2021 Toyota RAV4 Review | Variety for the masses
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Being boring used to be a pretty solid way of ensuring a car's popularity. Bland may not inspire, but neither will it offend. It sure seemed like Toyota's playbook for decades, but things have changed (in the market and at Toyota), and nowhere is that more evident than with the Toyota RAV4 2021. Instead of being vanilla enough to appeal to as many people as possible, it offers instead, it is an unmatched range of flavors to be tailored specifically to a wide variety of people and purposes. There are regular, sporty and off-road oriented RAV4s. There's a regular gas engine and two hybrid options, including the new 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid (pictured above). There are vibrant colors, two-tone roofs, and flashy style cues, as well as more traditional, muted options. Again something for everyone.
But underlying all of these different flavors is a base vehicle that generally meets the basic fundamentals of a compact SUV, regardless of whether you are getting a simple RAV4 LE, a sporty XSE Hybrid or the TRD Offroad. It has more passenger and cargo space than most, as well as more ground clearance. The infotainment system is easy to use and satisfied, if not the most noticeable or the fastest. It is economical in terms of fuel consumption, especially with the two hybrid options. It reacts surprisingly quickly to driving. Finally, the resale value and maintenance cost should continue to be excellent. Now there are competitors who are equal to or better than the RAV4 in this regard, particularly the Honda CR-V, but few do and none offer the same variety as the RAV4.
What's new for 2021?
The RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid model makes its debut. It has an all-electric range of up to 42 miles, which is more than most PHEVs and enough to cover the typical commute of most Americans. It's only available in the sporty SE and XSE trim levels, and while the price point for a compact SUV is high, government tax credits can be granted to counter the added cost.
There are still a few smaller updates for 2021. The equipment variant XLE Premium is now available with the RAV4 Hybrid, while the TRD Off-Road has a front underrun protection plate made of stainless steel.
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What does the RAV4 interior and vehicle technology look like?
The materials and surfaces of the interior fittings are above average for the compact crossover class of the RAV4 and much better than in previous generations. However, the RAV4 never achieves the luxurious feel of a top of the line Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. Real leather is not available, and the SofTex vinyl available on high quality models is not a convincing substitute. This could certainly be an issue with more expensive specs, especially the Prime, which can approach $ 50,000 with options. That said, we like the use of brightly colored trim pieces that differentiate the different models and prefer them to the unconvincing trim of fake wood or metal trim on competing SUVs. And if you prefer a premium vibe, the new Toyota Venza is basically just a fancy RAV4 hybrid.
Depending on the equipment variant, three sizes of touchscreens are available: 7, 8 or 9 inches. They all sit high on the dashboard, are easy to see and reach, and share the same basic, easy-to-use interface. It's not the most modern in looks or the fastest to use, but many should appreciate its simplicity. The inclusion of physical controls and menu buttons contributes to this.
In-car storage is better than most with large and versatile cup holders, an easily accessible space to store and charge your phone, a forearm rest bin, and unique dashboard shelves. The floor in the load compartment is double-sided (a carpet, an easy-to-clean plastic) and the load compartment cover can be hidden underneath. Neither is included in the RAV4 Prime, but we think it's good that it offers space for the cumbersome portable charging cable: it can be neatly wrapped around a foam donut in the spare wheel. Typically, a plug-in vehicle will resort to a small briefcase that takes up cargo space.
In this driveway review, we dive deeper into the interior of the RAV4.
How big is the RAV4?
The current RAV4 sacrifices a few inches here and a few cubic feet there compared to its drab predecessor and its extremely sensible competitors such as the Honda CR-V and the Subaru Forester. This is done in order to achieve the more distinctive style and variety of models described earlier. The roof is lower and it can make passengers a bit cramped, especially with the optional sunroof (the RAV4 now feels a lot like a miniature 4Runner). Legroom in the back seat is basically medium, but full-size adults and rear-facing child seats still fit comfortably enough. The car seat's LATCH anchors are very easily accessible but are only in the outboard positions. The CR-V has one in the middle.
