- Pert shape and clean styling
- Responsive six-speed automatic
- Standard rearview camera and Bluetooth
- Lacks a V-6 or turbo option
- No third-row seat
- Back seat feels flat
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 is sensible and spacious; but if driving fun is a priority, you can do better.
The Toyota RAV4 has evolved over time. What started as a compact crossover SUV with commuters in mind has become one of the more popular family vehicles in the Toyota lineup. The current RAV4 has finally scrubbed away the final cues of its former SUV ambitions--a tailgate-mounted tire--but it's also become a more limited offering, with only four-cylinder power and without a third-row seat.
Taken in perspective, the 2014 Toyota RAV4 leaves room for the larger Highlander, which had been squeezed upscale by the last RAV4, and it brings its bearings back firmly to the compact segment. But last year's redesign did bring some important new changes, in the way of updated transmission, better safety features, and updated safety gear. As it stands, the RAV4 is the middle-ground pick for pragmatists: it has more room than the perky Ford Escape and road manners that are just a little more alert than those in the Honda CR-V.
Also see: Recall effects 2012 Toyota RAV4
Last year's redesign purged one of the remaining vestiges of the RAV4's history: the tailgate-mounted spare. This year it's history, and the more hatchback-style flow and lower stance, pitch the RAV4 headlong into a lookalike bin filled with the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, even Mazda CX-5. Arguably, the RAV4 has a more carlike face than them all, but it doesn't pull off such a clean design in back as the CX-5. The taillamps er XT. are pointy and shelf out, all in the name of meeting safety regulations. Inside, there's some discord in the cockpit; this is a case in which the RAV4 limited and its many trims and surfaces leave us admiring the basic RAV4 LE's simplicity.
Once upon a time—just a couple of model years ago—there were V-6 models of the RAV4 that were surprisingly quick; but the current RAV4 gives up those chances of a transcendent upgrade in favor of a better ride and more carlike handling. There's only a 176-horsepower four-cylinder under the hood now, but the six-speed automatic with sport-shift mode saves it. Consider the 0-60 mph time of under nine seconds, and the RAV4 isn't quick, but it's quick enough for most family needs. The new RAV4 is responsive, although never sporty in the same way as a Ford Escape or Subaru Forester XT. Yet at the same time, the RAV4 rides lower, with well-weighted electric power steering and a good sense of center. All-wheel drive is just a $1,400 upgrade, and we like how the system works not only for inclement weather conditions but also for on-the-road handling. There isn't much of a range in the way the RAV4 rides and handles, but for a slightly better ride we'd stick with the 17-inch tires on LE and XLE versions.
The RAV4 didn't become significantly larger with last year's redesign, but smarter packaging made it more passenger-friendly. Base versions come with a cheaper upholstery and seats that are less supportive, while XLE versions include more firmly bolstered seats and nicer fabrics that we wish were standard across the board. The synthetic leather upholstery in Limited models looks great from a few feet away, but up close it looks shiny and cheap. Seating space in the RAV4 is about on par with the CR-V—definitely more generous than the Escape. But there are some flaws: The back bench is less supportive than adults will expect, and its flip/fold mechanism is one step shy on slickness, although cargo space is excellent. Limited versions get a power tailgate.
Safety ratings are top-notch for the most part, but the RAV4 has one unforgivable blemish: a 'Poor' rating in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test. Otherwise, the RAV4 ups its safety ante with eight standard airbags, including knee airbags. Bluetooth is also standard across the board; a rearview camera is also included, while Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts.
LE, XLE, and Limited models of the 2014 Toyota RAV4 are offered. At the base level, the RAV4 LE comes with power locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and an AM/FM/CD player controlled, through a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen. We tend to think that the base RAV4 LE or mid-range XLE models are the best deal. The XLE adds dual-zone automatic climate control; a sunroof; and fog lights, to which the Limited adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Limited include a power driver seat and those 18-inch wheels.
Major options on the RAV4 include navigation on the XLE and Limited, with Entune app connectivity and satellite radio; and on the Limited, a JBL audio system with 576 watts of power and 11 speakers.
Audio systems are noteworthy in the RAV4. For 2014, there are four different levels of Entune touch-screen audio, with the top two levels incorporating the App Suite—Bing for search; iHeartRadio and Pandora for audio streaming; MovieTickets.com, OpenTable®, and Yelp for going out; and real-time traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports and stocks.