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December 23, 2016

2017 Toyota RAV4 review – Roadshow

by John_A

The Good The 2016 Toyota RAV4 SE offers a more dynamic drive character in this normally sterile class. More aggressive looks thanks to the exclusive SE styling touches make the RAV4 visually appealing. Good power and fuel efficiency from 2.5-liter engine.

The Bad The SE’s sport suspension provides a firmer ride quality that may turn off some customers. In our drives, a rattle from the left B-pillar would annoyingly come and go. The RAV4’s Infotainment system doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto capabilities.

The Bottom Line Those who need the practicality of a compact crossover but don’t want a drab-looking or drab-driving vehicle should put the RAV4 SE on their “must drive” list.

Model year 2017 changes:

  • Standard Toyota Safety Sense P safety package on all grades adding a Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
  • New premium Platinum trim level builds on the Limited model with the addition of a standard foot-activated power liftgate, color keyed fender arches, lower rock panels and lower bumpers, bird’s eye view camera, 11-speaker JBL audio system, heated steering wheel, foot well ambient lighting and plush floor mat.
  • Base LE models begin at $24,910, while the new range-topping Platinum grade starts at $34,750.

Editor’s note, December 22, 2016: This review was written based on an evaluation of the 2016 Toyota RAV4. See the changes for the 2017 model year above.

Inside a half-mile of driving Toyota’s RAV4 SE over Michigan’s crumbling roads, I make a mental note of its firmer bump stiffness. The ride isn’t brutal, but it’s rougher — enough to turn off consumers shopping the compact crossover segment who put more stock in a compliant ride, flexible interior space and fuel economy. Lucky for those people, Toyota’s midcycle RAV4 update includes a new hybrid version that caters to those wants, and there’s always the model’s more traditional LE and XLE models.

Clearly, Toyota’s RAV4 range has grown to include flavors for all types of buyers.

Sportier intentions

Dig deeper into the freshened RAV4 lineup, past the typical changes like new light housings, bumpers, rocker panels and wheel designs, and you’ll also find the new SE model for people who still want flexible interior space and good fuel economy, but prefer their vehicles to be a bit more engaging from behind the wheel. As the athlete in the RAV4 family, the SE gets a sport-tuned suspension; unique 18-inch wheels and a specific styling treatments to give it a little extra visual edge.

2016-toyota-rav4-se-2.jpg

The SE is the RAV4 of choice for those looking for sportier handling.

Jon Wong/Roadshow

Notice that list of SE changes doesn’t include a power increase. Like the majority of sport versions of mainstream vehicles, it doesn’t get upgrades to the drivetrain, meaning the SE works with the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque as other non-hybrid RAV4s. That power makes it competitive with heavy hitters in the segment like the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue and base Ford Escape. While fuel economy for the RAV4’s full-gas drivetrain understandably isn’t up to the hybrid model’s impressive 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway EPA fuel economy ratings, the SE’s 2.5-liter four- and six-speed automatic transmission combination returns a respectable 22 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway with all-wheel drive. If front-wheel drive is all you need, then efficiency climbs to 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

Instead, the SE’s performance changes center on the suspension, which improves the RAV4’s handling reflexes, making the small crossover a bit more fun to toss around. Turn-in response is fairly quick, and there’s some weight tuned into the wheel. Grip through corners is good for spirited drives, with not much body lean. The wider footprint from the 18-inch Bridgestone Ecopia H/L 422 Plus all-season rubber deserves some credit for the increase in handling prowess, but don’t be under the illusion that the SE is a skidpad hellion, or that it’s ready to stand at the top of the timesheets at your next local autocross, because that’s not what it’s about. The biggest downside to SE is the aforementioned harsher ride quality, a byproduct of its stiffer springs and shock absorbers.

Those looking for a more comfortable ride should try the top of the line Limited model, which boasts a cushier ride and supportive yet comfortable seats. While not nearly as fun as the SE, it still holds its own when the road turns twisty, albeit with more body roll and a lighter steering feel.

2016toyotarav4-025.jpg2016toyotarav4-025.jpg

With a bit of momentum and a heavy right foot the RAV4 scampers to the top.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Regardless of which model you choose, you may be surprised at what the RAV4 can handle when the pavement turns to dirt. At the touch of a button, the all-wheel drive system locks into a 50/50 front to rear torque split at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, helpful when you’re stuck in the snow or when the road to the cabin turns treacherous. I was well surprised when the RAV4 scampered up a steep hill at Hollister Hills off-road park in California, behaving more like a 4Runner than a RAV4.

Unless you’re buying a Ford Escape or Kia Sportage with their available 2.0-liter turbo engines, you’ll have a hard time finding a compact crossover that one might call quick. Instead, most entries in this very popular segment pack serviceable power similar to this Toyota, which motors away from stops in a brisk-enough manner and pulls well throughout the rev range, with its gearbox cycling through the gears smoothly. The RAV4 never feels underpowered. If you want, the SE includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but unfortunately they aren’t particularly responsive. I abandoned their use after only a couple of miles.

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