Versus the competiton:
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is a little like the jeans and T-shirt you wear every day; they get the job done, but just a little extra effort would take it from yawn to yay.
The Toyota RAV4 is one of the original compact SUVs — arguably the first car-based SUV, or crossover. Over the years, it’s become an icon of practical people upsizing from practical sedans, like the Toyota Camry. The RAV4 is an interesting animal, though, in that its upper trim levels manage to incorporate all the individual features you’d want — and might even consider upscale. It just seems to be missing a little … something. Some joie de vivre, an unknown X factor, that mysterious thing that makes you return date number one’s call but ignore date number two’s. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it just doesn’t get you all twitterpated on the inside.
If you don’t want to go out with the RAV4 for a second coffee date, plan an online speed-dating session with the Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage here.
For 2015, there are only a few minor changes to the RAV4, the most important being an optional programmable-height power liftgate. Compare it with last year’s model here.
The Toyota RAV4 comes with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive in three trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. I drove an AWD Limited. Compare AWD versions of all three trims here.
Is there anything distinguishable about any of the cars in this class? They all look essentially the same — cute and sporty. They all more or less function the same; the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. In this case, the pudding is all the tiny, seemingly trite individual details that add up to create either a positive or negative daily life experience inside the car.
A RAV4 with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder and AWD gets an EPA-estimated mileage of 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined. This bumps up ever so slightly to 26 mpg combined in the front-drive RAV4. Any shoppers who have yearned for higher mileage from a RAV4 will get their wish in fall 2015 in the form of the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid, the first gas-electric option in this model’s history.
On the highway, the Toyota RAV4 has a tinny sound to it and a too-light feel that resulted in my passengers noticing all the vibrations from the grooved pavement where I live. Perhaps some additional focus on insulating from road noise would help.
While I wouldn’t really characterize the RAV4 as fun to drive on shorter trips around town, it’s effective enough in terms of both acceleration and braking to get you where you need to go.
Sure, it has a Sport mode in addition to an Eco one, but in a world of turbocharged compact SUVs, the RAV4 won’t be your go-to for a joyride; it’s more of a practical daily companion. It’s the flats you wear to work, not the super-fun heels you lug around in a tote bag to change into for after-work drinks. And, hey, everybody needs a pair of comfortable shoes.
There’s a definite attempt at niceness inside the Toyota RAV4; the Limited trim I drove had leatherlike SofTex seat upholstery, soft-touch door panel inserts and a leather-like panel on the dashboard with contrast stitching. The faux carbon-fiber trim pieces made out of a stamped plastic material, however, sadly cheapen the effect.
The optional heated seats up front (standard on the Limited trim) have high and low settings and can warm up your tush in short order on cold days.
Between the driver and front passenger, there are two cupholders as well as a shallow open tray and triangular storage area that worked well for stashing my phone, lip balm and toll transponder. Narrow pockets in the front two doors give you another option for storing odds and ends, but they’re not large enough to fit a water bottle or travel coffee cup.
In the back, my kids had access to storage pockets on the backs of the front seats as well as small in-door bottleholders. Two of them were happy enough sitting back there, but with the addition of the third daughter (my girls are 10, 12 and 14) this car fell from grace in our family. The center rear seating position is quite narrow and the center seat belt extends down from the roof. That means it must first be buckled down to tether the shoulder belt to the seat before you can buckle it normally. The space between that tether point and the other side of the buckle, though, is quite narrow, requiring a child to sit essentially perched with the edge of each cheek jammed into the tiny space between the buckles. If this weren’t already uncomfortable enough, once the other two get in all three will be fighting for lateral space just to fish out the seat belts and buckles from the tight gap in between their hips. For my girls, this rigmarole happened every … single … time … they … got … in.
After a frigid sledding trip with the kids crammed into the backseat in bulky snow gear, they further complained (loudly) that there were no air vents anywhere in the back to quickly pipe hot air onto them. At least the backseat reclines, so they were able to adjust the seatbacks to the most comfortable angle for them.
Not that we needed it during the arctic blast that accompanied our week in the Toyota RAV4, but this car does in fact have a moonroof in XLE and Limited versions. It is, however, above the front seats only. Apparently I’ve become spoiled with the panoramic moonroofs or dual front/back moonroofs that are increasingly common (and something I associate with more modern engineering feats).
Remote keyless entry is standard on the RAV4, and my Limited test car also came equipped with push-button start, an eight-way power driver’s seat with memory and a $499 remote-start option.
A 6.1-inch touch-screen Entune system is standard in the Toyota RAV4. While the screen’s menus are relatively self-explanatory and easy to navigate, some of the onscreen buttons are quite small and narrow, making it hard to pinpoint and press exactly what you want to, even for tiny fingers like mine.
It was very quick and easy to pair my iPhone with the Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming audio system. Because I don’t have an Entune account, I wasn’t able to test out the full suite of apps included in the RAV4 Limited, such as Bing, iHeart Radio and movietickets.com, though I did like the real-time traffic and weather info. However, I suspect most people will find it quicker and easier to obtain all this information from their smartphone — as I did while waiting in the carpool lane — than it would be to navigate through the car’s touch-screen system.
The 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the RAV4’s backseat was enough for my daughter to climb in and rest after a particularly exhausting sledding day before our other girls were ready to call it quits. Folding the rear seats flat expands the cargo space to 73.4 cubic feet. This amount of space is more on target with the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (35.4 behind the seats and 71.5 with the seats folded), than with the Hyundai Tucson (25.7 and 55.8) and Kia Sportage (26.1 and 54.6 cubic feet).
Unfortunately, RAV4s manufactured for the 2015 model year received different crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A manufacturing change that began in November 2014 raised the overall crash-test rating from four to five out of five stars. To find the later release, as it’s termed by NHTSA, check the plaque on the driver’s doorjamb that begins with “MFD. BY: TOYOTA MOTOR MANUFACTURING,” followed by a location and date. Make sure it reads 11/14 or later.
The Toyota RAV4 is also an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick, having received the institute’s highest rating of good (on a scale of poor, marginal, acceptable and good) in side and small- and moderate-overlap frontal crash tests, along with tests of its roof strength, head restraints and seats.
A backup camera with onscreen guides displayed on the 6.1-inch screen is standard on the RAV4. A $725 Technology Package on my Limited test car also included helpful blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert (which watches behind and to the sides of the vehicle and alerts you to any cars approaching that you may not see), lane departure warning and automatic-high-beam headlights.
An important active-safety feature the RAV4 lacks is forward-collision warning, which is making its way down into other affordable vehicles, including roughly a half-dozen direct competitors like the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. Toyota announced in April at the 2015 New York International Auto Show that the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid would be the first Toyota model to offer this feature in an unusually affordable suite of safety features.
Families installing child-safety seats in the RAV4 might struggle a bit with the Latch anchors buried deeply within the seat bight. Installing a child-safety seat behind the driver’s seat may also render the center rear seat useless, as the car seat will extend over the top of the center seat belt’s anchor point. Check out our Car Seat Check of the 2014 RAV4 here.
See all the Toyota RAV4’s standard safety features here.
The Toyota RAV4 has evolved quite drastically since its inception in 1996 and most certainly has a massive following of brand-loyal fans. However, the dawn of other small SUVs birthed from more nimble (namely Korean) manufacturers threatens not so much the Toyota RAV4’s long-term survival, but rather the pool of potential new buyers. Millennials new to the compact body type SUV scene will be less impressed by the brand their parents drive and more wooed by upscale and modern-feeling amenities.