2016 Toyota RAV4 LE
Take this RAV4. It’s a straightforward compact crossover SUV that looks good, drives well, is impressively equipped, plenty practical, priced right, gets top safety ratings and should be reliable as per the brand’s impeccable reputation as well as its excellent third party analytical ratings, plus it sells well and therefore needs no excuses as to overall market acceptance.
In even fuller disclosure I was actually on “the other side” much before starting my journalism career, albeit as a car salesperson. I sold a variety of brands, but was most successful at Toyota because I believed in the product. An ’87 Corolla or Camry sold itself, plus there were a number of cars that made a young man proud to represent the Japanese automaker including the two-door, rear-drive GT-S version of the above noted Corolla (otherwise known as the AE86 and inspiration for the much-lauded Scion FR-S, soon to be renamed Toyota 86), the fabulous original MR2, the Celica GT-S (plus later the All-Trac Turbo) and the Supra. This RAV4 wasn’t even a glimmer in Toyota’s eye at the time, the first of its kind arriving seven years later in 1994, and entering my life vicariously after my father purchased a second-gen version in the early aughts.
Move forward 15 or so years and this latest 2016 Toyota RAV4 has received a thorough mid-cycle update, and unusual in the lower classes it even looks impressive in base trim. That’s how my recent tester arrived, albeit slightly upgraded from an LE FWD to an LE AWD, with its asking price growing commensurately from $24,350 to $25,660 plus freight and dealer fees. A quick glance will show you the entry-level RAV is devoid of classic cheapskate giveaways such as matte black bumper caps, mirror housings and door handles, these all painted body-color like the model’s upper range XLE and Limited trims, while other telltale signs that you skimped out on premium-grade upgrades are minimized, the missing fog lamps looking more like sporty brake ducts and the smartly stamped five-spoke steel wheels covered with some of the most authentic looking faux alloys I’ve ever seen, not to mention a very large (for base steel wheels) 17 inches in diameter, while there’s chrome trim around the windows, the rears of which are darkened with standard privacy glass, front and rear splash guards down below, and a body-color rooftop spoiler at back. Anybody who sees this RAV4 LE AWD drive by won’t think for a minute that it’s priced in the mid-twenties, while all of this standard kit gets added to a RAV that’s thoroughly modernized from front to back, this latest example hardly the segment’s usual incrementally evolutionary refresh.
Depending on the color chosen the new design has a bit of a Darth Vader (Black), Stormtrooper (Super White) or Battlestar Galactica Cylon Centurion (Silver Sky Metallic) sci-fi look to it, which, despite loving all of these series, is why I especially liked the richer looking Barcelona Red Metallic that Toyota chose for this weeklong loaner. Either way, this 2016 model is a more polarizing design than the first iteration of this fourth generation model that was available from 2012 up until last year (model years 2013 through 2015), but such are some of my favorite types of vehicles, and from the sales numbers it appears as though its organically muscled up appearance hasn’t turned many potential purchasers off.
On the contrary Toyota finished calendar year 2015 on a RAV4 high, the model passing the Escape thanks to 315,412 U.S. sales compared to just 306,492 for the Ford, the Escape merely holding its position whereas the RAV4 surged ahead from a previous high of 267,698 deliveries the year before. That puts the RAV in second place out of 13 compact SUVs, while Q1 2016 deliveries are up by 13.6 percent over the first three months of last year, this result springing the RAV4 into first place, still ahead of the Escape and even bypassing the CR-V that’s now slipped all the way down to third place (while I can’t say what’s happening with CR-V sales, a new Escape is coming soon, so the models’ stagnant numbers may have something to do with Ford scaling back availability of the current model). Sales figures aren’t always the best indication as to a vehicle’s overall goodness and value proposition, but if you remember the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, asking the audience was by far the most surefire lifeline.
The RAV4’s popularity makes sense, of course. It’s not only good looking and arguably more attractive since its update, but it’s at least as stylish inside, still very well made, as accommodating as it ever was, filled with yet more standard features, more enjoyable to drive, equally fuel-efficient and no doubt just as dependable.
Along with my tester’s just-above-base AWD, LE trim offers the ability to get three packages, the first merely including a $90 cargo tray, the second a $675 upgrade to infotainment dubbed Entune Audio Plus with Connected Navigation App and the third that same system with the cargo mat included for (you guessed it) $765. My tester received the second package and therefore had the RAV’s standard 6.1-inch display audio/infotainment touchscreen filled with iPod connectivity and control, Scout GPS Link App, Siri Eyes Free, satellite radio with a three-month trial, HD traffic and weather in major metro areas, etc.