The cargo volume of 37.5 cubic feet with the rear seats raised or 69.8 cubic feet with the seats folded is larger and better than most compact crossovers, but also less than the CR-V. This is largely the result of that lower roof and a more heavily chopped tailgate area - essentially greenhouse space where you wouldn't normally keep things. As a result, we found that the two crossovers can hold basically the same amount of material. Now it should be noted that the RAV4 Prime's large battery raises the floor, thereby reducing cargo space (you can see the difference in the two photos above), but it's a small loss and many will not notice the difference.
We'd also be a failure if we didn't mention the RAV4's adequate ground clearance, especially in the Adventure and TRD Offroad trim levels, which helps make it one of the more capable compact SUVs off the beaten track. Only the Subaru Forester and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk have greater ground clearance than the all-terrain RAV4, and even the lowest RAV4 - the XSE Hybrid - still leaves 8 inches free. The old model was in the low 6 range.
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What are the performance and fuel consumption?
If the RAV4 you're looking at isn't a hybrid then it has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. No other base engine in this segment comes close to this performance, and a run from 0 to 60 mph takes an estimated 8.1 seconds.
An eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, two all-wheel drive systems are optional depending on the equipment variant. The first is a reactive base system that transfers power to the rear wheels when there is a slip, while the second, available in the Adventure, TRD Offroad and Limited trim levels, redirects power more actively, including between the rear wheels, to improve wet weather traction as well as dry road handling. It also includes 4x4 vehicle settings for Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt, and Snow.
Fuel economy estimates for a base front-wheel drive RAV4 are 28 miles per gallon city, 35 MPG highway, and 30 MPG combined. They are practically identical to the basic four-wheel drive of the LE and XLE. Adventure and TRD Offroad combined only go down to 28 mpg and we hit 31.3 mpg during a 700 mile road trip in the TRD Offroad.
The RAV4 Hybrid gets another 2.5-liter engine and three electric motors, which together offer 219 hp. The electric motor at the rear effectively gives the hybrid all-wheel drive the standard. The estimate from 0 to 60 is 7.8 seconds, which means that the hybrid is not only a more economical choice, but also a more powerful one (albeit hardly). The fuel economy for each hybrid trim level is 41 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 40 mpg combined. That's extraordinary for a compact SUV, but it's also basically what you'd get in the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and Toyota Venza hybrids.
Finally, there is the new RAV4 plug-in hybrid with more powerful motors and a battery with a higher capacity. When fully charged it gives a total of 302 horsepower, a 0 to 60 time of 5.8 seconds, and an EPA estimated range of 42 miles (more than most other PHEVs). If you hit the all-electric range, it works basically like the regular hybrid and gets similar fuel economy. The more you use the all-electric area, the more efficient it is.
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How does the RAV4 drive?
The RAV4 isn't the boring, anonymous crossover it once was. It may not snap into place like a Mazda CX-5, but there is still an eagerness to turn and a commendable stance around corners without sacrificing ride quality. The handling and steering feel of the various models are also not particularly great, although the sporty tuned XSE Hybrid and the RAV4 Prime models are certainly better able to tackle a winding mountain road. Even the TRD Offroad (pictured above) is a capable driver, even though its off-road tires make a lot of road noise.
The biggest difference is in the choice of powertrain. The base four-cylinder looks fine on paper, but in practice it is only acceptable for the segment and we found it a bit loud and lively. The hybrid actually improves on this as it adds the initial kick of electrical energy to smooth things out. However, the typical Toyota hybrid drone shows a longer acceleration. Ultimately, both engines are about getting good fuel economy without compromising drivability (for example, there is no throttle lag or unusual transmission programming). You are successful, but if you want more courage, you have to look elsewhere.
For 2021 this location could be the RAV4 Prime. It has 302 horsepower when the battery is fully charged, and its acceleration is strong and inspiring, as the 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds would indicate. It really feels like an electric car. However, this changes when this all-electric area is exhausted. The acceleration goes from inspiring to inconspicuous. Whether you're talking about performance or fuel economy, it's best to keep the Prime charged.
