There are those who would tell you being popular is overrated, but in the auto industry, popularity equals profitability. Just ask one of the many car manufacturers competing for sales in the compact crossover category.

Toyota is primed to win that particular popularity contest, predicting its RAV4 will overtake Ford’s Escape as Canada’s best-selling small crossover next year. It’s a bold proclamation, based mainly on the addition of an available hybrid drivetrain conceived to expand the RAV4’s appeal and make it the only car in its class with a gas-electric option.

Before we get into the details of what’s new, some clarification: Toyota said it aims to sell more RAV4s to “real people,” a not-so-subtle dig at the Escape’s popularity with fleet buyers such as rental car companies. So while Toyota says it expects RAV4 sales to top 45,000 in 2016, the sources we use to track Canadian vehicle sales will likely still put the Escape at the top of the heap. No matter how you parse the data, the question that looms is whether a hybrid will attract an additional 8,500 buyers (Canadians bought more than 36,600 RAV4s last year) while gasoline is relatively inexpensive.

Whether you go hybrid or not, all 2016 RAV4s get new front and rear bumpers, headlights and taillights, and a few interior tweaks, which we’ll delve into shortly.

As the seventh hybrid in Toyota’s lineup (four of the other six are Prius variants), the RAV4 uses the company’s ‘hybrid synergy drive’ technology, which mates the gasoline engine and electric motors via a continuously variable transmission.

Where gas-only RAV4s come in front- and all-wheel-drive variants, hybrid models are exclusively all-wheelers, with power delivered to the rear axle by one of two electric motors (the other one is up front), eliminating the need for a driveshaft to carry power from the engine compartment.

Adding electricity also adds power, says Toyota, with the RAV4 Hybrid’s output rated at 194 hp, versus 176 for the gas-only model. The manufacturer doesn’t quote a hybrid torque figure, but it’s safe to say it’s more than the gas model’s 172 lb-ft, given the torquey nature of electric motors.

Other figures Toyota thinks you’ll want to know are the Hybrid model’s 6.9/7.6 L/100 km fuel consumption ratings; rankings for gas models remain the same as last year, at 10.6/8.1 L/100 km for AWD versions, and 10.0/7.6 in FWD form.

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