Toyota RAV4 and the Prius have provided consumers with a nice combination of utility and frugality with both cars offering room for a young family and exceptional fuel mileage. Both vehicles have a lot in common from pricing, to Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrains to class leading fuel mileage in the over 50 mpg for the Prius and 30 for the RAV. Indeed, if you are after economical travel these two are tough to top.
Of course, the real reason hybrids are popular is their fuel mileage. However, buyers need to do some math homework with several important variables to consider. First, how much more is the hybrid going to cost over a similar vehicle. The government has a handy site that simplifies this math at fueleconomy.gov.
With that in mind we tested two of the best hybrids from the most successful hybrid company in the world, Toyota. We weren’t disappointed.
Mom’s view: The RAV4 hybrid is easy to drive, park, and use. It can seat five, but is only available in the more expensive trim models. I wasn’t impressed with the RAV’s interior as it just looks and feels dated. I did like the utility tray and storage areas and the easy to use automatic rear hatch. You lose a little cargo area with the hybrid, but still get between 35 to 70 cubic feet of room depending if the rear seat is lowered. Safety wise, the RAV4 top of the line Limited includes antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, full-length airbags, a driver knee airbag, rearview camera, blind-spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert. An optional Advanced Technology package that includes an 11-speaker JBL premium audio system with a top-down-view parking camera system is also worth considering. We tested the Prius Four Touring model that has a much improved electronics and is loaded with safety features, too, with a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and air-bags most everywhere. My only problem with the new Prius was the white, really white, center console, and losing some rear seat leg room due to the placement of the batteries. Otherwise a really great car. My opinion is that the RAV4 is an excellent all-around family vehicle and the Prius, and I hate to write this, a really fun sedan. Both cars have excellent quality scores.
Dad’s view: The RAV4 hybrid is all wheel drive and is the most fuel efficient vehicle in its class. The ride is excellent and, best of all, aggressive pricing makes it difficult to pass by for bargain hunters. The brakes take a bit to get used to as they are regenerative, but almost all hybrids have a similar feel. The RAV4 has the same system as Lexus NX uses and it shows. This is the best hybrid in its class for cargo and mileage. The ride is smooth and fairly quiet, but can be rough over tax-money deprived roads. Driving the hybrid is enjoyable once you get used to the thrust the electric motors provide. All in all the RAV4 is a tidy SUV with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motors front and rear and a continuously variable transmission. The result is a 194 horsepower SUV that uses front-wheel drive in normal operation, but automatically engages the electrically driven rear wheels when needed. In other words, a perfect vehicle for readers who want to be prepared for whatever nature throws at them while still being fuel frugal. The Prius is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine aided by a pair of electric motor/generators. Using the console mounted power button maximizes thrust making it easier to pass and merge. In fact, it is addicting. However, the best feature in this new Prius is its improved brakes, suspension and driving dynamics. My choice would be the Prius because it is fun to drive and consistently gets 50 plus mpg. With its 11 gallon gas tank full of unleaded, a 500 mile trip will cost under $25 and no TSA waiting line.
Young working woman’s view: Neither car is beautiful, but both have an inner beauty and that is reliability. The RAV4 is spacious and honest and doesn’t try to fool you into thinking you are driving a luxury car. I found the Prius too difficult to get into with its lower entry and the unique center gauge placement wasn’t to my taste. The RAV4 hybrid was much easier and, with certain options, was a breeze to park. I would definitely get Toyota Safety Sense that includes collision alert, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, radar cruise control and more. I really liked the intelligent park assist that can be used for both perpendicular and parallel parking especially living in a parking challenged city. The cargo space is very generous and rear seat room was ample. A perfect SUV for a single or young family who love to travel winter or summer.
Young working male’s view: Both hybrids are loaded with electronic choices that make option selections difficult. For example, one package includes larger wheels, parking sensors, and heated seats. No substitutions allowed. One thing I would get is Toyota’s Entune with the bigger 7-inch screen, smartphone-connected services, and a navigation. Not the best, but much improved, and make sure you get help with the set-up and tie-in with your cell phone. As much as I liked the vastly improved Prius driveability, the RAV just appealed to me more for its usefulness.
Family conference: Loaded with safety features, both priced similarly, the choice between the RAV4 and Prius Touring hybrids is basically perception. Are you bold enough to make the Prius your daily driver or does the utility of the RAV4 hold sway. Either way they are unique and family friendly.
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Photo courtesy of Caricos