What else can I read about the RAV4?
2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime First Drive
The plug-in hybrid powertrain makes for a better RAV4, but a RAV4 also makes for a better plug-in hybrid. Our first review.
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2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road Review
We're reviewing the off-road version of the RAV4 on a 700-mile trip to western Canada.
2020 Toyota RAV4 interior
We delve deep into the RAV4's internal storage, quality, and technology.
Toyota RAV4 versus Honda CR-V load capacity comparison test
We know the numbers say the CR-V is a bit bigger, but we're putting the numbers to the test with actual luggage.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure vs 2019 Subaru Forester Sport | comparison
We're trying out the automotive equivalent of trail running shoes. We take a look at their interiors, their specs and how they drive. We found the space and value of the Forester compelling, but also thought the style of the RAV4 Adventure could prove to be crucial for many.
2019 Toyota RAV4 First Drive Review | In no case should you play it safe
"For anyone put off by the new direction, we'll bet a lot more will be drawn to the more distinctive approach. Toyota may have messed up a good thing, but it didn't mess it up."
2019 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid
2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure Drivers' Notes Review | More character, more ability
Our test of the off-road-oriented Adventure trim level, which offers extra ground clearance and a chunky appearance that we prefer over the standard version.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure
2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Drivers' Notes Review | A wallflower no longer
Our quick spin test of the RAV4 Hybrid that we found is very nice to drive despite its intended role as a fuel-gulp option.
2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited Hybrid
What features are available and what is the price?
Prices start at $ 27,255 for the base LE, including the target fee of $ 1,175. All-wheel drive costs $ 1,400 in trim levels that only offer gasoline.
Given the number of trim levels and equipment available, we're foregoing the usual list of equipment features and instead forwarding you to Autoblog here for a full breakdown of trim levels, specs and local prices.
LE: $ 27,225
XLE: $ 28,520
XLE Premium: $ 31,225
Adventure: $ 34,330 (AWD standard)
Limited: $ 35,755
TRD Offroad: USD 36,955 (AWD standard)
Hybrid LE: $ 29,675 (AWD standard for all hybrids)
Hybrid XLE: $ 30,970
Hybrid XLE Premium: $ 33,675
Hybrid XSE: $ 35,625
Hybrid Limited: $ 38,205
Prime SE: $ 39,275
Prime XSE: $ 42,600
Note that the Prime is eligible for a tax credit of $ 7,500, as well as possible government credits.
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What are the safety equipment and crash ratings?
Every RAV4 comes with a comprehensive range of standard equipment that goes beyond expected and government-mandated requirements, including a driver's knee airbag, a passenger under-airbag, a forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, and a lane keeping assistance system. Warning systems for blind spots and cross traffic at the rear are optional in the LE equipment variant and standard in all others. An automatic cross-braking system for rear cross traffic is standard on the Limited and optional on all panels except the LE.
In government crash tests, the RAV4 received five out of five stars for overall and side crash protection. It has four stars for frontal protection. The Toyota RAV4 was recognized as the Top Safety Pick by the Road Safety Insurance Institute for its best possible performance in all crash tests and collision avoidance technology tests. The headlights were rated "Bad", "Marginal" and "Good" depending on the equipment variant. Which can be found on the IIHS assessment page.
2020 Toyota Highlander Platinum Interior Review
The earthy two-tone color scheme of the Toyota Highlander Platinum 2020 is distinctive, warm and generally inviting. The silver trim that wraps around the timing case like a fork is textured to make it look richer and more like real metal. The wood trim on the dashboard and center console, real or not, is subtle and tasteful. The padded SofTex vinyl that covers much of the dashboard, doors and center console feels comfortable, while the real leather on the seats is buttery soft. All switchgear is top notch and the widescreen infotainment system is excellent. In this video, you can see more clearly what I'm talking about as I thoroughly review the interior of the 2020 Highlander Platinum.
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