2021 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid TEST DRIVE

2021 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid TEST DRIVE By Car Critic Steve Hammes

Toyota considers this XSE Hybrid the RAV4’s flagship model.  It features a sport-tuned suspension, racier styling and a standard 2-tone paint scheme.  So if you’re shopping for a small SUV that delivers fun and frugality, put the XSE Hybrid on your short list.      

The RAV4’s redesign has been a runaway success for Toyota, partially because they’ve done such a good job at offering it in multiple flavors. 




From a very capable TRD Off-Road model to plug-in hybrids and everything in between, there’s likely a RAV4 that’ll specifically fit your small SUV needs. 




And this one here is the sportiest one you can buy without a plug; the XSE Hybrid.  Tauter spring and shock absorber tuning combined with 18” wheels and tires underpin the sport tuned handling package that Toyota says makes this RAV4 hungry for the corners. 



And while that might be a bit of stretch there’s certainly more willingness here to take on a back road or that decreasing radius off-ramp. The look is unique too, with piano-black accents, projector-beam LED headlamps – though in typical Toyota fashion there’s no LED fogs- unique daytime running lights and a two-tone exterior paint scheme.



Its interior comes mono-spec with black synthetic trim and blue accents throughout.  These seats look great and feel just as good but you just know that at this price Toyota’s not giving up a height-adjustable passenger seat.  A new 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine is paired to a duo of electric motors working through an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission returning impressive mileage of 41mpg city/38mpg highway. 


A lithium-ion battery pack under here is used to store the hybrid system’s energy. You can watch the flow on the center screen or in the gauge cluster.  Total system output is 219 horsepower as opposed to 203 in the gas model.   All-wheel drive is standard on the Hybrids and has been enhanced in this generation to produce 30% more torque to the rear wheels when needed.  This helps suppress front-wheel slip for more planted acceleration and for better off-road chops.  In addition to Sport, Eco, Normal and a very limited EV mode, there’s a Trail setting making it possible to get unstuck by braking a spinning wheel and sending torque to the wheel with traction.  These Michelin Primacy all-seasons are a well-balanced choice here but don’t excel in any one area.  

Now, going into the week, I wasn’t really sure what to expect here but in the end it’s essentially the RAV4 Hybrid you’d imagine; excellent MPGs in a slightly more flamboyant wrapper that’s conservatively sporty.




It’s not that I don’t like hybrids – there are a number of them on the market that operate quite well – it’s just that in this day and age they’ve got to be seamless in their energy delivery otherwise just give me a true EV. And Toyota’s system here, while really pretty good, isn’t quite good enough to make me want to purchase a RAV4 Hybrid that’s marketed as the sporty one of the family.  Indeed, the tauter springs and shocks facilitate a more connected, precise drive that’s surprisingly competent but the hybrid system and more specifically the CVT act as a wet blanket that sucks too much fun out of the experience.  But give em credit – no matter how you drive it that 40mpg is for real.           

I like the chunky controls and rubberized touchpoints that make it feel more rugged and the driver information display is modern and intuitively controlled.  The optional Weather Package with heated steering wheel and Tech Package with upgraded JBL audio, navigation and wireless charging are nice gets but you still need your phone cable in here. 



There are 2 USB ports in the rear where passengers are treated to fixed-in- place though accommodating seating with an optional panoramic roof to keep things airy.  A power liftgate, though not hands-free, opens to a big, wide, easy to load space with split fold rear seats.  And for the driver, there’s adaptive cruise control with lane departure and steering assist, auto high beams and traffic sign recognition. The entire package is quintessential Toyota; meeting a baseline of expectations without ever exceeding them.  


MSRP with options is $38,760.  

With over 8” of ground clearance and a 2nd motor on the rear axle, some light off-road duty is in play with an all-wheel drive system that proactively reacts to slippery conditions.  But this XSE is about sporty attitude so when you activate sport mode you get tauter steering and more excitable hybrid system operation.  It’s not super-fast but the RAV4’s new rigid platform makes for improved satisfaction from the driver’s seat…if not for that unpleasant CVT/hybrid cacophony when pressed hard, it would be more enjoyable.

The RAV4 Hybrid is available in 5 trims starting at under $30,000 but if you’re looking for the quickest most powerful RAV4, that’s the new 302 horsepower Prime plug-in.   


2021 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid TEST DRIVE By Car Critic Steve Hammes  |  TestDriveNow 2020(c)  

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,