Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Toyota RAV4

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

The RAV4 was one of two trailblazers in the mini-ute/cute-ute/crossover category along with Honda’s CR-V. Remember when those came out? We didn’t know what to make of the little things, but boy did we ever start buying them. It’s the category to look out for now, and has left cars and big SUVs in the dust. The RAV4 has evolved significantly since then, and, as we North Americans demand, has become a bigger vehicle with every generation. Improvements abound, and this latest iteration is the best one yet.

The RAV4’s spacious back seats have long been one of its trump cards and that continues.

Toyota dropped some refreshed exterior styling for the 2016 model year. It consisted mainly of (slightly) redone front and rear fasciae. The RAV4 has a bit of an awkward but robust appearance. It looks substantial without being too big or too small. The front is a pretty busy place – sometimes it’s hard to determine what your eye should be looking at first. Overall, the RAV4 has more sculpted lines and that busy front end does look sharper. The bright LED daytime running lights certainly catch your eye, as do the LED taillights at night. My Limited trim review vehicle got LED headlights too, which are awesome. The rubber is chunky – nice, fat 235/55s on unique 18-inch rims specific to the Limited and SE trims.

The cabin is mostly unchanged, and that’s not a bad thing. You’ll find a lot of hard plastics that seem to attract dust very quickly. There are some soft materials, which are on the padded lower “chin” of the dash and on the door panels – it has handsome contrasting stitching. The heated “sport” seats are comfortable and surprisingly well-bolstered. They are clad in SoftTex (with contrasting stitching too) and the driver’s side is power-adjustable.

I loved the fat, grippy steering wheel that happens to be heated in this trim. Behind it and between the gauges is a great driver information screen that handles a ton of information and is easily accessed and controlled by steering wheel buttons. 

Toyota’s 7-inch touchscreen’s interface is laid out pretty well, responsive and easy to use. It looks after nearly everything, including navigation, phone and audio. The sound is piped into the cabin courtesy of a serious 11-speaker JBL Synthesis system and I found it quite impressive. If I had any ergonomics qualms, it would be that the right side of the screen and the knobs and buttons there felt like quite a reach for me. There was a dual-zone automatic climate control and conveniently located USB, auxiliary and 12V plugs under the “chin”.

The RAV4 Limited fires up with a push-start ignition. Overhead is a standard-sized sunroof and a set of universal garage door openers too.

I mentioned my review vehicle was a Limited trim, but it was actually the Limited with the Platinum option package. Much of this package is aesthetic nonsense – I couldn’t care less about the Platinum-badged floor mats and door scuff plates, not about the “unique” interior trim and the ambient footwell lighting. But the Platinum package also adds a hands-free, sweep-your-foot-under-the-bumper liftgate and smart keyless entry at all doors and the tailgate and those things might be of great value to some folks.

Driver assistance tech is solid in the upper-trim RAV4s. Mine had blind-spot monitoring, 360-degree cameras, front and rear parking sensors, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high-beams, rear cross-traffic alert and dynamic radar cruise control.

Toyota does a good job at providing useful places for your stuff. I loved the iPhone 6-sized rubberized dish at the front of the console. There’s also a cupholder in the front and one at the rear of the centre console, and a nice drop-in tray in front of the passenger. Additional space can be found in the dual-level bin under the armrest.

The RAV4’s spacious back seats have long been one of its trump cards and that continues. I found lots of head room and lots of leg room for my 5'10" frame. Our kids fit very well three-across and were comfortable back there – the floor is almost flat and that makes even the middle position a reasonable place to be. Rear passengers get a 12V charging plug and a centre armrest with two cup holders in middle seat back – that’s it for convenience. The rear seats recline as well, which is a nice touch. Moving little ones? There are two sets of LATCH anchors for their seats.

A great safety feature (that I first saw in the Ford Explorer a few years ago) is the set of three rear seat silhouettes on the dash. Indicator lights will tell you if the seatbelt at each position is not buckled up, which is very helpful when you’re transporting kids.

RAV4’s have traditionally had segment-leading space in the trunk and that continues. Pop the power liftgate (which opens and closes too slowly in my humble opinion) and you’ll find a huge cargo area – 1,090 litres! A nice tonneau cover can cover the items in your trunk and the rear seats fold flat (and split 60/40) for a massive 2,080 L cargo space. You get a removable tonneau cover, as well as a cargo net to help you secure your stuff.

The 2.5L four-cylinder and the six-speed automatic are familiar territory now. Toyota rates the engine at 176 hp at 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. A few of the trims are available in front-wheel drive – my Limited was all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is decent – 10.7 L/100 km in town and a solid 8.4 L/100 km on the highway. We ended up averaging exactly 10 L/100 km during our week with the RAV4. That was mostly slow commuting, a few runs down the freeway and a couple of highway sprints – and no effort to drive economically. Not bad at all!

The RAV4 rides really, really well and was comfortable in absolutely every situation. It also handles well. There’s noticeable body lean (typical for vehicles like this), but it feels very safe and competent when you turn into corners and hit the curves with some speed. Toyota has done impressive work on sound levels – it is quiet, even at highway speeds.

There are three driving modes – Normal, Eco, Sport (which sharpens the throttle and steering response, as well as alters the shift timing). The powertrain offers up good acceleration and power off the line. Once you’re on your way it’s not amazing but certainly has enough power to motivate its not-insubstantial 3,630 lb (1,635 kg) mass around town – and that’s just fine, since nobody is buying RAV4s for track day.

I found the Sport mode to be quite responsive and it makes a noticeable difference in the driving experience. Toyota’s transmission is smooth, and has its own sport mode as well. Gears can be shifted manually using the gear selector if that’s your thing. The RAV4 has a “Lock Mode” which locks in full-time all-wheel drive under 40 km/h, instead of starting off as a front-wheel-drive vehicle. I tested that out as we got some snow during my week in the vehicle. It’s effective, but likely not necessary unless you’re starting off on ice as the normal slip-and-grip all-wheel-drive system did a fine job in the snow.

I enjoyed excellent visibility out of the vehicle. If you want to do some towing, you can lug around an extra 680 kg (1,500 lb) with your RAV4.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was quite high. She liked how it drove, and that it felt compact on the road and in parking lots, and she absolutely loved how much she got into the trunk after her trip to the mall.

Overall, the RAV4 is kind of an unremarkable vehicle. But not in a bad way. There’s little about it that’s memorable, but in typical Toyota fashion, that’s exactly its mission. It does virtually everything well. It offers relatively spirited yet economical performance, with plenty of space and utility. In this trim level, the RAV4 is loaded right up but also becomes a fairly pricey vehicle. However its resale value will definitely remain high and you can count on an outstanding ownership/reliability experience.

Engine Displacement 2.5L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 176 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Peak Torque 172 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
Fuel Economy 10.7/8.4/9.7 (L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb)
Cargo Space 1,090 / 2,080 L (seats down)
Model Tested 2017 Toyota RAV4 Limited
Base Price $38,155
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,760
Price as Tested $41,475
Optional Equipment
$1,460 – Platinum Package $1,460