So why is the RAV4 so popular?
It’s definitely not the car’s styling. It’s not that it’s necessarily an ugly car, it’s that it doesn’t have good cohesion. It’s like the team that designed the front end and the team that designed the back end didn’t talk to each other, and then they had to meet in the middle.
Part of the problem is that the front end of the RAV4 was updated for the 2016 model year to keep it fresh, but the original front end matched the car much better. The new front end looks suspiciously like the new Prius, so we may be seeing the new corporate Toyota mug.
My test car, a 2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited, had 18-inch alloy wheels and metallic purple paint that Toyota calls Black Currant Metallic.
The interior styling isn’t much better. The first time my wife sat in the RAV4, she commented that the car wasn’t cozy. She’s right; there’s a feeling of sterility inside that makes it feel cold and impersonal. There are also random bits that don’t go well together, giving the interior the same lack of cohesion as the exterior.
There are also some questionable design choices, like the cell phone cubby that is too shallow and small to handle larger phones. The cubby also only has a wall on the left side. On a rather ordinary left turn, my phone flew out of the cubby and onto the floor.
It’s also not a driver-focused interior. The steering wheel is offset slightly to the left, and the infotainment system is a bit of a reach from the driver’s seat.
The infotainment system is good, but not excellent. Toyota and Honda have some of the ugliest infotainment interfaces in the business, not nearly up to the standards of Mazda or Chrysler. Even so, the RAV4’s system is easy to learn and manipulate.
The seats are comfortable and it was easy to get a good position with the power controls on the driver’s seat. The bottom cushion might be a bit short for taller people, but the driving position, with the exception of the offset steering wheel, was good, with good visibility and sight lines.
The Limited trim adds full leather interior, and the test car had saddle-colored inserts, door panels and dash trim.
The RAV4 is getting a little old, and it shows inside, where it still has an old-school handbrake instead of an electronic parking brake like a lot of the competition. This precludes it from having options like brake hold for rush hour traffic or an automatic parking brake. The cupholders are also in odd places and take up too much room on the console, necessitating the odd-shaped cubbies like I mentioned above.
Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. Power is OK, but the high torque peak – 4,100 rpm – makes it feel gutless. Add the fact that the six-speed automatic transmission was reluctant to downshift, even in sport mode, and the RAV4 feels frustratingly slow.
That also explains the disappointing fuel economy numbers. The RAV4 is rated at 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined, but in the week I had it, it only managed 22.3 mpg in mixed driving. The mixture of a high torque peak and that sluggish transmission means I had to keep the throttle to the floor to get any kind of decent acceleration.
Steering is light and not very communicative. The RAV4 also corners with a lot of body roll. The ride is soft, yet harsh when hitting large bumps or expansion joints.
Interior space feels very similar to the Honda HR-V, at least in passenger space. This is a good thing, as there is plenty of room in the front seat for most sized people, and the back seat is absolutely cavernous, with comfortable reclining seats. It’s quiet, too; 60 mph feels like 40 mph, and normal conversation is possible at highway speeds, even with the sunroof open.
There’s plenty of room behind the rear seats, too. The only things keeping the RAV4 from getting a perfect utility score is the fact that the rear seats don’t fold flat and there’s no easy way to drop the rear seats down while in the hatch – the handles are on the lower cushion on each side.
The as-tested price of the RAV4 Limited is $37,356, including the Advanced Technology Package and remote start on top of the Limited’s substantial equipment list. That’s right about on par with competing top-of-the-line compact crossovers, but the RAV4, like most Toyotas, tends to skew a little high on that scale. So on value, it’s just about average.
The most obvious competition for the RAV4 is the Honda CR-V, which beats it in fuel economy and utility. More interesting choices in the segment include the better looking, more luxurious Nissan Rogue, the sportier Ford Escape and the more rugged Jeep Cherokee.
- Buy It,
- Lease It,
- Rent It,
- or Forget It,
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited gets a Lease It!
The RAV4 is a car for people who don’t care about driving, or at least care more about utility, dependability and reputation. There’s not much here for the enthusiast, but for everyone else – basically 80 percent of the driving populace, if not more – it’s a perfect vehicle to forget about and just drive. Need to carry three normal sized adults? No problem. Just bought a bunch of industrial-sized toilet paper packs at Costco and need to carry them home? Child’s play.
The RAV4, like the CR-V, is a safe choice in the segment. It may not be as sporty as the Escape or as rugged as the Jeep, but it’s reliable, well built, and will probably outlive you.
Check out this related TFLcar video of everything you want to know about the 2016 Toyota RAV4: