- Upgraded, roomy interior
- Lots of standard safety tech
- Wide range of models available
- Improved ride and handling
- Hybrid is intriguing
- Not the most polished crossover to drive
- No third row
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- Quirky styling
There's a RAV4 for just about everyone, and while we applaud Toyota for adding more safety technology for 2017, the competition is worth a good look, too.
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 is the latest in a long line of compact crossover SUVs to grace the automaker's showrooms.
It's one of the oldest nameplates among small crossovers, but it has largely kept with the times and is offered in a wide array of models, including a hybrid. RAV4s are available in LE, SE, XLE, Limited, and a new Platinum trim for 2017, meaning there's one for just about everyone.
Overall, the RAV4 scores a 7.3 out of 10 on our ratings scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The RAV4 Hybrid was a new model for 2016, a spiritual successor to the Ford Escape Hybrid sold from 2004 to 2012.
Toyota RAV4 styling and performance
Toyota spent most of its effort revising and updating the RAV4's interior last year, which came in response to negative customer feedback. The RAV4 now uses improved materials, including more soft-touch surfaces. It added trim around certain dashboard and console elements, a digital display in the revised instrument cluster, an available 7.0-inch touchscreen, and a 12-volt outlet for the rear plus another USB port.
The RAV4's exterior also got a thorough nip-and-tuck along with new wheel designs. Its tail is chunky, upright, and has unusual taillights that stand proud of the body. Inside, the dashboard is busy; to our eyes, the simplest RAV4 LE is more coherent than the many trims and surfaces of the top-of-the-line RAV4 Platinum.
The RAV4 emerged in the 1990s as part of the first wave of compact crossovers—small SUVs build on car underpinnings—and it's grown up some. It's now technically a mid-size, although Toyota's Highlander seven-seat model is really the company's entry in that segment.
The current RAV4 bowed in late 2012 as a 2013 and was re-aligned as a 4-cylinder-only offering with five seats, in contrast to its predecessor that offered a V-6 and a third row.
Two powertrains are offered in the RAV4. The base engine is a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. For drivers concerned about sporty driving, the automatic's sport-shift mode makes it more enjoyable. A 0-to-60 mph time of less than 9 seconds is acceptable; while the RAV4 isn't fast, it's quick enough for most family needs. All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option
The RAV4 Hybrid is actually more powerful than the base RAV4, with a combined peak power of 194 hp from a 154-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 paired with the latest generation of Toyota's Prius-derived two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The RAV4 Hybrid's standard AWD is not mechanical—as in the gasoline model—but instead uses a 50-kw (67-hp) third electric motor on the rear axle to provide the rear wheels with torque when its control system senses power is needed. The RAV4 Hybrid is the quickest model in the lineup—capable of getting to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. And it gets EPA ratings of 32 mpg combined, more than a 30 percent improvement over the 25 mpg delivered by the other RAV4 AWD models.
Those figures are for the 2016; we're still waiting for word on any RAV4 Hybrid changes for 2017.
On the road, the RAV4 is responsive, but far from as sporty as a Mazda CX-5, a Subaru Forester XT, or even the base Ford Escape. It rides lower than other compact SUVs, and the AWD version improves on-road handling as well as providing better traction in inclement weather. The well-weighted electric power steering provides a good sense of center. For a slightly better ride, stick with the 17-inch tires on LE and XLE versions.
The RAV4 SE model doesn't change the standard powertrain, though it adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and a sport-tuned suspension mated to 18-inch alloy wheels, plus a host of styling items that further differentiate it.
Toyota RAV4 comfort, safety, and features
Base versions of the RAV4 have seats that we found less supportive than the firmer bolsters offered in the XLE version, but all models are about as roomy as the equally bigger-than-expected Honda CR-V. But the back bench is less supportive than many adults will prefer, and its flip/fold mechanism is one step shy of the Honda's. Cargo space is cavernous, and most versions get a power tailgate.
The RAV4 buffs up its safety credentials, with a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS. A previously optional suite of safety tech is new this year, and standard on the RAV4 Limited. It includes forward collision warning, followed by automatic pre-collision braking if the driver doesn't take action. It also wraps in lane-departure alert, a radar-based adaptive cruise control, a pedestrian pre-collision system, and automatic high beams. A new surround-view camera system gives drivers a 360-degree view of their surroundings using four cameras, mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car. Limited models include blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts as well; a rearview camera is standard on all models, as are eight airbags.
No other compact crossover can boast that level of standard safety equipment.
There's a roughly $10,000 gap between a RAV4 LE and the range-topping Platinum, and meaning there's a model for just about every shopper. All models include the basics, including a touchscreen infotainment system, a rearview camera, and the expected power windows and locks. XLEs add automatic climate control and a power rear hatch, while Limiteds go a step further with synthetic leather seat trim and a power driver's seat with memory. The new Platinum comes with monochromatic styling, a lift gate operated by a swipe of a foot under the bumper, and a proximity key.
