Toyota RAV4 Review

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


This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

What's good

  • Practical cabin
  • Comfortable to drive
  • Hybrid comes as standard

What's not so good

  • Divisive styling
  • Awkward CVT gearbox
  • Unintuitive infotainment system

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Overall verdict

Watch our Toyota RAV4 video review

It’s easy to forget that the Toyota RAV4 is a bit of a Neil Armstrong. Neil was the first person on the moon, while the RAV4 was the first cool, urban-focused SUV when it was introduced in 1994. It’s 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.

The RAV4 is an alternative to the likes of the VW Tiguan and Honda CR-V, but in its latest form stands out from these cars thanks to its super-aggressive looks.

From any angle, the Toyota RAV4 is a mishmash of creases, angular shapes and blunt surfaces. Its gaping octagonal grille looks more like it belongs on a menacing sports saloon than a practical family runabout. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s certainly memorable.

Less striking is the Toyota RAV4’s interior. Its collection of simple surfaces, clean lines and posh-looking metal-effect trims looks 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 you won’t be too keen to touch is the infotainment system. An 8-inch screen comes as standard in all RAV4s but its clunky menus and outdated graphics make it a bit of a pain to use while driving.

The supportive seats are just the thing to help calm your nerves, though – especially in mid-range cars where they come with lumbar support to reduce backache on long drives and loads of electric adjustment as standard. You’ll have ample space to stretch out, too – even if you’re tall.

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

The Toyota RAV4’s back seats are also impressively roomy and there’s more than enough space for a six-foot passenger to sit behind an equally tall driver. There’s enough shoulder space to carry three adults at once too, and you can recline the seatbacks by a few degrees as standard – even in entry-level cars.

You won’t break a sweat fitting a child seat either, and the Toyota RAV4’s boot is easy to load thanks to its wide opening and flat floor. It’s more spacious than the Honda CR-V and you can flip the back seats down easily to carry really big stuff – such as a bike.

It’s not just easy to fill with luggage, driving the Toyota RAV4’s a doddle, too. Every model comes with a hybrid system which lets you cruise almost silently around town using just the power of its electric motor. And, you get an automatic gearbox as standard so you won’t find yourself constantly changing gear in heavy traffic.

Sadly, the latter causes the 2.5-litre petrol engine to rev loudly every time you accelerate. However, when cruising, the RAV4’s reasonably quiet at motorway speeds and irons out bumps pretty well, too. As an added bonus, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting close to Toyota’s claimed 51mpg fuel economy figure.

It comes with plenty of 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 –  but it’s not as fun to drive as a SEAT Ateca.

Still, if a hybrid SUV sounds like your next car, take a look at the latest Toyota RAV4 deals.

What's it like inside?

The Toyota RAV4 comes with a neat interior that looks smart and feels pretty upmarket but it’s let down by a few cheap-feeling trims and an unintuitive infotainment system

Read full interior review

How practical is it?

The Toyota RAV4’s cabin is big enough to carry 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)

The Toyota RAV4’s large cabin means there’s plenty of space in the front for you to stretch out. There’s ample headroom if you’re over six-feet tall and driver’s seat-height adjustment comes as standard across the range so shorter drivers can get a good view out. There’s plenty of steering wheel adjustment to make sure you get a good view of the dials, too.

Pick an Excel or Dynamic models and you also get electric seat height adjustment and adjustable lumbar support to reduce backache on long drives. These models also get a memory function for the driver’s seat – handy if your other half is significantly taller or shorter than you are – but no RAV4s come with the option of seat-height adjustment for the front-seat passenger.

You do get reclining rear seats as standard, but even in their most recumbent position, they’re no more laid-back than the fixed back seats you get in most family SUVs. The lever to adjust them is hidden up by the headrests so your passengers can’t reach them without twisting around awkwardly.

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 in its lowermost position.

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’s not particularly easy to lock it in place.

The Toyota RAV4’s front door bins are big enough to carry two one-litre bottles each 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.

You get a pair of cupholders in the centre console too, and a wireless charging pad for compatible devices. 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.

The Toyota RAV4’s 580-litre boot is 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 there’s no annoying load lip to worry about. This floor’s reversible too and comes with a wipe-clean surface on one side – perfect if you regularly carry a dog or two in the boot.

There’s enough space under the false floor to hide a few soft bags out of sight and you can slot the load cover into a dedicated recess beneath two removable plastic panels.

You can fold the back seats down in a two-way (60:40) split if you need to carry some long luggage and a back-seat passenger at once. But, some alternatives come with three-way split-folding seats or a ski hatch that let you carry an extra passenger.

At least the Toyota’s back seats 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 a comfortable SUV that’s easy to drive and even reasonably perky but it’s let down by a frustrating automatic gearbox which causes the engine to rev noisily

The Toyota RAV4 handles its large body with impressive composure through a series of twisting corners, but the lazy CVT gearbox makes enjoying a spirited drive rather tricky

Mat Watson
carwow expert

You can only get the Toyota RAV4 with one engine – a 2.5-litre petrol unit which drives either the front or all four wheels with the help of an electric motor and a battery. This configuration means the RAV4 can drive at slow speeds using just the electric motors and even cruise briefly at motorway speeds without resorting using the petrol engine to drive the wheels.

Toyota claims this combination of petrol and electric power lets the RAV4 return up to 51mpg – and they’re not far off. You can expect to see a figure in the high forties in normal driving conditions.

You can get the Toyota RAV4 with either front-wheel drive or with four-wheel drive – where an additional electric motor drives just the rear wheels. 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 to help maximise grip on slippery surfaces. 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 – 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.

Unfortunately, somewhat blunting the RAV4’s performance is the standard automatic gearbox. This CVT unit causes the engine to rev unnaturally highly when you accelerate hard and it responds lazily when you put your foot down to overtake other cars. It’s rather indecisive, too – constantly adjusting the gear ratios when you’re cruising at motorway speeds.

You sit high up in the Toyota RAV4 so you get a good view out over other cars. The pillars beside the windscreen are relatively thin and the side windows are nice and large so it’s surprisingly easy to manoeuvre through city traffic.

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

Once you’ve left the car park you’ll find the RAV4 does a good job smoothing out bumps and potholes around town. It doesn’t lean a great deal on faster country roads 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, which strong scores for adult, child and pedestrian safety, as well as for its assistance systems. 

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Toyota RAV4
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