WHEN you have two success stories such as Toyota's popular soft-roader SUV the RAV4 and the company's know-how in hybrid technology it seems to make perfect sense to put the two together - and that's exactly what the Japanese manufacturer has done.
Toyota has sold more than one million hybrids and 1.5 million RAV4s in Europe alone and now buyers can buy the complete package with the launch of the all-new RAV4 Hybrid model.
It combines a 2.5-litre petrol engine with a powerful electric motor and can be purchased with either front or all-wheel-drive.
The total power output is 194bhp which equates to impressive performance stats of 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds with fuel economy of 57.6mpg for the front-wheel-drive model and 55.4mpg for the all-wheel-drive version.
Carbon emissions are from 115g/km and 118g/km respectively.
The new RAV4 is 35mm longer than the outgoing model and now features the company's latest design cues such as the triple front grille and stand-out headlights and fog lamps.
Interior enhancements are not earth shattering, but there is improved comfort, practicality and functionality.
The TFT display now offers extra information such as navigational directions plus a wide range of functions and data. And the centre console has been adapted to house the seven-inch touchscreen.
Other improvements have been made to the sound proofing and vibration levels within the car thanks to the addition of extra insulation. And suspension tuning along with new shock absorbers and front coil springs has led to enhanced ride and comfort levels.
There are five trim levels - Active, Business Edition, Business Edition Plus, Icon and Excel - with prices starting from £23,695 and rising to £30,795.
There is also the option of choosing a new 2.0-litre 141bhp diesel powertrain or the improved 2.0-litre 149bhp petrol derivative.
But it is the hybrid is the true headline act that is what we concentrated on during our the car's launch drive in and around Alicante, Spain.
First up was the range-topping Excel version with AWD and CVT gearbox priced at £30,795. This model can reach 62mph from a standing start in 8.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 112mph.
It can deliver combined fuel economy of 55.4mpg and carbon emissions of 118g/km.
The newly refreshed design is certainly eye-catching with its distinctive nose and smart 18-inch alloys and the interior is beautifully laid out with an abundance of room.
Back seat passengers are treated to ample leg, head and shoulder space and up front the seats are electrically controlled and adjusted.
There is a smart leather dashboard and plenty of leather trim, but this premium styling is rather let down by the large quantity of somewhat cheap-looking hard plastic on display. And another slightly annoying factor is that several buttons such as the seat heaters are hidden from view until you go in search for them.
But those minor gripes aside, the new RAV4 is as fabulous as ever. The steering is precise and the acceleration through the automatic CVT gearbox is smooth and responsive without any signs of screaming and whining even when pushed particularly hard.
The driver benefits from excellent all-round visibility and the cabin remains beautifully quiet even on poor road surfaces. There is a little wind noise, but this is to be expected when driving any compact SUV model.
In towns, the RAV4 was very easy to drive with good agility and then on faster country roads and motorways it remained nicely composed and grounded, which meant long sweeping bends could be attacked with confidence.
We also took the vehicle onto a short off-road course comprising mainly slippery gravel surfaces with a few hidden potholes along the way and once again it was easily up to the task in hand.
The 4WD version is equipped with Toyota's E-Four system which incorporates a second electric motor at the rear which delivers automatic electronic all-wheel-drive to provide extra traction.
Next up was the front-wheel-drive version in Business Edition Plus costing £26,195. This car has the same performance stats as the AWD version apart from slightly improved economy with a combined 57.6mpg and emissions of 115g/km.
Once again the car impressed with its handling as it cruised effortlessly at motorway speeds and once more the cabin remained beautifully quiet at all times.
The car was also very nimble and confident as it took on steep mountain climbs with hairpin bends and the steering was nice and precise making it a very complete all-rounder.
Storage options on the new RAV4 are comprehensive with a boot capacity of 501 litres (547 on non-hybrid models) which is increased to 1,633 litres (1,735) with the 60:40 quick-folding rear seats dropped flat.
Elsewhere there is a good-sized glovebox, central bin, door pockets, a handy non-slip tray and practical cup holders that can actually hold containers with handles. The boot was accessed via a powered tailgate which is a very handy feature, although it was a tad slow opening.
And as one would expect the car is equipped with the latest safety innovations to protect occupants and pedestrians alike.
All models apart from the entry Active grade are available with Toyota Safety Sense which adds a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, road sign assist, automatic high beam and trailer sway control. This pack costs between £695 and £1,495 depending on the model.
RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive and Toyota lays claim to inventing the compact SUV when its very first RAV4 model was unleashed back in 1994.
Since those early days six million cars have been sold globally and with the attraction of hybrid technology and all the financial benefits it brings the latest RAV4 Hybrid is guaranteed to see those sales figures continue to grow at a rapid pace.
The car is on sale now.