Road Test: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Road Test: 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE

Great Versatility and Exceptional Fuel Economy

Gee, Toyota, you introduced that little thing you called RAV4 to the U.S. in 1995. It ushered in what we now call a crossover vehicle — the combining of some of the attributes of a sport-utility vehicle with the underpinnings of a passenger car. Of course, we didn’t know then it was a crossover vehicle, so we just called it a “cute ute.” The three-door version was especially cute.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Hybrid MPG and AWD=Sales

Then, four years later you brought us a not so cute, but very fuel efficient, little car called the Prius. It ushered in the gasoline-electric hybrid drivetrain that, by the way, confused a lot of folks at first. Of course, people aren’t confused any more. There were more than 30 hybrid models sold in 90 world markets bearing either the Toyota or Lexus names and sales tallied more than eight million globally before you came to your senses and placed a gasoline-electric powertrain in the RAV4 in 2016.

What’s interesting is, none of those more than eight million hybrid vehicles sold had a RAV4 badge. After all, Ford sold an Escape Hybrid crossover along with its Mercury Mariner Hybrid sibling from 2005 to 2011 with some 200,000 finding driveways.

So Toyota, have you ever wondered how many RAV4 Hybrids you might have sold if you brought it out say 10, or even 5 years ago?

Green Car Buyers Love the RAV4 Hybrid

Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve is over. Now in its third year, the RAV4 Hybrid is, gasp, threating to unseat the Prius as Toyota’s best selling hybrid. Through March of this year, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid trails the number of Prius’s sold by less than 700 units.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

The crossover appeal–open up and fill

For 2018, Toyota ushered in a more affordable trim with the introduction of the RAV4 Hybrid LE. At $28,230, including destination charges, the new Hybrid LE is just $1,325 more than an equivalent gas-powered RAV4 LE. That snuffs the argument that hybrids are priced thousands more than standard vehicles and reduces the time it will take to recoop the higher initial costs through fuel savings..

The balance of the lineup includes the XLE ($30.129), SE ($33,284) and the top end Limited ($35,129). All models come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD).

As for fuel economy, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid receives an EPA rating of 34 mpg city/ 30 highway/32 combined for all models. That’s nearly 25 percent better than the all-wheel drive gas model’s 26 mpg combined rating. And of course, those EPA numbers earn the RAV4 Hybrid a membership in Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 mpg Club.

AAA is forecasting that the national gas price average will be as much as $2.70 per gallon this spring and summer. At that price, it will only take most drivers less than a year to make up the $1,325 difference between the RAV4 Hybrid and the gasoline-only RAV4.

Proven, Familiar Hybrid Drivetrain

The 2018 RAV4 Hybrid uses Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, a system similar to those in the Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV, Lexus ES 300 sedan and the Lexus NX 300h small luxury crossover. That means a 150-horsepower, 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder gas engine is combined with a 141-horsepower small high-torque, permanent-magnet electric motor through the powersplit transaxle. This combination powers the front wheels.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More model choices–one engine choice

The rear wheels are powered by a 67-horsepower electric motor that has no mechanical connection to the front wheels. This system is called AWD-i. It allows a great degree of flexibility in the front-to-rear power split. As in most such systems, the RAV4 Hybrid drives its front wheels most of the time.

This provides a pretty good jolt of performance with a combined 194 system horsepower and 206 pounds-feet of torque, which is good for a 0-to-60 mph run in 8.1 seconds—about a second quicker than gas-powered RAV4 models. The system varies power between the gas engine and electric motor, or combines both as needed, all seamlessly.

The hybrid all-wheel-drive system also allows greater regenerative braking. The system captures electrical energy through all four wheels rather than just the two driven ones as in most hybrids and recharges the nickel metal-hydride battery pack.

A 2016 Refresh

Accompanying the arrival of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid was a refresh for the compact crossover, which carries over to 2018. The front is more angular with a redesigned grille, thinner LED headlamps and restyled bumper. New rocker panels sharpened the sides and tie in the front and rear bumpers for a more flowing profile. Available LED taillights add a nice touch to the backside. 

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

A dash you would expect in a Toyota

The RAV4 Hybrid is a visual departure from a crowded highway of look-alike small crossovers. The sheetmetal forming its wide body dips downward at the side windows, giving it a muscular, ready-for-action look. This is strenghtened by an agressively styled grille and front facia, a sloping hood and kicked-up rear quarter panels. Overall, the RAV4 Hybrid is very much an SUV-looking vehicle.

