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. Redesigned for the latest model year, the RAV4 - that's short for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel-drive - is more efficient and spacious than ever, although it does without the optional V6 and three-row seating that the previous model offered.
Now in its fourth generation, the RAV4 inherits Toyota's new corporate look thanks in part to Camry-inspired headlights. Out back, the entry-level crossover is fitted with large horizontally-mounted tail lamps and plastic trim on the bumper that gives it a tougher appearance than the current model.
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 new RAV4 gains a better-finished interior that combines modern style with sound ergonomics. A Display Audio system with a 6.1-inch LCD touchscreen comes standard, as does Bluetooth connectivity and a backup camera. Available as an option is Entune, a multimedia system that offer apps like Bing search services, iheartradio.com and Pandora music and concierge services like OpenTable and movietickets.com.
While the RAV4's overall footprint hasn't changed much compared to the old model, improved packaging means that cargo room is now class leading: behind the rear seats there's 36.4 cubic inches available, two more than before. Seventy-three cubes are available with just the front seats upright. Unlike the third-gen model, the new crossover 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 carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. In place of the previous model's ancient four-speed automatic is a new six-speed unit with an s-mode that blips the throttle during downshifts. In the front-wheel-drive RAV4, the box helps improve efficiency by two mpg in the city and three mpg on the highway for totals of 24/31 mpg.
Rated at 21/27 mpg, the all-wheel-drive model is likewise more economical than before, and it now features the ability to optimize traction by apportioning torque between the front and rear axles. Also new is a locking mode that 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, 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 Toyota's Entune infotainment system.
All RAV4 models come standard with eight airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems. Blind Spot Monitoring 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.
Rivals to the RAV4 include the capable Honda CR-V, the efficient Chevrolet Equinox as well as the popular Ford Escape.