Toyota RAV4 a reliable performer
Toyota has restyled its popular RAV4 crossover to give it a sleeker, more modern look while maintaining its solid underpinnings.
Like most Toyota offerings, RAV4 doesn’t change much from year to year, it simply remains a good reliable machine that does what you’d expect of a small crossover. The engine remains the same as it has for years, a 2.5-liter I-4 with variable valve timing and dual-overhead cam layout.
Price keeps creeping up, but it’s still extremely competitive with its main competition, the likes of Honda’s CR-V, Subaru’s Forester and Ford’s Escape.
Compared with the RAV4 I’d driven three years ago, the 2016 seemed more tightly built.
While the 176-horsepower engine is no racehorse in standard or Eco mode (nothing is racy in Eco mode), the crossover was lively in Sport mode. You punch a button to engage that, plus there are paddle shifters behind the wheel if you want to use those to impact shift points. But Sport mode holds the gears in the six-speed automatic longer than the normal mode and quickens acceleration. Good to use when entering a highway, for instance.
Handling is decent, too, a little play in the wheel, but not sloshy. RAV4 cornered well and felt fine on the highway, even on a couple of extremely windy days. Ride in the tested SE model was a bit firm and jittery on rough roads. SE models have a sport-tuned suspension, which I suspect was what made the ride less accommodating on crumbling pavement.
Naturally there’s four-wheel-drive you can engage too, if there’s snow or slop to tread. I was lucky during my drive and had nothing more than damp streets.
This RAV4 interior seemed quieter than past drives. I’d say a Ford Escape and Subaru Forester are quieter, but this is in the ballpark. There also was no dash squeak in the test model, a problem I’d experienced previously. However, there was some creaking from the rear cargo area, which was most noticeable when the rear seat backs were down to carry luggage.
Toyota has wisely removed the spare tire that formerly hung on the vehicle’s tail. It not only blocked a driver’s rear view, but tended to rattle over time. Plus, the hatch now opens upward, not out like a door. That’s a big improvement for loading.
I was impressed with the Toyota’s dash layout. There are blue backlit dash buttons and a soft coating on the dash to improve its look and feel. Toyota provides a good-sized audio/navigation screen that splits so you can see map and radio functions together, or just one or the other. Plus the touch screen’s buttons are responsive even when the user is wearing gloves. Most touch screens do not do that, even in many high-priced vehicles.
The test RAV4’s black interior was pleasant looking. What look like leather seats are a man-made material called SofTex. It’s comfortable to the touch and this one had orange stitching to make it look more youthful. The SE comes with two-speed heated front seats, too, a plus in Wisconsin.
Other pluses include push-button start, a sunroof, and power rear hatch with a wiper that helps clear its window on frosty mornings. Both rear seats fold flat, too, creating a generous cargo area when split or both lowered.
The test crossover listed at $30,665, but added a technology package that many folks likely will want. The package adds $3,030 to the price, but includes a lot of goodies, including dynamic cruise control, automatic high beams, a pre-collision warning system and lane departure feature.
Also included is parking sonar that beeps as you pull into any parking spot to let you know you’re near another car, or the curb. A bird’s-eye view camera also lets you see on the navigation screen how close you are to cars on either side.
Entune, Toyota’s audio entertainment system, is included in the package as is a JBL audio system with 11 speakers.
A couple of standard features on the SE include a rearview camera, blind-spot warning system and sunroof.
All told the test RAV4 came in at $34,595, about the current average cost of such a vehicle.
Gas mileage is decent and improved from my last test when I managed only a bit more than 23 mpg. This time I got 26.1 mpg in about an even mix of city and highway driving, and with up to two folks aboard, plus some luggage. The EPA rates the RAV4 at 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Folks anticipating gas prices to eventually rise again may also want to opt for Toyota’s new hybrid RAV4. The hybrid uses two electric motors along with the same engine as in the standard RAV4. It’s rated to average 33 mpg. The hybrid model is new for 2016.
A base front-drive RAV4 starts at $25,250 and an AWD model at $26,650. The top-level Limited hybrid model starts at $34,510, so remains reasonable for the small crossover market. There are many small crossovers and some handle better or ride better, but the RAV4 is a nice blend at a reasonable cost.