Front-wheel-drive LE and XLE models of the RAV4 manage fuel economy numbers of 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. Upgrade to a Limited or Platinum and those figures fall to 23/29/25 mpg thanks to their larger wheels. Opting for all-wheel drive lowers everything about one click all around.
Those aren't class-leading numbers, with competitors like the CX-5 and Forester easily besting the RAV4, but the hybrid's numbers bring it more closely in line. That model is rated at 34/31/33 mpg for the 2016.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The RAV4 is distinctive, if not entirely cohesive.
Last year's mild styling refresh is bolstered for 2017 by an attractive new RAV4 Platinum.
We rate the RAV4 a 7 out of 10 for its looks inside and out. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Its shape remains identifiable as the same square crossover utility vehicle it's been for two decades, but new details added last year give it a more bucks-up look than before.
The crossover's front end shares evolving styling elements with the gradually more unusual looks of Toyota's latest passenger cars, but the rear stays upright and chunky, with bold taillights. The tail end has been slightly reshaped, with a revised bumper, but only aficionados are likely to spot the difference.
RAV4 Platinums boast a full monochromatic appearance with painted rocker panels that looks a little more upscale. Inside, Platinums have their own trim, but what looks like leather is a harder-wearing synthetic upholstery and not real cow hide.
The optional two-tone exterior treatment on the SE model—silver front and rear lower bumpers, rocker panels and wheel arches—offers a retro throwback to the original RAV4 of 20 years ago, which is distinctive if a little unusual these days.
Inside, the dashboard continues to look busy, but Toyota has upgraded some of the materials and added more storage areas. The changes are incremental, and while the materials are better, what appears to be tasteful two-tone, stitched and padded upholstery on top trims in photos reveals itself to be stamped and molded just like the more basic plastics on low-end models. And the entry-level RAV4 LE continues to have grim, recession-era hard plastics in a more expansive era when even base models of some competitors don't look and feel like punishment for cheapness.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Though the RAV4 rides well, it is neither the most composed small crossover nor the sportiest.
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 comes offers a pair of powertrain choices: a standard gas engine and a hybrid powertrain that's a rarity in the compact crossover and SUV class.
Though it's not exactly a hoot to drive, the RAV4 is comfortable and more refined than before, which earns it a 6 out of 10 for performance. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The hybrid endows the compact crossover with up to 32 mpg combined fuel economy ratings, almost a third better than the 25-mpg combined rating of the equivalent standard model.
The base engine remains a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Though perfectly adequate, the RAV4's engine can feel strained with a full complement of passengers and cargo aboard. Unlike the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester, there's no higher-zoot powertrain on offer aside from the hybrid.
The automatic is tuned for efficiency, shifting up 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.
A key choice for RAV4 buyers is whether to opt for the $1,400 all-wheel-drive system, which has an electronic control system that sends power rearward when slippage in front is detected. It offers a true 50/50 fixed power split at up to 25 mph in "4WD Lock" mode for deep snow conditions. Sport mode directs up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, but the RAV4 never really feels as athletic as the Subaru Forester XT or any variant of the Mazda CX-5.
On the "sporty" side, the new RAV4 SE model doesn't change the compact crossover's standard powertrain, though it adds paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and a sport-tuned suspension. While we like paddle shifters, on the SE they simply highlight the engine's flat and hardly sporty power delivery. The SE's damping is a little firmer than the base model, but you'd only barely notice it if you drove them back to back. No RAV4 is Lexus-smooth, but the LE and XLE models benefit from their taller sidewalls over rutted terrain.
The RAV4 Hybrid uses the same powertrain as in the Lexus NX 300h, the gasoline-electric version of the compact crossover launched last year by Toyota's luxury brand. It's actually more powerful than the base RAV4, with a combined peak power of 194 hp from a 154-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine paired with the latest generation of Toyota's two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Its standard AWD is not mechanical—as in the gasoline model—but instead uses a 50-kw (67-hp) third electric motor on the rear axle to provide the rear wheels with torque when its control system senses power is needed. Altogether, the RAV4 is the quickest model in the lineup—capable of getting to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, which is about a second less than with the base engine.
The hybrid RAV4 will accelerate up to 20 mph on electric power, but only if you're willing to irritate the cars behind you. Driven in even mildly aggressive suburban mom-and-dad traffic, the engine will switch on below 10 mph. You still get the benefits of electric boost and regenerative braking on coast, but like most Toyota hybrids (the new Prius is a welcome exception), the engine produces an anguished, desperate howl under full acceleration. Still, the RAV4 Hybrid fills a market niche that's been empty since Ford withdrew the Escape Hybrid in 2012—and it's one of few hybrids offered with all-wheel drive, so we expect it to be popular regardless.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Comfort & Quality
Some big upgrades last year improved the RAV4's interior, and it remains particularly well-packaged for real-world use.
