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Test-drive stories by NITISH S. RELE –motoringtampabay.com

Barely three years after introducing the hybrid version of its popular RAV4, Toyota has revamped the compact crossover.

The 2.5-liter DOHC inline-4 cylinder gas engine now puts out 176 horsepower (up by 26) @ 5700 rpm and 163 pounds-feet (up by 11) of torque @ 5200 rpm. Two electric motors boast hp up to 219 hp (boost of 25). A 244.8-volt nickel-metal hydride battery is recharged by energy captured as the driver applies the brakes or coasts. Also, the electronically controlled Continuous Variable Transmission-equipped sedan boasts a regenerative braking system.

An independent MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension does a particularly good job of soaks bumps and potholes with skill and sure-footedness in this front-wheel or all-wheel-drive ride. Also, history is the column-mounted steering, to be swapped with a rack-mounted system for ease at higher speeds or pulling into a parking lot.

The RAV4 operates in three modes: EV, which is electric at lower speeds of up to 25 mph; ECO, an efficient mode where the driver can control the throttle opening; and sport for some feisty driving. The rounded instrument display showing charge, power and eco readings will come in handy for drivers who like to eke out every gallon of gas.

Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag and driver knee airbag are standard along with side-impact door beams, four-wheel antilock brakes, electronic brake distribution and brake assist, vehicle stability and traction control, rearview camera and front and rear crumple zones. Also included at no cost is Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which fetches the owner a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

Projector-beam LED headlights flank a dark gray metallic-colored hexagonal grille hosting a blue-tinted Toyota emblem. Essentially, wheelbase sees an upturn of 1.2 inches though the height has been slightly reduced. Touches of brushed metallic silver finish are evident as you slide behind the three-spoke leather tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Fold the 60/40-split second row seat down and you get 37.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Storage areas are scattered throughout the cabin, including an open bin atop the glovebox, center console box (1.5 inches wider than previous), eight cup/bottle holders, five USB ports and overhead sunglass holder.

Standard goodies include eight-way power driver and four-way front-passenger seats, dual auto a/c, leather tilt/telescopic steering column and shifter, recline/fold second-row seat, 8-inch touchscreen for navigation, audio, phone controls, height-adjustable power lift gate, and a power tilt/slide moon roof.

Generous passenger/cargo room should entice young families to sign on the dotted line for the RAV4 hybrid. Besides, who doesn’t want a gas sipper for a ride? (we earned 38.5 mpg).



Ever since the 10th-gen Civic was launched in 2017, the sedan, coupe and hatchback have been receiving rave reviews. Not known to sit on their laurels, Honda engineers have once again made some changes the car, mainly in the hatch. It does retain the powertrain shared with its other brethren: a 1.5-liter DOHC direct-injected and turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine putting out 180 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 162 pounds-feet of torque @ 5500 rpm. The five-door ride is still coupled to a continuous variable transmission or folks who like to be “in control” of this compact car can opt for the 6-speed manual. A fully independent suspension is handled via a MacPherson strut but the rear gets an all-new multi-link independent system. And leading the hatch to its destination is the electric power steering with variable ratio. Also, additional sound-damping materials now hold wind and road noise to a minimum than in previous models.

The traditional “wing” grille crossbar has been restyled. As have the LED headlights (receiving a flashy blackout look), bumpers and wheels. Space abounds in the Civic with 15.1 cubic feet of trunk area and a mammoth center console to hide precious belongings. A suitable feature is LaneWatch, which displays a wide-angle view of the passenger side road on the i-MID (Intelligent Multi-Information Display). The image appears when the right turn signal is activated. Other standard goodies in our Sport Touring trim included eight-way power driver and four-way passenger leather seats and tilt/telescopic steering column, 7-inch audio touch display, aluminum pedals, dual auto a/c, remote engine start, electronic parking brake, heated front seats, 60/40 rear seat, power moonroof, paddle shifters and door pocket bins.

EPA mileage estimates are impressive at 29 mpg city, 35 highway and combined 32. We averaged about 30 in city/highway driving. The ECON button serves its purpose for sure.

Standard safety features include dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag with rollover sensor, stability assist and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, rearview camera, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights. Honda Sensing fetches the owner collision mitigation brakes, adaptive cruising control, lane keep assist, and forward collision and lane departure warnings.

With cool styling, roomy cabin, praiseworthy performance and fuel-sipping capabilities, the practical Civic hatchback makes for an incredible package. Besides, who wouldn’t want to sign up for a Honda, which has a reputation for building durable and dependable rides!



The Corolla hatchback, which last year replaced the Corolla iM, continues into 2020 with just a couple of design, audio connectivity and utility tweaks. And that is just fine with us since this is one fun and sprightly ride. Once again, a 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder develops 168 horsepower @ 6600 rpm and 151 pounds-feet of torque @ 4800 rpm. It is mated to a continuous variable transmission or you can go for the 6-speed manual. Want to shift to sport mode? Just switch on a button by the leather-wrapped shifter knob. Either way, you are assured that this classy Corolla will get up to speed with urgency, and slow down as quickly and with self-assurance. The MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension soak up obstacles with ease and maintain stability in all types of tricky situations. Though not as responsive as one would like, the electric power steering is precise and crisp.

Up front, the hatchback is sleek, sharp and eye-catching. Flanking the slim, J-shaped bi-beam LED headlights and fog lamps is a rounded nose with a trapezoidal under-grille decked in satin chrome. A single exhaust tip with dual rear chrome diffusers and spoiler enhance the aggressive outward appearance. The practical cabin is simply laid out with piano-black gloss and metallic accents on the dashboard. For those who like to be in control of the gears, try the steering-wheel paddle shifters for spirited driving. Rear-seat passengers can stretch to take advantage of ample leg/shoulder room. Other standard amenities are a dual auto a/c, 8-inch touchscreen, 8-way power driver’s seat, 60/40 rear fold seat, two-tone color leather seats, 7-inch color TFT multimedia screen, and a manual tilt/telescopic steering column.

Dual front and side airbags, driver knee airbag, side curtain airbag, vehicle stability and traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, three-point seatbelts for all, keyless entry, blind spot monitor, front/rear crumble zones, rearview camera, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system are standard. The no-cost Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 translates into a pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, lane departure assist and dynamic cruise control.

The attractive Corolla hatchback is incredibly nimble with a perky engine, which provides abundant punch to maneuver in rush-hour traffic. It eked out an impressive average of nearly 34.9 mpg in city/highway driving, beating EPA estimates. Thrifty fuel consumption, affordable price and more-than-adequate rear/cargo area make this an appealing buy.


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