The Toyota Camry was the non-truck sales leader for a solid 15 years straight, until 2017. Then another Toyota surpassed the sedan in sales. That huge-selling vehicle is the RAV4 compact crossover. There’s quite a few reasons the RAV4 is on everyone’s list, from punchy good looks to impeccable resale value. Before you go shopping, read up on everything you should know about the RAV4 before you sit in the driver’s seat.
Toyota packs lots of cool stuff in a small package here. We’ve split the features into three categories so you can skip to what matters most to you. The driving experience matters because you’ll spend the majority of your time with the RAV4 behind the wheel, while comfort and technology features are mainly what your passengers will notice.
The RAV4 is a surprisingly good driver for operating in the affordable crossover market. Built on the TNGA chassis (same as the Corolla, Camry, and Prius), the current design adds fun to a previously bland driving experience. The RAV4 has a bit of sport in the handling, but not enough to make the ride bumpy or harsh. The brakes are solid too, giving confidence behind the wheel. The RAV4 is behind only the sporty Mazda CX-5 for engaging drive.
The powertrain for non-hybrid models is a 2.5-liter four cylinder making 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Start/stop is standard, and saves gas around town. This engine is a carryover from the previous generation, but the transmission was previously a six-speed automatic with front-wheel drive or a CVT with all-wheel drive.
The hybrid uses the same 2.5-liter, engine, but adds an electric motor with 118 horsepower and an impressive 149 lb-ft. However, the math doesn’t add straight across since the systems work together to compliment efficiency, not for brute force acceleration, so the hybrid’s total system peak power is 219 hp. The 2.5-liter has Toyota’s D-4S dual injection, meaning it has direct injection and port injection. Direct injection systems are more efficient, but can cause carbon buildup on the valves. The RAV4’s intelligent system uses direct injection at higher RPMs, but then washes the carbon buildup away with the port injection at lower RPMs. This does make the fuel injection system slightly louder than competitor’s vehicles, but pays off with less maintenance.
The RAV4’s interior looks and feels high quality, with a design appropriately at the midpoint between sedan and truck. It’s got the comfort, tech, and modern design, but also a vaguely truck-inspired design, like if Lexus offered a version of the Tacoma. The foot activated power liftgate can open and close at the push of a button (or a movement of your foot). The faux-leather surfaces look and feel high quality. There’s heated seats front and rear, and a heated steering wheel, all of which are probably amazing on brutal winter days.
The technology here varies with the trim level, but we’ll cover the highlights here. Entune 3.0 isn’t the highest rated infotainment system, but in the RAV4 it’s attractive, intuitive, and fast. The RAV4 finally received Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility in 2018, so don’t shop earlier models if you think that’s critical. Flip a tab on the rear-view mirror, and you go from old-school glass to a digital camera with a wide field of vision. It’s useful at night and poor visibility situations. That tray in front of the shifter is also a Qi-compatible wireless charger. If you’re still getting by with your ancient Galaxy S6, there’s up to five USB ports for wired charging. The optional JBL audio system drives 1100 watts through 11 speakers for concert level clarity.
Active safety is all the rage, and Toyota is helping lead the way. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is a suite of active safety features included in every Toyota sold, including the RAV4. The 2.0 means additional features on top of the 1.0’s adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic braking. For example, Road Sign Assist read the signs ahead and displays a larger version on the driver information center. Automatic high-beams automatically turn on at night, allowing farther visibility, but detect oncoming traffic and automatically switch to low beams. The collision prevention system is now smart enough to recognize and stop for pedestrians that might wander into the road.
You aren’t getting seating for eight in a compact crossover, but the RAV4 is way easier to park than a Ford Expedition. Here’s where the RAV4 excels due to its convenient size, and where it comes up short.
