There's a RAV4 for just about everyone, and while we applaud Toyota for adding more safety technology for 2017, the competition is worth a good look, too.
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 is the latest in a long line of compact crossover SUVs to grace the automaker's showrooms.
It's one of the oldest nameplates among small crossovers, but it has largely kept with the times and is offered in a wide array of models, including a hybrid. RAV4s are available in LE, SE, XLE, Limited, and a new Platinum trim for 2017, meaning there's one for just about everyone.
Overall, the RAV4 scores a 7.3 out of 10 on our ratings scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The RAV4 Hybrid was a new model for 2016, a spiritual successor to the Ford Escape Hybrid sold from 2004 to 2012.
Toyota RAV4 styling and performance
Toyota spent most of its effort revising and updating the RAV4's interior last year, which came in response to negative customer feedback. The RAV4 now uses improved materials, including more soft-touch surfaces. It added trim around certain dashboard and console elements, a digital display in the revised instrument cluster, an available 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a 12-volt outlet for the rear plus another USB port.
The RAV4's exterior also got a thorough nip-and-tuck along with new wheel designs. Its tail is chunky, upright, and has unusual taillights that stand proud of the body. Inside, the dashboard is busy; to our eyes, the simplest RAV4 LE is more coherent than the many trims and surfaces of the top-of-the-line RAV4 Platinum.
The RAV4 emerged in the 1990s as part of the first wave of compact crossovers—small SUVs build on car underpinnings—and it's grown up some. It's now technically a mid-size, although Toyota's Highlander seven-seat model is really the company's entry in that segment.
The current RAV4 bowed in late 2012 as a 2013 and was re-aligned as a 4-cylinder-only offering with five seats, in contrast to its predecessor that offered a V-6 and a third row.
Two powertrains are offered in the RAV4. The base engine is a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. For drivers concerned about sporty driving, the automatic's sport-shift mode makes it more enjoyable. A 0-to-60 mph time of less than 9 seconds is acceptable; while the RAV4 isn't fast, it's quick enough for most family needs. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option
The RAV4 Hybrid is actually more powerful than the base RAV4, with a combined peak power of 194 hp from a 154-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 paired with the latest generation of Toyota's Prius-derived two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The RAV4 Hybrid's standard AWD is not mechanical—as in the gasoline model—but instead uses a 50-kw (67-hp) third electric motor on the rear axle to provide the rear wheels with torque when its control system senses power is needed. The RAV4 Hybrid is the quickest model in the lineup—capable of getting to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. And it gets EPA ratings of 32 mpg combined, more than a 30 percent improvement over the 25 mpg delivered by the other RAV4 AWD models.
Those figures are for the 2016; we're still waiting for word on any RAV4 Hybrid changes for 2017.
On the road, the RAV4 is responsive, but far from as sporty as a Mazda CX-5, a Subaru Forester XT, or even the base Ford Escape. It rides lower than other compact SUVs, and the AWD version improves on-road handling as well as providing better traction in inclement weather. The well-weighted electric power steering provides a good sense of center. For a slightly better ride, stick with the 17-inch tires on LE and XLE versions.
The RAV4 SE model doesn't change the standard powertrain, though it adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and a sport-tuned suspension mated to 18-inch alloy wheels, plus a host of styling items that further differentiate it.
Toyota RAV4 comfort, safety, and features
Base versions of the RAV4 have seats that we found less supportive than the firmer bolsters offered in the XLE version, but all models are about as roomy as the equally bigger-than-expected Honda CR-V. But the back bench is less supportive than many adults will prefer, and its flip/fold mechanism is one step shy of the Honda's. Cargo space is cavernous, and most versions get a power tailgate.
The RAV4 buffs up its safety credentials, with a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS. A previously optional suite of safety tech is new this year, and standard on the RAV4 Limited. It includes forward collision warning, followed by automatic pre-collision braking if the driver doesn't take action. It also wraps in lane-departure alert, a radar-based adaptive cruise control, a pedestrian pre-collision system, and automatic high beams. A new surround-view camera system gives drivers a 360-degree view of their surroundings using four cameras, mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well; a rearview camera is standard on all models, as are eight airbags.
No other compact crossover can boast that level of standard safety equipment.
There's a roughly $10,000 gap between a RAV4 LE and the range-topping Platinum, and meaning there's a model for just about every shopper. All models include the basics, including a touchscreen infotainment system, a rearview camera, and the expected power windows and locks. XLEs add automatic climate control and a power rear hatch, while Limiteds go a step further with synthetic leather seat trim and a power driver's seat with memory. The new Platinum comes with monochromatic styling, a lift gate operated by a swipe of a foot under the bumper, and a proximity key.
Front-wheel-drive LE and XLE models of the RAV4 manage fuel economy numbers of 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. Upgrade to a Limited or Platinum and those figures fall to 23/29/25 mpg thanks to their larger wheels. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers everything about one click all around.
Those aren't class-leading numbers, with competitors like the CX-5 and Forester easily besting the RAV4, but the hybrid's numbers bring it more closely in line. That model is rated at 34/31/33 mpg for the 2016.