What stands out?
The Toyota RAV4 kickstarted the whole city-focused SUV craze, and it remains one of the more popular. The fourth-generation model grew into a mid-sizer that rides nicely, corners well, has great front seats, and comes with autonomouos emergency braking as standard. Service costs are low, and resale values are reputedly strong.
This review covers the later versions of the fourth-generation RAV4 sold between December 2015 and May 2019 and includes all features introduced after September 2016.
A review of the all-new 2019 RAV4 is coming soon once we've had a chance to drive different variants.
What might bug me?
Driving at less than 80km/h on the space-saver spare, until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre (Unless you have a RAV4 GX and have ordered the full-sized spare, an extra-cost option available on those models only. Other RAV4s offer only the space-saver).
(Unless you have a RAV4 GX and have ordered the full-sized spare, an extra-cost option available on those models only. Other RAV4s offer only the space-saver.)
What body styles are there?
Five-door wagon only.
The RAV4 is available in front-wheel drive and in all-wheel drive.
It is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced.
What features did all RAV4s have?
Standard equipment after the September 2016 update included active cruise control, which automatically matches the speed of a slower car ahead on the highway, resuming your preferred speed when the way is clear.
A reversing camera, and reverse parking sensors. Seatbelt warning lights for all five seats.
An audio system with radio and CD player, which can be operated from the steering wheel.
A 6.1-inch touchscreen for controlling interior functions, with auxiliary and USB inputs, and Bluetooth connectivity. Main menu buttons down each side make it easier to toggle between different screens, such as audio and phone.
Headlamps based on long-lasting and efficient LEDs. They can turn on automatically when it gets dark and the high beam turns off when sensing a vehicle in front. Daytime running lights (additional LED lights near the headlamps that make the car more visible).
Roof rails. These act as mounting points for the optional roof racks. If you want to carry something on the roof, you do need the racks.
Hill start assist, which controls the brakes so that it is easier for you to start from rest on a slope.
A space-saver spare tyre (a full-sized spare is optional on the GX only).
Automatic emergency braking, automatic braking, pre-collision warning, lane departure alert and automatic high beam.
Seven airbags. Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid and is mandatory on new cars. (For the placement of airbags, and more on RAV4 safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
A capped price servicing scheme under which Toyota subsidises its dealers to service your car. It runs for the first three years or 60,000km, and means the RAV4 is cheap to service over that period.
All RAV4s originally sold until the end of 2018 came with a three-year, 100,000km warranty. Toyota introduced a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty in January 2019.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel uses least fuel, in manual form consuming 5.7 litres/100km on the official test (city and country combined), or as an auto 6.7 litres/100km.
However, the diesel is the most expensive of the three engines offered with the RAV4, and is available only in all-wheel-drive (which lifts the price further).
It performs well, and is easy to drive as an auto. Around town, it can be hard work with a manual ’box, because it requires you to change gear more often than a petrol engine would.
Most buyers chose one of the petrol engines. The 2.0-litre petrol is fitted to all front-wheel drive RAV4s and is available as a six-speed manual or excellent CVT auto. Fuel use on the test is 7.0 litres/100km in auto form – about 10 per cent better than the manual version can do, and nearly as good as the (AWD) diesel.
The 2.5-litre petrol is fitted to all AWD RAV4s, and is available only as a conventional auto. It offers about 25 per cent more power than the 2.0 in most driving conditions but also uses more fuel – 8.5 litres/100km on the test.
In a real-world comparison conducted for the August 2014 issue of Wheels magazine, a RAV4 GXL with this engine averaged 13.0 litres/100km, placing it among the most thirsty of 10 mid-sized SUVs reviewed (an accompanying Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester with similar petrol engines consumed 11.5 litres/100km).
The CVT, or continuously variable transmission, offered in front-wheel drive models is not restricted to a fixed number of gear ratios, and therefore can match the gear to the driving conditions more effectively. The design fitted to the RAV4 works particularly well. However, the six-speed conventional automatic in all-wheel drive versions also shifts smoothly and intuitively.
