Toyota’s best-selling crossover gets a mild refresh for 2016 and continues to be a smart buy.
Review and photos by Tom Sedens
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
Pricing: 2016 Toyota RAV4
Base price (AWD SE trim): $34,620
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $36,450
The RAV4 was one of two trail-blazers in the mini-ute/cute-ute/crossover category along with Honda’s CR-V. Remember when these came out? We didn’t know what to make of these little things, but boy did we ever start buying them. It’s the category to look out for now, and has left cars and big SUVs in the dust. The RAV4 has evolved significantly since then, and as we North Americans demand, has become a bigger vehicle with every generation. Improvements abound, and with this latest iteration, it is the best one yet.
Toyota drops some refreshed exterior styling featuring slightly redone front and rear fascias. The RAV4 has a bit of an awkward but robust appearance. It looks substantial without being too big or too small. The front is a pretty busy place – sometimes it’s hard to determine what your eye should be looking at first. Overall, the RAV4 has more sculpted lines and that busy front end does look sharper – particularly the new grille thanks to my review vehicle’s SE trim. The bright LED daytime running lights certainly catch your eye, as do the LED tail lights at night. The SE trim gets LED headlights too, which is awesome. The rubber is chunky – nice, fat 235/55s on unique 18-inch rims specific to the SE and Limited trims.
The cabin is mostly unchanged, and that’s not a bad thing as it has worked well. You’ll find mostly hard plastics that seem to attract dust very quickly. There are some soft materials, which you’ll find on the padded lower “chin” of the dash and on the door panels – it has handsome contrasting stitching. The heated “sport” seats are comfortable, and are clad in SoftTex (with contrasting stitching too) – the driver’s side is power-adjustable.
I loved the fat, grippy steering wheel that happens to be heated in this trim. Behind it and between the gauges is a great driver information screen that handles a ton of information and is easily accessed and controlled by steering wheel buttons. Toyota’s 7-inch touchscreen’s interface is laid out pretty well, responsive and easy to use. It looks after nearly everything, including navigation, phone and audio. Below it is a dual-zone automatic climate control. There are USB, auxiliary and 12V plugs under the “chin”.
The SE trim RAV4 starts with an old-school key, which I found a bit unusual for a vehicle that comes this loaded up. There’s a normal sunroof overhead and a set of universal garage door openers too.
The RAV4’s back seats have long been one of its trump cards and that continues. I found lots of head room and lots of leg room for my 5’10” frame. Our kids fit very well three across and were comfortable back there. Rear passengers get a 12V charging plug and a centre armrest with two cup holders in middle seat back. The rear seats recline as well, which is a nice touch.
Toyota does a good job at providing useful places for your stuff. I loved the iPhone 6-sized rubberized dish at the front of the console. There’s also a cupholder in the front and one at the back (of the centre console) and a nice drop-in tray in front of the passenger. Additional space can be found in the dual-level bin under the armrest.
RAV4’s have traditionally had segment-leading space in the trunk. Pop the power lift gate (with programmable opening height if you have to deal with low parkade roofs) and you’ll find a huge cargo area (1090 litres!). A nice tonneau cover can cover the items in your trunk and the rear seats fold flat (and split 60/40) for a massive 2080 litre cargo space.
Under the Hood
The 2.5-litre 4-cylinder and the 6-speed automatic carry over. Toyota rates the engine at 176 HP at 6000 RPM and 172 lb.ft of torque at 4100 RPM. My review vehicle was all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is decent – 10.0 L/100 km (24 US mpg) in town and a solid 7.6 L/100 km (31 US mpg) on the highway. We ended up averaging 10.1 L/100 km (23 US mpg) during our week with the RAV4. That was mostly slow commuting, a few runs down the freeway and a couple of highway sprints – and no effort to drive economically. Not bad at all!
The RAV4 rides quite firm and I found that it gets a bit slappy over some road irregularities. The trade-off is that it handles well. There’s noticeable body lean (typical for vehicles like this), but it feels very competent when you turn into corners and hit the curves with some speed. Toyota has done impressive work on sound levels – it is quite quiet, even at highway speeds.
There are three driving modes – Normal, Eco, Sport (which sharpens the throttle and steering response, as well as alters the shift timing). The powertrain offers up good acceleration and power off the line. Once you’re on your way it’s not amazing but certainly has enough power to motivate its 3630 lb (1635 kg) mass around town – and that’s just fine, since nobody is buying RAV4s for track day. I found the Sport mode to be quite responsive and it makes a noticeable difference in the driving experience. Toyota’s transmission is smooth, and has its own sport mode as well. Gears can be shifted manually using the gear selector if that’s your thing. The RAV4 has a “Lock Mode” which locks in full-time all-wheel drive under 40 km/h, instead of starting off as a front-wheel drive vehicle. I didn’t get to test that, as the pavement remained dry during my tenure in the vehicle.
I enjoyed excellent visibility out of the vehicle and the driver assistance technology – blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a back-up camera – was useful. If you do some towing, you can lug around an extra 680 kg (1500 lb) with your RAV4.
Overall, the RAV4 is kind of an unremarkable vehicle. Not in a bad way. There’s little about it that’s memorable, but in typical Toyota fashion, that’s exactly its mission. It does virtually everything well. I’d prefer a slightly more luxurious ride, but otherwise there’s little I’d change. It offers relatively spirited yet economical performance, with plenty of space and utility. At this trim level, the RAV4 becomes a fairly pricey vehicle, but resale value will definitely remain high and you can count on an outstanding ownership/reliability experience.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high. She liked how it drove, and that it felt compact on the road and in parking lots, and she absolutely loved how much she got into the trunk after her trip to the mall.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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