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2018 Toyota RAV4: New Car Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Toyota RAV4, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Review

The 2018 Toyota RAV4 does the basics really well. It’s a utility-oriented, small SUV with big-SUV back-seat and cargo space that only one competitor can beat (and then, just barely). It boasts reasonable pricing, good fuel economy, high resale values and a reliability record some could describe as bulletproof. As far as sensible compact SUV purchases go, the RAV4 scores very high.

However, a number of more recently redesigned competitors have matched or bettered the RAV4’s "basic" skills while going above and beyond in areas it just can’t match. In particular, their cabins are more functional, refined and even luxurious. They also tend to be more enjoyable to drive and boast more infotainment features. Now, the RAV4’s standard suite of collision-avoidance tech and driver aids counts for a lot, as does the RAV4 Hybrid’s far superior fuel economy. As such, the 2018 RAV4 continues to be a worthwhile compact SUV to consider. There’s a lot to be said for getting the basics right. Just make sure you wouldn’t want a little bit more than the basics by cross-shopping its competitors.

What’s New for 2018?

There is yet another flavor of Toyota RAV4 for 2018: the new Adventure trim level. It essentially combines the XLE trim’s extra equipment with the SE’s sportier styling, but spices things up with its own styling flourishes, a tow package and an extra 0.4 inches of ground clearance. At the name suggests, the RAV4 Adventure is intended for those who want an SUV for more than just trips to the mall. It also gets an exclusive Cold Weather package that includes a variety of heated items. It should also be noted that the SE gets the same extra ground clearance, which may impact its status as the sharpest RAV4 to drive. See the 2018 Toyota RAV4 models for sale near you

What We Like

More cargo and back-seat space than all but one competitor; standard collision-avoidance tech; fuel-efficient hybrid option; Toyota resale and reliability

What We Don’t

Disappointing interior materials; few usable storage compartments; no engine upgrade; leather seating not available

How Much?

$24,500-$36,300

Fuel Economy

The regular 2018 Toyota RAV4 comes only with a 176-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder mated to a standard 6-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional. Fuel economy does differ slightly by trim, but with front-wheel drive, the volume-selling LE and XLE return 23 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving. All-wheel drive effectively reduces those figures by 1 mpg.

The RAV4 Hybrid uses a 2.5-liter hybrid 4-cylinder mated to a battery pack and a pair of electric motors in the front and rear that effectively create standard all-wheel drive. Total output is 194 hp. Fuel economy is 34 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/32 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The standard RAV4 is offered in LE, XLE, Adventure, SE, Limited and Platinum trim levels. The Hybrid comes in XLE, SE and Limited trims, which pretty much align with their standard counterparts. We cover the Hybrid more thoroughly in a separate review.

Shoppers who choose the RAV4 LE ($24,500) get 17-in steel wheels, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic steering, lane-departure warning and intervention, automatic high beams, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth, a USB port, a 6.1-in touchscreen and a 6-speaker sound system.

Step up to the RAV4 XLE ($25,600) and you get 17-in alloys, a sunroof, a height-adjustable power lift gate, dual-zone automatic climate control, fog lights, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and the Entune Audio Plus package (optional on LE) that adds satellite radio, HD Radio, a smartphone-app based navigation system and various other smartphone connection apps.

The slightly more-rugged Adventure ($27,800) adds revised exterior styling, black 18-in alloy wheels, a slightly raised suspension (a still-modest 6.5 inches of ground clearance versus 6.1), fender flares, all-weather floor mats and a house-style electrical outlet in the cargo area. The Adventure’s exclusive Cold Weather package includes heated front seats and steering wheel, a power-adjustable driver seat and a windshield wiper de-icer.

The sporty SE ($28,900) gets the same ground clearance increase and styling flourishes as the Adventure, but differs with silver 18-in alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, automatic LED headlights, passive entry and keyless start, SofTex vinyl upholstery, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems (optional on XLE), steering-wheel paddle shifters and memory settings for the driver’s seat. Also included is an Entune touchscreen upgrade that includes satellite radio, HD Radio and a Scout GPS navigation app that runs through your smartphone. This is optional on the lower trims.

The Limited ($31,000) loses the Adventure/SE’s ground clearance and styling flourishes, but keeps the other equipment. It then adds chrome wheels, auto-dimming mirrors, a 7-in touchscreen, various Entune smartphone apps and an integrated Toyota navigation system.

The Platinum ($34,900) gains a hands-free power lift gate, parking sensors, special exterior trim, a 360-degree parking camera, a heated steering wheel, special interior trim and an 11-speaker JBL sound system (optional on the SE and Limited, not available on the Hybrid).

Safety

No other compact crossover can top the 2018 RAV4’s standard safety equipment. Besides the usual content of antilock brakes, stability control, front-side airbags, side-curtain airbags and a rearview camera, it boasts a driver-knee airbag, a front-passenger under-cushion airbag, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, and lane-departure warning and keeping. Blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems are standard on the Limited and Platinum, and optional on the SE, Adventure and XLE.

In crash tests 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 garnered a Top Safety Pick score after earning strong ratings in all the firm’s pertinent crash tests. Note, however, it received a rating of "Poor" in the new passenger-side small-overlap front test. To be fair, few vehicles have been subjected to this test, but the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V received top scores of Good.

Behind the Wheel

Overall, the RAV4 rides and handles very well. The electric power steering is reasonably precise and provides good feedback in tight turns. Likewise, the suspension soaks up most bumps yet doesn’t allow the car to lean or bob about uncontrollably when pushed hard (we would think twice about the available 18-in wheels, though, which can add impact harshness).

In the end, however, like the rest of the RAV4, the handling is simply outdone by that of competitors. The Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V in particular are more responsive, comfortable and refined to drive, with stronger and more efficient engines to boot.

The RAV4’s interior is also a mixed bag. On the upside, it has easy-to-use technology, and it matches the CR-V’s huge back seat and enormous cargo area. The latter also boasts a low load height, which is great for lifting in heavy objects or having the dogs jump aboard. Apart from some questionably useful interior storage bins, the RAV4’s functionality is hard to fault.

Unfortunately, its cabin materials consist of disappointing black plastic, and the SofTex vinyl upholstery found on most trims won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s leather (which isn’t available at all). The overall appearance and vibe also feels a bit Spartan compared to those of the surprisingly upmarket new CR-V and CX-5. These competitors quite simply seem more grown up than the RAV4.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda CR-V — Redesigned last year, the CR-V is the SUV to beat in this segment. It takes every drop of functionality its predecessor possessed and adds a thick shellac of refinement.

Read 2017 Honda CR-V vs. 2017 Toyota RAV4: Which Is Better?

2018 Mazda CX-5 — The CX-5 was also all new last year and, like the CR-V, builds upon its successful predecessor. It’s a more-responsive vehicle to drive than the RAV4 and arguably more visually appealing, but can’t match the Toyota’s utility.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox — While the RAV4 shines with its standard safety tech, the new Equinox is the compact SUV to beat in the infotainment department. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, whereas they’re not even available on the RAV4. The Equinox’s comfort and interior design also impress.

 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

Here’s something we don’t say very often: The Hybrid could make the most sense. Considering you should save an estimated $250 per year at the pump, its roughly $800 price premium will be quickly paid back. Either way, though, we would recommend driving both the SE and Limited, then get whichever one you prefer (their suspension and styling differ). Each offers a commendable amount of desirable equipment at a fair price. The Adventure is also appealing if you’re opting against the Hybrid.

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