Toyota RAV4 Hybrid E-Four all-wheel drive

How do the Toyota RAV4 all-wheel drive systems work?

From its introduction in 1994, the Toyota RAV4 was never designed to compete with the off-road capabilities of its Hilux and Land Cruiser siblings. The model name is a contraction of Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive – a description that identifies the RAV4 as a lifestyle vehicle with the additional benefit of some all-wheel drive performance.

Toyota RAV4 action

To dismiss the fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 as an urban-only SUV undersells the sophistication of its chassis. Its ability off the beaten track comes courtesy of two different optional all-wheel drive systems designed to keep you safe, under control and mobile in conditions that would likely be impossible in a traditional car.

Let’s take a closer look at these two systems. We begin with the most popular E-Four electronic system found in all-wheel drive RAV4 Hybrid models, followed by the mechanical system found in traditional all-wheel drive petrol and diesel models.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid E-Four all-wheel drive

In addition to the familiar Toyota Hybrid engine and motor powering the front wheels, models with E-Four all-wheel drive employ a second, rear-mounted electric motor to power the rear wheels. This allows torque to be distributed between all four wheels, improving grip and stability.

In normal driving, all of the car’s power is sent through the front wheels as this is the most fuel-efficient use of the energy. The RAV4’s electronic control unit constantly monitors data such as vehicle speed, accelerator angle and wheel speed to calculate the optimal spread of torque. If it detects a need for more torque at the rear (such as if the front wheels are slipping), it instructs the rear motor to send a precise level of torque to the rear wheels to make up the shortfall.

Up to 60% of the car’s total power can be sent to the rear axle. So when you’re pulling away, going up a hill or driving on a low-traction surface, having a measure of torque delivered to the rear wheels makes it easier to set off in a controlled manner. The E-Four system can also shuffle torque delivery across both axles to deliver a sportier, more assured driving experience.

Towing capacity more than doubles if you opt for a RAV4 Hybrid with E-Four all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive models can tow up to 800kg but models with E-Four all-wheel drive can tow 1,650kg.

Read our interview with the engineer behind the E-Four AWD system

Toyota RAV4 mechanical all-wheel drive

The fourth-generation RAV4 features a programme that co-ordinates every function of the four-wheel drive system, stability control system and electric power steering. Compared with the all-wheel drive setup in the third-generation RAV4, this new management system does not always need to rely on slip detection before deciding on the distribution of torque to each wheel.

Toyota RAV4 action

The driver has the option to come out of this default setting and increase the level of the system’s interaction by engaging Sport mode, activated by a button in the centre console. Like a heightened level of awareness, this mode sends data to the relevant ECU from sensors monitoring vehicle speed, steering angle, throttle input and yaw rate, which the programme then uses to determine the proportion of torque to send to the rear wheels.

Toyota RAV4 4-wheel-drive 1

This is physically actioned by varying the strength of electric current heading into an electro-magnetic solenoid in the control coupling located ahead of the rear differential (see image above). Depending on driving conditions, the amount of torque being directed into the differential can vary by as much as 50%, from the car being entirely front-wheel drive for optimum fuel efficiency to an equal sharing of torque between the two axles.

Four-wheel drive system Toyota RAV4

So accurate is the monitoring of vehicle behaviour that the shuffle of torque between the axles will have already started before any slip or understeer is detected. From the moment the steering is turned, the system automatically adjusts to a 90:10 front/rear torque distribution, priming the car to deliver optimal cornering poise and grip. This simultaneously reduces the load on the front wheels and the likelihood of experiencing understeer.

Should the cornering force go on to exceed the car’s adhesion to the road surface, however, yaw rate controls react within milliseconds to instruct the system to apply up to 50% of the available torque to the rear wheels to improve grip.

Four-wheel drive system Toyota RAV4


There are times, such as in snow or on steep gravel tracks, when the driver will know before even setting off that grip levels will be poor. In this instance, it is possible to maximise grip by locking the torque distribution in a 50:50 ratio at speeds up to 25mph. This locked function is activated simply by pressing a button to the left of the steering column, which then illuminates a discreet warning light above the fuel gauge.

Toyota RAV4 all-wheel drive systems: conclusion

Thanks to a minimum ground clearance of 187mm and relatively short overhangs, the fourth-generation RAV4 is capable of riding over heavily rutted tracks and clambering over relatively large obstacles. So although the RAV4 may be categorised as a modern soft-roader, its adoption of Toyota’s technology and four-wheel drive expertise means the RAV4 is anything but ‘soft’.


