Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is offered in LE, XLE, Adventure, SE, Limited and Platinum models, each with a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Across the entire model line, the RAV4 comes with a 176-horsepower, 2.5L 4-cylinder engine, which is fitted to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The transmission features a flexible lockup torque-converter that permits better efficiency, especially at lower speeds.

The XLE Hybrid maintains the 2.5L four, but adds front and rear electric motors powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack -- good for 194 total horsepower. The unit is mated to a continuously variable transmission and is front-wheel drive, though it automatically powers the rear motors when extra traction is needed. The RAV4 Hybrid returns an EPA-estimated 33 mpg combined.

All-wheel-drive models feature a Dynamic Torque Control system that uses an electromagnetically controlled coupling just in front of the rear differential and can send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels when needed. The system routes all of the available torque to the front wheels to maximize fuel economy. The system includes an Auto mode, a Sport mode that sends power to the rear wheels from any start, as well as a Lock mode for use in deep snow, mud, or wherever slow, sure traction is needed or wheel slip might be helpful. Front-wheel-drive models get an automatic limited slip differential that can be engaged at low speeds and help negotiate slippery areas such as a snowy driveway.

The RAV4 drives like a car, thanks to MacPherson strut-type suspension up front and double-wishbones in the rear. Speed-sensitive electric power rack-and-pinion steering provides crisp response for navigating parking lots or twisting mountain roads.

Inside, thin-profile front seats help maximize legroom in back and front seats are upgraded in XLE and Limited models. Limited models upgrade the seating further with French stitching on SofTex leatherette upholstery and trims. Rear-seat space has been expanded and the seatbacks can recline somewhat when needed--or 60/40 split-flip forward to expand cargo capacity (with easy-retracting rear headrests).

Safety features include a total of eight airbags, including a driver knee airbag, as well as anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Available blind spot monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert uses radar sensors to warn the driver of approaching vehicles.

RAV4 LE models come with 17-inch steel wheels, plus keyless entry, cruise control, power locks and windows and air conditioning. XLE models add alloy wheels, roof rails, a moonroof, fog lamps, folding power mirrors with integrated turn signals, dual-zone automatic climate control, sport-bolstered front seats, and a tonneau/cargo cover.

The SE trim builds on XLE features with sporty exterior accents, 18-inch wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. It also includes heated front seats with an 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat, paddle shifters and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.

Limited models get 18-inch alloys, plus synthetic (SofTex) seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Smart Key entry, push-button start and a power liftgate.

At the top of the RAV4 food chain, lies the Platinum trim. It includes a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting in the footwell and an Entune Premium JBL sound system with Navigation and an overhead 360 degree camera.

All RAV4 models include Display Audio sound systems with a 6.1-inch touch screen, as well as AM/FM/CD, a USB port, an auxiliary input, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling as well as six speakers. The touchscreen also allows configuration of the climate-control settings, use of the available navigation system, or Entune functions with mobile apps for services like Bing and Pandora. There's also a multi-information display that can be navigated through buttons on the steering wheel, with easy access to trip-computer functions and other displays. The step-up JBL Premium Audio system that's available on the RAV4 Limited adds a 576-watt, 8-channel amp and a total of eleven "GreenEdge" speakers.

Editors' Review

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is a lot like that one friend everyone seems to have: always there to lend a hand, provide a shoulder to cry on or show up at a moment's notice if you find yourself in hot water at 2:00 a.m. in Tijuana. No, the RAV4 doesn't really lead the compact SUV class in any one area, but it's well rounded, perfectly capable and ready to serve.

Offering drivers plenty of choice, three basic flavors of RAV4 are available. There's the standard model, an economical hybrid and then the RAV4 Prime, the plug-in hybrid variant with up to 42 miles of electric-only range. The example seen here is the most rugged of the bunch, the TRD Off-Road, which features a non-hybrid drivetrain and some additional features to make it perform better out on the trail.

For 2021, the TRD Off-Road model gains a swanky stainless-steel front skid plate, a first for the RAV4. This should help shield some of its delicates while thrashing around in the dirt. This Toyota's body is supported by a uniquely tuned suspension, which features racy-looking red springs that supposedly provide better small-bump isolation on rough roads. This vehicle also boasts re-valved twin-tube shock absorbers for better body control over large surface irregularities. Providing and extra helping of traction is a set of Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail all-terrain tires mounted to 18-inch TRD wheels. These rubbers look super aggressive but are surprisingly agreeable. Indeed, the TRD Off-Road's suspension tuning is totally livable, providing an impressively smooth on-pavement ride with little tire noise. If towing is your thing, this RAV4 can drag up to 3,500 pounds, enough for a couple snowmobiles or a small trailer.

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Model Year

The Good ~ Attractive interior design ~ Standard driver aids ~ Added capability

The Bad ~ So-so infotainment system ~ Gritty reversing camera ~ Grumbling engine

The Bottom Line It's nothing you'll lust after, but the RAV4 still satisfies.

Editors' Rating
  • Performance 7.5
  • Features 8.5
  • Design 8.5
  • Media 7

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