Toyota RAV4 (2015-2018) review
The Toyota RAV4’s a roomy family car with a spacious interior but it’s quite expensive and alternatives come with a better range of engines
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If you’re looking for a family SUV, but don’t want to succumb to flashy styling or space-age technology, the Toyota RAV4 is a good recommendation. It’s actually a tad larger than close alternatives such as Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca and Mazda CX-5, but also a tad more expensive.
The alternatives owe a lot to the Toyota RAV4, because it’s arguably the car that started the SUV movement back in 1997 in its first generation. Now in its fourth generation, the current RAV4 is a wholly different car with much more interior space and the latest hybrid technology from Toyota.
The Toyota RAV4 was updated in 2018, but the interior remained pretty much unchanged. What you get is a cabin that is well made and all the buttons are fairly easy to locate, but other SUVs beat it on premium feel and exciting design. Even though some parts of the dash are upholstered in leather, the rest of the plastics look a tad cheap. The overall design also looks a tad out of fashion – compared to the RAV4, a Peugeot 5008 looks like a spaceship inside.
Interior space in a family car is never out of fashion, though, and the Toyota RAV4 has that in spades. Yes, it is slightly larger than most alternatives but you get clear benefits from that inside, especially in the back seats. Even the four-wheel drive RAV4 doesn’t have a hump in the floor so three passengers can happily travel long distance in the back seats.
It’s easy to get a comfortable driving position up front, but it’s worth mentioning that lumbar support is standard only on higher spec RAV4 models. High-spec Design models get black leather and alcantara upholstery, while going for the top-spec Excel trim gets you even softer leather and power adjustable front seats with memory for the driver.
With three passengers in the back, it’s nice to know that the boot of the Toyota RAV4 can swallow a lot of luggage. If you go for a non-hybrid version, you get 547 litres which is about 10% bigger than just about any close alternative. Going for the hybrid Toyota RAV4 means you get less capacity as its batteries take up more room, but even with the hybrid you’ll still have roughly the same space as most alternatives.
The Toyota RAV4 is falling behind alternatives mainly on the way it drives, so don’t disregard it if you just want a fuss-free means of transport
Engine choice is simple in the RAV4 since it’s petrol or petrol-hybrid – the problem is that none of the engine choices are particularly good. The hybrid makes the most sense, especially as a company car thanks to its low CO2 emissions, but it’ll struggle to match its diesel alternatives’ fuel economy on the motorway.
It’s best to avoid the 2.0-litre petrol, though, since it’s not much cheaper than the hybrid to buy and is the thirster option in all situations. Once again, you wouldn’t describe it as fast, either. Or even moderately quick for that matter.
Chances are, though, you won’t be driving the Toyota RAV4 that quick anyway. It’s a car that lends itself to a more relaxed style of driving, and if you go for the hybrid model, driving less aggressively means better fuel economy. All this is to say that the RAV4 is outclassed by a lot of alternatives when it comes to speedy driving – the Toyota simply can’t match the grip, agility and the resulting confidence you get in a Mazda CX-5, for example.
As a family transport, though, the Toyota RAV4 does the job well with a hushed cabin at motorway speeds, an overall ease of use that’s a stress-relief around town, and a suspension that soaks up most potholes. All-round visibility is pretty good too, so it’s not that the RAV4 is particularly bad to drive, it’s just sensible rather than sporty.
Also sensible is the fact that all Toyota RAV4 models come with Toyota’s Safety Sense as standard. This collection of safety assists includes an automatic emergency braking system that can also detect pedestrians – something that’s an optional extra in a fair few alternatives. Alongside Toyota’s Safety Sense you get a lot of equipment as standard on each trim level, but that does make the RAV4 a tad more expensive than an equivalent Nissan Qashqai for example.
The Toyota RAV4 has space for four adults, large doors that give brilliant access and a big boot that’s great for families, but alternatives’ back seats are better suited to carrying three
The RAV4’s back seats have limo-like levels of head and leg room but try to squeeze three adults side-by-side and there’ll be very little elbow room to go round
Thankfully, the Toyota RAV4 claws back some points when it comes to cabin space. Its front doors are nice and tall so it’s easy to climb in and the seats come with plenty of adjustment to help you get comfy.
You’ll want to pick an Icon model or above to make lengthy journeys even more relaxing. They come with electrically adjustable seats with additional lumbar support that’ll help prevent back ache. Top-spec Excel versions even get a handy memory function for the front seats that’ll return them to a preset position if someone’s fiddled about with your settings.
The Toyota RAV4 is streets ahead of the Honda CR-V and VW Tiguan when it comes to carrying two passengers in the back. There’s absolutely loads of head and leg room and you can recline the seatbacks slightly to make long journeys even more relaxing.
If you regularly carry three adults in the back, however, you might still want to consider the Honda CR-V. The Toyota RAV4’s flat floor and fairly soft central seat means it’s by no means uncomfortable, but the Honda’s wider cabin means your passengers won’t be left arguing over elbow room on long drives.