Learn more: History of the Toyota RAV4

Comments (67)

  1. Is it possible to break the Centre Differential if it is accidentally left on and, at low speed on a sealed road, the driver turns a tight corner? Never exceeding 25kmh or touching the break. I want to purchase a used RAV4 and am concerned about how to check the Centre Diff has not been damaged or abused.

    1. Hi Roy,

      Thanks for getting in touch. If you could please provide a VIN number for the vehicle that you are looking at purchasing, we will be able to assist you further.


  2. Hi I have Toyota rav 4 Awd is there any option I can drive the car on front wheel drive whenever I can not on All wheel

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The system generates drive torque using power from the hybrid vehicle system and an additional motor generator on the rear axle. This design reduces energy losses, saves weight and optimises AWD operation in different driving conditions.

      The level of torque that can be directed to the rear wheels has been increased by 30% on the new RAV4, enabling a front/rear split from 100:0 to up to 20:80, depending on driving conditions. Maximum torque to the rear wheels has increased, matching or even bettering that achieved by mechanical systems and giving more surefooted performance, such as when pulling away on loose, slippery surfaces. Therefore, when the vehicle doesn’t need to be AWD, it will be front wheel drive.

      We hope this helps.

  3. Given that the hybrid AWD is pure electric, what happens if the battery is low on charge? Will the AWD stop?

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The Hybrid battery will always remain sufficiently charged to power the AWD.


  4. Hi,

    I am looking for a Rav4 Hybrid 4×4 of make 2016 or later. Which are the models which come with 4×4 option.


    1. Hi Vik,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The all new RAV4 is available in AWD-i with a 2.5 Petrol Hybrid powertrain, you can read more about the stylish exterior and interior craftsmanship here: Alternatively, there is a variety of 4X4 RAV4 available as Toyota approved used cars, see more here: If you need any further help, please do get in touch and we will be happy to assist you further.


  5. Called into a Toyota dealer in Lancaster, UK, today to ask how the hybrid Rav 4 works. He told me thate there are 4 electric motors on the car, one on each wheel. This clearly isn’t the case!

    1. Hi Steve,

      Thanks for getting in touch and we apologise that you have been given the incorrect information. In regards to the 2019 RAV4, the electric all-wheel drive system generates drive torque using power from the hybrid vehicle system and an additional motor generator on the rear axle. This design reduces energy losses, saves weight and optimises AWD operation in different driving conditions.

      Compared to the previous model, the level of torque that can be directed to the rear wheels has been increased by 30%, enabling a front/rear split from 100:0 to up to 20:80, depending on driving conditions. Maximum torque to the rear wheels has increased, matching or even bettering that achieved by mechanical systems and giving more surefooted performance.

      We hope this helps.

  6. Hi . I have a 2006 rav 4. Is my car always in 4wd. I wanted to take it on the beach. Do u ingage it by pressing the lock button or is that just to give it a extra boost. I noticed in the winter that the lockbuttonwould shut off if the roads were clear or i put on the brake. Chris scanlan

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Could you please provide the reg or VIN of the vehicle so that we can assist you further.


        1. Hi Chris,

          Thanks for getting in touch. Could you please provide us with your registration number and we can look into this further for you?


    1. Hi Georgia,
      Thanks for getting in touch. There’s a button on the lower part of the dashboard that when pressed, turns on the sport light.


    1. Hi Tara,
      Thanks for getting in contact with us and sorry for the delay. Please could you provide your reg or VIN number so we can look into this further. Many thanks.

  8. Hi David,

    I have bought used RAV4 2014 AWD. how could i know which variant is this? how is the fuel consumption per km (Pertrol)?

        1. Hi Ahmed,
          The vehicle is an ASA44 RAV4 and the full Katashiki of the vehicle is ASA44L-ANTXKV. It is fitted with the 2AR-FE engine. We hope this answers your question.

          1. Hi Ella,

            Thank for quick response, what about the fuel average. how many kilometers per liter?

          2. Hi Ahmed,
            Please could you provide us with your registration number? Many thanks.

  9. I got stuck getting out of my driveway. I pressed the lock button and the second the tires spun, it popped out of four wheel. Had to shovel for a long time! Late for an appointment! This sucks! I love my 2014 RAV 4 but thinking about a Subaru that stays in 4 wheel drive!

    1. The moral of your story; don’t spin tires in snow – it makes ICE. The LOCK function will disengage it 25 mph, which you probably easily exceeded while using your “floor-it-to-get-out-faster” technique. In snow (and on ice), “easy does it” is the way to go. A rolling tire has grip. A tire that is spinning wildly, even on dry pavement, has none.

