2015 Toyota RAV4 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 17, 2015

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is a practical crossover with confident handling. Just know that driving enjoyment is not its strong point.

Since its introduction in the '90s, the Toyota RAV4 has grown up from a compact player in an emerging niche, into a mid-size, best-selling family crossover. The RAV4 has improved as it's grown, but competitors have kept pace too, with offerings like the Ford Escape and the Subaru Forester now among our higher-rated vehicles in the class.

A 2013 redesign simplified the RAV4's lineup, trimming it to one powertrain, and added more equipment while losing some of its unique options, like the available third row and V-6 engine.

The current configuration makes sense, as the refocused RAV4 is now more clearly differentiated from Toyota's larger Highlander crossover. It's a balanced small crossover, offering more room than some with a little bit of driving enjoyment to go with it, but not providing either in extremes.

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The RAV4's 2013 redesign purged one of the remaining vestiges of the model's history: the tailgate-mounted spare. The more hatchback-style flow and lower stance that result pitch the RAV4 headlong into a lookalike bin filled with the Ford Escape, the Hyundai Santa Fe, even the 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 are pointy and shelf out, all in the name of meeting safety regulations. 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.

The latest RAV4 is responsive, although never sporty in the same way as a Ford Escape or Subaru Forester XT. It rides lower than those competitors, 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. 

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 RAV4 didn't become significantly larger in its 2013 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.

LE, XLE, and Limited models of the 2015 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 models 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. 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.

Safety ratings are top-notch for the most part, and the RAV4 has overcome a former blemish - it's been upgraded in the IIHS small-overlap test from a "Poor" to a "Good" rating. The RAV4 is equipped with eight standard airbags, including knee airbags. Bluetooth is also standard across the board; a rearview camera is included, while Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts.

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Styling

The RAV4 has smoothed away all the former SUV cues; now it's pleasant enough if a little inexpensive inside.

The current generation of the RAV4, introduced for 2013, looks quite a bit different all around than previous versions. Instead it borrows styling cues from Toyota's other crossovers, namely the Highlander and Venza, and has adopted a more conservative silhouette.

The differences are most pronounced around the back. While RAV4s used to wear a hatch-mounted spare tire, the latest version tucks it under the cargo floor, a more conventional location also does a lot to clean up the lines. The hatch itself is now top-hinged, replacing the side-hinged unit present before. With these changes, the RAV4 truly enters the mainstream, for better or worse. It's far more of a tall hatchback than it used to be, with the profile and stance much more in line with the current norm for the Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Mazda CX-5.

The RAV4 has a real underbite in front, and the nose has the same sharp corners and taut fender lines. The shoulder lines look muscular, thanks to the expected upkick in the rear. Pointy taillamps sit high like the ones on Scion's xD. Altogether it adds up to a vehicle that communicates its mission but is by no means voluptuous. If we had to nitpick, we'd focus in on the RAV4's tailgate: the taillamps are pointy and shelf out, all in the name of meeting safety regulations.

Inside, it looks like Toyota looked for some inspiration from its 1980s products when laying out the current RAV4's interior. Top models even sport two-tone, stitched and padded upholstery across the midline, in what looks like the most tasteful cabin in the segment in photos; unfortunately there's a reality check involved, as up close these materials reveal themselves as painfully low-grade. There's some discord in the cockpit too--not in the clash of lines and surfaces, but in the plastics that form them. It's rare we like cheaper plastic better, but too many kinds of trim turn us away from the Limited and its synthetic leather.

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Performance

Mediocre four-cylinder power undercuts the RAV4's solid steering and ride.

While the RAV4 no longer offers the V-6 engine option it used to, the latest version handles better than ever and offers a more on-road-focused all-wheel-drive system since, let's face it, these small utility vehicles rarely leave pavement.

