NEWS

Life with the Toyota RAV4: What Do Owners Really Think?

toyota-rav4-2021-comments 2021 Toyota RAV4 | Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

Pickup trucks dominated the podium for best-selling vehicles in the first quarter of 2021, according to Reuters, but riding the tails of rigs like the Ford F-Series, Ram pickups and the Chevrolet Silverado is the Toyota RAV4, America’s best-selling SUV. Dating back to the mid-1990s, the compact five-seater was one of the first car-based crossovers on a market that’s now flooded with a slew of competitors

What makes the RAV4 so popular among SUV shoppers? Cars.com’s team of automotive experts reviewed the RAV4 following its latest redesign for the 2019 model year to form our opinion, but we wanted to know what everyday drivers think about the SUV. Below you’ll find pros and cons of the fifth-generation RAV4, according to Cars.com users. (Comments have been edited for clarity.)

Related: 2021 Toyota RAV4: Everything You Need to Know

RAV4 Raves and Rants

We examined Cars.com user reviews of the fifth-generation (2019-current) RAV4 to find trends of likes, dislikes and lifestyle factors common among owners. Praise for the RAV4 includes its technology, fuel economy, ride and handling, overall value and family-friendly appeal — but not all RAV4 owners are enamored with their vehicles. Common complaints include the vehicle’s stop-start system, engine noise, ride comfort and transmission problems. 

toyota-rav-4-hybrid-2021--05-angle--exterior--front--silver.jpg 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The 411 on the RAV4

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 outsells comparable SUVs — think Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and Chevrolet Equinox. The gas-powered 2021 RAV4 comes in six trim levels, ranging from the LE ($27,425; all prices include destination) to the plug-in hybrid Prime XSE ($42,600).

The RAV4 redesign borrowed beefier exterior cues from Toyota’s 4Runner SUV and Tacoma pickup; it also got updated multimedia, more standard features and an available fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain. Toyota added the rugged TRD Off-Road variant for 2020, along with Android Auto capability. (Apple CarPlay, meanwhile, has been standard for the current generation.)

Drivetrain choices are a gas-only (203 horsepower) or hybrid (219 total hp) four-cylinder engine, both with automatic transmissions — an eight-speed unit for the gas-only RAV4 or a continuously variable-style automatic for the hybrid. The gas-only RAV4 offers front- or all-wheel drive; AWD is standard on the RAV4 Hybrid. A new addition to the RAV4 lineup for 2021 is the RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid with 302 combined hp. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid emblem 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime | Manufacturer image

Here’s what customers like about the Toyota RAV4’s technology, fuel economy, drivability and value.

Raves: High-Tech Features

Cars.com user reviews showed that many RAV4 owners enjoy the vehicle’s infotainment and safety features. The 2021 RAV4 offers 7- or 8-inch touchscreens with Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Options include onboard Wi-Fi, a camera-based rearview mirror, up to five USB ports, a wireless phone charging pad and JBL premium audio.

23-toyota-rav4-2019-interior--rearview-mirror--visibility.jpg 2019 Toyota RAV4 | Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

Standard safety and driver-assist features include a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist and hands-on lane centering. Options include a blind spot warning system, 360-degree camera system, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking.

  • “Got all the bells and whistles and am enjoying the fun parts, but also appreciating the additional safety features. Thought the panoramic camera view would be just a toy, but it is very useful for parking in tight places and not running over the dog.” — Cars.com consumer review for 2020 RAV4; Gainesville, Va.
  • “The tech is amazing. It reads road signs. It centers you on the lane, automatically following gentle curves on the highway and gently assists you if it thinks you’re drifting. Turns headlights on and off, turns high beams on when there is no oncoming traffic. Can use cruise controls in stop-and-go traffic and turns the engine off if you’re stopped waiting for lights to change. Blind spot monitor alerts you if traffic is coming while you’re backing up.” — 2020 RAV4; Inland Empire, Calif.

One owner especially liked the peace of mind that comes with Toyota’s Remote Connect mobile app with a guest driver setting that can limit speed, curfews and miles driven.

  • “One of the cool things about this car is if you ever valet your car or give it to a kid or family member to borrow, you can set up the parameters of the speed they’re going and the distance traveled — you can actually watch where the car is from your phone.” — 2020 RAV4; Bellevue, Wash.

Raves: It Sips Fuel

Many RAV4 owners are impressed by the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. The combined EPA rating for gas-only models is 28-30 mpg, while the RAV4 Hybrid is rated at 40 mpg combined and the RAV4 Prime at 38 mpg after 42 miles of electric driving. User reviews suggest drivers have little problem meeting or surpassing such ratings, and several users compared their mileage to that of the gas-guzzling vehicles they previously drove. 

  • “Gas mileage so far has been great, at around 32 mpg combined, as we drive it on the freeway a lot more than in the city.” — 2021 RAV4; Holladay, Utah
  • “Turned in a 2016 to get a 2019. … The fuel economy is really good. I recently got 42 mpg on a 250-mile trip.” — 2019 RAV4; from southern N.J.
  • “I love the look of the ‘19 RAV4. … It’s also more powerful, and I love driving it so much that I made my daughter buy one. I’m averaging 32.9 mpg and, after driving a Toyota Sequoia for years, I’m pretty happy with it.” — 2019 RAV4; Los Angeles
  • “I traded my 2016 RAV4 for a new 2019 model with more features, and I average around 30,000 miles a year. I like the stylish new body and all the new safety and technology Toyota has put into this vehicle, and the 35 mpg is a plus.” — 2019 RAV4; Dandridge, Tenn.

Raves: Solid Ride and Handling

Interestingly, the RAV4’s ride is a source of disagreement among owners. Many customers say it has a comfortable ride and handles well, though some claim the opposite, saying the RAV4 has a harsh and jarring ride. (When Cars.com judges compared a 2019 RAV4 against six other SUVs, it tied for last place in ride quality and came mid-pack in handling.)