    1. Hi Tony,

      Thanks for getting in touch with us.The RAV4 with the V6 engine is not sold in the UK. Therefore, the information we have on this vehicle is very limited.

      However, we believe that the 4WD system used on this vehicle is very similar to the system used in a UK spec RAV4. Therefore, in order to keep the 4 wheels engaged the driver has to press the Four-wheel Drive Lock Switch on the dash. Please bear in mind that the system will automatically disengage the LOCK mode when the vehicle speed exceeds 25 mph. If the LOCK mode is disengaged, the 4WD system will operate in “AUTO” mode where it will automatically distribute drive torque to the front and rear wheels according to the driving conditions in order to achieve smooth acceleration and driving stability.

      You can find more information on our blog here:

      I hope this helps.



  10. Hi I have a 2015 rav4 limited
    I turned on the 4wd option in many situations never stays on. It goes off in few seconds! !!? Is that a problem! !?

    1. Hi Jawad, thanks for reaching out. We suggest taking your Rav4 into your local Toyota dealer to look at this further for you. Thanks.

  11. I have a 2014 Rav4. I drove it From Salem Oregon, to Missoula Montana, and back, in December of 2016. In this trip, I encountered up to 1 foot of snow, lots of ice, heavy rains, and some high winds and drove in elevations close to Sea Level, up to about 4000 feet above sea level. Temperatures for this trip ranged from 10 degrees Fahrenheit to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (both daytime and nighttime driving). Speed limits in some areas on this trip were 70 MPH, and I drove the speed limit most of the time (slowed down a little during bad weather stretches). My Rav4 performed great for this entire trip. I just left it in Economy mode for the entire trip (I never use the Sport mode), and I did not bother pressing the “wheel lock” or “traction control” buttons (I just left those at the default settings). I had chains in the back of my Rav4 for this trip, but I did not need them. I was especially impressed at how my Rav4 was able to adjust to/from snow conditions, to dry pavement conditions, and put itself into 4-wheel drive automatically, when needed (I don’t really notice it doing so, it just does it behind the scenes). I found the article above very interesting, and informative, as to how the 4-wheel drive system works, on the Rav4. By the way, for the above mentioned trip, never once did I notice any wheel slippage, or any indication of what the Rav4 was automatically doing, at times when it applied more traction to the back wheels (was totally seamless to me, as a driver). Good to know that the tech behind my Rav4 4-wheel drive system was in operation during this trip (that way I could just focus on driving my car, figuring the Rav4 would automatically adjust power to the rear wheels, whenever needed). Also nice that there were never any annoying lights such as “snow light” or “ice detected light” and such (the Rav4 just did what it needed to do, without telling me what it was doing). By the way, I was under time pressure get from point A to point B, in the above mention trip, and often times I was driving fairly fast, in snowy and icy conditions (again, good to know that my Rav4 was setting itself for maximum traction, automatically, for example when I would go over an icy bridge). Also nice is how my Rav4 gets pretty good mileage on the highway (as I recall, it says 29 MPG on the window sticker, and I do believe it gets that, at times where the road is flat, strait, and dry, and the front wheels alone can be used to power the vehicle). I think this great MPG is due to the 6-speed transmission, aerodynamic design, and also my Rav4 has the lower-profile stock tires, with taller rims (I think those wheels help with the mileage a little, and these tires are wider, which I think helped a little in the snow/ice).

    1. Hi there,
      Thank you so much for all your feedback. We’d love to see a picture of your RAV4 on it’s journey. If you want to post a picture to our social channels we’d greatly appreciate it. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Fernando,
      Thanks for getting in touch. When the four−wheel drive lock switch is pushed, the four−wheel drive lock indicator light blinks twice and remains on until the four−wheel drive lock is canceled. To cancel the four−wheel drive lock, push the switch once again and the four−wheel drive lock indicator light will go off. When the vehicle speed exceeds 40 km/h (25 mph), the four−wheel drive lock will be cancelled automatically. Hope this helps!

  12. Hi
    I have a 2014 model rav4 124CV awd and I am French. I found your blog because I search information about a problem on my rav4. Every time I start after a stop I hear a “clonk” noise coming from rear. Sometimes this noise disappear particularly with very hot wheather. Toyota didn’t found anything : they have verify brakes pads but it is not the cause.
    Curiously this noise never appear when the vehicle is moving ; only once time after starting.
    Si I hope to find help with others users.
    Thanks for your help

    1. Hi Andre,
      Unfortunately we have to recommend contacting Toyota France as they will be able to provide the best advice!

