The RAV4 is a pleasant SUV that rides smoothly, has a roomy interior that's easy to live with, and offers plenty of utility. It brakes and handles in a confident way, and it's fuel-efficient. The merely satisfactory engine and indifferent steering, however, prevent it from being a top choice for a small SUV.
How does the RAV4 drive?
The RAV4 doesn't impress here, unfortunately. The engine is willing around town, and passing and merging are drama-free. But if you're in a huge rush, you might notice the engine's ultimately modest power delivery. In Edmunds testing, our RAV4 Adventure test vehicle needed 9.1 seconds to cover 0-60 mph, which is slightly slower than the class average.
Another gripe we have is with the steering, which is vague at the center point and doesn't have appropriate levels of feel and heft. As such, it's easy to misjudge your level of input. In better news, the RAV4's optional upgraded all-wheel-drive system includes rear-axle torque vectoring and more advanced traction control systems with selectable terrain settings and hill descent control. These systems, plus respectable ground clearance, give the RAV4 Adventure above-average off-road ability for a small SUV.
How comfortable is the RAV4?
The RAV4's suspension is tuned to strike a good balance between control and softness. The body doesn't bound or float when you drive over bumps, and small to moderate impacts are absorbed without much drama. As for the front seats, they are nicely sculpted and padded appropriately, but the seat bottoms begin to feel flat on longer drives. The passenger side's lack of adjustment can also make it difficult to find a comfortable position.
At highway speeds, the RAV4 is generally quiet. The exception is when you hit the gas for a burst of speed, at which point the engine sound gets rather coarse. We do like the climate system's performance. Air distribution is ideal, with forward vents that can be closed off completely and vents for the rear seat.
How’s the interior?
The driving position, roominess, and ease of entry and exit are all good. But the RAV4 would score higher if the front passenger seat wasn't set so high or could be adjusted down. The driver's seat and steering wheel have a good range of adjustment, but tall drivers might want a smidge more of each. Outward visibility is praiseworthy.
The control layout is intuitive with large, easy-to-read labeling. The audio system and climate system controls are islands unto themselves, and everything else is right where you expect it to be. The big rubberized climate control knobs are nice too. Our only gripe is that the touchscreen is too far away from the driver. The tuning knob, in particular, requires a reach to twist.
How’s the tech?
The RAV4's interface has a mix of touchscreen and fixed buttons that are easy to learn without consulting the owner's manual. But even though the RAV4 is relatively new, the touchscreen's graphics look dated. The sound system works well enough, but it's nothing special. You do get standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. It's a good thing too since Toyota's native Entune software remains clunky.
The standard suite of driver aids is impressive. It includes adaptive cruise control that works down to 0 mph, automatic emergency braking, drowsy driver detection, automatic high beams, lane keeping assist and something called Line Tracing Assist, which is an active (but not hands-free) steering aid.
How’s the storage?
The RAV4's cargo hold is nearly the biggest in its class. You get 37.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 69.8 cubic feet with them stowed. The RAV4 is also easy to load thanks to a low cargo floor. Up front, the cabin has numerous shelves and bins to handle assorted road-trip paraphernalia. If you're planning on towing, certain versions of the RAV4 can pull up to 3,500 pounds, which is above average for a small SUV.
Parents with young kids will appreciate the RAV4. It's easy to locate and connect safety seats to the lower car seat anchors. Likewise, tethering to the three upper anchors is straightforward. Forward-facing seats and boosters fit readily, but installing a rear-facing infant seat on the passenger side will likely require scooting the front seat up. The too-high front passenger seat is the issue.
How economical is the RAV4?
The EPA estimates the RAV4 will get 27-30 mpg in combined city/highway driving, depending on the powertrain and trim level. We drove an AWD Adventure carrying three people, equipment and luggage for more than 7,000 miles. And over a variety of road and weather conditions, we averaged 28.6 mpg. Our best tank was 32.3 mpg and the worst was 25.6 mpg.
Is the RAV4 a good value?
The RAV4 is well built inside, with nice layered materials and seams that are invisible because they're built into the styling. It has tactile touches such as rubberized grip surfaces on the interior door pulls and the radio and climate knobs. The RAV4's optional simulated leather upholstery feels soft and pliable, and the stitching is tidy. Toyota's warranty coverage is average, but you do get a generous two years/25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.
Driving a RAV4 isn't a chore, but it's not particularly memorable either. It's at its best when you go with the Adventure or TRD Off-Road trim level. The advanced torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system, capable traction control system with multiple terrain settings, and styling that's a little more rugged help the RAV4 stand out a little more.