Inside changes for 2018 were minimal: revised cupholders allow for mugs with larger handles, lower center console LED lights, a new sunglass holder and a 12-volt outlet for rear passengers. A hybrid specific display within the 4.2-inch TFT gauge-cluster screen shows fuel consumption and the status of the hybrid powertrain.

The cabin is typical Toyota, with comfortable contoured front seats, well-located controls and gauges and a three-spoke sterring wheel. All-around visibility is quite good, thanks to the sloping hood, tall driving position and generously sized windows. A low step-in height makes it easy to get in and out. In real-world usage, the RAV4 Hybrid is a bit tighter in the back seat than several of its competitors, but luggage volume is decent at 36 cubic feet behind the back row and 71 cubic feet with it folded. That’s only about three cubic feet less than the non-hybrid model. And the lift over height in the rear cargo area is impressively low.

Standard in-cabin tech includes a 4.2-inch instrument panel display and an Entune Audio Plus infotainment system with a 6.1-inch touch screen. Audio is provided by a six-speaker audio system with CD/AM/FM/satellite radio, a USB port with iPod controls, an aux-in jack and Bluetooth. You will notice that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are missing. Also standard is the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver assists that includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high beams.

Stepping up through the lineup you will find standard, depending on trim levels, a moonroof, a backup camera, HD radio with traffic and weather info, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition and a navigation system. There’s also blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic LED headlights, a height-adjustable power lift gate, an eight-way power driver seat and heated front seats. A $2,785 Advanced Technology Package option includes a surround-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and an 11-speaker 576-watt JBL Audio system and a slightly larger touch screen.

Not “Fun-To-Drive,” But Competent

Our Ruby Flare Pearl RAV4 Hybrid had a sticker price of $32,185. Add the Advanced Technology Package, a $90 tonneau cover, $95 for the special paint color and a $995 destination chargeand the price tag was $38,450.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

More pep than the gas-only version, but far from fun-to-drive

Around town it was easy to see why small crosovers have become a huge chunk of the U.S. vehicle market. The RAV4 Hybrid sprinted easily through urban traffic disregarding rough road surfaces and small pot holes with ease. Parking, whether parallel or angle, was as easy as it gets.

The little SUV accelerated quickly from a stop using battery power. Like any hybrid, accelerating to 35 mph using the gas engine, and then lifting slightly, brings electric power into play. I found it easy to run around on battery juice with the gas engine helping out when confronting a hill. The transition between battery power and gasoline power was almost always seamless.

The RAV4 Hybrid accelerated to highway speeds with reasonable enthusiasm. The engine felt peppy and would happily cruise at 80 mph. For a crossover that weighs nearly 4,000 pounds, the RAV4 handled decently around curves at highway speeds, but tight corners reveled ample body roll and a lack of grip from the green-minded tires. Otherwise, the RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable and capable, albeit not at all sporting.

The different drive modes, which include Sport, Eco, and EV, all functioned as advertised. Sport mode livened the Hybrid up and changed the shift logic, making it more eager to drop a few “gears” and make the most of the hybrid powertrain. Eco, which I used in town and cruising on the highway, slowed the throttle response from the normal mode and adjusted the air-conditioning settings, all in the name of improving efficiency. EV mode functions below 25 mph and was most useful in parking garages.

I give a big applause to the engineers who worked on the RAV4 Hybrid’s brakes. The transition between regenerative and mechanical braking was imperceptible. As I have noted many times in my reviews, the EPA rating system needs upgrading. We drove the RAV4 Hybrid fairly hard for 311 miles and ended up with a combined fuel economy of 35.2 mpg, two mpgs better than the EPA’s estimate.

Final Word

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is comfortable for car-pooling, commuting, collecting groceries and dropping kids off for soccer practice. It is also ideal for light off-road action in the backcountry, While there are plenty of competitors—Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape to name a few—none can match the RAV4 Hybrid’s fuel economy except for the Nissan Rogue Hybrid. And as mentioned, gasoline prices are heading upwards. In other words, that makes the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s value proposition a little more enticing.

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

News: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Enters New York—New Looks, More Power

News: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Enters New York—New Looks, More Power

Compact SUV Styling No Longer Boring

Toyota used the New York Auto show for the world introduction of its best-selling vehicle, the 2019 RAV4 crossover SUV. Hard to believe, the RAV4 became the company’s single best-selling model in the U.S. last year, surging past its long-time champion, the Camry midsize sedan. The automaker delivered more than 400,000 of the now-six-year-old RAV4, and more than 50,000 of those included our favorite, the hybrid model.