Toyota revised and updated the RAV4's interior last year with better materials and more lavish trim, which helped make an already well-packaged crossover a much nicer place to spend time.
It's not at the top of its class, but the RAV4's interior has few technical flaws and feel sturdy and up to real world use. We give it a 7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The big change for 2017 is the new Platinum, which adds a heated steering wheel to the roster. The Platinum, like the SE and Limited, features what Toyota calls SofTex upholstery. It looks and feels like leather, but it's not. While it should wear better over time than hide, it's not the real McCoy.
LE and XLE models, predictably, feel a little more downmarket inside, but they're still about average for entry-level crossovers.
Regardless of trim, the RAV4's driving position is agreeably car-like, although the standard tilting and telescoping steering wheel doesn't extend as far toward the driver as it should. On more Limited and Platinum trims, the driver seat gets power adjustment and memory functions and lumbar adjustment, while the front passengers get heated seats.
The rear bench seat is less satisfying, and some adults may find a lack of support. The back seats about equal those in the Honda CR-V, meaning that entry and exit are easy, but they contouring is flat and there's not that much cushioning. 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 or for parents to strap in a child seat.
RAV4s offer about the same amount of usable space as the Honda CR-V, including a low cargo floor that opens up from 38.4 to 73.4 cubic feet with the split-folding rear seat tumbled to the floor. Most RAV4s now come with a power liftgate, which is operable via the sweep of a foot under the rear bumper in the Platinum.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Toyota added lots of safety features to the RAV4 for 2017, improving an already highly rated crossover
Toyota has made a bunch of important safety features standard for 2017, putting the RAV4 at the top of its class. Only a couple of four star scores from the federal government prevent it from acing our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
For 2017, Toyota has addressed the RAV4's previous lack of front-crash prevention and true active-safety systems. A newly standard Toyota Safety System is the headline this year, as the automaker rolls the safety system out to more cars. It includes forward collision warning, followed by automatic emergency braking if the driver takes no action. It also wraps in lane-departure alert, a radar-based adaptive cruise control, a pedestrian pre-collision system, and automatic high beams.
We applaud Toyota for adding all this technology to the RAV4 well ahead of a federal mandate for automatic emergency braking.
The Toyota RAV4 earned top scores from the IIHS—including a Top Safety Pick+ award—and a top five-star overall rating from federal regulators.
The NHTSA ratings are more mixed, with five stars for side impact but four stars for frontal crash and rollover, however.
Eight airbags are standard equipment, including knee bags, as is a rearview camera. A surround-view camera system gives drivers a 360-degree view of their surroundings using four cameras, mounted on the front, side mirrors, and rear of the car; it's standard on the Platinum.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
A new Platinum trim level expands the RAV4 lineup for 2017, but it is missing some key features.
The addition of a range-topping Platinum trim level helps fill out an already strong roster of Toyota RAV4 trim levels for 2017.
Still, there are a few features we're surprised the RAV4 doesn't offer, which gives it an 8 out of 10 overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Opt for the base LE and there aren't many surprises. The entry-level model includes alloy wheels, power locks, windows, and mirrors; air conditioning; a tilting-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio and phone controls; cruise control; interior LED lighting; a 12-volt power outlet for the front compartment; and a decent infotainment system. Move up to the XLE, and you'll also get dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, and fog lights.
Infotainment options are plentiful in the RAV4. There are four different levels of Entune touchscreen 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.
It's worth noting, however, that Toyota is so far studiously avoiding the integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into their vehicles, an odd choice, and all rivals offer real leather seats.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The RAV4's fuel economy is about average for its class, although the hybrid is a worthwhile option to consider.
Although the Toyota RAV4's fuel economy is competitive, some key rivals deliver better fuel economy.
We rate the RAV4 at a 7 out of 10 for its efficiency. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Look closely at the window sticker of any RAV4 you see on a dealer's lot, however; the crossover's efficiency varies by trim level thanks to two different wheel sizes.
LE and XLE models are the least thirsty among non-hybrids. With front-wheel drive, they earn 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined. All-wheel drive models are down a tick to 22/28/25 mpg.
Limiteds and Platinums have heavier 18-inch wheels that dent their efficiency a little: Front-wheel drivers come in at 23/29/25 mpg, and all-wheel drive lowers that to 22/28/24 mpg.
The efficiency leader is the RAV4 Hybrid version, which Toyota introduced last year. The 2017 model scored 34/30/32 mpg with standard all-wheel drive.