The 2016 Toyota RAV4 benefits this year from a mild freshening inside and out. Most of the attention went toward the interior, evidently in response to customer comments. The current-generation model was introduced for the 2013 model year and it offers two rows of seating (not three) for five people.
Also new is the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid model. EPA-rated at 33 mpg Combined, the RAV4 Hybrid is the only small SUV currently available with a gas-electric powertrain.
Also new is the 2016 Toyota RAV4 SE, the sportiest model, which uses the same engine but adds a sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Built on a small front-wheel-drive passenger-car foundation, the RAV4 competes with the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and other compact crossovers. Roomier than some rivals, the RAV4 provides a touch of driving pleasure.
All-wheel drive is an option, in place of the standard front-wheel drive.
A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 176 horsepower comes standard, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a sport-shift mode. The RAV4 can reach 60 mph in less than nine seconds. That’s sluggish performance (and a V6 is not available). Fuel-economy estimates are below average. Front-wheel-drive models are EPA-rated at 23/30 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined. All-wheel drive lowers each estimate by 1 mpg.
The new RAV4 Hybrid is more powerful and delivers an EPA-rated at 34/31 mpg City/Highway. At very low speeds, it can run in electric-only mode. Using a 154-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter engine coupled with the latest generation of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, the RAV4 Hybrid delivers a total combined output of 194 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard on the Hybrid, with a separate electric motor driving the rear wheels.
Not only has the RAV4 earned some decent crash-test ratings, it’s added new active-safety systems for 2016. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick +. While earning a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the RAV4 got only four stars in frontal-crash and rollover testing.
New for 2016 is Toyota’s Safety System. Standard on the 2016 RAV4 Limited, it includes Forward Collision Warning with automatic braking, Lane Departure Alert, adaptive cruise control, a pedestrian pre-collision system, and automatic high beams. A new four-camera Bird’s Eye View Monitor gives a 360-degree view surrounding the car.
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 LE ($24,350) includes air conditioning; fabric seats; a backup camera; 17-inch steel wheels; and AM/FM/CD audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen. RAV4 XLE ($26,270) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof, foglamps, leather-trimmed steering wheel, power liftgate, and 17-inch alloy wheels. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
RAV4 SE ($29,265) gets paddle shifters, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, a unique front bumper and grille, black headliner, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, pushbutton start, and LED headlights/taillights. Also standard are SofTex seat trim and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
RAV4 Limited ($31,510) adds Entune Premium Audio with navigation and app suite, a 7-inch touchscreen, driver’s memory, Pre-Collision system with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Alert, Lane Keeping Assist, and adaptive cruise control.
All-wheel drive ($1,400) is an option on all models.
RAV4 Hybrid XLE ($28,370) and RAV4 Hybrid Limited ($33,610) come standard with all-wheel drive.
Eight airbags and a rearview camera are standard.
While the styling has been refreshed for 2016, RAV4 keeps its basic square crossover shape. The most notable updates for 2016 reached the front end, which has grown more blunt and shares design elements with Toyota sedans. The rear end sees only slight reshaping, with a fresh bumper, distinctive taillights, and upright look.
In profile, the RAV4 now matches the Ford Escape and sportier Mazda CX-5. The optional two-tone treatment for the new SE model harks back to the original RAV4 of two decades ago.
The interior of the entry-level LE retains dreary, hard plastics, but the quality of the materials in most models is good, with lots of soft-touch surfaces. The instrument panel holds a digital display, and a 7-inch touchscreen is available.
The driver gets a carlike position on a comfortable seat, though base-model seats aren’t as supportive as the firmer-bolstered versions in an XLE. Seating space roughly matches that of the Honda CR-V, and is greater than what’s in the Ford Escape. Upper trim levels turn to SofTex material, and the SE features contrast stitching.
Adults may find the rear bench seat insufficiently supportive, as well as flat and hard. Seatbacks recline and fold forward, though. Large doors make it easy for taller riders to slide in and to exit.
Cargo volume is cavernous: 38.4 cubic feet with all seats up, or 73.4 cubic feet with rear seats folded. The RAV is a practical car.
Four levels of Entune touchscreen audio are available. The top two include a comprehensive app suite, but there’s no provision for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
The doors deliver a tinny thud as they close. Despite substantially more sound-deadening materials for 2016, the RAV4 isn’t always so quiet.
Tuned for efficiency, the transmission typically shifts to a higher gear as soon as possible while driving around town. Responses are a bit sharper in Sport mode, as the transmission makes downshifts smoother by blipping the throttle momentarily. The SE model’s paddle shifters seem only to emphasize the engine’s relatively flat power delivery.
On the road, the RAV4 is responsive, but far less sporty than a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape. Riding lower than typical compact crossover SUVs, the RAV4 has only 6.3 inches of ground clearance.
Steering is nicely weighted, but Sport mode can tighten it further. Shock-absorber damping is a little firmer in an SE, but the difference is barely noticeable. The RAV4 does not offer the suspension compliance provided by a Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson, so the Toyota doesn’t ride as smoothly.
The RAV4 Hybrid can accelerate up to 20 mph on battery power alone, if driven mildly. Otherwise, the gas engine is likely to kick in at below 10 mph. Typical of most Toyota hybrids, the gasoline engine emits quite a howl when accelerating hard.
Toyota RAV4 offers ample interior space and desirable features, coupled with reliability. The RAV is neither the smoothest nor the sportiest car in its class, but it’s highly competent, very practical, and living with it is easy.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.