Here's a midsized SUV with all-wheel drive flexibility and cargo capacity at a great value.

Toyota Rav4 Review | CarMax

The Toyota RAV4 is a midsize crossover SUV that’s been in continuous production since 1994. Toyota owners are typically brand-loyal, so RAV4 buyers often have families that have outgrown their Accord or Camry. Important features for these customers include driving flexibility, passenger capacity, and cargo space.

1. New features

The RAV4 is currently in its fourth generation, which was introduced for the 2013 model year. It received a modest refresh in 2016 with an updated cabin and exterior styling.

The most significant changes for 2017 models include driver assistance features that are now offered as standard equipment on all trim levels. These features include adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, a forward collision avoidance system, and lane departure warning. Adaptive cruise control is especially useful for long commutes and road trips. The RAV4 also has features such as parking sensors in the front and rear, as well as a 360-degree camera, which helps to minimize blind spots. These features are particularly helpful for drivers who are used to driving a sedan.

2. Performance

The RAV4’s handling is one of its strengths. It’s normally considered a light off-road SUV, although its short overhang and lockable center differential give the RAV4 a slight advantage over other SUVs in its class when driving off road. The RAV4 is also easy to drive conservatively, thanks to its well-balanced, power steering. There is less body and steer roll with more aggressive driving than with previous models of the RAV4. And the hill-start assist feature lets you start the car on a slope more easily by providing extra control of the brakes.

The adjustable steering mode defaults to give drivers more power assist and a light-steering feel, while the sport mode provides the steering with more weight, and more feeling. The drive mode button is placed discretely on the center console, near the driver’s right knee. The RAV4’s acceleration is comparable to similar SUVs, with a zero-to-60 mph time under 8.6 seconds. The EPA’s estimated fuel economy for this model is 22 mpg in the city and 28 mph on the highway, for an estimated combined average of 25 mpg.

There are six gears to the RAV4’s automatic transmission. It’s a solid setup, but it has a tendency to hunt around for the right gear on uphill grades. Maximum braking brings the RAV4 to a complete stop in about 125 feet from 60 mph, which is about average for its class. However, the feel of the brake pedal during normal use is better than that of most competitors.

3. Trim levels

The trim levels for the RAV4 are LE, XLE, SE, Limited, and Platinum (Platinum is new for 2017). The standard engine for all of these trim levels in the US is a gasoline-powered, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque with front-wheel drive. The XLE is also available with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid engine that produces 194 horsepower and offers all-wheel drive on demand. Engine options in other markets include a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline, 2.0-liter turbodiesel, and 2.2-liter turbodiesel. A six-speed automatic transmission is also standard for all trim levels in the US, and a six-speed manual transmission is available for some engines in other markets.

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The single standard engine means picking a trim level is more a matter of comfort and amenities rather than performance. The LE trim level has a fair range of standard features, although most buyers will prefer the higher-trim levels. The standard infotainment system includes a 6.1-touchscreen with multiple connectivity options, including Bluetooth® and USB. Buttons on both sides of the touchscreen let you control various functions such as the phone and sound system.

Toyota Rav4 Review: Climate Control | CarMax

The XLE adds dual-zone climate controls, 17-inch aluminum wheels, an enhanced Entune® multimedia system, and improved seat contours. The SE is a sport-tuned version of the RAV4 that adds premium vinyl upholstery and a different exterior trim. Limited models have 18-inch wheels and add new functions for the navigation system and driver’s seat. The Platinum trim level has a unique trim and additional amenities.

4. Exterior

The RAV4 has a five-door wagon body style. The fourth-generation RAV4 is larger than the previous generation, making it a true midsize SUV rather than a large compact SUV. The total length is now slightly over 183 inches, which is an increase of about eight inches.

The wheelbase is also longer at over 104 inches (an increase of almost four inches). This increase accounts for the new RAV's smoother ride, especially over rough terrain. The latest RAV4 is just over six feet wide, which is unchanged from the previous generation. Its height has been reduced by up to two inches depending on its configuration, which results in greater stability when cornering.

Toyota Rav4 Review: Exterior | CarMax
Owners of older models will notice that the trademark side-hinged rear door has been replaced by a roof-hinged rear-door, which no longer has the spare wheel mounted to it. This change makes it easier to load and unload cargo from the rear, although it also makes the RAV4 less distinctive from its competitors. A space-saver spare tire is standard, although a full-size spare tire is available for some models.

The RAV4’s LED headlamps are more efficient and can last longer than traditional incandescent lamps. All versions are also equipped with auxiliary LED lights near the main headlamps that make the car more visible during the day. Roof rails are standard, which provide solid mounting points for optional roof racks. Additional exterior features include a tinted rear window and rear spoiler for all trim levels.

5. Interior

The RAV4 provides enough room to seat five adults comfortably, and gives passengers the impression that they’re in a full-size SUV. The front seats are slightly reclined, and the rear-seat passengers have adequate head and leg room. The wide-opening doors are large, making it easy for both front and rear passengers to get in and out. The RAV4 has class-leading cargo space, and the rear seats fold nearly flat to maximize your storage space. It also has a power liftgate with a low liftover height, which is rare for this vehicle class.

Toyota Rav4 Review: Dashboard | CarMax

The controls are generally well-placed and easy to reach. One exception is the toggle button for the lane departure warning, which is on the right side of the center stack. The primary controls for the audio and climate control systems are large and easy to find. The RAV4 has no significant blind spots, even in the rear quarters. It’s also surprisingly easy to park, thanks in part to the rearview camera and backup sensors. The 2017 Limited trim level offers a leather interior, including the dash, seat, shifter, and steering wheel.

6. Comfort

The RAV4 offers a quiet ride under a variety of conditions that both daily commuters and occasional off-roaders will appreciate. The RAV4 is quieter than many of its competitors, and cabin noise is low for an SUV, even when accelerating to highway speeds. Despite its smoothness on the highway, the RAV4 also has some off-the-road capability. The wheel sizes range from 17 to 18 inches.

The seats are one of the primary reasons that RAV4 drivers get the impression that they’re driving a car, while still enjoying a commanding view of the road. These seats are comfortable enough for hours of driving, and drivers also sit more than an inch lower, meaning they’re no longer required to adopt an upright driving position, like so many other SUV drivers.

The most compelling reasons to buy an RAV4 include its smooth, quiet ride, and ample cargo space for its class. Midsize SUVs have been getting more popular since 2011, resulting in plenty of choices for drivers with smaller families.

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