The Car Connection Toyota RAV4 Overview
The Toyota RAV4 is a compact crossover SUV that can seat up to five passengers. One of the most popular vehicles in the segment, it's a rival for vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, and Mazda CX-5.
The RAV4 was introduced at the height of an SUV craze—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 sport-utility. Although the RAV4 has been car-based since its introduction in the 1990s, it has become more family-focused and more fuel-efficient along the way.
The RAV4 is now sold in standard and hybrid models. For 2017, a new range-topping Platinum model offers the highest level of luxury yet in a RAV4—for a price, at least. But the biggest change is that all RAV4s now include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning as standard equipment.
MORE: Read our 2018 Toyota RAV4 preview
The new Toyota RAV4
The new Toyota RAV4 is roughly the same size as the previous model, but it has been updated for a new era. For starters, Toyota has dropped the third-row seat option from the lineup, leaving the three-row duties to the larger Highlander. While the wheelbase of the new RAV4 stays the same as the prior generation's, it loses about 2 inches of overall length. The interior volume has slightly increased, and the rear seats fold down flat to expand cargo space. 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 rear tailgate, is now tucked under the cargo floor. This improves both aerodynamics and styling.
The base drivetrain is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 176 horsepower that is teamed with a 6-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive with new electronic controls to improve handling is an option. Fuel economy is 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined for the front-wheel-drive model, and 1 mpg less if equipped with all-wheel drive.
For 2016, Toyota added two models to the RAV4 range with the intention of better filling out the lineup. The RAV4 received its first hybrid variant, using a version of the powertrain offered in the Camry Hybrid as well as other Toyota and Lexus models, with fuel economy of up to 34/31/33 mpg. And at the fun end, the RAV4 received an sporty-looking and sport-tuned SE model. It looks a bit more aggressive than the rest of the models and offers improved handling, although no more power. All 2016 models received upgraded interiors, more sound deadening, new gauges, and an available surround-view camera system.
Today's RAV4 has re-emerged as a safety star. In IIHS testing, the RAV4 has earned "Good" scores across the board; with forward-collision warnings, it now earns a Top Safety Pick+ seal. The RAV4 retains a five-star score from the NHTSA.
The Toyota RAV4 has been joined by a distant cousin: the Lexus NX is based on some of the same running gear, though it gets its own styling and features, as well as a choice of turbo-4 and hybrid powertrains, neither of which is offered on the RAV4.
Toyota RAV4 history
The first generation of the RAV4 was introduced in 1996, borrowing a host of Corolla and Camry components. It came with a 120-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with either a front- or all-wheel-drive configuration. In 1998, the RAV4 received slightly restyled 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-hp, 2.0-liter engine. A facelift was implemented for the 2004 model year, consisting primarily of new bumper designs, while the 2.0-liter engine was replaced by a 161-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine.
For the 2006 model year, the RAV4 received its first major overhaul, which included an all-new platform. Engine options expanded to a choice of a 4-cylinder or V-6 powertrain. During that generation, the RAV4 saw occasional styling updates, while a switch to a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine was the only major mechanical change from the previous generation. One notable functional option came by way of an available sport package, which swapped the side-hinged rear hatch door for a top-hinged unit without the rear-mounted spare tire. This would return later as standard equipment.
For this period, the Toyota RAV4 was offered with either the base 179-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine or the top-spec 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. A manual transmission option was not offered on the RAV4, so instead the 4-cylinder model made do with a 4-speed automatic while the V-6 model was mated to a 5-speed auto. Fuel economy came in at 21 mpg city, 27 highway for the 4-cylinder model and 22 mpg city, 28 highway for the V-6.