08-toyota-rav4-trd-off-road-2020-angle--dynamic--exterior--grey- 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road | Manufacturer images
  • “RAV4 has almost everything our BMW has, plus more technology. The RAV4 rides pretty good. It has a solid feel, not very cushy but not stiff, either.” — 2021 RAV4; Holladay, Utah
  • This is the second RAV4 I’ve owned. I really like the improvements Toyota made from the 2016 to the 2021 models. It’s fun to drive, handles well under all road conditions and gets great gas mileage.” — 2021 RAV4; Longmont, Colo.

Raves: It’s Value-Packed 

The 2021 RAV4’s starting price is higher than competitors like the CR-V, Rogue and Mazda CX-5, but Cars.com users don’t seem to find that a deterrent. Numerous owners expressed that the RAV4 is an excellent value for the money, especially when compared to premium SUVs or larger offerings within Toyota’s lineup.

04-toyota-rav4-trd-off-road-2020-cockpit-shot--front-row--interi 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road | Manufacturer images
  • “It meets our need for a new car at an affordable price. Some newer technology but not overload.” — 2021 RAV4, Watertown, Wisc.
  • “The seats and ride are very comfortable on both short- and long-distance trips. Handles the wind very well. The gas mileage is great, averaging 30 mpg all round driving. The vehicle has nearly as much room as the Toyota Highlander for less money.” — 2021 RAV4; Wamego, Kan.
  • “I recently purchased a new 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE Premium. I love this car! It rides super smooth, looks sleek and is made with quality. The price point is right on. A family member purchased her RAV4 about a year ago and loved it so much she recommended I look at the same vehicle when I was in the market for a new car. I’m so glad I did.”  — 2019 RAV4; Orlando, Fla.
  • “For only a bit over $40,000, it has everything we needed in a car; it’s a pretty good purchase. We are very happy that we could save quite a bit ($20,000 to $30,000) by switching to Toyota from BMW.”  — 2021 RAV4; Holladay, Utah.
  • “More comfortable than my Toyota Solara, and that’s saying something for the RAV4, and the standard safety features are better than my friend’s new Audi SUV. It’s a tremendous value.”   — 2019 RAV4; Petaluma, Calif.

Rants: Stop-Start System Is a Non-Starter

Toyota offers a stop-start system in the RAV4 to reduce idling and fuel consumption, but many owners find it more of a hindrance than a solution. Complaints stem from model-year 2020 and 2021 RAV4 users who claim the system causes a jarring restart and acceleration lag. Some drivers say they disable the system each time they drive to fix the issues.

  • “The gas-saving feature of engine stop when idling has a very rough restart to pull away. Also, I now have a maddeningly pronounced hesitation of 1-2 seconds before acceleration from a stop or at slower speeds. This is a safety problem when merging in heavy traffic. Hopefully it can be adjusted at my next checkup.” — 2021 RAV4; Webster, N.Y.
  • I’m not a fan of the on-off engine gas-saving system. It causes vibration at takeoff and pedal shudder — just a rough start when the engine start is engaged. Also, when putting it in Park in the engine on-off mode, it goes into Park real rough. When the system is disabled, it doesn’t have any of the issues I mentioned; it’s like a different car. Toyota has some engineering issues with the system that it needs to work on. The owner’s manual says that all the things I mentioned are normal, but I don’t like it. Had the 2018 RAV4 and it didn’t have that system; it drove great and got decent gas mileage.” — 2021 RAV4; Spokane, Wash.

Rants: It’s Loud

Although some users claim the SUV has a quiet, comfortable ride, others rant about engine and road noise, especially on the highway. In fact,  many positive reviews point to the RAV4’s noise levels as the SUV’s only flaw. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid | Manufacturer image
  • “Only downside compared to the BMW is the sound insulation. RAV4 is a bit louder on the freeway than the BMW.” — 2021 RAV4; Holladay, Utah
  • “Very noisy. You have to put the radio on loud to drown out the noise.” — 2020 RAV4; Lindenhurst, N.Y.
  •  “About the only negative thing I could say about it is that the engine is a bit loud at higher rpms, but nothing too crazy.” — 2021 RAV4; Lisbon, Iowa
  • “Things you don’t realize until you drive this car a lot — this car is loud. The engine when accelerating is loud; the road noise is loud. There are all sorts of rattling noises in my car.” — 2019 RAV4; Parma, Idaho
  • “Put 5,000 miles on. Disappointed with road and wind noise and lack of power.” — 2019 RAV4; Rochester, Minn.

Rants: Transmission Woes (2019 Models)

One noteworthy trend for used RAV4 shoppers is a pattern of negative reviews, particularly for the 2019 model year, around the vehicle’s transmission. Most of these reviews call out the gas-only RAV4’s eight-speed automatic transmission, with complaints regarding transmission hesitation and jerkiness.

  • “This has to be the worst transmission ever. The new eight-speed transmission jerks and hesitates at lower speeds when accelerating.” — 2019 RAV4; Lansing, Mich.
  • “Have had mine since December 2018. It has constant transmission issues — launching forward, shift shock, slipping, hesitation. You name it, the transmission has done it.” — 2019 RAV4; Ottawa, Ontario
  • “After buying a 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD, I regret the purchase. The 2.5-liter engine is not matched to the new eight-speed transmission. When starting to accelerate the engine sounds like it is going to blow up until it gets going, but the engine is loud and vehicle is slow — not as good as my 2018. Be careful and do a long test drive, as I did not do because I have owned so many RAV4s.” — 2019 RAV4; Warwick, Pa.

More From Cars.com:

Related Video:

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest expert reviews