What key features do I get if I spend more?
The least costly, GX model, RAV4s roll on 17-inch steel wheels and come standard with a manual gearbox (auto is an extra-cost option) and the features supplied with all RAV4s.
Step up to the GXL and auto transmission is standard, and you get lighter and better looking 18-inch wheels made from an alloy of aluminium. These are fitted with wider tyres of a slightly lower profile, which improve grip marginally on hard surfaces.
The RAV4 GXL also has smart key entry (which allows you to unlock the car while the key stays secure in your pocket or handbag), windscreen wipers that operate automatically when it rains, and headlights that switch on by themselves when it’s dark. Dual-zone air-conditioning allows you to set a temperature for each side of the cabin. The steering wheel is trimmed in leather, and windows have been tinted to reduce sun penetration.
Rear cross traffic alert is an additional active safety feature along with blind spot monitoring.
An optional premium interior pack valued at $2500 was introduced for the GXL in October 2017 which adds partial leather trimmed seats (it’s a mix of real and fake leather), heated front seats and a 10-way power-operated driver's seat with two-position memory.
The most expensive RAV4, the Cruiser, adds the premium interior pack that’s optional in the GXL with three colour choices as standard. There is a sunroof, and a powered tailgate that can be opened remotely. And you can listen to music on a better sound system with 10 speakers rather than six.
Did any upgrade have a down side?
The sunroof in the Cruiser reduces head room up front by 24mm.
White was the only standard colour: all others cost extra.
Optioning the full-size spare tyre available with a RAV4 GX raises the floor height of the luggage bay, reducing load capacity from 577 litres to 506. Additionally, the load space will no longer be flat.
How comfortable is the RAV4?
The RAV4’s front seats are among the best fitted to any medium SUV, with great support that translates to good comfort over longer trips.
The seating position is also good. Large side-pillars impede vision slightly.
Circular air vents on each side of the dash seem retro on what is otherwise a modern-looking and generally classy cockpit layout. A small storage area above the glovebox is handy for odds and ends.
The touchscreen can be fiddly when toggling between radio stations, because the virtual buttons are quite small.
Suspension on the RAV4 has benefited noticeably from tweaks to springs and dampers introduced about December 2015, with the 2016 model-year facelift. That brought more compliance, particularly at speeds below 50km/h, translating to good ride comfort around town.
The steering is light and the car has a tight turning circle, making it easy to park and to manoeuvre in traffic. The RAV4 is also quiet inside.
What about safety?
Autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, stability control, seven airbags, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and rear seatbelt reminders are standard on all RAV4s.
The RAV4’s auto braking relies on a front facing camera and radar sensor, and operates at city and highway speeds (up to 180km/h, Toyota says). The radar scans for obstacles ahead of you – typically another car that has slowed suddenly – and if it concludes a collision is likely, operates in three stages. First, it sounds and flashes a warning. If you ignore that, it ensures that if you brake subsequently it will be at maximum pressure. If you continue to ignore the warning it will apply the brakes automatically, with the aim of avoiding impact or reducing impact speed.
Two of the airbags are placed directly in front of the driver and front passenger, and a third protects the driver’s knees. An airbag outside each front seat protects front occupants from side impacts at chest level. And curtain airbags extending down each side of the car protect front and rear occupants at head level.
A lane departure alert uses a camera to monitor lane markings, and warns if you drift towards an adjacent lane without indicating – a sign of fatigue. (The car will also seek to steer you gently back on track, if necessary.)
On the RAV4 GXL and Cruiser (only) you also get blind-spot monitor alerts you to the presence of another vehicle alongside you to the rear, which might not show in your external mirrors. And a rear cross-traffic alert warns you, when you are reversing, if another vehicle is about to cross your path.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has given the RAV4 its maximum five-star safety rating, most recently in October 2016.
I like driving - will I enjoy a RAV4?
Suspension and bodyshell changes for the 2016 model year improved not only ride comfort but also how the RAV4 tackles corners. It sits relatively flat through bends, and deals well with mid-corner bumps – settling quickly and moving on.
