The Toyota RAV4 was part of the very first wave of crossovers that emerged in the ‘90s. Since its arrival, it’s consistently been one of the Japanese automaker’s bestselling models, and with good reason. And it’s not just popular within the Toyota stable; it’s also one of the most popular crossovers currently on the market in Canada.
Of course, the crossover market is one of the most crowded, as it has so much to offer in a variety of designs and performance levels. Competition is stiff, and the segment is growing steadily. So, how is Toyota keeping its hold on buyers with the RAV4? After a week behind the wheel of the top-level AWD Limited version of their much-loved crossover, it’s clear to me the key behind Toyota’s success has a great deal to do with its reputation and even more to do with the fact that they’ve got a really, really good product here.
Looks the part
If you’re a fan of the RAV4, you’ll notice that Toyota’s made some exterior changes to the 2016 version. This midlife upgrade sees the RAV4 gain a more aggressive front fascia that ties into Toyota’s latest model design language. Slightly angular and much more linear, the RAV4’s been squarely positioned (design-wise) to fit in with the cool new kids with a look that’ll appeal to Millennials, which is right where Toyota wants to be.
While I quite like the rear of the RAV4 where the lights are 3-dimensional and offer character and a distinctive look that while follows suit to a certain extent with the general trend in today’s world of crossovers, the front is a bit too angular for my taste. I get the resemblance to the new Yaris, but it doesn’t wear the Angry Birds look as well in my humble opinion.
However, once inside the 2016 RAV4, all bets are off. Toyota went to great lengths to update the interior space, and they’ve done it in all the right ways. With a host of new soft-touch materials, upscale quality, and a two-tiered look that offers up modern aesthetics and more storage space, sitting in the RAV4 is a great place to be.
In my particular AWD Limited model, you’ll find a digital screen in the gauge cluster, as well as a 7” colour touchscreen for all your onboard entertainment and navigation needs. All buttons and switches are close at hand, and the steering wheel is equipped with buttons and is very comfortable to hold on longer journeys. Front and rear seats are equally comfortable, and driving position is spot on, feeling just high up enough to invoke confidence while also offering plenty of visibility.
In terms of interior space, the 2016 Toyota RAV4 also has plenty of that. The real beauty of a crossover is just that: small exterior footprint for easy city life, with a (hopefully) cavernous interior space for all your small-family needs. Well, the RAV4 answers both those callings with 1,090 litres of space behind the rear seats. Fold those down and the space grows to nearly double that (2,080 litres). Impressed? I was.
Now, seeing as I live a family life (to a certain extent), I now pay attention to things like trunk space, load height, and backseat space (read: can my son kick the front seat when someone is sitting there, and how easily can I install his child seat?).
Well, the RAV4 scores major points for offering up a nifty little floating hammock in the trunk that allowed me to keep all valuables (i.e., eggs, bottles of wine, arts and crafts projects) from rolling around in the back while I drove. Where the RAV4 fell a bit flat for me, however, was in the seatbelt height in the rear seats. The shoulder strap was affixed much too high up the pillar, and so when it was looped into my son’s Evenflo Big Kid LX booster car seat the angle was too great and it kept popping out. I’ve not had this problem in other crossovers or cars before now with the same seat.
Other than that, the 2016 RAV4 really is an ideal vehicle for small families or couples/singles who like to adventure and carry lots of stuff with them.
More than just good looks and space
The truly nice thing about the 2016 Toyota RAV4 is that it kind of does it all well. It looks good inside and out, offers space, offers usability, and it also drives really well.
While there are six different RAV4 models available, they all sport the same engine: a 2.5L 4-cylinder VVT-i that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft. Coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the RAV4 sends power to all four wheels. I like the idea of gears, and so was pleased Toyota’s not gone the CVT route. Also, the RAV4 offers up some pretty stellar throttle response. In fact, it’s almost too good. It’s uber sensitive and in less-than-stellar road conditions, sometimes it’s a bit too much. However, the more you drive it, the more you’ll learn to use it effectively and not in as jerk-y a way as I did.
I was impressed with Toyota’s all-wheel drive system. It was solid and kept the RAV4 stable in some pretty unstable conditions. The active torque control system in conjunction with vehicle stability control, as well as traction control kept the RAV4 in line even when that line wasn’t visible on the road.
Steering is heavy in a connected way, and helps maintain the RAV4’s confidence on the road. But that’s not the only thing that’ll keep you confident behind the wheel.
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 AWD Limited is the only model to feature Toyota’s Safety Sense that offers up a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, along with lane departure alert (that also offers steering assist if you drift a bit too much), auto high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. That’s a lot of safety tech in a crossover, but it comes at a price.
Pay to play
After my week behind the wheel of the new RAV4, I could really only find one major downfall: its price. For myself, I couldn’t justify spending just under $40k for a Toyota RAV4. Despite its plethora of technology and safety features, its dynamically designed interior and newly handsome exterior looks, I know I’d much rather take my $40k and play elsewhere.
However, I’m well aware that the 2016 Toyota RAV4 AWD Limited is indeed worth the price needed to play, if only for its reliability and high resale value down the road.