Company Listened To Its President

2019 Toyota RAV4

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 announces its arrival in style

One look at the all-new 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid confirms the company took it to heart when president Akio Toyoda gave a mandate against making boring cars. The redesigned compact crossover gets a more domineering stance, standing lower and wider with a longer wheelbase. The scrappy SUV has more-sculpted edges, shorter front and rear overhangs, with a nose that has similarities to the hefty front end of the Toyota Tacoma pickup. It also gets chunky plastic cladding and fender flares. The wheel arches are trapezoidal and angular creases abound.

For 2019, the hybrid edition also gets a new trim, the XSE Hybrid. Following a new trend in styling, the XSE comes with a two-tone paint job featuring black on the top. Setting the stage for XSE Hybrid’s sporty appeal are piano-black accents across the front end, mirror caps, fender arches, and lower rockers. Unique to RAV4 Hybrids, projector-beam LED headlamps flank each side of the grille for a brighter, sharper and ideally angled light source.

The RAV4 Hybrid XSE isn’t just about cosmetic upgrades, it has a sport-tuned suspension.

New Hybrid Powertrain

2019 Toyota RAV4

More aggressive styling, more tech and more details to come

Defying the image of hybrids as mild performers, Toyota says: “The quickest RAV4 is the hybrid.” Replacing the previous hybrid powertrain is the two-motor Toyota Hybrid System II that uses a brand-new electric motor drive, which Toyota claims uses the battery power more effectively. It’s paired with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s adapted to run on the ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle. A continuously-variable transmission (CVT) directs power to the wheels.

As before, all 2019 RAV4 Hybrids are all-wheel drive, using what Toyota calls All-Wheel Drive with Intelligence (AWD-i). The system eliminates the driveshaft to the rear wheels and substitutes an electric motor mounted transversely between the rear wheels to provide on-demand traction in back. For 2019, the system increases available rear-wheel torque by 30 percent more than the previous-gen AWD-i. An electronically-controlled, automated system determines how much torque to feed to the rear wheels on the RAV4 Hybrid according to driving conditions.

Modern Interior

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid catches up with competitors inside with a modern-looking interior. The touchscreen can be either seven or eight inches and features Toyota’s EnTune 3.0, which includes Wi-Fi Connect, Amazon Alexa hands-free access, and, at last, Apple CarPlay compatibility. Two USB ports are standard and up to five can be had in total, depending on package options. Qi wireless charging is also available.

2019 Toyota RAV4

A new interior ups the ante for the already popular RAV4

The center console’s volume has been increased for more storage and technology capability, adding side-by-side cupholders (versus tandem in the previous generation) and more space on the open tray for small item storage. Both legroom and shoulder room are improved in the rear seating and 60/40 split-fold rear seats remain standard in the RAV4.

An all-new JBL audio system is available for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid, adding 11 audio speakers on eight channels with 800 watts of power. Other options available are heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a hands-free tailgate.

Standard is Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 package. It includes a pre-collision system that can detect pedestrians, dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams and a system aimed at keeping the car on the road even if it can’t detect lane markings. It also can read some road signs and alert the driver.

Toyota provided no pricing information, fuel economy estimates or specific power output for the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid. We expect that info closer to the on-sale date in early 2019, following the gas-powered RAV4’s availability sometime this winter.

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Road Test: 2018 Lexus GS 450h

Road Test: 2018 Lexus GS 450h

Performance and Efficiency in a Premium Sedan

The 2018 GS 450h is the most fuel-efficient model in the Lexus GS line-up, delivering mid-30 mpg on the highway. It also does it in style with premium comfort. So, are you ready to drop the staid sedan and step into something more adventuresome? Will your neighbors know what came over you? Your answers should be “Yes” and “Who cares!”


The 2018 GS 450h has a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and two electric motor-generators, the components of the Lexus Hybrid Drive system. The 3.5L puts out 286 horsepower (hp) and 257 pounds-feet of torque, then along with the electric motors produces a combined system output of 338 hp. Acceleration was smooth and pulled hard through the complete torque band.

The rear wheels are driven through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), with paddle shifters. Fuel economy for the GS 450h is EPA rated at 29 city/34 highway/31 combined miles per gallon. Running on 91 octane, I drove 265 miles (mostly on the highway) and averaged 30.7 mpg.

