New & Used Toyota RAV4: In Depth
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Although Toyota's RAV4 has been car-based since its introduction in the 1990s, it has roughly followed those trends and become more family-focused along the way. The RAV4 was introduced at the height of the 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.
The RAV4 competes with other best-sellers like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, and Mazda CX-5. The RAV4 is a five-passenger crossover wagon and one of the most popular in the compact class. It has remained relevant while the market has migrated to crossovers offering the maneuverability and fuel economy of a regular car.
MORE: Read our 2016 Toyota RAV4 review
The new Toyota RAV4 is roughly the same size as the outgoing model, but it has been updated for a new era. For starters, the sole drivetrain is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 176 hp that is teamed with a six-speed automatic; 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 all-wheel drive is selected.
Toyota has also dropped the third-row seat option from the lineup, leaving the crossover people-carrying to the larger Highlander. While the wheelbase of the new RAV4 stays the same as the prior generation's, it loses about two inches of overall length. But the interior volume is slightly greater, 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.
Today's RAV4 doesn't quite live up to the safety standard set by the previous model. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the RAV4's scores have fallen from 'Good' across the board to all 'Good' ratings save for a 'Poor' in the IIHS's new small frontal overlap test, which keeps it from earning a Top Safety Pick seal. The RAV4 does retain a five-star score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however.
The RAV4 has seen few changes during the 2014 and 2015 model years. The Toyota model has been joined by a distant cousin: The 2015 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 four and hybrid powertrains, neither of which is offered on the RAV4.
For 2016, Toyota will add two models to the RAV4 lineup with the intention of better filling out the lineup. The RAV4 will receive its first hybrid variant, using a version of the powertrain offered in the Camry Hybrid as well as other Toyota and Lexus models. And at the fun end, the RAV4 will receive an sporty-looking and sport-tuned SE model. It looks a bit more aggressive than the rest of the models and promises improved handling, although no more power. All 2016 models will get upgraded interiors, more sound deadening, new gauges, and an available surround-view camera system.
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-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-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-horsepower, 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-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder mill.
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 four-cylinder or V-6 powertrain. During that generation, the RAV4 saw occasional styling updates, while a switch to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder was the only major mechanical change from the previous generation. One notable functional option came by way of the available Sport Appearance 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.
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 made do with a four-speed automatic while the V-6 model gets a five-speed auto. Fuel economy came 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 came with Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. Limited models also got HD Radio with iTunes tagging, text-to-voice, and satellite radio.