2017 Toyota RAV4 Review
Toyota created the modern crossover SUV craze when it rolled out the original RAV4 for the 1996 model year. Automotive historians might rightly point to the AMC Eagle as the original crossover SUV, but it was Toyota that made the concept stick, with an assist from Subaru, which debuted the lifted Outback wagon that same year.
In the 20 years that have elapsed, more Americans now purchase small crossover SUVs than any other type of vehicle. It's easy to see why: they're affordable, efficient, practical modes of transportation that, when equipped with optional all-wheel drive (AWD), are ready for any kind of weather. Among the numerous models on sale today, the RAV4 remains one of the most compelling choices, delivering an appealing mix of safety, dependability, roominess, and fuel economy.
For this review, our expert evaluated a 2017 RAV4 XLE with AWD, a navigation system, and carpeted floor mats. The price came to $29,264, including the $940 destination charge.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2017 RAV4, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this SUV and what they liked most and least about it.
Compared with the Compact SUV segment average, RAV4 buyers are more often women, skew a little older, and earn less in terms of annual household income. J.D. Power research data show that 54% of RAV4 buyers are women (compared with 51% for the segment), with a median age of 59 (vs. 56 segment average) and a median household income of $79,833 (vs. $89,505).
RAV4 buyers more often identify themselves as practical buyers (39% vs. 30% segment average), and, not surprisingly, 62% disagree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (vs. 38%). Perhaps a reflection of Toyota's addition of a RAV4 Hybrid in 2016, 62% agree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (vs. 56%).
Notable differences exist between RAV4 buyers and Compact SUV buyers when it comes to quality, reliability, fuel economy, and maintenance costs, with buyers of the RAV4 more strongly agreeing that these factors are primary influences in their decision-making process. Responsive handling, powerful acceleration, and owning a vehicle that stands out from the crowd are less important to RAV4 owners, compared with segment average.
Buyers say their favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, safety, seats, and interior design. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) fuel economy, the infotainment system, climate control system, engine/transmission, and storage and space.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2017 RAV4 performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
The Toyota RAV4 definitely possesses visual character, and owners like what they see, claiming that this compact crossover SUV's exterior styling is their favorite thing about it. Stylistically, a 2016 freshening injected some extra personality, especially regarding the almost featureless rear end.
Utilitarian in terms of materials and design, the RAV4's interior looks industrial, feels durable, and supplies plenty of practicality. Ash, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon interior colors are rendered in a pleasing two-tone appearance, while black is relentlessly dark save for some silver plastic trim.
Unless they are tall, drivers will be comfortable. Added seat travel would help make the RAV4 more agreeable to people with longer legs. The seat itself is supportive, equipped with a height adjuster, wrapped in durable fabric, and satisfying on longer trips. The front passenger's seat is identical, but lacks the height adjuster.
One of the larger models in its class, the RAV4 offers a roomy rear seat with plenty of space for both babies riding in reverse-facing child seats and for lanky teenagers needing a little room to sprawl out. A center armrest folds down, supplying cupholders and dividing the region into territories.
Climate Control System/Infotainment System
Climate Control System
Dual-zone automatic climate control is standard in all 2017 RAV4 trim levels except for the base LE version. It works well, though crisp autumn equinox weather didn't tax it either way. Toyota's SofTex synthetic leather, offered for the SE, Limited, and Platinum trim levels, tends to trap sweat on hot and muggy summer days, begging for the introduction of a front-seat ventilation system.
Toyota's Entune infotainment system represents a mixed blessing. On one hand, knobs and buttons help minimize interaction with the touch-sensing display screen. On the other hand, when you must use the display, such as when choosing a radio station pre-set, the small buttons require accuracy, which can be fleeting in the RAV4 with its taut suspension.
Connect your smartphone to Entune and the system supports a connected navigation app that uses your data plan to supply a route and guidance. Alternatively, upgrade to the RAV4's embedded navigation system. Entune is also Siri-compatible, but does not offer smartphone-projection technology supporting Apple and Android devices.
Additionally, Toyota fails to offer its Safety Connect subscription services for the RAV4, an odd decision given this SUV's popularity with younger drivers and families.
Storage and Space
If you can't find a place to put something inside of a RAV4, you're not trying. From a handy shelf built into the dashboard to one of the roomiest cargo areas in the Small SUV segment, the RAV4 is nothing if not practical and utilitarian.
Open the large rear liftgate, which is available with power actuation, and you'll discover a low liftover height into a huge 38.4 cu.-ft. cargo area. Fold the 60/40 split-folding rear seat down to expand the space to 73.4 cu. ft.
Visibility and Safety
Thanks to a standard reversing camera, large side mirrors, and relatively thin windshield pillars, it's easy to see out of and to maneuver a RAV4.
For 2017, Toyota installs standard technologies designed to help prevent accidents, too. Included in the standard Toyota Safety Sense package, a forward-collision warning system is coupled with pedestrian-detection technology and an automatic emergency braking system to help prevent accidents. With these features, the RAV4 qualifies as a "Top Safety Pick+" according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The RAV4 also earns a 5-star (out of 5) overall crash-test rating from the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
A lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist is also a part of the Toyota Safety Sense package, as well as adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights. Offered separately, additional safety and visibility systems include an optional blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park-assist sensors, and a 360-degree surround-view monitor.
Engine/TransmissionLast year, Toyota introduced a new hybrid version of the RAV4. It makes more power and it gets better fuel economy. The price premium is $2,200, and it might be worth it even though gas is cheap.
Why? The standard 176-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is about as exciting as watching local cable television. Under normal driving conditions, you won't notice how uninspiring it is. The moment you need some power to merge on to a high-speed highway, or to pass slower traffic, or to climb a mountain grade, you're going to be wishing for the hybrid's additional electrified oomph.
A 6-speed automatic transmission powers the front wheels, and a torque-vectoring AWD system is an option. The test car had it, and it may have helped the RAV4 to feel more stable in a driving rain, but I wasn't driving fast enough to determine this.
Fuel EconomyA Sport driving mode makes the RAV4 feel a little livelier in urban and suburban driving situations. There is an Eco driving mode, too, which is designed to help maximize fuel economy. During testing, I kept the RAV4 in the Normal setting.
With this in mind, the SUV returned 25.6 mpg, with an emphasis on highway driving. According to the EPA, a RAV4 with AWD should get 25 mpg in combined driving.
Dynamically, the RAV4 is best described as sprightly. Though it is not a quick vehicle, it does feel light, responsive, and maneuverable.
Suspension tuning is relatively tight and supplies excellent body motion control, but this also translates into a ride quality that can be stiff and somewhat choppy depending on the road surface. The steering is tuned for a natural feel, and while it feels a little bit heavy at low speeds, the driver acclimates in no time at all. Predictable brakes with agreeable pedal feel complete the package.
Of the different versions of the RAV4, the XLE trim level might be popular, but it isn't particularly special. It lacks the pizzazz of the sporty SE version; it lacks the luxuries of the upscale Limited and Platinum trim levels; and it lacks the power and efficiency of the RAV4 Hybrid. In short, the RAV4 XLE is the workhorse of the lineup.
As such, it turns in a solid performance. After 600 miles of driving, the RAV4 had proven its usefulness as a handy tool designed to make daily life easier. If that sounds like a description of an appliance, it is. But that's why people buy small crossover SUVs in the first place.
This vehicle was rented from Alamo and test driven in Massachusetts.