“My time with the RAV4 LE confirmed that Toyota knows how to make a thoroughly practical and easy to use vehicle that pleases all passengers…”

It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have the RAV4 in Canada.

Toyota helped develop the “cute-ute” vehicles from Japan, along with the Honda CR-V. We had never seen anything like these vehicles before but they went on to forever change the marketplace and the way a family gets around. Today the compact SUV market has become so popular it will soon exceed the compact car in terms of overall sales, which has been, for decades, the cornerstone of the Canadian marketplace. The Toyota RAV4 continues to be a sales market leader and for good reason. Many buyers put their money into what I call “The Bank of Toyota” and know they will get a good return in terms of reliability, practicality and resale value.

Looks

In terms of design, Toyota wanted to make this latest RAV4 more of an emotional purchase and not just a rational choice. The design has been sharpened with more flow from the front bumper and headlamps into a swept windshield and added character lines. Gone is the old swing-out tailgate, replaced by a proper lift gate, which is now framed with protruding tail lamps that look unique but also help with aerodynamics. One area that could use an update are the cheap looking hubcaps. These come standard on the $24,005 base front wheel drive (FWD) LE trim level and $26,270 AWD model. To get proper looking alloy wheels the buyer needs to spend $28,340 for the XLE FWD or $30,540 for the XLE AWD. In the mid-sized sedan market many cars, like the Honda Accord, costing the same amount as the base RAV4 come with nice looking alloy wheels as standard equipment.

Inside

The interior is a study in how to maximize space for a family but some of the small details could use refinement. The dash face is now covered with soft materials and looks much better thanks to the French stitching but this same panel also obscures the switches hidden below. The seat-heating buttons, the Eco and Sport settings for the transmission are all switches the driver access frequently but they are not as easy to see, as they should be. Other than the dash there is still a large percentage of the interior covered in hard plastic. The up side is a well laid out interior configuration. The doors open to a wide angle and expose a big back seat with a flat floor, for easy access. The front seats are comfortable and now the driver’s seat has a manual height adjustment. Standard features include tilt and telescopic steering, Bluetooth connectivity, USB connection and air conditioning. The LE $1,500 upgrade package is worthwhile because it includes the very important heated front seats, larger 6.1-inch display audio with backup camera and upgraded speakers. This brings the price up to $27,835.

Drive

Honda recently unveiled the new 2015 CR-V that utilizes direct injection engine technology and a slick, new continuously variable transmission. Not the case with the Toyota RAV4, it uses the same 176hp 2.5L 4-cylinder found in the last model and is matched to a 6-speed automatic. Launching from a traffic light is brisk and the noise inside the cabin is fairly low. The steering is easy to maneuver but some might find the feedback to be too vague. Adjustable engine and transmission settings help the RAV4 to either use less fuel or perform better. The Eco button changes the settings of the car to improve fuel economy plus there is a small Eco light that reminds the driver when the car is being driven most efficiently. The Sport buttons holds the transmission a little longer between shifts for more responsiveness. Fuel economy is rated at 10.5L/100km in the city and 8.2L on the highway, using the new more stringent 2015 fuel economy test. The RAV4 was a solid leader on the fuel economy front but the new Honda CR-V now claims that crown.

Verdict

Toyota is often criticized for not being bold enough in some of the choices it makes. Honda now has up-to-date technology in the new CR-V but Toyota is sticking with what works. This approach might be viewed as a step behind but other might look at it as tried-and-true technology that is reliable and still delivers solid fuel ratings. Toyota RAV4 was a pioneer in the small SUV space and continues to be a market leader but now the market is so crowded with entries I suspect it will need to get new engine technology when it is totally refreshed in a few years. My time with the RAV4 LE confirmed that Toyota knows how to make a thoroughly practical and easy to use vehicle that pleases all passengers.

Contact: zack [dot] spencer [at] drivewaybc [dot] ca

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The Lowdown

Power: 2.5L 4-cylinder with 176hp

Economy: 10.5L/8.2L/100km (city/highway)

Sticker price: $24,005-$33,350

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