The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is the first mass-market crossover utility with a hybrid powertrain since the demise of the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2012.
Granted, there's the luxury Lexus NX hybrid (using some of the same underpinninngs), and the low-volume Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, with a mild-hybrid powertrain.
But in terms of mainstream compact crossovers, the new RAV4 Hybrid is pretty much it.
And with recent rumors that the hybrid RAV4 may supplant the Prius V wagon in Toyota's hybrid lineup, it's a doubly important niche in the burgeoning SUV market.
With an EPA fuel-economy rating of 33 mpg combined (34 mpg city, 31 mpg highway), the RAV4 Hybrid improves on the 29 mpg combined of the departed Escape Hybrid AWD (30 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).
The RAV4 Hybrid comes only with all-wheel drive, at least this year, and it's a larger, more spacious SUV than the old Escape, with far better feature content.
2012 Ford Escape HybridEnlarge Photo
One difference between the two is that the hybrid Escape used mechanical all-wheel drive, whereas the hybrid RAV4 blends torque from the gasoline-electric powertrain up front and an additional electric motor between the rear wheels.
We first drove the RAV4 Hybrid in November, during the launch of the all-new 2016 Toyota Prius Liftback in sunny Southern California.
Now we've had a chance to spend a long weekend and 450 miles with the car, in blustery Northeastern winter weather with temperatures from 25 to 40 degrees F.
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On our first drive three months ago, our impressions of the RAV4 Hybrid suffered somewhat after driving it at the same time as the all-new fourth-generation Prius.
The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the RAV4 are similar to those used in the hybrid Camry sedan and Lexus NX, whereas the Prius has an entirely new next-generation powertrain.
Back to back, the Prius felt smoother, quieter, far more refined, and generally more competent in its powertrain than the compact crossover.
2016 Toyota RAV4 AWD 4-door Limited (Natl) DashboardEnlarge Photo
That impression isn't as prevalent when evaluating the hybrid RAV4 on its own merits.
It's still not a new vehicle, since it comes as part of a mid-cycle refresh on the RAV4 generation that dates back to the 2012 model year.
But it remains one of the larger vehicles in the "compact crossover" segment, along with the Honda CR-V, even though it now technically qualifies as a mid-size SUV.
CHECK OUT: 2016 Toyota Prius: First Drive Of 56-MPG Hybrid (Nov 2015)
Over our usual test route, comprised of about two-thirds highway miles and one-third city and suburban traffic, the trip computer showed an average of 30.4 mpg.
It may well have been 10 percent or so higher in more temperate summer weather, at least based on our experience with other Toyota and Ford hybrids, which would bring it to the rated 33 mpg combined.
That's still a far cry from the 40 mpg we got in our winter test of the Prius V wagon three years ago, but the hybrid RAV4 is a more confident and less underpowered vehicle--and, of course, it has that AWD.