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How We'd Spec It: 2023 Toyota RAV4

Deciding which RAV4 to buy isn't easy, but Edmunds recommends three worth consideration

2021 Toyota RAV4 Limited
  • Most people will want a RAV4 with the extras that make daily driving more comfortable
  • Some may choose a RAV4 because it offers an impressive electrified powertrain option
  • Others might seek maximum value for a minimal amount of money
  • The 2023 Toyota RAV4 lineup provides solutions for each one of these compact SUV buyers

Excluding the three most popular full-size pickup trucks, the Toyota RAV4 was the best-selling vehicle in America last year. So yeah, you could say the 2023 RAV4 is kind of a big deal, even though it's pretty much the same compact crossover SUV it was in 2019 when it last received a redesign.

This year, the RAV4 gets fresh technology in the form of an all-new Toyota Audio Multimedia infotainment system, expanded connected service plans, and upgraded instrumentation with an available 12.3-inch digital gauge panel. In addition, improved safety features are also standard on the 2023 Toyota RAV4, including enhanced forward collision warning and pedestrian detection capabilities and a new evasive steering assist function.

Toyota also expands the RAV4's already impressive lineup with a new Woodland Edition featuring bronze-colored wheels, all-terrain tires and a Toyota Racing Development-tuned off-road suspension. It comes only with the hybrid powertrain and is the first off-road-oriented version of the RAV4 Hybrid from Toyota.

So, which of the numerous RAV4 models is the best one? In the sections below, we'll recommend three that you might find perfect for your needs.

The recommended spec

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2023 Toyota RAV4 interior dashboard

Edmunds recommends the RAV4 XLE Premium trim level for its appealing blend of style, equipment and value. It's available with the RAV4's standard 203-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or a hybrid powertrain good for 219 horsepower. However, while the RAV4 Hybrid is more efficient (by an extra 10-11 mpg in the EPA's combined cycle) and includes an all-wheel-drive system, the hybrid also commands a $2,950 premium over the standard powertrain. So, the decision between the two is entirely up to you.

By upgrading to XLE Premium trim, you get more appealing 19-inch wheels, a power sunroof, a power liftgate and Toyota's SofTex synthetic leather upholstery. The result is a RAV4 that looks more upscale and unlocks access to appealing options such as a larger 10.5-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system.

We think the added cost of the hybrid powertrain is worth paying to save money on gas and make fewer stops to refill the SUV's gas tank. We'd also add the upgraded infotainment system and JBL premium sound system, bringing the sticker price to $39,445, including the $1,335 destination charge.

The electrified alternative

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime SE

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime SE shown

Toyota makes a plug-in hybrid version called the RAV4 Prime, and it's compelling even if it no longer qualifies for a federal income tax credit. So what makes this PHEV so special? Because the Prime makes 302 horsepower, can accelerate to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and provides 42 miles of electric driving range on a full battery. Then, when the gas-fueled four-cylinder engine turns on, the RAV4 Prime gets 38 mpg in combined driving.

All this goodness comes with a price premium, and, depending on the trim level you choose, it can cost nearly $9,500 more than a comparably equipped RAV4 Hybrid.

If you think the RAV4 Prime's price is worth paying for the added performance and electric-only commuting, we suggest getting the SE trim. It's the base version of the Prime, so it has cloth seats, a smaller 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and only six stereo speakers. Otherwise, the SE is well equipped, and most of the pricey XSE version's extras are unnecessary.

To keep costs in check, we also recommend skipping the extra-cost Supersonic Red paint color, and unless you live in a cold climate, you won't need the Weather & Moonroof package. By keeping it simple, you can get a Prime SE for $43,675, including the destination charge.

The bargain of the bunch

2021 Toyota RAV4 XLE rear three-quarter view

2021 Toyota RAV4 XLE shown

Choose the base RAV4 Hybrid in LE trim to maximize your bang for the buck. Don't pay extra for metallic paint. Skip the option packages and dealer-installed accessories. And then drive home in a roomy, comfortable, safe, zippy and efficient crossover SUV that might last decades with proper care and maintenance. A RAV4 Hybrid LE will set you back just $32,560, including the destination charge.

Better yet, the RAV4 Hybrid LE includes all-wheel drive, so it's only $1,550 more expensive than a standard RAV4 LE with AWD. What a bargain, and it also provides an EPA-estimated 40 mpg in combined driving.

Edmunds says

Among small SUVs, the 2023 Toyota RAV4 isn't among our favorites. We rank it 10th out of 15 vehicles in a segment where we believe the Mazda CX-50 is the best of the bunch. However, what the RAV4 lacks in critical appeal, it makes up for in mass appeal. After all, if you travel to any suburb in America, it won't be long before you spot one.

So, if you've got your heart set on buying a new Toyota RAV4, we get it. The RAV4 is practical, reliable, safe and budget-friendly. And if you select one of the three versions we've recommended above, you'll likely increase your chances of satisfaction in the long run.