With all the new entries that have entered the compact SUV segment over the past few years, it is easy to forget about one of the pioneers in this hotly contested segment, the Toyota RAV4. Designed to bring a compelling blend of safety, versatility, and value to a segment that was in its infancy at the time. The RAV4 would emerge as one of the leading compact SUV entries on the market, while also proving to be a huge sales success for Toyota at the same time, but can the current generation RAV4 confidently follow in the tire tracks of its iconic ancestor? Or has it lost a step or two over the years?
The exterior styling of our Magenta Grey Metallic RAV4 Platinum tester might not stand out readily against more up to date rivals like the Nissan Rogue and the Kia Sportage, but it is still a commendable effort especially in regards to the front fascia, which has a welcome dose of aggression. It’s a pity that this strong start crumbles when the eye is drawn to its slab like side profile, as well as its bland rear fascia which fails to standout against rivals. This function over style approach also causes it to stumble against rivals like the Jeep Cherokee as well as the Volkswagen Tiguan which embrace a more aerodynamically influenced shape, and also out-bling the chrome accent free Platinum in certain trim levels.
Thankfully the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies to the RAV4 in spades, because its interior makes up for the bounced checks that the exterior simply cannot cash. The cabin of our tester was a spacious and very comfortable place to spend time in, with the space easily accommodating five adults in relative comfort. The well padded Softex heated leatherette seats helped make long trips enjoyable, and the rear seats even recline, which should please rear passengers looking for more legroom.
Interior quality was top notch, and unlike lower RAV4 models, our Platinum grade tester featured more soft touch accents, and did a good job relegating the hard plastic to non noticeable areas. The contrasting color scheme is a love it or hate it affair to some, but we thought it added a bit of flair to the otherwise functional cabin. The rear seats can be folded flat, and allows the RAV4 to swallow 73.4 cubic feet of cargo (38.4 cubic feet when the seats are in use.) This allows the RAV4 to be near the top of its class in cargo capacity with the Honda CR-V just beating it in both regards.
The 2017 RAV4 comes with an extensive list of standard equipment, and our range topping Platinum tester arrived fully loaded with goodies such as heated seats, sunroof, dual zone climate control, as well as a nifty 360 degree view backup camera. Curiously, the one lone blemish here was the faux wood trim on the doors and center console. It is clearly derived from a species of petroleum consuming tree, but the trim here does not even come close to mimicking real wood accents, and looked rather tacky against the otherwise upscale cabin.
The biggest weakness of our tester was the performance hardware that lies under the hood. Our tester featured the familiar 2.5 liter four cylinder engine that is good for a rather weak 175 horsepower and an equally modest 172 lb-ft of torque. These figures pale in comparison to the Honda CR-V, and buyers looking for direct injection and a turbocharged boost in performance will be disappointed to learn that neither are available.
The six speed automatic is a smooth unit but like the anemic engine, it puts fuel economy ahead of outright performance with the transmission choosing a gear that accomplishes maximum fuel economy versus outright acceleration. The disconnect between the two shows itself in the 0 to 60 sprint with our tester completing the feat in a very noisy 8.4 seconds which is behind the Honda. While we’re complaining, the steering is also quite vague, and feels completely lifeless when the RAV4 is pushed hard which also causes moderate body roll to appear.
Even though the RAV4 is clearly not a performance darling out on the road, it makes up for it by showcasing how good Toyota engineers are at building solid feeling vehicles. While the platform of our tester is a few years older than the CR-V’s, it still does a good job delivering high levels of smoothness, and it also has perhaps the best sound insulation in the entire segment. In short, as long as you respect its dynamic limits, and let its smoothness and refinement be the defining traits of your drive, the RAV4 can be an excellent family hauler.
Pricing for the 2017 Toyota RAV4 starts at $24,910 for the base front wheel drive LE model with the all-wheel drive variant starting at a slightly higher $26,610. Meanwhile, range topping Platinum trim models start at $34,750, with our lightly garnished tester ringing in at $37,180 thanks to the $940 delivery fee as well as the $90 tonneau cover. While the 2017 Toyota RAV4 may initially stumble out of the blocks due to its exterior styling and mediocre performance behavior, its smooth ride quality as well as its versatility, and serene sound deadening technology transform it into a balanced all rounder that can still go toe to toe with the segments best.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.