New & Used Toyota RAV4: In Depth
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The Toyota RAV4 is a compact crossover vehicle that's been a part of the automaker's lineup since the Nineties. One of the most popular vehicles in its class, it now has rivals from all the major brands--including the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Mazda CX-5.The RAV4 entered the market during the height of the SUV craze--at a time when new car buyers were seeking vehicles with the taller ride height, four-wheel drive capability and extra storage space of a full-size SUV. And it's remained relevant during a time when the market has migrated to crossovers that offer the maneuverability and fuel economy of a regular car. Although the RAV4 has remained car-based all along, it's roughly followed those trends, and become more family-focused.
MORE: Read our 2015 Toyota RAV4 review
The first generation of the RAV4 in 1996 originally borrowed a host of Corolla and Camry components and came with a 120-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and either front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. In 1998, the RAV4 was slightly restyled on the front and rear fascias, and a soft-top two-door was made available in some markets. The second-generation of the RAV4 arrived in time for the 2001 model year and came packing a more potent 148 horsepower 2.0-liter engine. A facelift was implemented for the 2004 model year, consisting primarily of new bumper designs, and the 2.0-liter engine was upgraded to a 161 horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder mill.
The RAV4 was subsequently updated again for the 2006 model year, this time receiving an all-new platform and the choice of four- and six-cylinder powertrains. No major changes have been implemented since then except the introduction of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder as the base engine in the 2009 model along with some slight styling revisions. Of note was the introduction of a Sport Appearance Package that dropped the side-hinged rear hatch for one with a conventional layout--with a cleaned-up look omitting the hanging spare tire and wheel.
The Toyota RAV4 for this period was offered with either the base 179 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine or the top-spec 269 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. A manual transmission option is not offered on the RAV4, so instead the four-cylinder model makes do with a four-speed automatic while the V-6 model gets a five-speed auto. Fuel economy comes in at 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway for the four-cylinder model and 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway for the V-6.
For 2012, Toyota revamped its sound systems in the RAV4, and all models included Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. Limited models also got HD Radio with iTunes tagging, text-to-voice, and satellite radio.
The new Toyota RAV4
The new Toyota RAV is roughly the same size as the outgoing model, but has been updated for a new era. For starters, the sole drivetrain is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 176 hp is teamed with a six-speed automatic, meaning the former 269-hp V-6 is no longer offered on the compact crossover. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive with new electronic controls to improve handling is an option. Fuel economy is 26 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 31 highway) for the front-wheel-drive model, and 1 mpg less if the buyer adds all-wheel drive.
Toyota has also dropped the third-row seat option from the lineup, leaving that to the larger Highlander mid-size crossover. While the wheelbase of the new RAV4 stays the same as the prior generation, it loses about two inches of overall length. But the interior volume's is slightly greater, and the rear seats fold down flat to expand cargo area. The rear opening now is a top-hinged tailgate, and the spare tire, which used to be mounted outside the vehicle on a side-hinged door, is now tucked under the cargo floor.
One of the few sore points so far for the new model is that it's failed to earn top crash tests across the board; while it has five-star federal scores and mostly 'Good' scores from the IIHS—enough to earn Top Safety Pick status—it's been knocked down a notch or two by a sobering 'Poor' rating in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test.
The RAV4 has seen few changes during the 2014 and 2015 model years. However, the RAV4 now has a distant cousin: the 2015 Lexus NX is based on some of the same running gear, though it gets its own styling, features, and a choice of turbo four or six-cylinder engines.