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2016 Toyota RAV4: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader February 2016

The compact-crossover segment is growing, and the 2016 Toyota RAV4 continually seems to have no trouble taking on its ever-increasing list of rivals. No, it doesn't stand out from the crowd in terms of equipment or styling, but the RAV4 boasts reasonable pricing, impressive fuel economy, high resale values, a roomy interior and a strong reliability record. For 2016, it also boasts a new hybrid model, covered in a separate review, with a fuel-efficient new powertrain.

Admittedly, there are some drawbacks, such as its average base-level engine that offers just 176 horsepower and no available upgrade. But in general, we think the RAV4 is a strong competitor, worthy of a spot on your shopping list as you consider a new compact crossover.

What's New for 2016?

The RAV4 makes four big changes for 2016. One is the addition of a fuel-efficient new hybrid model. Another is the newly available Toyota Safety Sense package that features several modern new safety gadgets. Third, there's a sporty new SE model. Finally, the SUV sees updated styling inside and out.

What We Like

Updated styling; advanced audio options; improved driving feel; Toyota resale and reliability; fuel-efficient new hybrid option

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?

$25,200-$34,500

Fuel Economy

Most RAV4 models use a 176-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which is mated to a standard 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive or 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with optional all-wheel drive.

The new RAV4 Hybrid, covered in a separate review, uses a 194-hp 2.5-liter hybrid 4-cylinder mated to a standard continuously variable automatic transmission. It returns an impressive 34 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The RAV4 is offered in four trim levels: base-level LE, midlevel XLE, sporty SE and upscale Limited.

Shoppers who choose the RAV4 LE ($25,200) 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 6.1-in center-mounted touchscreen system, a rearview camera, power-folding mirrors and a USB/iPod interface.

Step up to the RAV4 XLE ($27,100), and you get 17-in alloys, a power sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and roof rails.

The sporty SE ($31,500) adds 18-in alloy wheels, revised exterior styling, automatic LED headlights, a power driver's seat, synthetic leather upholstery with heated front seats, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, steering-wheel paddle shifters and memory settings for the driver's seat.

Topping the RAV4 lineup is the Limited ($32,300), which loses the SE's sporty styling cues but keeps its equipment. It also adds chrome wheels, adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming mirrors, a 7-in touchscreen, a navigation system with smartphone integration and the Toyota Safety Sense package, which includes forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic high beams.

In terms of options, the RAV4 offers several. Highlights include a navigation system, a JBL sound system, a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and Toyota's Entune infotainment system, which boasts HD Radio, voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming audio and app connectivity. Safety options, such as forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic high beams, are included in the new Toyota Safety Sense package.

Safety

The 2016 Toyota RAV4 boasts standard front-side and side-curtain airbags, along with optional features such as a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert. The new-for-2016 Toyota Safety Sense package adds newly optional forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic high beams, bringing the RAV4 to the top of the compact-crossover segment in terms of safety features and options.

In crash testing carried out by the federal government, the RAV4 earned a perfect 5-star overall rating. In tests carried out by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV4 offers an impressive Top Safety Pick+ score after earning strong ratings in all the firm's crash tests.

Behind the Wheel

Overall, the 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 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 strikes just the right compromise between comfort and performance.

As for performance, the 2.5-liter is acceptable in most circumstances, although we found that, when left in ECO mode, 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

2017 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.

2016 Honda CR-V -- The CR-V has slightly better fuel economy than the RAV4, along with 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.

2016 Hyundai Tucson -- The recently redesigned Hyundai Tucson is an excellent compact crossover that touts a long list of equipment, reasonable pricing and strong fuel economy. It's definitely worth a spot on your shopping list.

Used Toyota Highlander -- If you like the RAV4 but want a larger vehicle, you might want to consider the Toyota Highlander, which offers a comfortable ride, Toyota reliability and 3-row seating. They're expensive when new, but a used model is a worthy competitor to the RAV4.

Autotrader's Advice

For the money, we think the RAV4 Limited is the best pick in the lineup. Yes, it's the most expensive, but it includes just about every feature as standard equipment for a mere $800 premium over the SE. It's essentially a luxury SUV with more affordable pricing, along with compact-crossover fuel economy and dimensions.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Toyota RAV4: New Car Review - Autotrader