Compact SUVs and crossovers are nearly as hot as Apple?s iPhone 6. Nearly every manufacturer has one, and there?s one for every budget from the low $20,000s to nearly $100,000. After 19 years in that market category, the Toyota RAV4 continually ranks as one of the top selling models.
Entering the third year of its fourth-generation, the current Toyota RAV4 (which originally stood for Recreational Activity Vehicle with 4-wheel drive) offers buyers a well-designed, attractive and comfortable choice.
The attractive interior is filled with high quality materials. There?s elegant French stitching on the dash and soft two-color seating options in the Limited model. That model also has the breathable SofTex material with French stitching on the seats, the center console and door panels. The SofTex has the look, feel and durability of leather, but it?s softer and has only about one percent of the volatile organic compounds that conventional synthetic leathers produce. That means less strange chemical smells and icky film on the windows. SofTex is designed to hold up to high family traffic with better spill and wear resistance, plus it weighs about half as much as leather. We have always preferred leather seats, but would probably take this material over leather; however, leather is not an option on the RAV4.
The controls are well placed and marked for good driver ergonomics and all the gauges and dash are illuminated by a new crisp blue lighting system. The multiple adjustments of the seats provide a very good and supportive driving position.
Access to the cargo area is easier on the Toyota RAV4 Limited model thanks to the powered and height adjustable lift gate. Inside, behind the second row of seatbacks, is 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space. When the rear seat back is folded it expands to 73.4 cubic feet.
The Toyota RAV4 comes in three trim levels, LE, XLE and Limited with each building on the features of the previous level. As a result, the top-level Limited version we drove was loaded with features like the power liftgate, heated seats, Entune Premium Audio with navigation and a long list of other convenience and comfort equipment.
All the Toyota RAV4 versions have a standard back-up camera, Entune multimedia system with voice activation and full connectivity through Bluetooth?, USB and AUX mini-jack.
The RAV4 is a safety segment leader with features like eight airbags and STAR Safety System on all trim levels. The Limited has an available Blind Spot Monitor system with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which uses the monitor sensors to warn the driver audibly and visually that there is cross traffic approaching.
The standard power on all trim levels is a 176-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder DOHC with variable valve timing and direct injection. The engine has Toyota?s new Smart Stop Technology, which shuts the engine down when the vehicle is stopped.
The engine does an adequate job but is a little weak when fully loaded or going up steep hills in the mountains. Accelerating from 0 to 60 mph takes 8.7 seconds and EPA fuel economy is improved to 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway for the four-wheel drive version and two miles per gallon better with front-wheel drive.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. Front-drive models have a driver-activated Automatic Limited Slip differential that directs power across the front axle and unlike a traditional traction control, allows a slight slippage to maintain momentum in adverse conditions. All-wheel drive (a $1,400 option on all trim levels) is a system that constantly monitors driver actions and transfers the power to the tires with the best traction.
Pricing for the 2015 Toyota RAV4 starts at $24,565, including the destination charge, for the front-drive LE and goes as high as $32,245 for the AWD Limited with the optional Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert ($725) and Entune? Premium JBL Audio with Navigation ($785) .
The RAV4 looks great and shows a high level of sophistication. The only criticism we would have is — it could use a little more power. For the average owner it will be perfect, but for a more aggressive driver, or someone who lives at higher elevations, or carries a lot of passengers or cargo, it might feel a bit underpowered. Maybe the next generation will have turbocharging or perhaps a diesel for the U.S. market.