2014 Toyota RAV4

As one of the first crossovers to hit the market, Toyota's compact RAV4 has helped to define what has become an extraordinarily fast-growing segment. The latest version of the RAV4 - that's short for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive - isn't the most stylish or exciting CUV around, but it does provide the space, comfort and efficiency that buyers prize.

Recent Changes
The RAV4 was completely redesigned for the previous model year. It lost the old model's available V6 and third-row seat but gained a better-trimmed interior and improved fuel efficiency.

For the latest model year, Toyota has added a newly optional Technology Package with numerous safety and convenience goodies. The automaker has also tweaked the RAV4's audio system offerings.

Overview
Now in its fourth generation, the RAV4 features Camry-inspired headlights and a traditional crossover shape. A rising beltline adds a bit of flair, while black plastic trim on the soft-roader's bumpers brings a hint of ruggedness to the appearance.

Gone is the side-hinged door that appeared on all previous RAV4s, replaced by a more convenient roof-hinged tailgate. Similarly, the rugged-looking but slightly cumbersome tailgate-mounted spare tire has been deep-sixed in favor of a space-saver unit mounted beneath the cargo floor.

To keep up with increasingly stiff competition in the crowded compact crossover segment, the RAV4 offers an attractive interior that combines modern style with sound ergonomics. Toyota's Entune audio system with 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen comes standard, as does Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming and a backup camera. Entune can be upgraded with an App Suite that lets users access Bing search services, iheartradio.com and Pandora music, and concierge services like OpenTable and movietickets.com.

Due to clever packaging, the RAV4 can lay claim to class-leading cargo room: behind the rear seats there's 36.4 cubic inches of spsace, and seventy-three cubes are available with just the front seats upright. Unlike the previous RAV4, the latest model doesn't offer a third-row seat - those looking for a seven-passenger crossover will need to step up to the Highlander.

Providing motivation is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. Shifting duties are handled by a six-speed with an s-mode that blips the throttle during downshifts and helps the front-wheel-drive RAV4 return 24/31 mpg.

Opting for all-wheel-drive increases surefootedness but lowers mileage to 21/27 mpg. AWD models can optimize traction by apportioning torque between the front and rear axles, while a locking mode sends more power to the rear wheels to give the crossover extra grip in low-speed situations.

Trim Level Breakdown
The RAV4 can be had in LE, XLE and Limited trim levels.

The entry-level LE features A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control, a 6.1-inch touchscreen display with Entune, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity and 17-inch steel wheels with hubcaps.

The XLE ups the ante with dual-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof, fog lights, heated exterior mirrors, roof rails, French stitching for the interior, a six-way power adjustable driver's seat and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Limited coddles with leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a power liftgate, a proximity key and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Options include a 576-watt JBL premium audio system, a navigation system and an App Suite for Entune.

Newly available is the Technology Package, which includes a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, lane departure alert and auto on/off high-beams.

Occupant Safety
All RAV4 models come standard with eight airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.

A blind spot monitor system with cross traffic alert is available as an extra-cost feature - when backing up, cross traffic alert uses radar sensors to detect vehicles approaching from either direction and provides an audible warning combined with a flashing indicator in the appropriate outside mirror. The system is bundled with lane departure alert, which warns the driver if the RAV4 begins to wander into an adjacent lane.

Key Competitors
Rivals to the RAV4 include the capable Honda CR-V, the efficient Chevrolet Equinox as well as the popular Ford Escape.