2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

2021 Toyota RAV4 - Toyota's RAV4 perfectly defines the compact crossover segment and gives others a benchmark.


One of Toyota's best-selling vehicles, the RAV4 is a compact crossover that seats 5 passengers and is only available as a 4-door wagon. It's offered with gas, gas/electric and plug-in gas/electric (Prime) powertrains. RAV4 was most recetnly redesigned in 2019 and saw the addition of trim and option packages over the last 2 years. Competitors include the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Gas models are offered with front- or all-wheel drive and come in LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, TRD Off-Road, and Limited. Hybrid and Prime models come standard with all-wheel drive. There are two engines available: A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 203 horsepower and pairs with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder hybrid paired to an electric motor that produces 219 system horsepower and pairs with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). With fully charged batteries, RAV4 Prime can travel an estimated 39 miles in fully electric mode. Maximum towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds.

Available driver-assist technology includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, rearview camera with cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high-beam headlights. Pricing ranges from $28,000 to $36,000.

Hybrid or no, the RAV4 isn't going to win many stoplight-to-stoplight races. Though improved, the gas-only 2.5-liter 4-cylinder provides just adequate acceleration around town and decent passing response. The same can be said for the hybrid, which actually seems slightly sprightlier than the gas-only model. Unfortunately, while the 8-speed automatic on the gas-only model shifts smoothly, the CVT on the hybrid seems to slur acceleration and passing punch.

Despite offering AWD across the lineup, the RAV4 isn't intended for true rock crawling. However, the new AWD system that's available in the gas-only Adventure and Limited does offer a step up for those that might want to consider straying off the beaten path. So equipped, drivers can select Mud & Sand or Rock & Dirt mode. Also available are hill-start assist and downhill assist.

The front-drive gas-only models are EPA rated at 27 MPG city and 35 MPG highway. The hybrid posts even more impressive numbers at 41 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. Both are at or near best-in-class. In routine suburban commuting expect to average close to 26 MPG with the gas model, 32 MPG with the hybrid. All RAV4 engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.

Toyota engineers worked very hard to refine the ride quality of the RAV4 without sacrificing it's fun-to-drive nature. It's still very toss-able, if even more stable in transient maneuvers. The suspension does an excellent job of softening large impacts and filtering out minor pavement imperfections. There isn't much difference in the dynamic traits from model to model. Steering had good road feel and steady on-center highway tracking. Brakes have good stopping power, but the hybrid pedal has an artificial feeling when slowing to a stop that makes it hard to modulate. Interior noise levels are appreciably better than in the previous model with very little wind or tire noise. However, it should be noted that both the gas-only and hybrid powertrains groan in acceleration.

RAV4 sports a clean and uncluttered interior design that's dominated by a large touchscreen display at the top of the center console. Materials are class appropriate, but do get nicer when you step up in trim. Drivers face a now-conventional twin-dial-information cluster that easy to read day or night. The center console houses dial controls for both the climate and audio system. In all there's a lot to like about the overall layout that's both functional and pleasing to the eye.

Toyota's Entune infotainment system has been continuously refined but it lags behind others in the class for overall functionality and useability. There's support for both Apple Car Play and Android Auto and wireless charging tray, while a very thoughtful addition, is finicky compared to similar wireless chargers in some competitors.

The font seats, though softly padded, don't offer much support and feel a touch undersized. At least head and leg room are exceptional. Plus, outward visibility is great forward and to the sides. Entry/exit is a snap thanks to the high beltline. The rear seats are exceptionally roomy for the class and do offer good support for large adults. The floor is flat as well, allowing for three abreast seating.

Seats up, cargo capacity is 37 cubic feet. Folding the rear seats expands cargo room to nearly 70 cubic feet. Both numbers are good for the class. Plus, the rear hatch opens wide, the load floor is low and the seats fold nearly flat. Interior storage is exceptional with lots of open and covered bins throughout.

Bottom Line - There's a reason the RAV4 is Toyota's best-selling model. It offers a near-perfect blend of comfort, features, efficiency and utility. Some competitors offer more inspiring designs or exciting powertrains, but few can match the RAV4 when it comes to overall usability. Prices can be steep, but the RAV4 does have exceptional resale value.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.