2018 Lexus GS 450h

Combining luxury, performance and fuel economy

The Lexus Hybrid Drive system automatically switches between the electric-only drive mode, combined electric/gasoline engine, and gasoline-only power. The transitions are seamless and smooth, and can be monitored by viewing the dash gauges. When driving a hybrid, I like the option to select EV-only, especially around town, forcing the car to run solely on electric power. The GS 450h has this option but the driving range in pure electric mode is short. Plus, when in EV mode, only the slightest accelerator pedal pressure kicked in the gasoline engine. Being able to hold the car in electric mode for a longer distance and at higher speeds would be a nice feature to add.

The hybrid system’s nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery is charged through the regenerative charging system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting. This process can also be viewed on a dash gauge where you can watch the power flow into and out of the battery and engine.

The Drive Mode Select on the GS 450h allows the driver to choose between Eco, Normal, Sport, Sport S and Sport S+ as well as EV. There is even a Snow mode. With all these settings, I spent most of my time on the highway in Eco which adapted throttle response for the best fuel economy. But for fun—and a 5.6 second zero-60 time—opt for Sport+. For even more fun, there is a GS 450h F Sport model that offers a tuned suspension and more aggressive styling. The aforementioned neighbors will really wonder what you are up to if you bring this one home.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The GS 450h is very comfortable to drive. The front and rear suspensions get gas-filled shocks, coil springs and stabilizer bars, with the driver being able to control the Adaptive Variable Suspension for shock absorber damping. This technology is fun to experiment with when driving on twisty roads, whether on tight or sweeper corners.

Our Lexus GS 450h came with 18-inch, five-spoke machine-finish chrome alloy wheels and 235/45R all-season Michelin tires. Handling is nicely balanced and spirited, building confidence the more you drive it hard into corners.

Stopping comes from an electronically controlled brake system that incorporates regenerative braking and power-assisted, four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution. The stops were straight and consistent. The brakes were a bit grabby when the GS 450h was cold, but worked as expected once driven for just a few miles. When coming to a stop the combination of the regenerative braking and the hybrid motor made a noticeable, but not unpleasant, whine.

2018 Lexus GS 450h

The GS 450h leads with style and brings it home with fuel mpg

Driving Experience: Exterior

The Lexus GS 450h is a five-passenger midsize sedan with a sleek design that Lexus says is “at the intersection of style and performance.” The Lexus signature spindle grille has attractive satin chrome border strips and is framed by L-shaped Bi-LED headlamps. The roofline’s slope is designed for ease of entry by front and rear passengers. The trunk lid has a very subtle spoiler and the LED tail lights also have the distinctive L-shape that is especially attractive and noticeable at night. Be sure to look for the blue on the Lexus logo badges which signifies this GS 450h is electrified.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2018 Lexus GS 450h has one trim level and is loaded with features that would be optional equipment on lesser cars. Clean Fleet Report’s test car did have options of a power trunklid, intuitive park assist, trunk mat, cargo net, illuminated door sills and an upgraded sound system.

2018 Lexus GS 450h

An interior to sink into

The Mark Levinson Premium surround sound infotainment (entertainment and information) system had 17 speakers, an amplifier and 835 watts. The 12.3-inch color touchscreen display takes a bit of driver attention to operate via the Remote Touch Controller, but overall it worked well for the navigation, Siri Eyes Free, SiriusXM/FM/CD/HDAM radio with iPod/MP3 playback capability. The FM/AMHD is a cache radio that offers the ability to pause and playback 10 minutes of programming. The SiriusXM service is included for 90 days. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability. The auto-dimming rearview mirror was HomeLink equipped. There’s voice activation for the telephone and navigation worked well.

Lexus has done an excellent job of designing an interior with high craftsmanship and attention to detail. Beginning with the leather-trimmed, power 10-way adjustable, heated and ventilated driver and passenger seats, the multi-function wood and leather heated steering wheel (with a power tilt and telescoping column and controls for the audio, telephone and voice commands), made it easy for the driver to find a comfortable and in-control driving position.

The cockpit design is driver friendly, featuring large gauges for easy reading and controls for easy access. The interior also has a dual-zone automatic climate system, power tilt and sliding moonroof, power windows, door locks and mirrors, logged carpet mats, electronic parking brake, Smart Access with push button stop/start, 12V power outlets, folding heated power side mirrors, cruise control and multiple cup holders.

