2016 Compact SUV Comparison – Part 7: Toyota RAV4 LE

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The compact SUV market segment is growing, and for good reason! Compact SUVs come packed with style, technology, fuel economy and modest cargo volume to boot. Like many American families, my growing family is looking to buy one. But first, I’m going to test out almost every contender in the segment. I’ve picked 7 compact SUVs that cost around $26,000 and have an ambitious list of standard features: The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. The Toyota RAV4 LE is our last review of the 7 and the next post will be our final amazing massive ultimate comparison! Click here to check out our previous entries.

Toyota has been lagging behind this fall in a major way. Most 2016 models have been out for months. The refreshed RAV4 didn’t trickle into dealers until Thanksgiving! Their website is outdated too! If Toyota really wants to de-throne Honda in this segment, they need to step up their interwebs game. Originally I wanted to include the slick yet-to-be-released SE model – a new “sport” addition for 2016. Unfortunately, pricing was finally announced and the SE starts over 29 grand; too rich for this comparison. My backup plan – the XLE – would have been very competitive based on its 2015 MSRP and standard equipment, but Toyota jacked up the price by $1,000! (The total MSRP is now $27,170.) I could give Toyota a pass, but then I would need to include better-equipped models from the other manufacturers too. Now I’m forced (by self-imposed criteria) to include the base RAV4 LE. I expect it to get slaughtered, but alas, its price falls in line with my $26,000 target. Let’s find out how it fares…

As each manufacturer releases a new model or redesign, the bar for compact SUV aesthetics is raised higher, and I love it.

EXTERIOR

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 has received a thorough cosmetic upgrade. It features mean-looking headlight assemblies with projector lamps and some of the coolest looking tail lights in the compact SUV segment. The 17″ wheels (as seen below) are merely steel but they’re more attractive than some competitor’s alloy wheels. I like the black painted accents on the spokes. Brushed aluminum roof rails are also standard. As each manufacturer releases a new model or redesign, the bar for compact SUV aesthetics is raised higher, and I love it.

The RAV4 LE is missing a couple features though. The daytime running lights are halogen, not LED. No side mirror turn signals either. No fog lights, however the plastic delete panels don’t look heinous and I’m actually not fond of the fog lights on the XLE. What’s the point in establishing an angular design language then disrupting it with plain round fog lights? Wedge-shaped fog lights would have been much more appropriate! The LE is also lacking side mirror turn signals which are included on more expensive trim levels.

toyota rav4

INTERIOR & SAFETY

Even though I’m not officially including the Toyota RAV4 XLE, I should note it has one of the best interiors in this group – aluminum trim and faux leather throughout. Curiously, it’s missing a very common feature: a power driver’s seat. Why load up the XLE with conveniences like a power liftgate and moonroof but ignore driver-centric amenities? Oh well, moving on… The LE has a plastic dash that looks like the XLE’s dash, but is of a much lower tactile quality. Although it does have some faux aluminum door trim and comfortable cloth covering all the places your elbows will rest.

The Toyota RAV4 has a 6.1″ Touchscreen that successfully keeps up with the Joneses, while not pushing the envelope. The system isn’t as polished as the Mazda unit, but it is better than average. Several other good standard features are included: steering wheel controls, a backup camera, and a tilt/telescope steering. There are a few features notably absent too: variable wipers, a power driver’s seat, a proximity key and leather-wrapped anything. The front seats are comfortable, but not remarkably so.

Several good standard features are included, but there are a few notably absent.

If cargo volume is a major concern of yours, the RAV4 leads the entire class when the rear seats are folded flat. It doesn’t quite earn the gold crown; the Rogue has roughly the same volume and is the pinnacle of flexibility. Still, the RAV4 offers plenty of space for your family. Also, the rear seat is comfortable and the seat backs recline significantly for additional comfort for adult passengers.

The RAV4, like most contenders in this comparison, is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Your family will be well-protected from the dangerous outside world with modern airbags, traction control and anti-lock brakes. As is often the case at this price point, the Toyota RAV4 doesn’t offer any crash-avoidance technology above and beyond the aforementioned standard features. By comparison, the CX-5 and CR-V provide some bonus technology to help you with your blind spots. Even without tech like that, the RAV4 has you well covered in unfortunate event of a collision.
toyota rav4

PERFORMANCE

The powertrain in the Toyota RAV4 is merely OK. Its lowest-in-class torque output (172 lb-ft) wasn’t as glaringly bad as I expected. Still, it’s not eager to accelerate. It just gingerly does what is asked of it. The transmission is adequate, but the gear shifts don’t seem particularly crisp.


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For the RAV4’s mid-cycle refresh, I’m really surprised Toyota didn’t touch the powertrain (like Honda did for the CR-V refresh). The RAV4 is near the bottom of the heap as far as power and torque numbers as well as tied for last in combined fuel economy (24 city/31 hwy/26 combined). It doesn’t need a complete overhaul (yet). All it would take is 5-10 horsepower and 2-3 MPG to get the RAV4 into more competitive territory.

(+) The redesigned exterior is sharp and aggressive.

(+) Class-leading cargo volume with the seats folded flat.

(-) 2016 price increase has pushed the plush XLE out of this comparison. The LE has a relatively barren feature list and a ho-hum interior.

(-) 2.5L is simply good enough. Road manners could use more refinement.

Like the powertrain, handling is simply adequate. It handles comfortably without being loose or sloppy. However, the ride needs a little attention. I did notice the things got a little rough on uneven pavement. Competitors seem to tolerate bumps more agreeably than the RAV4.

SUMMARY

I really like what Toyota has done with the exterior of the RAV4! It’s modern and aggressive. A stark contrast to previous generations of the RAV4 which were quite mundane. But alas, the RAV4 LE suffers from the same ailment that plagues the Equinox LS: It has a boatload of “available” equipment but none of it comes standard at the $26,000 price target. Unfortunately for Chevy and Toyota, I don’t care what’s “available”, I care about what I actually get! At $25,250, the LE is cheaper than most of the field and has a sleek redesigned exterior, but it has a relatively embarrassing list of standard features. To make matters worse, its fuel economy and acceleration give it one of the lesser powertrains in this comparison (Although I prefer it over the Equinox).

Again, similar to the Chevy, the RAV4 is a great vehicle in a vacuum, but when compared against the field there are better options. If you’re looking to save some coin, the Rogue SV and Tucson Eco are wiser budget-conscious choices. Alternatively, if you’re willing to stretch your budget north of $27k to include the RAV4 XLE, the CR-V EX or the Tucson Sport are both comparably loaded yet have more advanced powertrains. The $1,000 price increase may seem minor, but it forces the RAV4 to line up against superior competition in regards to trim levels.

I should note, the RAV4 also has a new AWD hybrid version available for a shade under $30,000. That model has more power as well as better fuel economy than the gas-powered model. While the cost is not appropriate for this comparison, it has a much better powertrain that you might be interested in.

Whew! That does it. Finally all 7 reviews are complete! Now, it’s time to take a step back and compare them all. Check back soon for our ultimate massive comparison.

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