- Strong power and fuel economy from optional V6
- Huge cargo space with flat load floor and low load height
- Comfortable ride
- Responsive handling
- Interior has a budget feel
- Right-side hinge for tailgate impedes curbside loading
- Taller drivers are a tight fit
- Disappointing four-cylinder
For those anticipating the 2012 Toyota RAV4 to feature an all-new design, the above photo may seem like a mistake. However, despite the widespread assumption that the RAV4 would get a clean-sheet redo for 2012, it instead soldiers on for another year in its present form.
As such, all RAV4 models come off as a little stale compared to a host of newer crossover SUV competitors. The RAV4's interior is quite roomy and capable of seating five or seven passengers, but its design, materials and construction are of a lesser quality than what you'll find in crossovers like the Chevy Equinox and Dodge Journey. Its V6 engine is still pretty sweet, offering an appealing blend of better-than-average acceleration and fuel economy, but the base four-cylinder is a disappointment. Paired to a behind-the-times four-speed automatic, its fuel economy is below average for the class and only 2 mpg thriftier than the V6.
In light of this, you'd be wise to check out the aforementioned American competitors along with the Honda CR-V, Kia Sorento and Subaru Outback. But that doesn't mean you should completely write off the RAV4. Its ability to effortlessly make the transition from an accommodating family runabout to a cargo-schlepping pack mule can't be beat. And this year the RAV4 Limited model should stand out thanks to the availability of Toyota's new Entune suite of electronics features. So even if the 2012 Toyota RAV4 has gone a little past its expiration date, it's still a good choice for a small or midsize crossover.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
The 2012 Toyota RAV4 carries over unchanged save for a newly available touchscreen audio interface and Toyota's Entune suite of Internet-streaming technologies.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Toyota RAV4 is a compact crossover SUV offered in three trim levels: base, Sport and Limited. Five seats are standard, but the Limited can be had with an optional third row that can seat an extra set of children.
The base RAV4 comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split sliding and reclining second-row seat (with remote cargo-area folding), Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. One can upgrade to 17-inch steel or alloy wheels. The Upgrade Value package includes the alloy wheels, a roof rack, rear privacy glass, a sunroof, a cargo cover and upgraded upholstery.
The Sport adds 18-inch alloy wheels, sportier suspension tuning, foglamps, rear privacy glass and upgraded upholstery. V6-powered models get automatic headlamps. The Appearance package adds run-flat tires and a different tailgate design (in lieu of the tailgate-mounted spare tire), heated mirrors and chrome-look interior trim. The Enhancement Value package adds a roof rack and sunroof.
The Limited lacks the Sport suspension and reverts back to 17-inch alloy wheels, but adds automatic headlamps, heated mirrors, a hard-shell spare tire cover, a roof rack (optional on other trims), keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a cargo cover (optional on other trims).
The Premium package available on the Sport and Limited includes leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat and heated front seats. On the Limited only, the Premium Plus Value package adds a sunroof to these items, while the Navigation Value package goes further with a navigation system, a touchscreen interface and Toyota's Entune system, which includes real-time information (traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports scores) and a suite of apps that connect the car to Internet sites like Pandora, iHeart Radio and Open Table through your smartphone. V6-powered models can be equipped with a towing package.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The RAV4's interior boasts a clean design with large, simple controls and lots of storage space. Overall interior quality is acceptable, but most competitors now make the RAV's interior look too insubstantial and budget-oriented. Several rivals also come with additional standard equipment.
Nevertheless, the Toyota RAV4 is a model of practicality. The rear seats recline and can slide fore and aft to optimize passenger space or cargo capacity. Normal seating capacity is five, while the optional third-row seat bumps it to seven. Though this seat is meant only for children, it is at least reasonably sturdy and spacious for them.
To configure the RAV4 for cargo, all you need to do is flip a lever in the cargo area to fold the second-row seats flat. Honda now offers this feature in its CR-V, but in the process, lost the second row's ability to slide fore and aft -- a capability the RAV4 continues to offer. With all seats lowered, there's an impressive 73 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The load floor is also quite low for this class, which minimizes the strain of loading a week's worth of groceries or makes it easy for a dog to climb aboard. However, the Toyota's tailgate can be an inconvenience when you're parked on the street, as it has hinges on the right side, the opposite of what you want for curbside loading in the United States.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front headrests, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on every 2012 Toyota RAV4. Vehicles equipped with the V6 and/or the optional third-row seats also come with hill-start assist and hill-descent control.
In Edmunds brake testing, a four-cylinder RAV4 came to a stop from 60 mph in 125 feet -- an average distance for a compact crossover. The heavier RAV4 EV still managed to remain competitive at 126 feet.
In government crash testing, the RAV4 received an overall score of three stars (out of five). It got three stars for overall frontal crash protection and four stars for overall side crash protection. In crash tests done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV4 earned the top rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It achieved the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
Every 2012 Toyota RAV4 trim level is available with two different engines and either front- or all-wheel drive. The availability of these combinations can depend on where you live, however.
The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is standard, and with front-wheel drive includes an automatic limited-slip differential (auto LSD). EPA-estimated fuel economy with front-wheel drive is 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. This drops to 21/27/24 with all-wheel drive, and both estimates are a tad disappointing given the V6's fuel economy as well as the RAV4's many competitors.
The 3.5-liter V6 produces 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard, and it, too, gets the auto LSD with front-wheel drive. In Edmunds performance testing, a RAV4 V6 with all-wheel drive went from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which is better than average for its class. The EPA estimates that it'll achieve 19/27/22 with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 with AWD. This is thrifty among V6-powered crossover SUVs.
The all-wheel-drive system sends power to the front wheels until tire slippage is detected and then power is also directed to the rear wheels. The torque split can be manually locked at 50 percent front/50 percent rear for driving in poor traction conditions, such as gravel or snow. With the optional tow package, the RAV4 V6 can pull as much as 3,500 pounds.
Although relatively capable off the beaten path, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 is meant for a life on pavement. Its taut suspension and precise electric-assist steering make daily errands a pleasant (although not particularly interesting) experience. The RAV4 is not as responsive to control inputs as the Honda CR-V or Kia Sorento, but the Toyota offers a smooth ride that's forgiving enough for commuters who drive on crumbling expressways. Road noise can be an issue, and in total the RAV4 seems less buttoned-down and solid on the highway than the Chevy Equinox or Dodge Journey.
The RAV's four-cylinder version is a reasonable choice for most buyers, as it provides adequate power for day-to-day driving. However, its four-speed transmission and fuel economy are unimpressive, and if we were to buy a 2012 Toyota RAV4, it would have to come with the optional V6. It generates 90 hp more than the inline-4 engine, yet according to the EPA, you'd only spend about $200 more per year. We highly recommend finding the extra dough to get it.
Spacious, comfortable and easy to drive, the 2012 Toyota RAV4 is good choice for a small-to-midsize crossover SUV, especially if you want a V6 or a usable kid-size third-row seat. Yet newer competitors are definitely worth a look.