It’s much easier to fit a child seat in the RAV4 than in either the CR-V or Tiguan. The Toyota RAV4’s tall doors make it dead easy to lift in a bulky front-facing child seat and there aren’t any annoying, easy-to-lose covers for the clearly marked Isofix anchor points. The Toyota’s raised roofline means there’s loads of headroom to lean in and strap in a child, too – even if you’re very tall.
The Toyota RAV4’s packed full of handy storage bins to help you keep its interior looking neat and tidy. The front door bins can hold a 1.5-litre bottle each and the glovebox is absolutely enormous. There’s even a handy storage slot in the dashboard for keeping a few items close to hand and a shallow tray under the dashboard for your phone.
You get a pair of large cupholders in the centre console and a deep storage bin under the standard folding armrest. Rather annoyingly, the storage tray in front of the gear lever has been split into two awkward triangular cubbies instead of a more practical single square item.
In the back you get a folding rear armrest with two small cupholders and a pair of fairly large door bins. They’re not quite as generous as those in the front but there’s still space for a litre bottle and a small drinks can on each side.
The Toyota RAV4’s 547-litre boot isn’t quite as spacious as in the 589-litre Honda CR-V or 625-litre VW Tiguan, but it’s still easily big enough to carry a large baby buggy and a selection of bulky soft bags. There’s no annoying load lip to heave things over and the boot opening is nice and low to the ground so it’s easy to slide in heavy luggage.
The Toyota RAV4’s protruding wheel arches can get in the way slightly if you’re packing its boot with cardboard boxes but there’s plenty of space under the boot floor for a few smaller items or to store the load cover out of the way. You also get a range of tether points, a pair of shopping hooks and even a luggage net for securing smaller items, but no 12V socket.
If you need to carry some large luggage and a passenger in the back at once you can fold the rear seats down in a two-way (60:40) split. Unfortunately, you don’t get any handy levers in the boot to help you fold the seats like in the Honda CR-V. Instead you’ll have to lean in through the back doors to reach the catches beside the headrests and push them flat yourself.
The Toyota RAV4’s boot grows to a capacious 1,735 litres with all three rear seats folded – that’s significantly more than the 1,655-litre VW Tiguan and 1,627-litre Honda CR-V. It’s easily big enough to carry a bike with its wheels attached and the floor’s almost completely flat so it’s a breeze to slide heavy boxes right up behind the front seats.
The Toyota RAV4’s surprisingly easy to drive for such a large car but it isn’t quite as relaxing on the motorway as some quieter alternatives
RAV4 feels stable at speed and doesn’t lean as much in tight corners as the rather roly-poly Honda
You can get the Toyota RAV4 with a petrol or a hybrid engine and with either a manual or an automatic gearbox. Petrol RAV4s will only return around 30mpg in normal driving conditions – and the CVT gearbox blunts the sense of acceleration and causes the engine to drone loudly when you accelerate hard.
The hybrid model is only really worth a look if you rarely venture out of town. It’s not quite as cheap to run as the diesel (Toyota claims it’ll return 57.6mpg to the diesel’s 60.1mpg) and it costs £3,115 more but it can trundle along at slow speeds in near-silent electric-only mode. Unlike some hybrids, it’s not exempt from the London Congestion Charge.
Around town its large windows, raised ride height and low dashboard mean you get an excellent view out and the slim pillars between the doors and windscreen don’t create any awkward blindspots at junctions.
All models come with a reversing camera which – combined with the Toyota’s flat rear end and large front and rear windscreens – helps make parking as easy as possible. Unfortunately, you can’t get a system that’ll steer for you into parallel and bay spaces automatically like the VW Tiguan.
You’ll notice the bumps around town slightly more in the Toyota RAV4 than in either the CR-V or Tiguan but it gets more comfortable when you head out onto a fast country road. It feels stable at speed and doesn’t lean as much in tight corners as the rather roly-poly Honda. It’ll soak up all but the most monstrous pothole without sending an unpleasant jolt through the cabin too.
Unfortunately, you’ll hear quite a bit more wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds in the Toyota RAV4 than you would in the VW which can make long journeys rather tiring. Thankfully, all models come with cruise control but it’s well worth upgrading to a Business Edition model to get adaptive cruise control as standard. It comes as part of Toyota’s Safety Sense system and matches the car’s speed to other road users before returning to a preset speed when the road’s clear.
Also standard as part of this pack is automatic emergency braking – a feature that’ll brake for you if it senses an obstacle ahead. It helped the Toyota RAV4 earn a five-star safety from Euro NCAP back in 2013. The tests have been made much stricter since, however, so newer five-star-rated cars (such as the VW Tiguan) will be a touch safer than the Toyota.
The Toyota RAV4’s stylish cabin design stands out from the SUV crowd but you still get some scratchy plastic trims