The Toyota RAV4 is a small sport-utility vehicle, the smallest of Toyota's large family of SUVs. The RAV4 was one of the first entries in the crossover SUV market, which has become much more competitive over the years. Next to its competitors, today's fourth-generation RAV4 benefits from years of refinement and a strong reputation for reliability.
We have always described the Toyota RAV4 as possessing favorable on-road manners, good ergonomics and a high level of quality, even if that comes at the expense of macho styling and off-road prowess. It has the comfort and drivability of car-based architecture and benefits from a fuel-efficient engine. As such, this highly evolved, well-packaged crossover SUV is best matched to young families and urban singles in search of a compact SUV that hits that sweet spot between car-based station wagons and truck-based SUVs.
Current Toyota RAV4
Carlike driving manners, versatile cargo and passenger configurations and comfort have all been defining RAV4 characteristics, and the latest fourth-generation model, which debuted in 2013, builds upon that solid foundation. Compared to the previous model, the new RAV4 is about the same size, but it boasts bolder styling, a more modern-looking interior and new features. It also has an easier-to-use, top-hinged liftgate instead of the RAV4's previous swing-out gate.
The Toyota RAV4 is offered with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, but buyers can choose either front- or all-wheel drive. With an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in combined driving, the RAV4 is as fuel-efficient as its competitors.
There's also an all-electric RAV4 EV that produces the equivalent of 154 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, but this model is based on the previous third-generation RAV4 and is only for sale in a few localities. It has an EPA-estimated range of 103 miles and energy consumption of 76 MPGe in combined driving.
Toyota offers the regular RAV4 in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels. Base LE standard feature highlights include air-conditioning, reclining second-row seats, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a touchscreen interface and iPod/USB integration. The XLE adds alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control and sport front seats. The Limited features bigger wheels, a power liftgate, keyless ignition/entry, a power driver seat, heated front seats and faux leather upholstery.
Major options, depending on the trim level, include Toyota's Entune smartphone integration system, a navigation system and premium audio. The RAV4 EV is essentially a fully loaded Limited model with LED headlights, power-folding mirrors and a rearview camera.
In reviews, we've found that this RAV4 gets just about everything right. It's very roomy, boasting more cargo room than most other competing small crossover SUVs. There's also ample seating space for adults both front and rear. The overall interior design is modern looking, and the Entune system provides useful smartphone app integration, although the touchscreen's virtual buttons can sometimes be finicky to use.
In the absence of a V6 option, we still find the four-cylinder to be refined and adequately powerful. Surprisingly, the RAV4 EV is blisteringly fast for a compact SUV. Handling is secure, and the all-wheel-drive system adds further athleticism on curvy and slippery road surfaces. In the interest of comfort, we recommend the smaller wheel options, as the 18-inch wheels tend to have a rougher ride quality.
Used Toyota RAV4 Models
The previous Toyota RAV4 represented the third generation, which Toyota produced from 2006-'12 (and longer for the EV). Compared to earlier models, these RAV4s were unique for their larger footprint, available V6 engine and third-row seat.
In its inaugural third-generation year, two engine choices were offered. A 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine delivered 166 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque, while a 3.5-liter V6 produced 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. Automatic transmissions were standard, with the four-cylinder paired with a four-speed, while the V6 received a five-speed unit.
Three trim levels were also offered: base, Sport and Limited. Base feature highlights included air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat and full power accessories. The Sport added 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and a roof rack, while the Limited topped it off with 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat and an upgraded audio system. A third-row seat, a moonroof, leather upholstery and a DVD-based rear entertainment system were options on upper level trims.
We praised these models for their pleasant driving manners and convenient cargo space, but deducted points for the side-hinged rear gate and noticeable road noise. We also preferred the powerful V6 over the base four-cylinder engine that suffered with its outdated transmission and unimpressive fuel economy.
Changes since its debut were minimal but included additional standard airbags in 2007, a slight styling update in 2009 (with an external spare-tire delete option) and a power increase for the adequate four-cylinder engine (from 166 hp to 179 hp). A newly available touchscreen audio interface and Toyota's Entune smartphone apps were introduced for 2012, along with the RAV4 EV.
The second-generation Toyota RAV4 (2001-'05) was larger than the original RAV4, with more expressive styling and innovative removable second-row seats that gave it truly impressive cargo-carrying capabilities. Early models had a 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that came up short versus the larger four- and six-cylinder engines offered by competitors. Toyota addressed this to some extent in 2004 by replacing the 2.0-liter with a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 160 hp. Acceleration was markedly improved, and buyers could still choose a manual or automatic transmission. Overall, we found this RAV4 to be a fun-to-drive urban runabout thanks to its precise suspension tuning and high fuel economy ratings.
The first-generation Toyota RAV4 (1996-2000) was offered in two-door and four-door body styles, with a convertible version for a brief period. The first-gen RAV4 was appealing to young singles, but due to its narrow width and tight rear legroom, this cute ute was ultimately no substitute for a traditional family vehicle. Advantages included carlike handling, a low cargo floor and a large rear door that made loading cargo a breeze.
Read the most recent 2014 Toyota RAV4 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Toyota RAV4 page.