2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited
2.5-liter, DOHC I-4, CVVT (176 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 172 lbs-ft @ 4,100 rpm)
22 city/29 highway/25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
23.9 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price: $25,235*
As Tested: $35,625*
* Prices include $885 destination charge.
Compact crossovers are big business and the Toyota RAV4 is one of the segment’s corporate all-stars.
In 2015, the RAV4 almost outsold Mazda. I’m not talking about the RAV4 outselling the Mazda CX-5, which it did handily by over 200,000 units. No, I’m talking about the RAV4 outselling Mazda in its entirely. Everything Mazda sells. All model sales put together. The RAV4 almost outsold MAZDA.
Toyota’s fourth-generation crossover has received a nip-tuck to keep it fresh after just three model years on the market. Its lineup is bolstered this year with the addition of the new RAV4 Hybrid, which we’ll be getting our hands on that in a few weeks. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into the second best-selling CUV in the USA in traditional gas-burner guise.
The RAV4 and Honda CR-V kickstarted the compact crossover craze in the ’90s with unibody vehicles styled like mini-trucks. Over time, the industry evolved and replaced those rough-and-tumble SUVs with the minivan-esque people haulers we see today. To wit: The 2013 Toyota RAV4 reduced ground clearance to 6.3 inches, ditched the rear tire and squared off its rear to swallow more cubic feet of stuff.
Dimensions and hard points for the refreshed 2016 model remain unchanged, and the RAV4 remains one of the longer compact CUVs in the segment at 181.1 inches (close to half a foot longer than the new Hyundai Tucson), but it still doesn’t offer third-row seating like its generational predecessor or the Nissan Rogue.
Many automakers adorn their vehicles with common corporate designs, and Toyota has resisted that urge — until now. The new front end borrows cues from the Murai and Prius, and LED headlamps are now optional. While the look is more distinctive than the previous bumper, it’s still not my cup of tea.
Toyota has made no drastic changes to the RAV4’s innards and has opted to refine the existing cabin instead.
Awkward shapes and textures aplenty will distress the OCD crowd, and you’ll still find hard plastics strewn about the RAV4’s cabin. Yet, quality remains high and harder plastics are generally kept out of reach.
Stitched pleather inserts snazz up the main dashboard much like the more expensive Toyota Avalon. The previously featured low-rent steering wheel is now restricted to base trims and makes other grades feel more premium in comparison. But, faux carbon fiber trim located in high-traffic areas around the cupholder and window switches has a finish that’s far too eager to wear the war wounds of daily service.
The RAV4 refresh does address some complaints I had about the 2014 model. Seats now provide more bolstering, and a power seat with adjustable lumbar support is now available. Yet those upgraded seats still can’t be had wrapped in genuine cowhide; our limited model uses the same SofTex faux-moo that Lexus uses in its base models. Front seats are a little less comfortable than those in the Nissan Rogue, but they’re softer and better suited to my six-foot frame than the average CUV.
Rear legroom and cargo room are exceptional thanks to the RAV4’s overall length. You’ll find a cargo area that’s 33-percent larger in the RAV4 than the segment average, or roughly the same size as a Ford Edge or Lexus RX. Folding the rear seats flat increases that volume to 73.4 cubic feet, allowing for storage of 4×6-foot items with the right amount of juggling.
In a segment where base modes usually receive hand-me-down stereos, Toyota surprises. The LE trim starts with six speakers, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth speakerphone integration, a single-slot CD player, backup camera and full USB/iPod integration with voice commands as standard. XLE and SE trims receive the same screen and number of speakers, but a software upgrade to Entune Plus adds HD Radio, smartphone-based navigation, and HD Radio-sourced traffic and weather displays. Limited trim models swap in a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation and smartphone app integration. If you care enough about your tunes to check an extra option box, there’s an 11-speaker JBL system with subwoofer in available in SE and Limited grades.
Toyota’s Entune software received important updates back in 2014, and it still compares well to GM’s latest systems with its snappy interface and easy to navigate design. HD Radio downloads traffic and weather data for free, eliminating the need for an XM subscription for those features. Toyota has also killed its subscription-based Entune smartphone integrated services such as Pandora, OpenTable and Bing. CarPlay and Android Auto integration are suspiciously absent, but you’ll find them in the Tucson and new Sportage if the exemption of those by Toyota is a deal breaker.
