The Toyota RAV4 is roomy and popular, a compact crossover built on the front-wheel-drive Camry platform, with all-wheel drive available.
For 2018, RAV4 Adventure, a new model, joins the line with a very lightly lifted suspension (half an inch). The 2018 Toyota RAV4 marks the sixth year of the current-generation model. The exterior and interior were freshened for 2016.
RAV4 rivals include the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. It’s a competitive segment. The RAV4, CR-V, Rogue, and Escape are among the top 12 best-selling vehicles in the U.S.
Every RAV4 except the RAV4 Hybrid is powered by 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 176 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a sport-shift mode. It’s not quick, as it takes nearly nine seconds to accelerate to 60 miles per hour; and it’s not thrifty, as its EPA fuel rating is a below-average 26 miles per gallon Combined.
The all-wheel-drive Hybrid, which gets 33 miles per gallon Combined, uses a 154-horsepower version of that 2.5-liter engine; connected to Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, it brings 194 total horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard, with a separate electric motor driving the rear wheels. At very low speeds, it can run in electric-only mode.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the RAV4 a Top Safety Pick Plus, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it five stars overall, with four stars in frontal-crash and rollover testing.
The 2018 Toyota RAV4 is available in 16 models. RAV4 LE ($24,410) comes with front-wheel drive, air conditioning, fabric seats, 17-inch steel wheels, and AM/FM/CD audio with a 6.1-inch touchscreen.
All-wheel-drive ($1400) is an option on any model. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.
RAV4 SE AWD ($32,185) upgrades with SofTex seats, paddle shifters, firmer suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, cleaner grille and bumper, black headliner, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, pushbutton start, LED headlamps and taillamps, and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
RAV4 Limited adds Entune Premium Audio with navigation and app suite, a 7-inch touchscreen, driver’s memory, and also 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.
Also available: RAV4 AWD Adventure ($28,400); RAV4 XLE Hybrid AWD ($29,030); Hybrid Limited ($34,030); Platinum AWD ($36,150).
Eight airbags and a rearview camera are standard.
The RAV4 avoids chrome and reaps the benefits. The SE model with all black trim and black spoked wheels, in a dark maroon color, looks striking. The nose with a wide slot for a grille came in 2016, and it’s clean and sleek, with a high bumper like a bridge over a river of black fascia.
The RAV4 rides low for a compact crossover, with 6.3 inches of ground clearance. So the new Adventure with its lifted half-inch isn’t a big deal. But from the side view it’s conspicuous, widening the gap in the wheelwell over the tire. It looks awkward.
The RAV4 cabin is well organized. There’s good interior room, good build quality, and good materials in most models, with lots of soft-touch surfaces, while the entry-level LE uses dreary, hard plastics. We like both the base fabric (optionally heated on the XLE) and the SofTex synthetic leather. 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 the LE manual seats aren’t as supportive or bolstered as the power seats in the XLE. There more seating space than in the Ford Escape, and about the same as the Honda CR-V. There’s contrast stitching on the fabric seats of the LE, while upper trims use SofTex faux leather.
The rear seats are flat, hard, and unsupportive. The good news is it’s easy for tall people to suffer, as the large rear doors make it easy for them to climb in and out. And the seatbacks recline for them, or fold for cargo space.
Cargo space is cavernous: 38.4 cubic feet with the seats up, and 73.4 cubic feet with them down. And a low floor makes loading cargo easy. There used to be a third row in the RAV4, in the previous generation, but not now.
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.
A lot more sound-deadening materials were added in 2016, and the RAV4 remains very quiet inside. But the doors deliver a tinny thud as they close, despite those materials.
The RAV4 delivers a quiet cabin, comfortable ride, composed handling, and tepid acceleration. It’s relaxed, not thrilling.
The acceleration is flat, far from breathtaking. Don’t hold your breath waiting to get there. The 2.5-liter engine is smooth and refined until it’s pressed. It lacks the speed (and price) of a turbocharged four-cylinder like in the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester.
The Hybrid’s two-motor Synergy Drive system combines a 2.5-liter gas engine with a 50-kw (67-hp) electric motor that powers the rear wheels when needed for traction. It helps the 194-hp Hybrid scoot to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, although its engine emits a tortured howl. The howl vanishes with a light-footed driver on his leisurely way to 20 mph on all-electric power, although not for long.
The all-wheel-drive system on the RAV4 splits power between the front and rear axles at the press of a button, at speeds below 25 mph.
The ride isn’t as smooth as that of the Honda CR-V or Hyundai Tucson. The LE and XLE models, with their 17-inch wheels, actually ride better than the upscale Limited and Platinum that have bigger wheels (and therefore shorter sidewalls). The SE has firmer damping in the shock absorbers, but you can barely feel it, the ride is still good.
The thick three-spoke steering wheel suggest suggests tight cornering, but it’s a big fib. The steering is nicely weighted but light on center, and delivers little road feel. The RAV4 is responsive enough, but far less sporty than a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape. Sport mode tightens the steering.
The transmission upshifts early at city speeds, programmed that way to save fuel. Sport mode sharpens the upshift response, and brings a throttle blip to soften hard downshifts. The paddleshifters in the SE are a bit of a fib too, because the engine can’t bring much sport to them.
RAV4 is slow and gets below-average fuel mileage. But it’s roomy, comfortable and good-looking, easy to live with. The fabric upholstery in the base LE is good and it has a rearview camera. A well-equipped all-wheel-drive 33-mpg Hybrid retails for less than $30,000.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.