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Daily Life with a Toyota RAV4

by Green Car Journal EditorsApril 14, 2024
Not everybody is ready to go electric, so we’re doing a long-term test of an efficient gas powered Toyota RAV4. Wait…what? Did we really get 43 mpg on gas?
Toyota RAV4 driving.

We’re behind the wheel of our Toyota RAV4 long-term test vehicle and just looked at the instrument cluster’s mpg reading. It’s showing 43 mpg toward the end of our 150 mile cruise on the 101 freeway along California’s Central Coast. There was no traffic to speak of, so we had kept our ride at a fairly steady state around 65-70 mph, reasonable for this stretch of California highway though far short of the much faster speeds and stop-and-start driving experienced in Southern California.

The surprise? This welcome fuel efficiency was achieved without hybrid or plug-in power. We were piloting a Toyota RAV4 XLE crossover powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that, at the time we started our adventure, came with a manufacturer’s suggested price of $29,085, topping out at $33,987 after options. Adding to the surprise is that EPA rates this RAV4 at 34 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in the city. We were beating that by a long shot, not through crazy hypermiling techniques but simply by easy driving without unnecessary bursts of acceleration or driving at higher speeds.

Instrument panel showing high fuel efficiency.

Toyota RAV4 Efficiency

Look, reality check: While that kind of better-than-EPA fuel efficiency can’t be expected as a matter of course – because, let’s face it, we aren’t always driving traffic-free and there are times when we want to go fast – it is possible, as our experience showed. There is a lesson here for anyone who wants to optimize efficiency and lessen their carbon emissions while driving conventional vehicles. High fuel efficiency is out there for those who actively seek it.

During our drives, the RAV4 consistently delivered all the power we needed, seamlessly delivered to pavement through an 8-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Riding on independent MacPherson strut suspension up front with multi-link suspension at the rear, we found ride and handling on the money, as we would expect from Toyota. Along the way we have also appreciated filling up with regular 87 octane gas rather than the premium that some models require, which costs up to 35 to 40 cents per gallon more than regular grade in our area.

Interior of Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV.

A Comfortable Cabin

Inside this RAV4 is a well-appointed interior with an 8 inch multimedia touch display offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Nicely bolstered seats provide plenty of comfort as the miles drift by. While our RAV4 came with cloth seats and we prefer leather (or these days, artificial leather), Toyota’s SofTex synthetic leather seating only comes with the uplevel XLE Premium trim at nearly $3,000 more, so cloth it is. Hauling life’s usual stuff is well handled with 37 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat and 70 cubic feet total with the rear seat folded.

Cloth seats aside, our only complaint, and it’s a mild one, is the RAV4’s stop-start system sometimes engages a bit too abruptly from a stop, something we have experienced in other models with stop-start functionality as well. We chalk that up to the quest for maximum efficiency as the engine is shut down after a pause when stopped, then automatically started again when the brake pedal is released.

Dependable and Affordable

After six months in our long-term test fleet and some 5,000 miles on the odometer, we can say this: Toyota’s RAV4 is a rock-solid choice for those looking to drive a conventionally powered small SUV at a price a great many can afford. We still find ourselves beating EPA mpg estimates by at least a few mpg if we’re focused, but most of the time we are in the range of the 27 to 34 mpg efficiency expected of this model, depending on whether we’re doing city or highway driving. We’re pretty enthused with our daily drives in this RAV4 test car and looking forward to sharing our continuing  experiences in the months ahead.