The rear cabin seat backs do not fold down, but there is a drop-down armrest with cup holders. The rear window power sunshade is a nice feature as are the reading lamps, air vents and the 12V/120W charge port.


The GS 450h is well equipped with active and passive safety features including 10 air bags, tire pressure monitoring system, rain-sensing wipers, hill start control, anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer, rear view camera, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and the previously mentioned four wheel disc brakes with ABS.

2018 Lexus GS 450h

Help is displayed to make sure you maximize the fuel economy benefits

The 2018 Lexus GS 450h has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Good rating, while the US Government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not rated the GS 450h.


The 2018 Lexus GS 450h has a base MSRP of $63,635. Clean Fleet Report’s test car had a price of $66,510. All prices exclude the $975 delivery, processing and handling fee.

The 2018 Lexus GS 450h comes with these warranties:

  • Powertrain Six years/70,000 miles 
  • Hybrid-related Component Coverage Eight years/100,000 miles
  • Basic           Four years/50,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation Six years/Unlimited miles       

Observations: 2018 Lexus GS 450h

The Lexus GS 450h 2017 redesign continues for 2018. The styling is sharp with an elegant, comfortable and spacious interior. The hybrid power provides impressive fuel economy that is the best of all the Lexus GS models.

2018 Lexus GS 450h

A touch of the past, updated for now

If you are not interested in owning a SUV, then the Lexus GS 450h should be taken very seriously. It can seat a family of five, or be the sporty sedan for two that sips gasoline on long road trips. When visiting your Lexus dealership, make sure to call first and set an appointment with a factory-trained hybrid specialist. You will want them to walk you through all the features, technology and options, especially taking the time to explain the hybrid system in detail. There is much to learn and enjoy on the 2018 Lexus 450h.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

Road Test: 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD 4X4 Premium

Road Test: 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD 4X4 Premium

Grandson’s Great Day Is Grandpa’s Embarrassment

The usual modus operandi at Clean Fleet Report is to evaluate hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric and fuel-efficient vehicles. But when Toyota offered a 4Runner for a week, I said yes because I had what seemed was a good idea at the time. In retrospect it was a good idea, things just didn’t work out in the manner I had envisioned.

2017 Toyota 4Runner

A 4Runner in its natural habitat

The plan was to take my youngest grandson, Gherit, for a day of off-roading at a large Weyerhaeuser-owned forest southwest of Olympia. I have been driving the logging roads of this massive timberland for more than 30 years. My first experience was in 1995 when I laid out a test drive route for the second annual Northwest Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) Of The Year for the Northwest Automotive Press Association that became known as “Mudfest.”

Most of the logging roads are gravel and can be driven slowly in an everyday passenger car. However, if you look hard enough, there are some narrow, rutted and rugged trails. Granted, our Toyota 4Runner TRD (Toyota Racing Development) 4X4 Premium, with its sparkling Barcelona Red Metallic paint job, was over qualified for the terrain, but the ambiance was ideal for Gherit’s first off-highway foray.

How Much Over-Qualified for the Gravel Logging Roads?

Starting from the ground up were 17-inch NittoTerra Grapler tires, a 9.6-inch ground clearance, 33-degree approach angle, 26-degree departure angle, Bilstein shocks to absorb off-road rambles, plus extra skid-plating. All 4Runner models feature a coil-spring independent front suspension with a stabilizer bar, and a solid axle out back suspended by a four-link setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar. Our 4Runner added Toyota’s optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which increases suspension travel at low speeds to improve stability on rocky terrain.  A multi-terrain Crawl Control and hill assist are standard.

2017 Toyota 4Runner

Over the mudhole and through the woods

The four-wheel drive setup is a manually selectable two-speed transfer case with a low-range setting. A locking rear differential is standard.

In other words, this TRD 4Runner thumbs its nose at rough terrain.

My Oh My, Things Change Over the Years

I’ve driven the logging roads and trails in the Weyerhaeuser forest 30 or 40 times, but not in the last three years. When the asphalt turned into gravel, it was about three miles to the road I wanted. But dang!, about 15 yards short of the junction was a blockade gate, and no way around. O.K., things change over the years, but we had passed three or four other roads, so we’ll just go back.

Blockade gates greeted us on the first two roads after driving about a mile. The third road appeared to be the right choice. This logging road circles the perimeter of the forest with lots of off-shoot trails. Things were great for six miles, then another gate. Well, it’s turn around again (not the easiest thing to do in the 4Runner) and head for another off-road area I know about 15 miles away.