  13. Hi, I am driving RAV 4 2016 Module 4 WD, from KSA – need to know how the lock centrally off when I switch off the CAR and remove the Key as the car lock still on and other person can not exit CAR
    thanks Mohd M

    1. Hi Mohamed,
      Thanks for your comment. We would advise contacting your nearest Toyota dealer who will be able to help you with this. Many thanks.

  14. Hi
    I have UK rav4 when am driving on a straight way no rain even snow and the road conditions is dry when reach 100km/h the slippage light illuminated on dashboard can you please where I can start

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Thank you for your post. There are many factors which may influence this, therefore it is hard for us to tell what the issue is. We believe this may have something to do with VSC (Vehicle Stability Control). Have you spoken with your local Toyota dealer who will be able to provide a hands on investigation? Many thanks.

  15. Hi Iv got a rav 4 automatic 1993 will thus have a button on the dash bird to put in to a 4( wheel drive in bad snow

    1. Hi Laura,
      Thank you for your post. This is dependent on which year RAV4 you have. Please can you let us know the year of your RAV4 and we will be able to help you further. Many thanks.

  16. so..if I understand correctly. The default mode is front wheel drive unless slippage is witnessed or I am traveling under 25 mph?

    1. Hi Bill, you’re virtually there. The RAV4 four-wheel drive will automatically kick in during more advanced situations as well, for example; when cornering, for extra stability the steering will adjust as required for maximum traction and stability. We hope this helps.

    1. Hi Todd
      Thanks for your post and for your interest in the Toyota RAV4.
      The rear bias only tends to kick in as and when it is required. To help explain further, if you are travelling at 60 mph along a long straight motorway then there is no need for this as the car will use front wheel drive only to optimise fuel consumption. If you are travelling up a mountain road then rear bias may be used if the car detects slippage or extra traction is required.
      Hope this helps explain but let us know if you have any other questions.

  17. When the 4 wheel drive is locked in there are occasions when still additional help is required in, say, snow. A differential lock should be included also.

  18. We have a 63 plate Rav ICON 2.2 diesel automatic. In winter conditions how do we know whether the vehicle is in 4 wheel drive mode. Is there an Indicator light on the dashboard that confirms this.

    1. Hello Tony
      Thanks for your post and hope you are enjoying your Toyota RAV4.
      To answer your question there will be no indication on the vehicle dashboard when the car switches to all wheel drive (AWD) (unless you press the drive lock switch on the dashboard). To explain further your RAV4 has AWD but when for example you are driving normally then AWD may not be required, so to conserve fuel and reduce emissions only the front wheels will be driving the car. The system is designed to operate automatically when it detects that more traction is required then power will be passed to the rear wheels to help improve grip and safety. We hope this helps answer your question but please let us know if you have any other queries.

      1. Thanks for clarifying. For future developments an indicator light showing the 4WD is in action would seem a good idea.

        1. Thanks you for the reply Tony and glad to help.
          We will pass your comments back to the product team for their information.

          1. David,

            I have seen a lot of discussion of 4 wheel drive being equal torque sent to back and front. I am considering a 2015 RAV4. Currently I own a Subaru Impreza, which is the best car I have ever driven in snow. I don’t know how to ask the appropriate question but I do have a simple test.

            If I park a 2015 AWD RAV4 on a hill (pointing up hill) with the two passenger wheels parked on ice, and the two drivers side wheels parked on dry pavement, will I be able to pull away straight up the hill?

            I watched a Honda CRV get stuck with two wheels on dry pavement. My Subaru pulls right out without hesitation. So I know all AWD is not created equal, but I don’t know what question to ask. Can you help?

          2. Hi Steve
            Thanks for your post.
            A very interesting question and we do understand the analogy. To be 100 per cent accurate it would be good to know which RAV4 (engine and gearbox) appeals the most. We could then be a bit more specific. Overall though the RAV4 AWD system does have limited slip diff capabilities to the front wheels meaning it would feed slightly more torque to the wheel on the dry surface. The amount of torque is limited but hope this helps explain a bit more. If you need any more advice let us know or if we can help in arranging a test drive.

          3. David,

            I was referring to to the 2015 LE model with the AWD option. Interesting, I seem to be getting more support from the UK than the US. It sounds as though if I buried the passenger wheels in snow and had the drivers wheels on dry pavement the RAV4 AWD would get stuck if the torque is limited. Thank you for your help!

          4. Hi Steve
            Thanks for the post and sorry for the delay in replying.
            No problem with the advice but just want to point our reply was based on UK RAV4 specifications. As we would not know the spec of US RAV4’s we do recommend that you double check this as a precaution. Hope this helps.

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