Review: Toyota RAV4 and Lexus RX450h are worth every penny

The RAV4 is one of the world's famous all-roaders. I drove the first version in a field in Yorkshire, where Toyota was involved in the Bramham horse trials. That ages-ago RAV was a 2-litre petrol, boasting acceleration to match hottish hatchbacks of the day and presented as a sort of GTI all-roader. In time it settled down, behaving itself, leaving the vanguard of SUVs to do the exciting stuff on asphalt.

The Toyota RAV4s battery is charged by the cars 150bhp 2.5 litre petrol Atkinson cycle engine.

RAVs make good, solid, family cars, with room for stuff and 4x4 grip in snow or paddock. You’ll still see that model from the 1990s, too, proving that a Toyota may well be “today, tomorrow, forever” or whatever the slogan is.

The fourth generation arrived in 2013 and it has now been “facelifted” to herald the arrival of the model tested here, the hybrid which combines petrol and electric power. It is roomy, goes well, hits road ridges rather sharply.

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This is not a hybrid with a battery which you can charge from the mains. Its battery is charged by the car’s 150bhp 2.5 litre petrol “Atkinson cycle” engine ( and scavenging energy when braking or decelerating. A six speed CVT automatic gearbox and 141bhp electric motor give drive to the front wheels (FWD). A 4x4 version (tested here) has a second 68bhp electric motor driving the back wheels.

The Lexus RX450h has a 259bhp 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine and 165bhp electric motor to drive the front wheels and a 68bhp motor to drive the rear wheels

The conventional engine options are a new 2-litre 141bhp diesel (from £23,695) with front-wheel-drive, 60mpg and 123g C02, and a 2-litre 149bhp petrol 4x4 (from £28,295) rated at 43.5mpg and 152g C02. They share the visual, comfort and technical updates. These prices are firmly in BMW, Mercedes and Audi territory.

The front-drive hybrid is £26,195 and the 4x4 Icon version is £29,795, or £30,795 in Excel trim – tested here. That’s just £1,500 more than the petrol Excel 4x4 automatic. The diesel engine Excel is £27,995 but remember this is only sold with front drive and manual gears.

These permutations give the RAV4 buyer a potential dilemma. The hybrid is quickest (to 62mph in 8.4 seconds), cleanest (118g and with no diesel-related toxins) and economical (54mpg with 4x4, nearly 58mpg with FWD). On paper, then, it gets near the diesel on economy, is cleaner because it is petrol and better than the purely petrol model.

On the road you have the advantage of being able to potter along causing no pollution in electric power – which is how the car starts up, silently. This EV mode (electric vehicle) peters out when you meet a rise or take the speed beyond urban limits. However, it can cut back in again when you are cruising on flat or downhill on a light throttle – once again being rid of the petrol engine pollution. On test, it recorded 36mpg to 40mpg – not shabby for a 4x4, whether diesel or hybrid.

The Lexus RX450h has a 259bhp 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine and 165bhp electric motor to drive the front wheels and a 68bhp motor to drive the rear wheels

Rather a different kettle of fish, as we car people say, is Toyota Group’s Lexus RX450h. This hybrid has a similar but uprated system. A 259bhp 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine and 165bhp electric motor drive the front wheels and a 68bhp motor drives the rear wheels.

It’s a bigger, heavier and posher car than the RAV but the extra power pushes it to 62mph in 7.7 seconds and still gives ratings of 51.4mpg and 127g C02. On test, driven normally and rarely briskly, it was rather thirsty for my pocket. It rewarded my driving with mpg in the mid 20s, 33mpg on my typical commuter mixed route, and 30mpg overall.

It is, though, a fabulous car, air sprung, riding nicely most of the time and quietly. Road noise through the 20 inch Dunlops was well masked. There are small cars with much more noise and tremor. The RX is very refined.

The styling is ultra Lexus, peaky, angular, massive deep face, racy rear wings matching its pace and handling.

The interior is spacious and richly furnished, leaving no doubt that you are in a very smart all-roader.

The designers have planned plenty of storage spaces, including a large central box, a lidded phone pad, swing-out door pockets, cupholders and a good sized gloves box - all with high quality finishes.

The instruments display the battery reserves, how the power is being distributed and when and how the battery is being recharged. This can be distracting, so you can see some information on the head up display.

The rear seats drop down on remote latches but not quite flat, leaving a ridge in the deck. The tailgate is powered to make loading simpler.

The aperture is large, but not much more than the RAV, just a few inches on the diagonal and in cabin width. At 59 inches between the door caps the RX is a match in dimensions for the new Volvo XC90 – though the Volvo looks as if it is bigger.

Even for such a large car the handling was excellent, always predictable, with the power delivery to the back wheels coming in seamlessly.

Prices for the latest RX open at £39,995 for the 238bhp 2-litre petrol S (36mpg, 181g). Hybrid models cost from £46,995 for the SE, rising through Luxury and F Sport versions to the Premier, as tested, from £57,995, plus £645 for metallic paint.

Verdict: With more than 8.5 million sales in 20 years Toyota leads the world in hybrid sales and technology. The RAV4 and the RX are exemplars of its achievement but they come at a price premium over conventional engineering.