While most others in the segment offer stronger acceleration from optional engines, the RAV4 makes the best of its sole four-cylinder powertrain. The 176-horsepower engine is mated to a slick six-speed automatic that offers a sport-shift mode; the two bring the RAV4 up to 60 mph in less than nine seconds. Anyone who needs better performance will have to look elsewhere. The engine and transmission are quiet and smooth in operation, which is to be expected from Toyota.

The RAV4's transmission is definitely tuned for efficiency, shifting to third or fourth as soon as it can when driving around town and dropping into a low-rpm lull just as soon as it can when speeds allow. It's a little better in Sport mode, where the transmission smooths out downshifts by blipping the throttle.

The fundamentals of good, responsive handling are here, with a reasonably low ride height for a crossover, combined with electric power steering that has good weighting and centering feel. And if you'd like the steering a little heavier, Sport mode delivers that as well. It adds more weight, with good on-center tracking and stability and less resistance to returning to center, but unfortunately does nothing to increase feel.

The RAV4's front-strut and rear control-arm suspension doesn't have as much travel as, say, the bigger Chevy Equinox or Hyundai Santa Fe, and it shows when the RAV4 goes for limited excursions on gravel roads, where uneven surfaces are the rule, not the exception. And ground clearance is just 6.3 inches—that's a couple of inches less than you'd get in a Subaru Outback.

One of the key choices for RAV4 buyers is whether or not to spring for the $1,400 all-wheel-drive system, which is now more sophisticated. It uses electronic control to send power rearward when slippage in front is detected, and offers a true 50/50 fixed power split at up to 25 mph in 4WD Lock mode. A new electromagnetic coupling sends torque to the rear wheels when slip is detected; when you select Sport mode it sends 10-50 percent of torque to the rear wheels to help improve handling. And now, the system also does a good job on dry pavement in hard cornering.

For foul weather, the Lock feature gives predictable levels of traction—enabling the RAV4 to power through snowy driveways or muddy trails.

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Comfort & Quality

Interior space is fine, but the RAV4's rear seat is flat, and there's an ample supply of rubbery trim in base versions.

The RAV4 didn't become significantly larger with last year's redesign, but smarter packaging made it more passenger-friendly.

Inside the RAV4 cabin there's a mishmash of textures and grains. The SofTex vinyl upholstery in the Limited is great on its own, but it doesn't match up in the right ways with any of the complementary trim pieces; also factor in the button 'blanks' scattered around the dash, and it doesn't entirely convince you it's premium anyhow. Going with the simple, more durable-looking, rubberized dash trim in the base LE might be a better choice.

Base versions come with a cheaper upholstery and seats that are less supportive. The synthetic leather upholstery in Limited models looks great from a few feet away, but up close it appears shiny and cheap. Seating space in the RAV4 is about on par with the Honda CR-V and definitely more generous than in Ford's Escape.

Above the base LE trim level, the RAV4 gets a more sculpted seat with better fabric--and if there were a way to put these seats in the base RAV4, we'd take it. The driving position is agreeably carlike, but the standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel doesn't extend as far as it could.

On the most expensive versions, the driver seat gets power adjustment and memory functions and lumbar adjustment; the front passengers get heated seats.

Back seats are comparable to those of the Honda CR-V—meaning that entry and exit are easy and folding is easily done, but they're not as comfortable for adults (they're flat and hard) as those of a mid-size sedan. The seats recline, and fold forward with the flip of a lever--and the doors are cut tall and wide, so it's easy for taller passengers to slide in and out.

On all versions, the back seat is split, and portions can be folded down, together to open up the RAV4's cargo bin from 38.4 cubic feet to 73.4 cubic feet. There aren't any severe flaws in the packaging, but the flip-fold backseat arrangement is just short of slickness.

The former RAV4's third-row seat has been dropped from this iteration so Toyota's bigger (three-row) Highlander can have more room to breathe. It won't be missed much, since it was so small to begin with in the RAV4.

