Toyota knows that the compact SUV segment is one of the fasted growing in the industry. So when it came time last year to overhaul its standard bearer, the RAV4, the company went all out to ensure the little road warrior would remain king of the hill. While the 2014 Toyota RAV4 isn't much bigger or more powerful than the outgoing model, Toyota has made a number of improvements to the RAV4's aesthetics and functionality. The biggest revisions can be found in the rear, where a proper flip-up lift gate replaces the previous model's swing-out-style rear door. The old model's rear-mounted full-size spare has been moved below the cargo floor, and the once-optional (and not very useful) third-row seat option has been axed. 

Up front, Toyota equips the new RAV4 with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder good for 176 horsepower. A 6-speed automatic with an Eco/Sport mode is the only transmission choice. While we found this engine to be more than adequate, we should point out that newer competitors such as Ford's Escape, Hyundai's Santa Fe and Subaru's Forester all offer turbocharged engines, while the Subaru Outback and Chevrolet Equinox keep a 6-cylinder option on the table. Still, we think the RAV4's combination of pricing, style, features and fuel economy will sit well with most buyers, as will the vehicle's predicted high resale and reliability ratings. 

What's New for 2014? 

With a full redesign last year, the RAV4 is unchanged for the 2014 model year.

What We Like 

Updated styling inside and out; peppy and fuel-efficient engine; advanced audio options; improved driving feel; Toyota resale and reliability 

What We Don't 

Interior space still a bit narrow; no V6 engine; rough ride with 18-inch wheels; towing ability limited to 1,500 pounds 

How Much? 

$24,500-$30,700

Fuel Economy

While earlier models offered V6 and 4-cylinder engine options, the latest RAV4 is available only with a 176-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder mated to a 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 24 miles per gallon city/31 mpg hwy with 2-wheel drive, or 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with optional all-wheel drive. 

Standard Features & Options 

The RAV4 is offered in three trim levels: base-level LE, mid-level XLE and upscale RAV4 Limited. 

Shoppers who choose the RAV4 LE ($24,500) get 17-in steel wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, air conditioning, power accessories, a CD player, a split-folding and reclining second-row seat, a 6-in center-mounted touchscreen system, a rearview camera, power folding mirrors and a USB/iPod interface. 

Step up to the RAV4 XLE ($26,000) and you get 17-in alloys, a power sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, heated side mirrors and roof rails.

Topping the RAV4 lineup is the Limited ($29,300), which offers heated front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, a power driver seat with memory, a power lift gate, hands-free keyless entry with a push-button starter and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. 

The RAV4 offers several options. Highlights include a navigation system, a JBL sound system and Toyota's Entune infotainment system, which boasts HD radio, voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming audio and app connectivity. 

Safety 

In addition to the government-mandated safety features (front and side airbags, LATCH child safety seat anchors, traction and stability control), the RAV4 includes additional occupant protection by adding a driver's front knee airbag. The RAV4 also boasts front side and side-curtain airbags, along with optional features such as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. 

In government crash tests, the latest RAV4 received four stars out of a possible five. It earned a 4-star frontal crash-test rating, a 4-star rollover rating and a 5-star side-impact rating. 

Behind the Wheel

The 2014 Toyota RAV4 rides and handles very well, especially considering its tall ride height and 6.3-in ground clearance. The electric power steering doesn't feel numb or disconnected, providing good feedback in tight turns. Likewise, the suspension soaks up most road distortions and bumps, yet it doesn't allow the car to lean or bob about uncontrollably when pushed hard. One area that could use improvement is the somewhat busy ride encountered driving with the Limited trim. The Limited's larger 18-in wheels don't allow for much tire sidewall, resulting in a harsher ride with somewhat rude jolts transmitted to the interior when encountering bumps and potholes. We think the 17-in tire and wheel package found on the LE and XLE strike just the right compromise between comfort and performance. 

As for performance, the 2.5-liter is more than sufficient in most circumstances. When left in Eco mode, however, the 6-speed transmission delivered a rather sluggish and unresponsive feel. Leave it in Sport mode and you'll be much happier, with almost no real difference in fuel economy. 

Other Cars to Consider  

Ford Escape -- The Escape offers a wider variety of engine choices than the RAV4. It also boasts better gas mileage and a more modern interior. But the RAV4 has more interior room and costs a bit less when comparably equipped.  

Honda CR-V -- The CR-V has slightly better fuel economy than the RAV4 and more power -- plus it offers the option of genuine leather seating. But the CR-V doesn't have as much legroom or cargo space as the RAV4, and it doesn't offer anything to match Toyota's Entune infotainment system. 

Hyundai Santa Fe Sport -- The Santa Fe Sport's base engine makes more power than the RAV4's 2.5-liter, and the Hyundai offers an optional 265-hp turbocharged engine, as well. The RAV4 matches the Santa Fe for interior space but gets better fuel economy. However, the Santa Fe has a much better standard warranty (10 years/100,000 miles vs. three years/36,000 miles). 

Subaru Outback -- The Outback is more wagonlike than the RAV4, and it offers the option of a 6-cylinder engine. Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is standard on every car and is permanently engaged. But the Outback doesn't offer a locking center differential, and its radio and navigation choices are downright primitive compared to those on the RAV4. 

AutoTrader's Advice 

For the money, we'd have to go with the RAV4 in an AWD XLE trim with the Entune and navigation option. If you don't regularly encounter snow or twisting roads, the front-wheel-drive version will be fine and save you about $1,500. If you truly desire things such as the JBL audio, power rear lift gate and heated front seats, the Limited is still affordable -- though we might be tempted to throw on a set of aftermarket 17-in wheels and tires, just to smooth out the ride.

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