Size-wise, the RAV4 is slightly (sometimes by fractions of an inch) larger than the Honda C-V and slightly smaller than the Nissan Rogue. The compact crossover segment’s strengths are comfortable seating for five, good fuel economy, with limited off-road ability and towing for an affordable price. Gas mileage is even higher in smaller subcompact class, while cargo, towing, and seating for seven are in the larger mid-size class. The compact RAV4 is an example of how this class is a best compromise of everything buyers want a crossover to do.
The front seats are comfortable and offer several adjustment options to get your perfect fit, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for taller drivers. Rear seat room feels generous for adults, as long as you’re only seating two back there, or a young kid in the middle. Five adults feels cramped. Passenger space is roomy, but cargo storage is a bit smaller than the competition due to the sporty design. The cargo hold can take a payload of over 1,100 lbs, and interestingly it goes up 100 lbs for the hybrid. The towing capacity ranges from a car-like 1,500 lbs to a respectable for the class 3,500 lbs, depending on options selected. You’ll want AWD and the tow package for that higher number. Cargo volume is 37.5 cu-ft behind the rear seats, but fold the rear seats down and it jumps to just short of 70 cu-ft.
From the pros at JD Power and Car & Driver, to owners that live with it every day, here’s how the RAV4 ranks.
Consumer Reports gave an overall score of 77, behind only the Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 out of 18 similar compact crossovers. RAV4 earned the Editor’s Choice award too, saying, “It’s not the best at anything, but the RAV4 is still a compelling and well-rounded compact SUV.” While the Forester gets 1 more MPG, CR reported the RAV4 is a full second faster to 60.
Kelley Blue Book rated RAV4 a 4.4 out of 5. JD Power gives the RAV4 a 79 out of 100 overall, and quality at 8 out of 10, overall dependability a 9, and depreciation a 10 out of 10.
Edmunds rated the RAV4 a 7.7 out of 10, with most categories seeing an 8. They especially liked the interior, noting “The logically laid-out controls are easy to use and nice to look at. Driving position, roominess, and ease of entry and exit are all good. The RAV4 is pleasant to ride in for long distances, especially when it comes to ride comfort and the climate control system.”
US News & World Report rated it an 8.3 out of 10, just behind the Honda CR-V. They had a long list of likes, summarizing, “Yes, the Toyota RAV4 is a good SUV. It handles well, rides smoothly, and gets great gas mileage. Though some rivals are more athletic, this Toyota has ample power for most driving situations.”
Looking through owner reviews and forums, a few trends pop up regarding living with the RAV4 long-term.
Owners like the RAV4’s styling and size, saying it is easy to drive and park, but provides enough useful space for a family of four. The gas mileage is another winner, returning small car gas mileage.
Owners do have some gripes though, saying the 2.5-liter is loud under hard acceleration. Road noise is average for the class, but surprises some owners. The RAV4 was late to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Any RAV4 will pretty much last forever. JD Power and Consumer Reports both highly recommend Toyotas in general as a reputable brand with long-term reliability. The RAV4 has excellent reliability scores going back the last decade.
Consumer Reports shows the current model has a predicted reliability score of 4 out of 5, with the same score for predicted owner satisfaction. The 2009 through 2018 generation has a perfect 5 out of 5 for reliability, and it’s on CR’s recommended list. KBB rated reliability at a 4.8 out of 5. Car and Driver recommends the RAV4 as one of the most reliable vehicles in its class.
Toyota manages to get by with one of the more minimalist warranties in the industry. Bumper-to-bumper coverage is three years, while the powertrain is covered for five years. Complementary maintenance is 100% covered for two years, but that’s mostly just three scheduled oil changes, tire rotations, and inspections. Corrosion is a standard five-year, unlimited miles, but rust hasn’t been an issue with Toyotas for about 30 years. Hybrid components are considered emissions equipment, and federally required to carry an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty on all hybrid parts.
LE, Hybrid, Adventure, and Limited. Here’s what all the badging gets you. Note that front-wheel drive (FWD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) are available with every trim level, except for Hybrid and Adventure. Both of those are locked to AWD, the Hybrid gets an electronic version through the electric motors, while the Adventure trim sees a traditional mechanical linkage between the wheels.
