Toyota has always marched to a different drummer with their hybrid models, making them something better and something unique rather than a punishment, a downscale place in the showroom. Enter the 2021 RAV4 XSE Hybrid for example, the top-line flagship model of the RAV4 lineup.

The RAV4 XSE Hybrid is the most feature packed, most powerful, the best handling, the fastest and yes of course, the most efficient RAV4 you can buy short of the new RAV4 Prime model. Priced in at $40,000 and some change with options, this is indeed the most expensive RAV we’ve tested.

The XSE offers up a lot though aside its Hybrid efficiency and power. It’s sporting and flashy with standard two-tone paint available in a variety of schemes. Gloss black accents, wheel arches and window trims wrap its definitively off-roady styled bodywork and are augmented by a set of matching 18-inch wheels.

LED lighting spans front to rear with headlamps, daytime running lamps and tail lamps. At the rear you will find dual exhaust tips, real ones – not the kind of fakes you see from other brands and on a hybrid no less.

The interior too is a flashy place with lots of rugged goodness and quality materials. I love the RAV4’s stitched soft trims on the dash and door panels that lend an upscale feel. The grippy rubber coated knobs also give a feel of adventure too.

Add in with the XSE faux leather Softex heated seats with sexy blue pinstripes, a large available panoramic roof and lots of infotainment features too long to list and you have a fully outfitted office for road trips, camping, trips to the office or a drive-thru window.

Because its Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack is stowed under the rear seat, cargo space is not impacted for the hybrid model, offering a nicely laid out flat load floor. To get this, the second-row seats fold easily.

Powering the RAV4 Hybrid is the latest generation of the Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. Here it’s comprised of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable electrified hybrid transmission at the front. The rear wheels are powered by their own electric motor at the rear axle.

This combination of hardware offers up an impressive 219 total system horsepower and a level of computer orchestrated traction control that traditional AWD systems could not. In that way, with console controllable drive modes this RAV4 hybrid offers the best off-road and all-weather traction controls yet.

Efficiency is really the payoff here. The EPA rates the RAV4 XSE Hybrid at 41 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. In my week with it I achieved 38 mpg combined with the AC running at all times. Very impressive if not best in class.

Handling too was impressive with its sport tuned suspension. The XSE features stiffer springs and dampers to help its 3755 pound curb weight feel more athletic. Combine this with the Toyota New Global Architecture upon which the RAV4 is built and you have a smooth, sharp, precise handling character far and above previous generations.

A standard suite of semi-autonomous safety features called TSS 2.0 bring to the RAV what some charge extra for in this arena and I think this CUV represents a must drive if you are shopping in its class.