Toyota RAV4 Review

The Toyota RAV4 is a practical family SUV that has a roomy cabin, plenty of standard equipment and an economical hybrid system, but alternatives have tech that’s easier to use.

7/10
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expert reviewers
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after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Practical cabin with good passenger space
  • Comfortable to drive
  • Hybrid comes as standard

What's not so good

  • Potentially divisive styling
  • Awkward and noisy CVT gearbox
  • Unintuitive infotainment system with no phone integration
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Toyota RAV4: what would you like to read next?

Overall verdict

With so many SUVs to choose from, it’s easy to forget that the Toyota RAV4 was the first of them all. A bit like the SUV sector’s very own Neil Armstrong, although Toyota’s first attempt at a cool urban-focused SUV came in 1994, a few years after Mr Armstrong’s famous first lunar steps.

The RAV4 has changed a bit over the years, but it’s still an affordable family SUV with a spacious cabin, a big boot and a clever hybrid system that makes it cheap to run.

These days the RAV4 has a wide range of alternatives, like the VW Tiguan and Honda CR-V, but in its latest form stands out from these cars thanks to its super-aggressive looks.

The Toyota RAV4 is a mishmash of creases, angular shapes and blunt surfaces whichever angle you approach from. Its gaping octagonal grille looks more like it belongs on a menacing sports saloon than a practical family runabout. You might like it, but your neighbour might not, or vice versa. In any case, it’s certainly striking.

Sadly (or not, depending on your view) the Toyota RAV4 is less daring inside. It combines simple surfaces, clean lines and posh-looking metal-effect trims that look pretty understated and rather classy and most of the surfaces you’ll touch regularly feel plush and sturdy. It’s not quite as solid-feeling as a VW Tiguan, but it looks much more exciting than a Honda CR-V.

Unfortunately, one area that is neither exciting nor classy is the infotainment system. You get an 8-inch screen as standard in all RAV4s but it gets old-fashioned graphics and the menus are clunky at best, which makes it tricky to use on the move.

If the screen winds you up then the supportive seats might well calm you down. In mid-range models, you get lumbar support and plenty of electric adjustment that means even taller folk will find space to stretch out.

The striking Toyota RAV4 makes a good alternative to the crop of humdrum family SUVs – especially if you rank practicality and running costs above sporty handling.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

If you’re designated driver for a burly five-a-side football team then everyone will fit in just fine and even entry-level cars will allow you to recline the seat backs by a few degrees.

You won’t break a sweat fitting a child seat either – the Isofix points are easy to find – and a wide opening and flat floor means sliding things into the Toyota RAV4’s boot is an easy task.

There is more room than the boot in the Honda CR-V and, even though there are no levers in the boot to do so, you can flip the back seats down flat to carry really big stuff – such as a bike.

The simplicity extends to the engine range and driving experience, too. The only engine option is a hybrid system and this lets you cruise almost silently around town using just the power of its electric motor. You get an automatic gearbox as standard, too, which means you can cruise around town without constantly reaching for the gear lever.

The downside of the auto ‘box is that it makes the 2.5-litre petrol engine rev loudly every time you put your foot down. It’s reasonably quiet when you’re cruising at motorway speeds, though, and the RAV4 irons out bumps pretty well, too. As an added bonus, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting close to Toyota’s top claimed fuel economy figure of 50.4mpg.

The relaxation stakes are further upped by the driver assistance features that make the Toyota RAV4 relaxing to drive for long periods and help prevent avoidable accidents – perfect if you’re looking for a safe family SUV that’s easy to live with every day. If you are after something that offers a touch of entertainment then the SEAT Ateca is more fun to drive, though.

By going hybrid the RAV4 has taken a few more small steps for mankind and if it sounds like your next car, take a look at the latest Toyota RAV4 deals or get offers from our favourite model – the hybrid model in Design spec – by clicking the button below.

How practical is it?

The Toyota RAV4’s cabin will happily take five adults and its boot is impressively roomy too, but you don’t get a great deal of front seat adjustment in entry-level cars.

The Toyota RAV4 will swallow passengers in the front and bulky luggage in the boot with ease. It’s a doddle to load and even comes with a dog-friendly wipe-clean boot floor as standard.

Mat Watson
carwow expert
Boot (seats up)
580 litres
Boot (seats down)
-

There’s plenty of space for even taller occupants to stretch out in the front of the Toyota RAV4’s large cabin, with loads of headroom if you are more than six-feet tall. Shorter drivers aren’t neglected, though, as driver’s seat adjustment comes as standard across the range so everyone should be able to find a good view out. There’s plenty of steering wheel adjustment to make sure you get a good view of the dials, too.

Go for an Excel or Dynamic model and that seat height adjustment is electric and you also get lumbar support to help reduce backache on longer trips. These versions also get a memory function so you can lock in your preferred position – easy if you are part of a couple with one much taller than the other. The passenger is stuck at a fixed height no matter what, though, as none of the RAV4s get seat-height adjustment for the other front seat, even as an option.

Offering reclining rear seats as standard is a nice touch, but even when they are tilted all the way back they are no more reclined than your average family SUV. The lever to adjust them is tucked up in an awkward position by the headrests, so moving the seats requires an awkward twisting motion.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of headroom for tall passengers and enough legroom for a six-foot-tall adult to sit behind an equally tall driver. There’s plenty of space for your passengers to slide their feet under the front seats too – even when the driver’s seat is set as low as it can go.

The Toyota RAV4’s central rear seat isn’t as wide or as supportive as the outer two, but there’s enough headroom for a tall adult to sit up straight without their head touching the roof. There’s enough shoulder room to carry three adults side by side too, and three kids will have plenty of space to get comfy.