Because the latest RAV4 no longer has a tailgate-mounted spare, the cargo area is much easier to access than with previous RAV4 versions because the hatch is top-hinged. Limited models include a standard power liftgate that can be programmed to a specific opening height—to accommodate a low garage ceiling, for instance.

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Safety

The RAV4's crash scores are now merely par, in a class with some high standards.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 has a respectable safety roster, with eight airbags as standard equipment, including knee airbags. A Bluetooth hands-free interface and a rearview camera are also standard across the board, and blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level.

Its safety ratings, however, aren't quite top-notch. Its four-star NHTSA overall rating (raised to five-star on later-build models), and four-star frontal rating, together place it mid-pack in this safety-stringent class; and while it earns all 'good' ratings now from the IIHS, including in the tougher small overlap test, it lacks any sort of front crash prevention or true active-safety features. 

There are small crossovers that fare better, which is something to keep in mind when shopping. 

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Features

The RAV4 makes the most sense in value-laden XLE and LE trim levels.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is offered in LE, XLE, and Limited models. We tend to think that the base RAV4 LE or mid-range XLE models are the best value. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option on all models.

The base-model RAV4 LE includes 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.

The XLE adds dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, and fog lights, to which the Limited adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a SofTex synthetic-leather material on its seats and even on a trim panel extending across the dash. It also gets a power driver seat, heated front seats, a power tailgate that can be programmed at different opening heights, and pushbutton start.

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. Blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are available on the top trim level, and lane-departure warning and automatic high beams are wrapped into the Technology Package that's only available on the RAV4 Limited.

Infotainment options are plentiful in the RAV4. There are four different levels of Entune touch-screen audio available, 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.

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2015 Toyota RAV4

Fuel Economy

The RAV4's gas mileage rivals that of the CR-V, even while working the four-cylinder hard.

The Toyota RAV4 is somewhat fuel-efficient by family-vehicle standards, but it doesn't sit at the top of the small-crossover heap and won't compete with hybrids, such as Toyota's own Prius models.

Fuel-focused upgrades that were part of the RAV4's 2013 redesign included upgrading the transmission from an aging four-speed automatic to a modern six-speed, and cleaning up the aerodynamics, with the loss of the rear-mounted spare tire being an important part.

Front-wheel-drive models manage fuel economy numbers of at 23 miles per gallon city, and 30 mpg on the highway. Upgrade to all-wheel drive and you'll lower the gas mileage to 22/29 mpg. These numbers aren't class-leading. The Mazda CX-5, for instance, achieves up to 35 mpg highway, and the most efficient versions of the Ford Escape also top the RAV4's fuel economy.

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December 20, 2015
For 2015 Toyota RAV4

Not good. Terrible customer service

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Their customer service is absolutely and surprisingly terrible and provoking, they depend on the big name of Toyota so they totally do not care about their customers. I bought a 2014 RAV4 from the Toyota... + More »
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October 25, 2015
2015 Toyota RAV4 FWD 4-Door Limited (Natl)

Solid, reliable, with the right combination of features.

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We purchased a 2015 Limited in September. After exhaustive research, the RAV 4 seems logical. The Subaru was excellent, but did not offer dual zone heating nor push button start in the model we wanted. The CRV... + More »
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May 13, 2015
For 2015 Toyota RAV4

Riding High!

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I love it. It is everything I wanted in an SUV. I love the interior, very comfortable, and stereo sounds great. I like sitting high able to see traffic go through flooded streets.
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April 28, 2015
2015 Toyota RAV4 AWD 4-Door Limited (Natl)

Huge Fan! Great combination of style, performance, fuel economy, comfort, value and safety.

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Great combination of style, performance, fuel economy, comfort, value and safety.
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April 10, 2015
For 2015 Toyota RAV4

Disappointing. Traded in a 2007. Not an impressive change in overall features. Lacks up to date safety items.

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Ok for basic transportation. Lacks current up to date safety features including improved side view mirrors, audio beep while backing. Average fuel consumption. Interior seats, dash fair.
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