The steering, too, has enough weight to ensure confidence if you step-up the pace. Grip from the 18-inch tyres on the GXL and Cruiser is good, and helps make the most of the RAV4’s dynamic ability.
That said, RAV4 steering feels short on initial bite, requiring a large-ish input to get the desired result.
Those chasing maximum performance will like the 2.5 litre petrol engine available with all-wheel drive RAV4s, which revs enthusiastically to reach its maximum output.
For extensive country-road driving, the diesel partially justifies its price premium with lower fuel use and easy highway-speed cruising.
The RAV4 in AWD form is a light-duty off-roader, intended for gravel or snowy roads, and easy tracks. Don’t expect it to follow other Toyotas (such as the Fortuner, Prado and LandCruiser) into the bush: it does not have the hardware for seriously rough terrain. And unless you have ordered a GX with the optional full-sized spare, you’ll be stuck – perhaps literally – with the skinny space-saver should you puncture a tyre.
Nevertheless, the RAV4 is versatile for a car of its kind. Good suspension travel helps keep the wheels on the ground, and for slippery going you can lock the AWD system, which normally drives the rear wheels only when the fronts start to slip, so that it drives all four wheels at all times.
How is life in the rear seats?
The fourth-generation RAV4 seats three at the rear, for five seats in total. Rear leg room is good and the floor is almost flat, giving the person in the middle more space. The seats are fairly flat but comfortable.
The seatbelt for the middle rear passenger is mounted on the roof, and therefore needs two clips into buckles to latch it.
There are no rear air-conditioning vents.
How is it for carrying stuff?
The load space is fairly broad and helped by a 60/40 split-fold seatback. With seats up you get 577-litres though this is reduced to 506 litres if your RAV4 is equipped with a full-size spare wheel. Butting the rear seatbacks down increases load capacity to 1666 litres.
There is a retractable luggage cover and some underfloor storage in which you can hide small but valuable items.
The tailgate on the Cruiser can be opened from the remote keyfob.
The RAV4 won’t tow as much as most other medium SUVs. The limit for 2.0-litre models is only 800kg. For the diesels it is 1200kg, and 2.5-litre models may haul up to a handy 1500kg.
Where does Toyota make the RAV4?
All RAV4s are produced in Japan.
What might I miss that similar cars have?
A third row of seats. The Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Outlander each have a seven-seat option.
Rear air-conditioning vents (standard on a Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Tiguan, Holden Equinox and Ford Escape, for example).
A turbocharged petrol engine with more power, as offered on the Tiguan, Escape, and Subaru Forester, for example.
A diesel engine with more power, also an option on some alternatives.
The ability to display apps from your smartphone on the car’s touchscreen and control them from there, via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The Tiguan, Escape, Equinox and Kia Sportage offer this, for example.
Other cars worth considering include the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?
Our reviewers liked the front-wheel drive GXL. The CVT transmission is standard, and this car uses less fuel than the AWD models. It costs thousands of dollars more than the GX but there’s some handy extra equipment, and the interior ambience is nicer.
Some GXLs were fitted with a $2500 optional premium interior pack that added power-adjusted, leather seats.
When did Toyota update this RAV4?
The fourth-generation RAV4 went on sale in 2013 and more equipment was added in 2014.
A facelift arrived in December 2015, and with it the reversing camera was extended to all models and suspension settings were revised – improving the low-speed ride, in particular. At the same time, autonomous emergency braking and other active safety aids were added to the Cruiser, and made available as an option for most GXLs.
About September 2016, active cruise control, auto braking and other active safety aids were extended as bundled options to all auto-gearbox RAV4s, and manual GXL variants were dropped from the range.
Auto braking and other active safety features became standard across the RAV4 range in October 2017 for the 2018 model year, along with satellite navigation.
The all-new RAV4 arrived in May 2019
, and is very different in terms of design and technology. The ruggedly-designed fifth-generation RAV4 is built on an all-new chassis and includes new hybrid powertrain option, a more refined interior and improved off-road capability that features in the range-topping Edge AWD.