You can easily lift a child seat through the Toyota RAV4’s wide rear door openings, but the Isofix anchor points for securing it are hidden within the fabric padding so it takes a bit of fiddling to get it locked in in the first place.

You can get two one-litre bottles into each of the Toyota RAV4’s front door bins and there’s enough room under the front armrest for a few drinks cans, too. You also get two USB ports for charging your phone here, and another under the dashboard beside a 12V socket.

If that isn’t enough charging ability then there’s a wireless charging pad in the central console for compatible devices, along with a pair of cupholders. The glovebox isn’t particularly large, however, but you get a small tray to the left of the steering wheel to hold your keys and another wider tray in front of the passenger seat.

The rear door bins aren’t as generous as those in the front but your passengers get a folding armrest with two built-in cupholders. There’s also a pair of USB ports between the front seats and some felt-lined seat-back pockets in Excel and Dynamic models.

At 580 litres, the Toyota RAV4’s boot is about par for the class – it’s slightly larger than the Honda CR-V’s but a few litres smaller than the VW Tiguan’s. The boot opening is wide and quite low so it’s easy to load heavy luggage. You also get an adjustable boot floor as standard, which means you can set it at its highest level to offer a totally lip-free entry point.

You can flip the floor over, too, as there is a wipe-clean surface on one side – perfect if you need to put dirty stuff in the boot – dogs, tools or, well, boots.

There’s enough space under that false floor to tuck a few soft bags out of sight and there is also a special recess into which you can pop the load cover so you don’t need to leave it at home if you fold all the seats and use the RAV4 like a posh van.

Those back seats drop down in a two-way (60:40) split if you need to carry some long luggage and a back-seat passenger at once. There is no option to fold the seats three ways, nor is there a ski-hatch to slide long items into the cabin, as you get on rivals though.

There are no clever levers in the boot to drop the Toyota’s back seats, but at least they fold down almost completely flat so it’s dead easy to push your luggage right up behind the front seats.

With all the back seats folded away, the Toyota RAV4’s boot grows to 1,690 litres. That’s slightly more than you get in the VW Tiguan, but a few litres shy of the more capacious Honda CR-V. There’s still plenty of room to carry a bike with both its wheels attached, though.

You also get an elasticated net for storing smaller items, a few shopping hooks and a 12V socket – perfect if you need to keep a few boot-bound gizmos fully charged.

What's it like to drive?

The Toyota RAV4 is reasonably nippy and comfy and easy to drive but the standard automatic gearbox is the biggest bugbear.

The Toyota RAV4 remains impressively composed around big corners but the automatic gearbox prevents it from being really fun to drive.

Mat Watson
carwow expert

Unlike many cars these days there is only one engine on offer in the Toyota RAV4 – a 2.5-litre petrol unit which is aided by an electric motor and a battery. This hybrid setup means the RAV4 can drive at slow speeds using just battery power and even cruise briefly at motorway speeds without resorting to using the petrol engine to drive the wheels.

Toyota claims this combination of petrol and electric power lets the RAV4 return up to 50.4mpg – and it’s not far off. A figure in the high forties is a reasonable expectation in normal conditions.

The only real option when it comes to how the RAV4 drives is between front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. In the latter, an additional electric motor drives just the rear wheels.

The four-wheel-drive models can send as much as 100% of the hybrid system’s power to the front wheels or 80% to the rear wheels – the distribution is done to maximise grip, and the power is sent where it is most needed. If you ever fancy taking your practical family SUV off-road, you’ll be pleased to hear Toyota’s also fitted it with a system that uses the brakes to stop individual wheels spinning on very loose, uneven ground.

In four-wheel-drive cars, the combined power of the petrol engine and electric motors is 222hp (it’s 218bhp on the 2WD model) which is more than most comparable family SUVs. As a result, the Toyota RAV4 will accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds so it’s easily punchy enough to sprint down a motorway slip road or breeze past slow-moving traffic. The front-wheel drive model is not much slower, taking 8.4 seconds for the same dash.

Unfortunately the standard automatic gearbox somewhat blunts the RAV4’s performance. The CVT unit is rather lazy to respond when you accelerate hard to overtake a slower vehicle and keeps the revs oddly and unnaturally high in the process. It’s rather indecisive, too – constantly adjusting the gear ratios when you’re cruising at motorway speeds.

The Toyota RAV4’s high seating position means you get a good view out over other vehicles. Visibility is further aided by the thin pillars between the windscreen and the large side windows, which all makes getting around town surprisingly easy.

The steering isn’t particularly heavy either, and parking is made relatively stress free by the fact that every model gets rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Go for a Design model or above and you also get front parking sensors. Unfortunately, the reversing camera looks like a video taken by an early 2000s camera phone so you might struggle to spot smaller obstacles behind you – especially at night.

The RAV4 does a good job smoothing out bumps and potholes at town speeds too. On faster roads It doesn’t lean a great deal either, and the direct steering makes it easy to accurately carve from one corner to another. Sure, it’s no sports car and it doesn’t feel as agile as a SEAT Ateca, but the Toyota RAV4 drives pretty well for such an upright family SUV.

Settle into a long motorway journey and you’ll find it’s pretty relaxing, too. The large door mirrors produce a slight whistle at speed, but you won’t hear much noise from the tyres – even in high-sec cars with their larger 18-inch alloy wheels.

It comes with plenty of driver assistance systems as standard, too. Adaptive cruise control comes as standard, as does lane-keeping assist and road-sign recognition. You also get automatic emergency braking to help prevent avoidable collisions with other cars, pedestrians and even cyclists. That has all helped the RAV4 score a full five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test, with strong scores for adult, child and pedestrian safety, as well as for its assistance systems.

What's it like inside?

The Toyota RAV4’s interior is neat and simply laid out, but the infotainment system is its biggest weak point.

Next Read full interior review
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