Toyota will roll out the latest in a growing family of hybrid vehicles during the New York International Auto Show next week.
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid won’t adopt the radically distinctive styling of the popular Prius model, with more subtle markings – such as the “Hybrid” badge on the tailgate shown here. The automaker is saving details for the hybrid ute’s launch in the Big Apple next week, but speculation centers around the likelihood it will use a three-motor driveline similar to that in the new Lexus NX crossover.
The April 2 introduction might not be seen as the best timing for a new hybrid. With a few rare exceptions, the market for hybrids has taken a sharp tumble over the last year – even the Prius losing momentum in 2014 – as a result of lower gas prices.
But Toyota seems bound and determined to stick with its oft-stated goal of offering a hybrid version of every volume car in its catalog by the end of the decade. Along with the Prius, it already offers a number of them, including hybrid versions of both the Camry sedan and Highlander SUV. And the Lexus brand offers more hybrids than any other luxury marque – though that lead is quickly evaporating. Mercedes-Benz, for one, plans to add 10 new plug-in hybrids to its line-up by 2017.
Redesigned for the 2012 model-year, the RAV4 is one of Toyota’s most popular models, setting an all-time annual sales record in 2014, so even with a small share of buyers opting for the new version that could deliver a big bump in the Japanese maker’s overall hybrid sales volume.
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Currently, there are few other options for green-minded buyers in the compact crossover segment. Ford abandoned the hybrid version of its Escape when it redesigned that CUV several years ago.
The new 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid will all but certainly opt for a version of the maker’s familiar Hybrid Synergy Drive. But Toyota has been experimenting with new variants of the well-reviewed system, as demonstrated by the recent launch of the Lexus NX 300h.
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That compact luxury crossover’s driveline pairs a 154-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors to produce a peak total of 194 hp. But it also adds a third, 67-horsepower electric motor on the rear axle. That creates what some have dubbed a through-the-road all-wheel-drive system since there is no actual mechanical linkage between front and rear axles.
Several other manufacturers are adopting or exploring that approach. Kia, for example, showed a similar layout in the Trail’ster concept that was unveiled during the recent Chicago Auto Show.
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Expected to be slightly heavier than the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the Lexus NX carries an EPA rating of 33 mpg City, 30 Highway and 32 Combined in its all-wheel-drive configuration. The numbers are slightly higher for the front-drive version and could be yet higher for the RAV4 Hybrid.
Pricing is expected to carry a premium that could run several thousand over that of the standard, gasoline version of the RAV4.