2023 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid Review: The SUV for Everyone
The Toyota RAV4 has remained essentially unchanged since its redesign in 2019. But why should it? Demand is still tremendous for Toyota’s top-selling vehicle, and it’s still hard for dealers to keep them on lots. Buy a RAV4, and you’ll get an appealing design, excellent safety technology, and a comfortable, versatile cabin. Get the hybrid model and add to that excellent fuel economy. What’s not to like? After a week behind the wheel of the 2024 RAV 4 XSE Hybrid, I’m happy to report it’s still one of the best daily drivers you can buy.
The RAV4 XSE is the top-end sport grade and looks spiffy rolling on 18″ black alloy rims accompanied by shiny black fender cladding, black lower body trim, black mirror caps, and a black contrast roof. The optional black running boards are purely aesthetic, though, since the RAV4 sits only 8.1 inches off the ground. My review vehicle was done up in Silver Sky metallic paint. It looks great, but my favorite current RAV4 color is Cavalry Blue. The LED projector headlights offer bright and crisp illumination.
RAV4 hybrid models have a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a pair of motors to provide on-demand all-wheel drive. Combined, they produce 219 horsepower and 252 lb-ft. of torque, sending power to the wheels via an electronically-controlled CVT. This drivetrain seems perfectly matched to the RAV4’s size and purpose and never feels overworked or underpowered. Passing power is good, and acceleration is smooth, but it’s not as quick as the RAV4 Prime. The RAV4 Hybrid is good for a 0-to-60 time of around 7.2 seconds, while the plug-in hybrid model can do the same in 5.7 seconds. Fuel economy is exceptional, with EPA figures of 38 MPG highway, 41 MPG city, and 40 MPG combined. With its 14.5-gallon tank, it can travel nearly 600 miles between fill-ups.
Overall, the RAV4 handles well, offering good communication between the vehicle and the driver. Its TNGA-K platform chassis is stiff, and its power steering is responsive. Body roll is well-controlled for an SUV, and the suspension does an excellent job of smoothing out potholes and rough roads. The cabin is well insulated from vibrations and road noise, too.
The interior design of the RAV4 is more purposeful than plush. There are thoughtful touches like a passenger-side phone shelf and a small tray on the driver’s side that’s good for holding a wallet or change for tolls. Controls are mostly tactile, which is what I prefer, and it has a traditional shift lever rather than something gimmicky like a knob or pushbuttons. The XSE’s 8-way power driver’s seat offers good side and lumbar support, and both front seats are heated. Those seats heat up quicker than most, which is great when it’s cold outside and you first sit down. You can get heated rear seats, but only as an option on the more expensive RAV4 Limited. While I didn’t get to test the optional weather package this time, the heated steering wheel and de-icing wipers are a must-have for wintry climates.
The optional XSE Technology package includes a bright and crisp 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, along with front and rear parking assist with automatic braking, a hands-free power liftgate, a Qi wireless charging pad, and a panoramic view monitor, among other features. My vehicle also came equipped with a digital rearview mirror, which improves rear visibility, especially if you have people sitting in the second row or tall cargo in the back. The optional 10.5-inch touchscreen offers a crisp and bright image and comes with a punchy JBL audio system with 11 speakers. Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 comes standard and includes full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane tracing assist, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, road sign assist, and pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection. It also comes equipped with blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist.
There’s a drive mode selection knob that toggles between Eco, Normal, and Sport modes (and changes color to indicate modes); these modes impact throttle response and steering weight. Another button activates Trail mode, which adjusts the RAV’s throttle, traction control, and braking systems to help pull the vehicle through dirt, gravel, and other rough terrain. This control cluster also offers access to the electronic parking brake and brake hold controls. There’s also an EV mode switch that’s pretty deceiving as it only lets you run on pure battery power for a short distance and at speeds under 25 MPH. To be honest, I don’t know why they include this feature at all.
The premium SofTex seats, which come in the XLE Premium, XSE, and Limited grades, look identical to leather to the naked eye and feel just as pleasing to the touch. They’re easy to keep clean, too. The XSE features contrasting blue stripes, which break up the design and add a sporty touch.
With a full second row, the RAV4 comfortably seats five. Legroom and headroom are good for rear-seat passengers, and there’s a center armrest and cupholders you can fold down when there isn’t a third passenger back here. At the back of the center console, you’ll find a pair of USB ports and vents for climate control. This vehicle was also equipped with the optional panoramic moonroof – the front half of which opens for fresh air.
Cargo space is plentiful, offering up to 69.8 cubic feet of room with the seats folded down and 37.5 cubic feet with the second row occupied. A small storage cubby to the right of the main cargo floor is a good spot for carrying a first-aid kit. The hands-free power liftgate is quite convenient when your hands are full of packages. Under the cargo floor, you’ll find a temporary spare tire and a jack.
Toyota has held strong with its RAV4 formula, and it’s served them well. I know several people who own late-model RAV4s and love them for their reliability, everyday utility, and fuel efficiency. Toyotas are also famous for retaining their resale value, so you can’t really go wrong if you buy one. With its contrasting black accents, the RAV4 XSE is my favorite trim, though the rugged TRD Off-Road is also quite appealing. Like most vehicles in recent years, the RAV4’s pricing has increased slightly, but with the XSE Hybrid starting at $35,885, it’s still priced below the average U.S. vehicle. With options, delivery, and handling fees, the sticker on this vehicle came to $43,151.