Another must-have this model included was Bluetooth audio streaming, necessary for listening to my favorite financial/political podcasts that keep me up to date with local and global trends, investment opportunities and ideas about positioning my business interests, a bit of a sideline hobby with real-world benefits. Fortunately audio streaming along with smartphone integration is standard, playable via a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with pretty good sound quality. It gets a powered USB port and aux jack, plus other infotainment features include advanced voice recognition (with a button to activate on the steering wheel) and smartphone phonebook download, while a backup camera pops up when slotting the transmission into reverse. Additional RAV4 LE standard items include keyless entry, powered side mirrors with integrated convex blind spot mirrors, an acoustic glass windshield, high solar energy absorbing glass, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, filtered air conditioning, an ECO monitor, overhead sunglasses storage, a rear seat center armrest with cupholders, cargo area tie-down rings, storage compartments under the cargo floor, height adjustable front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and force limiters, all the usual airbags as well as one for the driver’s knees and a seat cushion airbag for the front passenger, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, Toyota’s Smart Stop Technology brake override system, plus traction control and stability control, while my tester’s trailer sway control came standard with its Active Torque Control-enhanced all-wheel drive, and after all that Toyota threw in a set of carpeted and another set of all-weather floor mats from the accessories catalog.
Unfortunately the list of active and passive safety features noted with this model isn’t enough to earn it an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, that honor only bestowed on RAV4s with optional front crash prevention (which is still better than most in the class), but my humbler base model nevertheless received five stars from the NHTSA.
The general layout of the RAV’s dash is excellent. Its primary gauges are large and easy to read, although a small multi-information display placed slightly off center is really more of a trip computer as it only provides basic functions (a 4.2-inch color TFT MID is available in higher trims). The infotainment system on top of the center stack is reasonably sized, color and fairly high in resolution, while flanked by go-to switchgear for audio and other functions, but it’s nowhere near as slick as the 7.0-inch system available higher up the RAV hierarchy. Likewise the simple three-dial manual HVAC system just below includes nice big knobs for easy use with gloves during winter, and sits on a rubberized faux-stitched bolster that comes in padded leatherette with real stitching in fancier models. Such shortcuts are expected at the LE’s price point, but the Eco and Sport mode buttons resting below were particularly nice standard items.
Eco mode helps to extract the best possible mileage, the RAV LE capable of 24 mpg city, 31 highway and 26 combined in FWD guise and 22 city, 29 highway and 25 combined in as-tested AWD, but the Sport mode helps to completely forget that this entry-level RAV isn’t finished with as many higher end soft-touch surfaces as its ritzier trims, although the metallic silver and slightly darker gray metallic interior accents are classy looking upscale touches, as are the chrome details and thoughtful bins for holding big smartphones.
Like I said, press Sport mode and get ready to enjoy the RAV4’s impressive driving dynamics. I’m not going to pretend it’s the most performance-oriented compact SUV in its class, but it certainly is fun through the corners and along with that it’s one of the easiest and nicest to drive no matter the road ahead or traffic situation around. You sit up high with great visibility out all windows, it’s easy to maneuver around parked cars or other obstacles, is fun to zip around congested city streets, is a joy on the highway, and all the while the ride is excellent. Take-off is more than adequate and passing power on the highway is very good, its sole 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing a competitive 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque while a well-proven six-speed automatic with manual mode takes care of shifting duties to smooth and steady effect.
It’s hard to fault a vehicle that does everything so well. Even the RAV4’s cargo carrying capacity is amongst the more accommodating in the compact SUV class with 38.4 cubic feet behind its 60/40-split rear seatbacks and 73.3 cubic feet when they’re laid almost completely flat. It’s missing seatback release levers on the cargo walls like some others in this segment, forcing you to go around to the side doors to lower them manually, and when returning the backrests to their upright position they don’t automatically find their way to a pre-memorized rake, instead stopping at a near 90-degree angle that would be very uncomfortable if left there, causing the need to pull up on the lever with one hand while adjusting the seatback to a more comforting position with the other. Once again the RAV’s not as convenient as some competitors, but the seat mechanisms feel very well made when they lock into place, adding to one’s confidence that the RAV4 is built to a very high standard.
At the end of my second week with a 2016 Toyota RAV4, the first being a fully-loaded Limited version of the all-new Hybrid model, I remain in complete understanding as to why the compact Toyota SUV sells so well. It measures up to the best in this class and rises above in many respects, while Toyota’s number-one ranking among mainstream volume brands in J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study and top-three finish in Consumer Reports’ 2016 report card on reliability help seal the deal. Now all you need to do is choose a color and figure out if you want to buck up for more luxury, but I certainly didn’t feel the need.
The 2016 Toyota RAV4 LE AWD looked the part of a fully featured SUV and never left me wanting more. Maybe I’d feel differently after a week in an XLE, SE or Limited, but it certainly wouldn’t be for any lack of style or engineering substance.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press