Toyota gives its compact crossover a refresh for 2016.
Plenty of cargo room
Roomy back seat
Poor steering feedback
Tire noise at highway speeds
Firm but not sporty ride
2016 Toyota RAV4
Toyota began selling the fourth-generation RAV4 (Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive) in December, 2012, when it was introduced as a 2013 model. For 2016, it gets a mild refresh so it can continue to do battle in the red hot compact crossover segment.
The most noticeable changes to Toyota's compact crossover are to its exterior Up front, the split upper grille disappears, replaced by a horizontal piano black trim strip. A wide, body-color upper bumper separates it from a narrow mid-fascia air intake. Below that is a slimmer body-color lower bumper and, below that, a grey-finished lower surrounding a small lower air intake.
Narrower headlamp enclosures flank the upper trim piece and, on our Limited tester, contain new LED headlamps and daytime running lights.
In back, the shape of the taillamp housings is unchanged, but they are now clear on Limited models and contain red LED lamps. The shape of the rear bumper has also changed and on the Limited trim is painted to match the body.
Unlike the previous 2014 XLE model we tested, the interior of our Limited tester was a real knock-out. Although not covered in leather (Toyota calls the leather-like stuff Softex), the terra cotta trim offset the black interior nicely, covering the seat cushions and bolsters, door panel inserts and arm rests as well as the softly-padded and stitched lower dash panel. The upper dash, though finished in hard plastic, has a nice grain to it. The only misstep that we noted were the lower front door panels that look cheap when compared to the rest of the interior.
Our 2016 Limited also had a new, revised gauge cluster with a new 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display flanked by a pair of round gauges – a tach to the left and speedo on the right. All three were clear and easy to read. Although it no longer includes a CD player, the center stack on Limited models now comes with an optional 7-inch touchscreen. Two knobs and four hard buttons on either side control most of the infotainment system's major functions, while the intuitive HVAC controls have been carried over.
The front seats are soft, supportive and nicely bolstered and the rear seat is also very comfortable. There's plenty of head, shoulder, hip and leg room for the two up front as well as for three adults in back.
The cabin itself is bright and airy with excellent visibility out the front, sides and back, aided by both a relatively low beltline and narrow D-pillar. All RAV4 models also feature a standard rear view camera. Our Limited tester was also equipped with the optional Technology package which adds a "bird's eye view" camera with "perimeter scan", making backing up in crowded parking lots even easier.
Under the hood
Nothing under the hood has changed. There you'll find a 2.5-liter all-aluminum inline-4 that produces 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque on regular unleaded fuel. It's mated to a 6-speed, electronically-controlled automatic transmission.
According to EPA figures, fuel economy in 2WD models is 24/31/26 city/highway/combined. The EPA rates the AWD RAV4 at 22/29/25 city/highway/combined mpg, while our own observed fuel economy in primarily suburban driving was a very good 27.6 miles per gallon.
All-wheel-drive RAV4s feature a Dynamic Torque Control AWD system developed by auto supplier Magna. The system monitors and controls the transfer of engine torque between the front wheels via an electromagnetic coupling in front of the rear differential. It allows a torque distribution anywhere from 100 percent to the front wheels up to and including a 50-50 split between the front and rear wheels.
The system works in conjunction with various sensors such as speed, steering angle and yaw rate and transfers torque to the rear wheels not only when slip is detected, but also when it detects cornering forces in order to reduce the load on the front tires and the effects of understeer and improve lateral grip for better handling.
On the road
Under most conditions, the latest RAV4 feels solid and well-planted on the road, although the ride can sometimes get busy over uneven road surfaces. Overall, however, the suspension does a good job of damping out all but the harshest of ruts. There is some body lean in corners, but we couldn't detect much in the way of nosedive under hard braking. Speaking of stopping, the brakes are easy to modulate and there's plenty of feedback through the brake pedal. On the other hand the steering, although quick and responsive, offers little in the way of feedback to the driver.
At freeway speeds it's is unaffected by either crosswinds or grooved pavement, although the lack of steering feel can be aggravating at times as it can sometimes cause you to overcorrect and it's often difficult to judge just exactly where you are in the lane.
Around town, the RAV4 is one of the quieter vehicles in its class. At higher speeds, there's also very little engine and wind noise, but at the same time some tire and road noise does find its way into the cabin.
2016 Toyota RAV4 prices
2016 RAV4 prices start at $25,235 for a front wheel drive LE and can top out at around $38,000 for a fully-optioned and accessorized Limited Hybrid model.
Our tester, a 2016 all-wheel-drive Limited, had a base price of $32,910. Adding the Advanced Technology Package ($1,435), which also includes a JBL audio system, voice recognition, iPod connectivity, Toyota's App Suite, HD and SiriusXM radio, plus a $900 destination and delivery charge, brought the MSRP to $35,245.
The Bottom Line
We found that there's even more to like about the 2016 Toyota RAV4. It has a roomy interior with excellent driver visibility and it's also fairly quiet and smooth-riding around town. On the other hand, road and tire noise are apparent at freeway speeds and the lack of steering feedback takes away from what is otherwise its decent handling characteristics.
But the fact of the matter is that most buyers in this segment are more interested in versatility, reliability and resale value –areas in which this Toyota excels. Those qualities should entice current owners as well as many more potential customers to pay a visit to their local Toyota dealer.