Most would never guess that underneath their very different skins, the RAV4 Hybrid and Venza are mechanically almost identical.
Toyota has done a brilliant job of creating variants off its TNGA platform, and these are great examples. They don’t look much alike; the RAV4, being the company’s best-seller in America, has to offer wider appeal. It is very angular and tougher looking. The Venza is more audacious and futuristic; its fluidic forms probably will not appeal to as wide an audience, but they don’t need to. Inside, while both are high quality, the Venza is discernably nicer to the touch and eye, with really pleasing materials used throughout. The polished trim around the vents, door handles and screens in particularly fetching. Seating room and comfort is similar, and Toyota certainly does some of the best faux leather in the business. That they also make the most powerful and quiet air conditioners extant certainly helped during the recent heat wave.
The powertrain for these two is a combination of a 2.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle engine (which means it combusts air and gasoline in a more efficient manner) and electric motors for the front and rear axles; combined output is 219 horsepower. The most significant difference is that the RAV4’s battery is nickel-metal-hydride, while the Venza’s is lithium-ion, a more modern tech. However, that one holds less energy at 0.9kWh, versus the older design’s 1.6kWh. Performance and economy are similar, with 0-60 taking mid-sevens and both capable of averaging over 30mpg on highway runs and high 30s in town. A caveat is that sustained high speeds or strong headwinds can drop highway numbers by 3-5mpg.
Dynamically, the Venza is tuned softer, for a more luxurious feel. Its body motions are slightly less crisp, and the ride a bit better. The RAV4 is the sportier feeling machine. Equipment-wise, Toyota has given the Venza a couple of exclusives, including a crisp head up display and capacitive touch button/sliders for HVAC and some other functions. The former is welcome, the latter can be frustrating to use, though they look slick. The Venza also comes with a panoramic moonroof whose electrochromic glass can change from dark to light, whereas this is only available as a $1,400 option on the Limited trim level of the RAV4. Set against that, the Venza is smaller inside than the RAV4, and is not tow rated; the RAV4 hybrid is rated to tow 1,750 pounds. Which is ultimately the better bet for any single shopper is completely personal; what is terrific is that Toyota is giving people so many hybridized choices, which are faster, more efficient and more refined than their gasoline-only counterparts, with only modest price increases over fossil-fuel only machinery.
RAV4 Hybrid Venza
EPA Ratings: 40/41/38 29/40/37
0-60mph: 7.2sec 7.6sec
Price as tested: $42,661 $43,100
4 Stars 3.5 Stars
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