Crossovers are changing the automotive industry with their record-breaking sales. So much so that many manufacturers are changing their M.O., shifting their focus to crossovers instead of sedans. Manufacturers who haven’t hopped on the crossover bandwagon are rushing new and updated models to the market while some have let go of top executives for not adapting to the shift in the market soon enough. Top-selling sedans such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima have all been surpassed by their crossover counterparts year-to-date. The compact Civic, Corolla, and Sentra sedans haven’t fared any better, and have also seen their sales drop due to the crossover craze. Many will argue that it’s the low price of gasoline, the appeal of riding higher, or the plentiful cargo space; whatever it might be, consumers seem to be buying crossovers in pairs, and the trend doesn’t seem to be changing.
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 is no exception, with sales topping the Camry and Corolla for the year. However, without a redesign since the 2013 model, the RAV4 is showing its age against the recently overhauled Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. The upcoming RAV4 will be built on the Toyota New Global Architecture (new platform) that underpins the new Camry and should impress. In the meantime, let’s further evaluate the current RAV4. Last year, we tested the 2016 RAV4 SE AWD (all-wheel drive), and this year we got our hands on the front-wheel drive (FWD) 2017 SE model. How do the two compare?
During Motor Trend testing, the AWD model outpaces the FWD version to 60 mph by about half a second, 8.7 seconds and 9.3 seconds respectively. In the quarter mile, things get closer as the AWD model clocks in at 16.7 seconds at 83.4 mph compared to the FWD’s run of 17.0 seconds at 82.5 mph. Handling prowess did not differ—both models had the exact same figure-eight time of 28.6 seconds with an average of .57g. Braking is almost identical, with the RAV4 AWD taking 124 feet to stop from 60 mph and the RAV4 FWD taking 126 feet. When looking at fuel economy, as expected, the AWD model is rated at a lower 22/28 mpg city/highway while the FWD delivers 23/30 mpg. All-wheel drive demands a premium of $1,400, but on some models, such as the SE, getting AWD means other mandatory options are tacked on that end up making it a more expensive option. In this case, the $2,200 Entune Premium Audio with Nav package is a must when AWD is equipped.
To give you some reference with comparable FWD crossovers Motor Trend has track tested, the 2017 Kia Sportage (181-hp, 2.4-liter I-4) is quicker to 60 mph and to the quarter mile at 8.0 and 16.3 seconds respectively. The 2017 Ford Escape (179-hp, 1.5-liter turbo I-4) is quicker in both categories as well but only by a pinch, clocking in a 0-60-mph time of 9.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 16.9 seconds. The figure-eight times of both rivals were also faster, with the Sportage finishing the handling course in 27.8 seconds and the Escape in 27.9 seconds. The Escape shares the same braking distance from 60 mph at 126 feet, but the Sportage stopped significantly shorter at 118 feet. In terms of performance, the RAV4 has a bit of catching up to do.
Away from the track, the RAV4 fared better against the Sportage and Escape. The 2017 Toyota RAV4 received the highest overall safety scores possible from both the NHTSA and IIHS. The crossover received a five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA and is considered a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. Both the Sportage and Escape received five stars as well from NHTSA but not the Top Safety Pick+ designation. Instead, Top Safety Pick (not +) for the Sportage and the Escape missed the honor by getting an Acceptable rating (instead of Good) for the small overlap front test. The RAV wins again with a cavernous 73.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity (38.4 cubic feet with the seats up) compared to the Sportage’s 60.1 cubic feet and the Escape’s 68.0 cubic feet. When comparing the above-mentioned engines paired with four-wheel drive, all of the fuel economy ratings for all three crossovers are the same at 23/30 mpg.
I didn’t think I’d say this, but the RAV4 is actually pretty fun-to-drive. Most of that can be attributed to the sport-tuned suspension that the SE model comes standard with. Toyota stiffened the springs and firmed the damping, resulting in a better turn-in and reduced body roll. Even on midcorner bumps, the RAV4 chassis felt solid and stable. If that is hard to believe, veteran testing director Kim Reynolds had similar things to say once he flogged the crossover around Motor Trend’s figure-eight course. “I was full-throttle most of the way around the skidpads, but the behavior of the car is smooth—no bucking and brake grabbing,” he said. “Body motions are well damped if very noticeable. A lot of good refinement to be witnessed here.” Unfortunately, this comes at a price. The stiff suspension is not very smooth over rough roads, and non-SE RAV4s offer better ride comfort. The RAV’s Auto LSD (limited-slip differential) is brake actuated and is well tuned, providing good traction. Acceleration could be better, but braking is strong and with good feel and travel. Steering feel is nice and pretty heavy, but it lacks any feel. That being said, the driving position is actually not bad for a high-riding crossover.
Inside the cabin, you will find a mixture of premium and cheap materials and features. The available 7.0-inch display screen is a decent size, but it lacks high resolution and gets lots of glare easily. The leather-like SofTex trimmed seats and dashboard with orange contrast stitching looks and feels good, but all the hard plastic interior pieces and switchware do not. The center console armrest is well-padded and creak-free, not cheap at all. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is fine for the segment, but the shifter looks cheap and feels cheap as you put the transmission into gear. The rear seats are spacious, comfortable, and fold flat, but as one of our staffers mentioned, loading a car seat takes a bit more effort than our current long-term 2017 Honda CR-V. For the next generation, I hope the RAV4 receives Apple Carplay/Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hot spot like most of its rivals offer.
The best features are the driver-assist safety systems. The RAV4 SE comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) that includes forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and adaptive cruise control. All systems work very well, are not intrusive, and are aided by the standard blind-spot warning and rear cross traffic alert. The optional surround view camera system and front and rear parking sensors are not commonly found in this segment and is a godsent feature when parking. Outside, the Barcelona Red Metallic paint coupled with sharp-looking 18-inch machined alloy wheels and LED headlights, taillights, and daytime running lights result in a good-looking crossover.
The base 2017 RAV4 LE starts at $25,405, which is on par with the segment. The SE model we tested has a base price of 29,875 and comes standard with paddle shifters, a moonroof, a rear spoiler, a leather wrapped steering wheel, a SofTex-trimmed eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, the previously mentioned Toyota Safety Sense P, 18-inch machined alloy wheels, and LED exterior lighting. The main option is the $3,360 Advanced Technology Package that consists of the helpful surround view camera system with front and rear parking sensors, a JBL Green Edge audio system, a 7.0-inch display with Entune Multimedia system and Navigation, Siri Eyes Free, and RAV4 SE logoed door sills. A $69 rear bumper applique and a $99 cargo net hammock that works surprisingly well are the remaining options on our tester. This comes out to a sticker price of $33,454 that might sound a little high considering it’s not the top trim, but many comparable rivals will cost about the same.
If purchasing a crossover, opting for all-wheel drive will cost you more in price and in gas, but it will offer better traction if needed for your particular location and quicker acceleration. The RAV4 is a fine crossover in many respects and will make many buyers happy, but it would be hard to recommend it over the newer, more premium and refined Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. The aged RAV might compete better with the Ford Escapeand Hyundai Tucson, but those models cost less. However, if the upcoming RAV4 is as good as the new Camry is on Toyota’s new global platform, the segment better watch out. We might have a new sheriff in town.