The 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid delivers more power and better fuel economy than its gas-powered stablemate. It also drives better, is a bit quicker, and doesn’t compromise interior space. The hybrid-exclusive XSE displays more aggressive styling compared to the other trims, and it delivers decent value. We recently spent a week driving a 2021 RAV4 Hybrid XSE during a recent visit to Houston, and although there are points where it can improve, this particular RAV4 checks many of the boxes customers are looking for in a compact SUV, making it an attractive option in a competitive segment.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE: The Good
The most attractive aspect of the RAV4 Hybrid is its fuel economy: 41/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined. Those numbers are the best in the segment, which includes the Honda CR-V Hybrid (40/35/38 mpg) and the soon-to-arrive Hyundai Tucson Hybrid (37-38/36-38/37-38 mpg). As is the case with the Honda, the RAV4 Hybrid comes standard with all-wheel drive. During our stay in Houston, we averaged 39 mpg.
Another positive trait is its roomy interior. During one outing with three passengers in tow, all reported being comfortable and we had plenty of space for our gear. The RAV4 also proved versatile—on another jaunt we easily loaded an adult bike after folding the second-row seats. The wide tailgate opening made it easy to load and unload the bike, and we appreciated being able to fold the rear seat backs from either the cargo area or the second row.
The RAV4 Hybrid XSE also provides adequate thrust. Starting from a stop, you’ll feel a good push generated by the electric motors before the gas engine kicks in to provide more boost. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to electric motors that send 118 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels while the rear motor generates 54 hp and 89 lb-ft, for a combined system output of 219 hp. That makes the RAV4 Hybrid an adequate cruiser, and the power is on par with other compact SUVs. The e-CVT transmission works well, responding quickly to throttle inputs. Press the accelerator all the way down, and the engine will roar in a stressful way, but it subsides as you gain speed.
Compared to other RAV4 trims, the XSE has been tuned to deliver a more connected experience behind the wheel. The engineers made the springs and shocks a bit stiffer, something that was evident during our driving in Texas. The experience is more dynamic, and the suspension works to dispatch bumps in a single motion. On a few occasions, when rolling over railroad tracks or potholes, the stability control light would illuminate, and we could hear the system working. In the past, we’ve complained about the RAV4’s chassis issues, and this was a reminder that some persist.
In addition to its sportier driving dynamics, the XSE is probably the best-looking version of the RAV4. Its standard two-tone paint looks modern and sharp and gives the SUV more presence, particularly in the test example’s combination of Blizzard Pearl with a black roof, black 18-inch wheels, and black mirror caps. The more pronounced wheel arches, unique front and rear fascias, and special body side moldings also help give the XSE a muscular appearance.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XSE: Where It Can Improve
One of our biggest gripes about the RAV4 has been the narrow opening of the rear doors. We noted this when loading the bike, and it’s something that parents with small children will likely complain about, as wider openings make it easier to load child seats in and out.
One of the things we wished the RAV4 Hybrid had is a button to close and lock the tailgate. Our tester only came with a close button, which means if you want to also lock the RAV4, you need to use the remote or walk to the exterior door handles and touch the lock sensor. A close-and-lock button saves that extra step, which would be particularly helpful when you have your hands full, such as when you’re unloading groceries.
Generally speaking, we like the RAV4’s interior design—the climate control knobs have a unique grippy material, and the 8.0-inch screen sits atop the dash where it’s close to the driver’s line of sight. But the quality of materials could be a bit better. The dash is covered in stitched rubber, which looks nice in photos but feels rough. The steering wheel’s leather doesn’t feel very soft, and although we like the SofTex seats, we’d prefer them without cloth inserts. And for an SUV that costs north of $35,000, the manually operated passenger’s seat seems odd.
Is the 2021 RAV4 Hybrid XSE Worth It?
After spending a week driving the RAV4 Hybrid XSE, we were pretty happy with its general performance, interior space, equipment, and overall experience. Gas prices are going up, and although mainstream SUVs and crossovers are more efficient than ever, the hybrid provides a nice opportunity to save more money at the pump. Plus, the RAV4 Hybrid doesn’t sacrifice any interior space and comes standard with AWD.
Although the Hybrid XSE is one of the most expensive trim levels in the RAV4 lineup, starting at $35,925, your money goes a long way. The XSE comes with a long list of standard equipment along with those unique styling elements and the hybrid powertrain. Our test vehicle checked in at $40,028 after we added a bunch of options such as the Technology, Premium Audio, and Weather packages. Although that’s still good bang for the buck, it’s worth considering stepping up to the Toyota Venza, which is a class above the RAV4 Hybrid and provides a much more luxurious experience, as we’ve documented with our long-termer. A well-equipped Venza can easily come in under the $40,000 mark.
This Toyota still has its flaws, but overall it’s a great performer. The plug-in-hybrid RAV4 Prime may be the best-driving RAV4, but if you don’t want to spend quite that much and you still want an efficient crossover, the RAV4 Hybrid is a great choice.
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Pros
- More power, less gas
- XSE’s styling
- Ample interior space
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Cons
- Narrow rear-door opening
- Loud powertrain
- Some subpar interior materials
|2021 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid AWD Specifications|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$40,028|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.5L/176-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4, plus 118-hp/149-lb-ft front and 54-hp/89-lb-ft rear elec motors; 219 hp (comb)|
|TRANSMISSION||Continuously variable automatic (CVT)|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,770 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||180.9 x 73.0 x 67.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.1 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.4 sec @ 90.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.80 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||41/38/40 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||82/89 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.49 lb/mile|