Toyota killed off the RAV4’s V6 back 2013, leaving just the 2.5-liter inline-four as the sole powerplant. Toyota’s logic was this: the RAV4’s main competitor is the CR-V and that model is offered solely as a four cylinder.
Output figures for the 2.5 liter are in line with the competition at 176 horsepower and 172 lbs-ft of torque — yet fuel economy figures are middling. You should expect 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway in front-wheel-drive trim, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s two miles-per-gallon behind the CR-V and Tucson Eco.
Our tester was equipped with the optional $1,400 AWD system — and that changed the character of the RAV4 in unexpected ways.
The system uses a multi-plate clutch pack like most crossovers, but Toyota’s software is peculiar in that the driver can fully lock the coupling electronically. It acts like a traditional four-wheel-drive system with a locked center differential when driving below 25 mph. You’ll even experience driveline binding if it’s engaged on pavement. Go over that 25 mph limit and the lock disengages, allowing a single axle to receive 100 percent of available engine power when the other axle is slipping. Even more of a surprise: Engaging sport mode shifts an unexpected amount of power to the rear and makes the RAV4 feel more like an all-wheel-drive Audi.
While the all-wheel-drive system is an engaging partner, the suspension and steering are more highway cruiser than corner carver. Our Limited model wore 235/55R18 tires, yet its road holding ability was squarely middle of the pack due to its soft suspension manifesting itself with plenty of body roll, and a steering rack that was too overboosted and disengaged for spirited driving.
The biggest dynamic challenge for the RAV4 is acceleration. At 3.4 seconds to 30 mph and 8.9 seconds to 60, the RAV4 is almost the slowest crossover we’ve tested recently, besting only the base 2.0-liter Mazda CX-5. The traditional six-speed auto and lack of a turbocharged engine option are the two main reasons for the lackluster performance. The CR-V is only a little more powerful, but its CVT helped it run to 60 mph a full second faster than the Toyota. The 25 mpg combined EPA rating and our 24 mpg average were also notably behind much of the competition. On the other hand, the hybrid model will easily return over 30 mpg — making it the most efficient — while also improving acceleration.
While the Ford, Mazda, Hyundai and even Honda crossovers have become firmer and more “European” over time, Toyota has stuck with a compliant suspension tune. If a long highway trip is in your future, the RAV4 is going to be the most comfortable companion by far.
Following the trend of bringing luxury features down market, Toyota now makes most of the Lexus feature set optional on the RAV. Our Limited trim had radar adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, LED headlamps, and an Infiniti-like 360-degree camera system.
Toyota has a history of playing to the “meat” of every segment. Rarely does Toyota build anything extreme, be it the cheapest car in its class, the most expensive, fastest, slowest, etc. That describes the RAV4 to a tee. I wasn’t offended after a week with the RAV4 — but neither was I enraptured. Toyota’s trucklet is reasonably priced, ranging from $24,350 to $35,715, and in most trims represents a decent (but not extreme) value compared to the competition. Yes, the CX-5 is more exciting, but the base engine is slower than the Toyota, and the other trims will actually cost you more. Hyundai’s new Tucson disappointed me when it came to interior quality and the way they chose to bundle features causes the Toyota to be a better buy in mid-level trims. The CR-V is quieter, but it’s also $1,500 to $2,000 more expensive.
Oddly enough, the RAV4 is more capable than any of those crossovers in mud or snow thanks to the locking center coupling. While you’ll find this feature in some Cherokee models, you won’t find a fully locking coupling in the Subaru Forester.
Why are the RAV4’s sales so high when there are more fun options out there? The reasons can be found in its strong value proposition, a soft ride about which journalists often complain, included scheduled maintenance and Toyota’s reputation for reliability.
The 2016 RAV4 isn’t going to like many souls on fire, but it gives the average CUV shopper more of what they obviously want.
Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.4 seconds
0-60: 8.9 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.7 @ 84 mph