The Toyota RAV4 was one of the first compact crossover vehicles when it debuted in the 1990s and has been popular since its introduction. It's main rival long has been the Honda CR-V, which arrived about the same time.
Never designed for sporty driving, the RAV4 four-door crossover nevertheless always has been a nimble, fuss-free vehicle for those looking for sensible, economical, reliable transportation.
There seemingly is a RAV4 for everyone, as it's offered in LE, XLE, SE, Limited and Platinum trim levels. List prices range from $24,410 to $36,150. It comes with front- or all-wheel-drive (AWD). It has a gasoline 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque or comes as a gas-electric hybrid version with 194 total horsepower and 152 pound/feet of torque.
The gas version works with an efficient six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature via paddles, while the hybrid uses a CVT automatic. My test RAV4 Platinum's shifter was notchy because the shift gate is designed to prevent accidentally selecting the wrong gear if a driver is sloppy or in a hurry. Come to think of it, lots of older Ferraris had notchy shift gates.
Fuel economy starts with an estimated 23 city and 30 highway for the base front-drive RAV4 and goes to 34 city and 30 highway with the hybrid. My test Platinum AWD gas engine model provided 22 city and 28 highway.
Only 87-octane fuel is needed, and the fuel tank holds 15.9 gallons. After 35 miles of a mix of brisk but mostly moderate city/suburban driving, I didn't see the fuel gauge needle hardly move.
The gas version does 0-60 m.p.h. in 8.4 seconds or so, and the hybrid version is just a little quicker. My test RAV4 easily merged into fast freeway traffic, and 65-75 passing maneuvers were no-sweat affairs. However, the high-rev gas engine got a bit noisy during hard acceleration. Otherwise, this was a very quiet vehicle.
The steering is fast enough, but is rather vague, and a soft suspension doesn't lend itself to sporty driving. Still, handling is secure. The RAV4 has stability and traction controls, anti-lock brakes with nice pedal feel and electronic brake force distribution.
My test RAV4 Platinum was loaded with safety features, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, dynamic radar cruise control, smart-stop technology, a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
A high ride height, thick body pillars and narrow side glass don't allow the best overall visibility, but the Platinum model has a bird's-eye-view camera. Also outside mirrors are large and have directional signals.
The RAV4 has an aggressive-looking front end and sporty lines that might suggest sensational performance to some. But don't be fooled because this is no sport crossover.
My test vehicle's look was enhanced by cosmetic Platinum features that included full body color trim and Platinum badging. It also had a heated steering wheel, premium accents and a premium audio system with an integrated navigation system and a 7-inch touchscreen. There also was a power moonroof and dual-zone climate control.
The cabin had a good amount of storage areas and a leather-wrapped wheel with audio and Bluetooth controls. The supportive power 8-way adjustable driver's seat provided really good support, and both front seats are heated. A pushbutton start does away with an ignition key in the high-quality interior, which has attractive dashboard and seat stitching.
There's plenty of room for four to five adults, although the center of the rear seat is stiff. The backseats recline, rear windows lower all the way and large door handles allow easy entry and exit. Controls are in keeping with the RAV4's no-nonsense design. They're clearly marked and easy to read, although location of the cupholders is a bit awkward-one being in front of the console shifter and the other being behind it.
The Platinum version has a large hatch that is said to open when a foot is moved under the center of the rear bumper. That feature didn't work for me, so I used the key fob to remotely open the large hatch, which is adjustable for an opening height and also remotely closes. The cargo area has a very low, wide opening and is impressively large. It can be made even roomier by folding the rear seat backs forward.
Toyota's first RAV4 was a sound vehicle, and the automaker has had plenty of years to bring the RAV4 up to its current level of sophistication and competence. Too bad no turbocharged engine is offered.