The base model is called LE, although it’s probably not a Limited Edition like those letters suggest. The base RAV4 is a bit limited on options, but could be a good buy for the right customer. Included with the LE badge is 17-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers, LED headlights with automatic high-beams, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, unpainted black plastic grille and lower bumper cover, black roof rails, power mirrors, and dual chrome exhaust tips. On the inside there’s a back-up camera with projected path display, six-way manual adjustment driver’s seat, four-way front passenger seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, keyless entry, power windows, rear window defogger, power locks, USB port, 12V & 120W outlets, and a total of eight cup and bottle holders. The tech side sees Entune 3.0 with seven-inch touchscreen and six speakers, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, with Sport, Eco, and Normal driving modes, and Hill Start Assist Control for you readers in San Francisco. That’s a good chunk of the basics, but an LE is probably only for the most budget-conscious buyers.
The LE Hybrid looks like the LE on the outside with its black plastic bits, but has the XLE’s lighter 17-inch wheels for improved gas mileage. LE Hybrid has the same interior and exterior features as the LE, but aims for improved efficiency. You can see that in features like the active grille shutters, and the electric on-demand all-wheel drive that functions like a FWD vehicle when AWD isn’t needed. There’s an EV mode that allows you to use only battery power up to about 25 MPH. The LE Hybrid is obviously for buyers that want to save money on fuel, but it’s also quicker than the base trim. The 245V Ni-MH battery and electric motors combine for additional power, towing, and reduced 0 to 60 times. Unlike hybrids from ten years ago, there are no drawbacks (less gas and more power!), so the hybrid could be a good option for nearly everyone.
The XLE trim builds on the base model by adding an impressive amount of standard features. This is probably the real “base model” you’ll actually find for sale. Take LE trim and add: 17-inch alloy wheels, multi-LED headlights in chrome housings, fog lights, and heated power mirrors on the outside. Inside there’s a power moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control with pollen filter, embossed front seats, silver interior door handles (instead of unpainted black handles), overhead console, rear cargo cover, five USB ports, an additional 12V/120W outlet in the cargo area, and additional safety tech in the form of Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Traffic Alert. XLE adds useful and desirable features, making this the ideal mid-range model.
Like the LE Hybrid, this combines all of the above XLE trim features with the hybrid drivetrain. This is the hybrid without compromise of interior features, and the best choice for a family that’s looking to lower their fuel bill.
Premium starts the luxury trims, and it looks the part. It builds on the XLE package and adds 19-inch chrome-plated alloy wheels, height-adjustable power liftgate, additional controls in back for the climate control, SofTexR-trimmed seating surfaces, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift handle. There’s also soft-touch dash and armrest surfaces, and a Smart Key System for easy entry. Premium trim adds a lot of driver and passenger comforts, and is a good choice if you expect to spend a lot of time in a RAV4.
Looking to do real SUV things with your crossover? The Adventure trim adds a cool Tacoma-like grille and rugged looking 19-inch wheels. The package is backed up by: engine and transmission oil coolers, an upgraded 150 amp alternator, unique bumper covers and fenders, a half-inch more ground clearance, trim-specific roof rails, and black badging. Inside there’s a panoramic backup camera, eight-inch center infotainment screen with additional speakers and USB ports, orange stitching in the seats and surfaces, rear cargo area storage net, and the instrument cluster gains a seven-inch screen with customizable displays. For off-road work, you have Downhill Assist Control when going down a mountain road. The Dynamic Torque-Vectoring AWD system provides maximum grip off-road, and Rear Driveline Disconnect delivers maximum efficiency on-road. Driver selectable modes include Mud and Sand, Rock and Dirt, Snow and Normal modes. Motor Trend found the Adventure trim has real off-road chops, especially when using Mud/Sand mode. The Adventure trim is for the avid outsider, if you’re cross-shopping a Subaru Outback or Jeep Cherokee, look to the RAV4 Adventure.