As we slowly made our way back, looking for a trail or road, Gherit suddenly said, “Hey, there’s a trail.” I back up and, sure enough, there’s a small opening among the trees that I had missed. I poked the 4Runner’s nose through the brush and could see a narrow, rugged, twisty trail that went steeply downhill into a mud hole, and then flattened out before heading upwards towards a hard right. This was just what the 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD 4X4 was made for.

Gherit, We’re Going to Have Fun!

I slipped the transfer case into 4-Low and eased down the hill and through the mud hole, thinking, “Why is there water and mud, it hasn’t rained in weeks.” Then I recalled that the forest was full of springs.

As we toddled up the hill and made the hard right turn and slowly worked our way forward, it became obvious that this wasn’t an ordinary logging trail. It was extremely narrow, hilly, rutted, and filled with very tight turns. About a mile in, we stopped in a clearing for lunch and pulled the outside mirrors in. The forest was alive with birds flitting through the tree branches and singing whenever they stopped for a rest. Gherit wore a constant smile. Mission accomplished.

2017 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner is designed to take on real trails

We were making small talk when I remembered one of the cardinal rules of off-roading: Always have a companion vehicle just in case something goes wrong. But I had not intended to be on a trail like this and Gherit was so enjoying himself that I decided to continue.

Another mile or so brought us around a narrow corner that looked straight at an enormous muddy water hole. The left side was slightly sloped and there was solid ground down the middle separating the ruts, but no way to go around. I could have backed up a few yards and manage to turn around, but Gherit wanted to continue forward. This is when I disregarded another cardinal rule: Get out of the vehicle and check what’s in front, in this case, how deep water-filled ruts where.

I decided I could straddle the ruts, put the left tires on the slope, and inch forward. That worked for about 10 feet, then the 4Runner slid to the right and we became high centered. No amount of placing wood under the right tires would budge the off roader. Embarrassment describes how I felt. 

Well, I’d just have to make some phone calls and find a towing company to come winch us out. Big problem, no cell service.

After locking things up, we began our walk to find a cell signal. It was nearly five miles before we came across one of the scattered homes. There were people in the yard who graciously drove us to a junction were I could begin making calls. By now it was late afternoon and the tow company I located that agreed to the task couldn’t make it until the next morning. That left us waiting for two hours on the side of a road for my wife to pick us up. And Gherit? He thought the whole day was one of the best he’s ever had.

About The 4Runner

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner is a traditional body-on-frame midsize sport-utility vehicle with a solid rear axle. Five-passenger seating is standard, with an optional third row offered in rear- or four-wheel-drive configurations. The original 4Runner dates way back to 1984 as a compact SUV that was little more than a Toyota pickup truck with a fiberglass shell over the bed.

As then, today’s edition is purpose-built for off-roading and is best for drivers who spend much of their time off the beaten path. It’s outfitted for dirt-trails and rock crawling like nothing this side of a Jeep Wrangler. The 2017 Toyota 4Runner is one of the few remaining body-on-frame midsize SUVs in the U.S. with low-range four-wheel-drive available and, the only one offered with third-row seating. in the U.S.

Yes, the 4Runner is basically a truck, but that doesn’t mean the ride is unbearable or uncivilized. While it delivers a noticeably firm ride, the spring and suspension settings are not so primitive as to render it incapable of delivering acceptable levels of cornering and comfort. Due to its weight and high ride height, our 4Runner couldn’t round curves like a midsize crossover SUV, but its narrow body was a bit easier to maneuver than a full-size SUV, at least in urban surroundings.

An annoying weak spot did show up during our week with the 4Runner. The brake pedal at first felt a bit soft, and after applying more pressure, caused the brakes to grab too quickly.

The only engine available is a 4.0-liter V-6 with variable valve timing. This is a proven power plant that pumps out 270 horsepower and 278 pounds-feet of torque. It never felt quick in this big, heavy beast, but the power always delivered when merging into freeway traffic or needing to pass a slower vehicle.

In today’s automotive world, the five-speed automatic transmission may seem outdated, but it worked well and seemed well synced to the V-6. However, fuel economy stinks, and that’s where a six-speed auto (or an eight-speed like some of its competition) could help. I got just 18.3 mpg after driving 375 miles with a mix of city, highway and off-roading. The EPA rates this at 17-mpg city/20 highway/18 combined.

