EXPERT REVIEW

2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Review: Good on Gas, Bad on Noise

toyota-rav4-xse-hybrid-2023-01-exterior-front-angle 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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News Editor Jennifer Geiger joined the automotive industry in 2003, much to the delight of her Corvette-obsessed dad. Jennifer is an expert reviewer, certified car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats — many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

The verdict: The 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a popular compact SUV, and for good reason: It’s efficient, roomy and — after an update for 2023 — has a slick new multimedia system.

Versus the competition: The RAV4 Hybrid is among the more efficient and quick compact SUVs on the market, but it’s also among the loudest and firmest-riding.

For 2023, the RAV4 is again available in gas-only, gas-electric hybrid and Prime plug-in hybrid versions. This review covers the hybrid model.

Related: 2023 Toyota RAV4 Gets New Infotainment System, Hybrid Heads for the Woodland

The whole lineup gets some updates this year, including the addition of the Toyota Audio Multimedia system. Also, a new off-road-themed Woodland Edition joins the hybrid lineup for 2023. The RAV4 Hybrid competes against the likes of the Honda CR-V hybrid and Kia Sportage Hybrid.

Updated, Upgraded Controls

The previous model’s control setup was decent but aging; the new system is class-leading. Toyota significantly updated the RAV4’s infotainment system for 2023, and it looks and feels much more modern and slick. It uses new software with over-the-air update capability and an 8- or 10.5-inch touchscreen. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is Toyota’s “Hey Toyota” voice command system, which I found to be fairly accurate. The gauge cluster has also been revamped, with a 7- or 12.3-inch digital display.

The XSE trim level I drove was equipped with the larger version of both screens, and there was a lot to like about the setup. Highlights included crisp graphics and a mostly straightforward menu structure. The climate controls below the screen are also clearly marked and straightforward to use.

This next bit sounds silly, but it bears mentioning in this era of touch-sensitive controls: The 2023 RAV4 has the best control knobs. They’re large and feel surprisingly substantial, and that stands out in a class of vehicles not exactly known for interior quality. I like to imagine they’re the result of a whole Toyota engineering department dedicated to improving knob quality — ridiculous, right? Almost as ridiculous as falling in love with control knobs.

Also excellent is the rearview camera’s high-resolution display and crisp nighttime view. It’s much better than the optional rearview camera mirror, which isn’t as clear either during the day or at night.

A couple of other things need work, too. For one, I had a little trouble with the wireless Android Auto connection. It’s been seamless in other Toyotas with the updated multimedia system, but in the RAV4 Hybrid, there was often a delay in connecting. When it did connect, it was laggy for a bit.

Second, while I find the new infotainment system easy to navigate overall, it’s missing a key feature: a home button. Without one, it was difficult to get out of the Android Auto interface and back to the vehicle’s native audio controls. Imagine you’re listening to satellite radio and wondering, “Who sings this song?” Well, you’ll need to go into the apps menu and select the Toyota icon to get back to the radio screen to find out. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is an odd extra step.

Quick and Efficient

The RAV4 Hybrid feels much quicker than the regular model, and it has more horsepower than its competitors, too. That tracks with its real-world performance; acceleration is surprisingly brisk from a stop, and it stays strong for smooth passing power with linear delivery.

All-wheel drive is standard on all RAV4 Hybrids, which are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with two electric motor-generators and a battery pack. Total system output is 219 hp.

The RAV4 Hybrid is also one of the more efficient hybrid compact SUVs out there, with an EPA-estimated 41/38/40 mpg city/highway/combined, besting the AWD Honda CR–V hybrid’s 40/34/37 mpg rating, as well as the Kia Sportage Hybrid’s 38/38/38 mpg rating with AWD. Both the Honda and Kia come standard with front-wheel drive, which increases combined gas mileage estimates by 3 and 5 mpg combined, respectively.

The RAV4 Hybrid has a driver-selectable EV mode, which allows it to operate solely on battery power. This sounds like it’d be a great mpg booster, but in practice I found it to be finicky; I was only able to engage the mode for very brief drives below 20 mph.

The RAV4 Hybrid handles well. It remains composed in corners and is easily maneuvered in tight turns and parking lots. This is helped by its communicative steering, which has a firm, direct feel. Its braking action also feels comfortably normal. While the regenerative braking system’s pedal does feel firmer than a non-hybrid’s brake pedal, the action is linear and the brakes feel predictably reactive overall.

I was less enthused by the RAV4’s ride quality and downright annoyed by its noisiness — two categories in which the Kia Sportage Hybrid excels. The RAV4 Hybrid’s ride is pretty firm; it’s easily unsettled by bumps, and there’s a noticeable — and uncomfortable — amount of impact harshness. Most of the SUV’s excessive noise comes from the powertrain. There’s some wind noise, too, but that’s not the biggest offender. The engine has a gruff, unrefined-sounding note when it kicks in, and it continues under any type of acceleration — where it’s joined by a near-constant droning sound. It’s a drag.

Interior Room

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Inside, the RAV4’s cabin design is bland. It’s roomy enough, though, and the RAV4 Hybrid’s materials quality is fine. My test XSE really let its hybrid flag fly, with blue-striped seat upholstery and blue contrast stitching on the dash and various cabin surfaces.

At 5-foot-6, I fit fine in the front seat, but taller people beware: A much taller editor needed more space and was annoyed that his right knee was forced against the unpadded side of the center console. By the numbers, the RAV4 Hybrid has a competitive amount of front headroom, but our test vehicle had a moonroof, which is a feature that tends to cut into headroom.

In the backseat, the RAV4 Hybrid has a smidge more headroom than the CR-V and Sportage, but those rivals have a few inches more rear legroom. That didn’t, however, hold it back too much in our Car Seat Check, where the RAV4 Hybrid earned high grades for its easy-access Latch anchors and decent front-seat legroom with rear-facing car seats installed.

The RAV4 Hybrid also has a few nice small-item storage areas, including a built-in tray in the dashboard. It also does well when it comes to cargo space, with 20.7 cubic feet behind its backseat, according to Cars.com’s cargo measurements. Both the 2023 Sportage and CR-V hybrids have a bit more. I found the RAV4’s available cargo net useful for keeping smaller items or breakables from roaming around the cargo area.

Value and Safety

The 2023 RAV4 Hybrid starts at $32,060, which is about $1,300 more than a similarly equipped gas-only RAV4 (all prices include destination). It’s also more than the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid’s base price ($28,815 with standard FWD) but lower than the 2023 Honda CR-V hybrid’s base price ($34,245 with standard FWD).

My RAV4 Hybrid test vehicle was much pricier, at $43,151. That was due in part to lots of unnecessary extras that added up quickly, such as the digital rearview mirror, door edge guards, running boards and an integrated dashcam for exterior monitoring.

The RAV4 Hybrid offers a lot of standard safety systems, such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-centering steering assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights. Options include a 360-degree camera system and blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert.

Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean something is a good idea, but in the case of the 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, people are on to something. If fuel efficiency is a priority, and you’re OK with sometimes-rowdy road manners, the RAV4 Hybrid makes sense.

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