Rounding out the top of the lineup is the Limited luxury trim package. It’s a RAV4 with all the options thrown at it. A mix of XLE Premium and Adventure is the starting point, including those great 19-inch wheels. Then add: a sweet metallic grille, unique front and rear bumpers, puddle lights (they shine on the ground when in park), chrome door handles, and a huge panoramic glass roof. Then add low profile roof rails, heated front seats (ventilation optional), a heated steering wheel option, dark brown accent stitching, and a sweet digital rear-view mirror with HomeLink control system. Other neat standard features are blue ambient lighting in the footwells and storage areas, the larger infotainment screen plus navigation, Siri, Alexa, Apple CarPlay, and ‘droid Auto. That’s a lot. The Limited is best for families that plan on keeping their RAV4 for many years.
A brand new RAV4 doesn’t ask a lot for the value you receive, with a good list of optional equipment, and features you can’t select (build quality, reputation, resale value). Used, it’s an even better value. Just be aware that Toyotas in general have a high resale value. This can work in your favor if you don’t plan on keeping this ride forever, a high resale value helps get you cash for your next ride. With that said, in Carvana’s inventory there are two noticeable values for price per dollar.
Below $20,000 – RAV4 XLE
XLE offers a lot for the money, with a large pile of standard features and even more options. Since it’s not the super high-end trim, it doesn’t carry its prestige to the price tag, meaning lots of features for the dollar. This price point offers dozens of XLE trim vehicles a few years old and with only 20,000 to 40,000 miles.
$20,001 to $25,000 – RAV Limited
The Limited makes an impressive package, but asks mid-$30,000 when new. A far better value can be found in Carvana’s inventory, where three or four-year old Limited trims can be found for under $25,000. This model averages 30,000 to 50,000 miles, which is barely broken in for this vehicle.
You don’t want to spend your extra income from your side hustle feeding your vehicle, so it’s important to get at least average fuel economy. Fortunately the RAV4 can help you out there with better than average fuel economy.
The 2.5-liter and eight-speed is the only choice when not getting the hybrid, and in FWD form, the EPA says you’ll see 26 MPG city, and 35 highway. Select AWD and the city numbers stay the same, but highway falls to a still-respectable 30 MPG. You should get the hybrid for its power, e-AWD, and the impressive 41 MPG city, 38 highway numbers. That’s incredible gas mileage for a crossover, and slightly ahead of most competitors. Even the sleek and modern Camry scores 29 MPG city, 41 highway, so to have additional ground clearance and cargo room while not losing money filling up is an impressive engineering feat. The 14.5 gallon fuel tank only needs cheapo regular unleaded. That means a theoretical range of 507 miles for FWD, and 478 miles with AWD. Real world driving range for the hybrid is over 550 miles, meaning you’ll need a break before it does.
The IIHS reported the RAV4 earned their coveted Top Safety Pick+ award when equipped with the right headlights. The compact scored the highest Good rating in all six crash categories, and for ease of use of the child seat anchors. The crash avoidance and mitigation score also earned a Good rating, due to standard Toyota Safety Sense. At 12 MPH and 25 MPH, the RAV4 automatically prevented collisions. The Adaptive Front Headlight System package offers high-beam assist and curve-adaptive for seeing around corners. Other headlight packages only offer high-beam assist, receiving the lower rating of Marginal for limited light in left turns.
RAV4 earned an overall five-star rating from the NHTSA. The front driver’s side impact and rollover prevention system rated four stars, but all other collisions rated five stars.
Europe’s NCAP test is a little different, but also turned in good grades with a five-star score. The NCAP focuses on front impact, side impact, whiplash, child protection, pedestrian protection, and active safety features. The notes from their tests said “Dummy readings indicated good protection of critical body areas for both the driver and rear passenger.” A side impact airbag failed to deploy on one test, but this likely isn’t common, and the dummy reported non-life-threatening injuries. Like the IIHS report, the RAV4 automatically prevented a crash in their 3 tests, earning a perfect score for active safety features.