Exterior and Interior

Last redesigned for the 2014 model year, the 4Runner’s looks are eye-catching with a controversial front-end styling update. No matter your thoughts, there’s no denying that the SUVs looks best with a splash or two of mud and muck. It’s their natural element.

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner stays true to sport-utility tradition, which dictates a truck front end and a wagon body. Boxy and slab-sided, the 4Runner favors function over form. It sits high off the ground and rides on tires with big, rock-absorbing side walls, adding to its brawny look. The aggressively slanted headlights and available blacked-out grille mean that the front end, at least, can look mean and modern. The roll-down rear window is a classic 4Runner trait not found in many other vehicles.

2017 Toyota 4Runner

Ready to swallow what you’ve got

Inside, the 4Runner’s blocky dashboard seems like a throwback to pickups from the 1990s. The majority of the cabin’s surfaces are hard, meant to take a beating. Not necessarily cheap or brittle, mind you, but chosen with durability and easy cleaning rather than comfort or tactile pleasure in mind. Everything is well-fitted and assembled.

As you might expect, the driving position is commanding, and the driver grips a thick, oversized steering wheel. Large windows and a high seating position contribute to good outward visibility with few blind spots. Controls are sensibly-arrayed, large, easy-to-reach and easily operated even when wearing gloves. Off-road-focused controls are located in an overhead console, keeping the center stack of controls straightforward and accessible. A secondary display sits atop the center stack, and redundant steering wheel controls access audio and Bluetooth functions.

Power-adjustable front seats are well supported and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find the right driving position. Several large, deep cubbies in the front row mean that the 4Runner is as versatile a hauler as it is a mud slinger or rock crawler. Five 12-volt outlets throughout the cabin and a household AC outlet in the cargo area mean that no smartphone need run empty, no matter how long the trip or crowded the car.

Showing its age is the tiny, recessed 6.1-inch touchscreen display that completely washes out under a variety of lighting conditions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available, but at least Toyota makes the system Siri-compatible, and provides accurate real-time traffic and Doppler weather radar overlay for the navigation map. The company’s App Suite is aboard, supplying popular apps such as Pandora and Yelp at no extra cost.

Rear seats are a comfortable space for two, three in a pinch. If little ones are included in the ride, installing a car seat is not easy because the LATCH system is buried and difficult to find.

Cargo space is generous, measuring 47.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Fold it down to enjoy an impressive 88.8 cubic feet of volume. Our 2017 Toyota 4Runner TRD Premium had the optional sliding rear cargo deck ($350) that can be pulled out when loading big items and makes retrieving the items at the cargo area’s rear much easier.

The Off Roader for You?

The 2017 Toyota 4Runner is offered in a number of trim levels, starting with the SR5, the SR5 Premium, TRD Off-Road, TRD Off-Road Premium, Limited and TRD Pro models, which offer unique interior and exterior badging. There are only minor changes for the 2018 model year.

2017 Toyota 4Runner

The dash is old school, but it works

Pricing starts at $34,610 for a SR5 rear-wheel drive, though I don’t know why someone would buy a 4Runner without four-wheel drive. The least expensive 4X4 model is a SR5 priced at $36,485. The top-of-the-line Limited model starts at $44,960. Our TRD Premium 4X4 stickered at $43,430, including destination charges and options such as sun roof ($850), the KDSS suspension system ($1,750) and paint protection film ($395).

Don’t confuse the 4Runner SUV with a crossover SUV because they are two different animals. A crossover is great for suburban shuttling. The 4Runner rides like a truck, it guzzles gasoline like a truck and it handles like a truck. But then, these qualities are a part of its undeniable charm. Authenticity is alluring, and the 4Runner isn’t trying to be anything but a traditional sport-utility vehicle built to go just about anywhere at just about any time.

If rugged outdoor four-wheeling is your cup of tea, the closest competitor that seats five is a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Like the 4Runner, the Jeep is ready for a day of exploring narrow, rutted trails or climbing over rocks right out of a dealer showroom. But whatever your choice is, remember the cardinal rules of off-roading and you want be embarrassed like I was.

Related Stories You Might Enjoy: Other Real Off-Roaders

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Cherokee

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Road Test: 2018 Toyota C-HR

Offbeat Looks + Fun Driving

Remember Scion? The junior, fun brand in the Toyota family was supposed to be where young people made their connection with Toyota. It was born because, back in 2003, some folks at Toyota believed that the youth of America saw Toyota was too old and stodgy.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Toyota’s quirky subcompact crossover contender

In 2017, Scion is gone. The brand died when it received too little exciting new product, and, more importantly, when Toyota’s leadership figured out that young people were buying Toyotas after all.

