwise standard FWD drivetrain along with 43 extra ponies for a combined 219 horsepower. Power is directed through the aforementioned CVT transmission that helps motivate the on-demand all-wheel drive system to move the Rav4 LE Hybrid to a 7.4 second 0-60 and 15.7 quarter mile at 91 mph. While not a sublime corner carver like the 86 or GR Supra, the TNGA architecture makes for a easy to drive vehicle that handles like a car, and not a truck. Upfront are independent Macpherson struts with a 25.5 mm stabilizer bar to go along with the 23.5 mm stabilizer bar on the multi-link rear suspension. Brakes are more than adequate and do a fine job stopping the 3,690 lb SUV while regenerating battery power, 12 inch ventilated front rotors handle the work upfront while out back a solid 11 inch pair of rear discs keep things in check. At each corner are 17 inch alloy wheels on 225/65 R17 Firestone Destination LE2 rubber that help keep both traction and MPGs high and interior noise levels fairly low.

The exterior features some much sought after standard equipment, LED headlights with an automatic high beam feature, LED taillights, and foldable power mirrors. Helping to maintain efficiency are some trick aerodynamic features like active grille-shutters, Aerodynamic underbody panels with vortex generators, and front and rear wheel spats. Roof rails are also standard for those who are a bit more adventurous, with dual chrome exhaust tips rounding out some of the features of the handsome exterior. Inside, the five-passenger RAV4 LE Hybrid comes with easy to clean black fabric, a Urethan steering wheel with radio and menu controls, and soft touch door panels, dashboard, and arm rests. There's plenty of storage within the RAV4, plenty of cubby holes are located in and around the dash to store what is needed along with the plentiful space with or without the 60/40 rear folding seats laying flat. The driver can keep tabs on all that is happening with the analog instrumentation cluster but the info doesn't stop there with a live view of the hybrid system status on the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment screen. Whether you have an Apple device or Android, both can be used with the available USB connector on the center console; this along with Amazon Alexa functionality, a slew of apps integrated in the system, and your classic AM/FM/Satellite options give you all the audio needed for a drive to the store, or to your favorite hiking trail.

Of course, Toyota makes some of the safest vehicles on the road today and the RAV4 LE Hybrid is no exception as it features the full Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite (more information here) to ensure you get to your destination. The Star Safety System is also included and it features Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control , Anti-lock Brake System, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology. All passengers are covered with airbag protection as eight units are strategically located to prevent occupant injury in case of an accident.

The experience so far has been exceptional with our brand new 2021 Toyota RAV4 LE Hybrid, with over 7,000 miles on the clock we have experienced no hiccups and an impressive 38 average MPG. For a small SUV it handles very well, especially when taking into account the many batteries used in the hybrid system; we're not pushing it like a sports car but it maneuvers confidently through turns. Interior space has been one of the biggest upgrades from the old car, all of our occupants are able to seat comfortably, my son usually having the best seat in the house as he sits snuggled in his Graco car seat that adds an extra two cup holders. Performance isn't shabby either, Hybrids used to be thought of as slow, but in the real world you have the instant acceleration of an electric motor, propelling a vehicle like this RAV4 off of a stop light with relative quickness as the gas engine kicks under hard acceleration. We do not regret this purchase, it has made family hauling easier, long trips more comfortable, and has given my fiancé and myself greater piece of mind when thinking about the safety of our family.


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