The Toyota RAV4 is credited with being the first compact crossover SUV. Now, Toyota has given it a makeover befitting the fourth generation of the RAV4, with a sleeker, contemporary look and more modern features.
Appearance: The RAV4's more agile bearing resembles some of its newer competition with its chrome-accented grille and upswept headlights. The sheet metal is more sculpted, especially in the fenders. Strong character lines, which complement the sloping roof, run the length of the vehicle. Most notably, Toyota has ditched the rear-mounted spare tire (good riddance) and the tailgate now opens upward instead of sideways. One carryover is the cladding under the grille that continues on the sides of the RAV4. For some reason, maybe to foster a more rugged image, manufacturers can't quite quit this practice. They get the balance mostly right in the RAV's case, with a little too much cladding up front but a minimum on the sides. None of that distracts from the handsome lines of the vehicle. Our Limited trim tester had 18-inch alloy wheels and the convenient height-adjustable power liftgate.
Performance: Another feature banished: the available V-6. Now the only engine is a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower. Still, the RAV4 is zippy around town and confident on the highway. Let's face it: Most of us use small SUVs for grocery-gettin' and family-haulin'. Also new is a 6-speed automatic, which replaces an antiquated 4-speed. Says Lyra: "It shifts so smoothly and quietly, I had to check to make sure it wasn't a CVT. It's not." Toyota says the new transmission's fifth and sixth gears are overdrives to help with highway mileage (31 for the front-wheel-drive model, like our tester). All-wheel drive also is available. The electric power steering is precise for an SUV and the ride is mostly smooth. There also is a Sport mode, which quickens throttle response, and an Eco mode.
Interior: Roomy and quiet. Says Peter: "It feels more spacious than it should." There's also lots of elbow- and legroom, with a backseat that doesn't feel confined. The two-tone cabin is attractive and shows attention to detail, such as stitching on a soft-touch dash and faux carbon-fiber accents. The cargo space is ample, and the 60/40 seatbacks fold flat. (You may have to move up the front seats for the headrests to clear when folding.) Our tester came with features standard to the XLE and Limited trims, including Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and heated seats. Our tester also had the optional blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert ($500). It's money well spent. Some things we didn't like: The 6.1-inch center touchscreen is on the small side and there's only one cup holder in the console. Also, Toyota's Entune infotainment system uses your smartphone to get data, so be mindful if you don't have unlimited data.
Our 3 favorites
Rear view: A backup camera is standard on all trims.
Details: Even the roof rails are stylish and attractive.
Interior: Two-tone color options make the cabin more inviting.
New look: Finally grows up into a good-looking crossover.
Ride: Zippy and well-balanced. Fun to drive.
Cargo space: Up to 73.4 cubic feet with rear seats folded down.
The bottom line: Toyota badly needed to update the RAV4 and it did so handsomely. What the new RAV may lack in wow factor, it makes up for by being solid in almost every area.