You can acquire three former Scions rebadged as Toyotas—the Corolla iM, Mazda-sourced Yaris iA, and 86 sports coupe (formerly FR-S). Now, the car that was originally meant to be the new Scion compact crossover has become the 2018 Toyota C-HR.

Edgy Diamond Design

The design theme is called “Distinctive Diamond,” and indeed there are many edges and surfaces all over the multifaceted body, especially looking at the side profile. Numerous diamond shapes appear inside the car, too, on the dual-zone climate controls, speaker surrounds, and the black headliner. However, the overall effect of the body design is more stimulating to the eye than the more restrained interior.

2018 Toyota CH-R

Diamonds are the CH-R’s “easter eggs”

Standard features include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric parking brake (takes up less room), and “Sport Fabric-trimmed” bucket seats with “sport bolsters,” which are adjustable six ways.

This “urban-dwelling crossover” borrows some of the street style of the Nissan Juke, which is itself slated for an update, having spent the last several years shaking up traditional car design. C-HR stands for “Coupe-High Rider.” Make of that what you will.

Two-Tone Style

My sample vehicle sported the two-tone paint you get when you order the R-Code option. The Radiant Green color, mixed with Iceberg (white) on the roof and mirrors, keeps things lively. It’s only available as a two-tone.

My tester was the XLE model. There’s also a Premium version that gets additional safety and styling updates, along with illuminated vanity mirrors and more seat adjustment choices. You enjoy the safety of blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert, two features that are increasingly available standard on modern cars. In the Premium version the front seats are power adjustable and heated, and you get a smart key with push-button start.

The Power & the Infinite Transmission

2018 Toyota CH-R

The storage space is tight, but functional

Whichever model you pick, it’s a 3,300-pound car motivated by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels. It churns out 144 horsepower and 139 pounds-feet of torque through a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). CVTs aren’t designed for sportiness, but this one, called a CVTi-S, lets you select Sport mode and use paddle shifters to pick seven preselected “ratios.” That mitigates some of the oddness of the CVT sound, as it searches for the ideal ratio, but it may lower the efficiency. At least it’s more fun.  

2018 Toyota CH-R

Displays tell the story in the cockpit

EPA numbers are 27 city/31 highway/29 combined. I accumulated 26.3 mpg. Green scores are only a 3 for Smog and a better 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 2018 Toyota C-HR receives two Toyota-first features: Driver Distraction Secure Audio and Brake Hold Function. The first limits the menus you can view on the screen while moving, complying with driver distraction guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Brake Hold keeps the brakes on slightly when the car is still, even if you reduce pressure on the pedal. That keeps you from rolling inadvertently, I guess. A full-electric car can do that already.

The Inside Story

The 2018 Toyota C-HR is not big, but with a rear hatch and 36.4 cubic feet of cargo room with the split rear seats folded, you can do a lot with it.

2018 Toyota CH-R

The CH-R has “youth appeal” with style and tech

The driving experience is what you’d hope for and expect from a smaller, tauter vehicle. I wouldn’t call it memorable, but it is based on the new TNGA C platform. This fresh chassis design combines a low center of gravity with high strength and low weight, so it makes for a better handling car. In fact, Toyota tested this car on the famous Nürburgring Nordschliefe, where companies take their supercars. No information on its score, but it does give the C-HR some bragging rights.

Things like variable electronic power steering can make a difference. It changes the amount of assist depending on your speed, so you can park easily while getting more feedback out on the highway. A new double-wishbone, multi-link rear suspension isn’t the kind of thing you’d necessarily find on such an affordable car.

Pricing starts at $23,460 for the XLE and jumps to $25,310 for the Premium. My XLE tester ran $24,969 with a few options, including the two-tone paint. 

The would-be Scion C-HR is aimed at customers who want to have fun, stand out a bit in traffic, and don’t have lots of money to spend. That means the 2018 Toyota CH-R is playing its role now, regardless of the brand or the badge it wears.

Other Contenders in the Subcompact SUV/Crossover Category:

Road Test: 2017 Mazda CX-3

Road Test: 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Road Test: 2017 Jeep Renegade Altitude

Road Test: 2016 Honda HR-V

Road Test: 2016 Fiat 500X

Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke Nismo

Road Test: 2015 Buick Encore

Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at