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2015 vs. 2016 Toyota RAV4: What’s the Difference?

Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2015 Toyota RAV4 review and the 2016 Toyota RAV4 review.

 

The compact-crossover segment is hot, and one of its most popular members is the Toyota RAV4, which has earned strong sales ever since first reaching the market in 1996. This year, it’s updated with a few key revisions compared to last year’s model. What exactly has changed? We’re taking a look at the key differences between the 2016 Toyota RAV4 and the outgoing version to help you figure out if you should pay a premium for a new model or go with a slightly used or certified pre-owned 2015 RAV4.

2015 Toyota RAV4   2016 Toyota RAV4

Exterior

The most obvious changes to the RAV4 come on the outside, where the SUV offers a few revisions compared to last year’s model. Specifically, the latest RAV4 offers a new front end, a new grille, new headlights, new wheel designs and a revised rear end with a new bumper and updated taillights. Since the SUV was merely face-lifted and not redesigned, however, its overall profile remains largely the same, so don’t expect any huge visual differences between the new RAV4 and the outgoing model.

2015 Toyota RAV4 interior   2016 Toyota RAV4

Interior

Inside, the 2016 RAV4 is virtually identical to last year’s model. In fact, Toyota says updates are limited to a few improved materials, along with larger center cupholders and expanded availability of a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Control layout, seating capacity and interior volume — the big stuff — all carry over completely unchanged.

2015 Toyota RAV4   2016 Toyota RAV4

Mechanicals

The RAV4’s standard engine moves from 2015 to 2016 with no changes. It’s still the same 176-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder it was last year. It even gets the same 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive, or 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with optional all-wheel drive.

There is, however, one big update: For 2016, a hybrid-powered model also joins the RAV4 lineup. Dubbed simply the RAV4 Hybrid, it touts 194 hp and a fuel-saving continuously variable automatic transmission while returning an impressive 34 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.

2015 Toyota RAV4   2016 Toyota RAV4

Features & Technology

Despite similar interior and exterior designs, the 2016 RAV4 offers a host of major updates over the outgoing model. The most obvious is Toyota’s Safety Sense options package, which includes a slew of modern features such as forward-collision warning with automatic braking, automatic high beams, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control — none of which is offered in the 2015 RAV4.

Other updates are a little less dramatic: newly available parking sensors, a new 360-degree parking camera and a newly optional 7-inch screen (replacing last year’s 6.1-in screen), along with a revised Entune infotainment system. Base-level LE models also offer a new navigation feature designed to work with smartphones.

2015 Toyota RAV4   2016 Toyota RAV4

Driving Experience

On the road, you won’t find any measurable differences between the 2016 RAV4 and the 2015 model, save for maybe a slight increase in refinement. Both are still relatively surefooted, with average acceleration, predictable handling, and decent (but not great) visibility and driving position. These aren’t our favorite compact crossovers to drive, but they aren’t offensive or disappointing in any way.

The RAV4 Hybrid, however, offers a different driving experience. In addition to boasting extra power, the RAV4 Hybrid touts improved refinement and a slightly quieter engine, especially when the electric motor is working on its own. Braking is the RAV4 Hybrid’s only downside, as the hybrid’s regenerative brakes make it feel a little less reassuring when slowing down than the gasoline-powered version.

2015 Toyota RAV4   2016 Toyota RAV4

Safety

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 earned a perfect 5-star overall National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rating, topping the outgoing model’s 4-star score. Likewise, the 2016 model earned a coveted Top Safety Pick+ rating from the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The outgoing model earned mostly strong IIHS ratings, though it did receive a troubling Poor score in the firm’s challenging front small-overlap test.

As for safety features, the 2016 model has some serious advantages, such as the new 360-degree camera, the new front and rear parking sensors and the new Safety Sense package, which includes lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and forward-collision alert with automatic braking. In short, if safety is a priority, you’ll want the 2016 RAV4 instead of last year’s model.

Conclusions

Despite only small visual updates, the RAV4 has changed a lot for 2016. The new RAV4 Hybrid model boasts excellent fuel economy, while enhancements to the SUV’s list of optional equipment and safety features are impressive. Our take: If you prioritize gadgets, safety or fuel economy, you’ll want to check out the 2016 RAV4. If none of those items are important to you and you just want a simple, value-priced SUV, though, consider a leftover 2015 model or a certified pre-owned version of the outgoing RAV4.

Find a 2015 Toyota RAV4 for sale 

Find a 2016 Toyota RAV4 for sale

 
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Just bought a 2016 RAV4.  No CD player.  Dealer says they’re not putting them in anymore (though the owner’s manual still has the instructions for playing CDs in it).

  2. Fuel economy and safety is the same in 2015/2016 except the hybrid city mpg.The 2016 has better headlights/tail lights that’s it! I own a 2015 and love it.

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