Toyota's angry face

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(December 30, 2017) What is it about the RAV4’s angry “face”? The front fascia scowls like a raccoon-inspired comic book character, expressing a surprisingly high level of anger for such a mild-mannered vehicle. It’s almost as though the vehicle itself is in a perpetual state of road rage. What does it have to be angry about? That’s it’s a Toyota? That it’s a hybrid? That it gets 34 mpg city and 30 highway? I don’t get it. What is this small crossover so mad about?

If any vehicle should be cross, it is the Ford Escape. Now there’s a crossover that had its legs cut out from under it. Originally, the Escape was going to continue to offer a hybrid model, one that was very popular with its customer base, until some dimwit came up with the bright idea of killing two birds with one stone by shifting all of the hybrid powertrains to the C-Max people mover.

This person reasoned that, since the C-Max had a sloping roofline like the then-current Prius, Ford could claim to have an authentic hybrid with mileage as good or better than the Prius. And it would go one better by adding a plug-in model (C-Max Energi) the Toyota wouldn’t have for years.

It was a great idea until it was revealed that Ford had used the drag number for the sleeker Fusion Hybrid, which gave the C-Max an overinflated 47 mpg rating. At that point Ford was stuck with a small people carrier masquerading as a hybrid, with suspect mileage numbers, and a popular small SUV that didn’t have the one model its buyers wanted.

Again, why is the RAV4 Hybrid so angry? Maybe because it is a perfectly pleasant around-town conveyance well-suited to the school run, the milk run, and the get-the-kids-to-practice run.

It’s at times like this that the RAV4 Hybrid is in its element, rolling away from the lights and stop signs under electric power, smoothly switching over to the gasoline engine, and coasting quietly with the engine off as you trudge around town. Its biggest fault is the slight ledge over the battery pack located just behind the split-fold rear seats. Though well-integrated into the cargo floor, it is something of an impediment for longer items, though the angle of the rear seatbacks when folded add an angle of their own.

The fact that the steering is light, direct but rather devoid of feel isn’t major problem as hybrids are meant for getting maximum mileage, not running gymkhanas. And it doesn’t hurt that the ride is biased more toward ride than handling as you cruise around town or keep station with the rest of traffic pock-marked freeways.

The seats are comfortable, though not meant for cross-country cruising, the materials nice, and you get just about everything you could possibly want — except heated front seats — by plonking down $1,905 for the extensive Convenience Package. It’s almost enough to make you happy, even if the RAV4 itself looks anything but.

The Virtual Driver