- Roomy interior for people and cargo
- Strikes a good balance between ride comfort and sure-footed handling
- No engine upgrade option
- Usefulness of available Entune smartphone features are diminished by cumbersome setup process
Small crossover SUVs like the 2014 Toyota RAV4 have become popular with a broad population of shoppers. And it's little wonder: In spite of their relatively compact dimensions, these vehicles provide useful space for small families and singles alike. They're easy to drive in crowded cities, and they typically return at least respectable fuel economy (and oftentimes better). In short, small crossovers are very nearly the perfect vehicle for modern Americans on the go. Although the Toyota RAV4 isn't a hands-down favorite in this class, you'll probably find that it checks off most of the boxes on your list.
Space is the five-passenger RAV4's biggest asset. Driver and passenger room are excellent up front, and a pair of adults will be content in the backseat on short trips. Further, buyers traveling with dogs or bulky gear will appreciate the Toyota's large cargo bay, low load floor and, on the Limited model, power liftgate (still a relatively rare convenience on SUVs in this class). With the rear seats folded down, the RAV4 has one of the largest cargo capacities in its class with 73.3 cubic feet.
On the move, the Toyota RAV4 is easy to see out of, and it feels steady around turns and comfortable cruising the highway. Its acceleration is merely average for a compact crossover SUV, though, and unlike with many competitors, there's no optional engine upgrade if you want more oomph than the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder has to offer. Likewise, the RAV4's fuel economy ratings are good, but not class-leading.
Given the quality of the competition in the small crossover class, it's worthwhile to check out a few alternatives. When it comes to all-around versatility, the 2014 Honda CR-V dominates the class. There's nothing truly remarkable about driving this Honda, but it's comfortable, quiet and fuel-efficient, and its roomy cabin is loaded with clever storage areas and handy conveniences. If you really enjoy driving, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 is one of the more entertaining compact crossovers, though its interior, while spacious, isn't quite as functional.
Another very good option is the 2014 Ford Escape, which gives you a choice of three engines and has a higher-end interior than you usually see in this class. Finally, if you have any desire to drive off-road and have at least a fair amount of capability to back it up, the new Jeep Cherokee can accommodate, and it's also one of the few models available with a V6 engine.
Although the 2014 Toyota RAV4 doesn't have significant advantages over its rivals, it's a capable small crossover SUV that will meet the needs of most shoppers.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2014
A new Technology package for the Limited model bundles last year's blind-spot monitoring system with a lane departure warning system and automatic high-beam control. Otherwise, the 2014 Toyota RAV4 is unchanged.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover offered in three main trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited. The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, power folding mirrors, keyless entry, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split and reclining second-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and a six-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, sportier front seats, a cargo cover and extendable sun visors. The audio system is upgraded on the XLE to include satellite radio, HD radio, traffic and weather. An option package allows you to add a navigation system and Toyota's Entune smartphone app integration to the XLE.
The top-level Limited comes with all of the above plus 18-inch alloy wheels, a height-adjustable power liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery. Options on the Limited include a navigation system bundled with a premium 11-speaker JBL audio system. The Technology package adds a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane-departure warning system and automatic high-beam control for the headlights.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 features an interior design that shares motifs with the current Camry and Avalon. Pronounced angles and lines form a streamlined and modern-looking dash. Overall, though, the RAV's design and materials are average for the compact crossover class, and a few of the audio and climate controls feel slightly flimsy. The cupholder count is adequate in the Toyota RAV4, but there aren't as many useful storage slots as in the CR-V.
Although all of the RAV4's audio systems have Toyota's Entune branding this year, only XLE and Limited models with the navigation system include the Entune suite of smartphone-connected services, among these the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio and traffic, sports and stock information. There's quite a bit of functionality here, but getting started with Entune can be a hassle: You have to install an app on your phone and register for an account, plus you always need an active data connection to use its features. The touchscreen interface has straightforward menus, but it's sometimes unresponsive to user touch (curiously, we've found the more basic touchscreen in the LE better in this regard). On the upside, all the conventional controls in the 2014 RAV4 are easy to use.
Rear-seat passenger comfort is hampered slightly by a low-mounted backseat, but space is nevertheless abundant enough even for taller adults. We also like how the seat reclines to an impressive degree.
The cargo bay measures 38.4 cubic feet and opens up to a generous 73.3 cubes when the second row is folded: one of the largest capacities in the class. There's also a payoff for that low-mounted rear seat: a very flat floor and low load-in height, both of which help minimize the strain of loading large items or even a couple of large dogs. The Limited model is especially convenient, as its liftgate is power-operated and height-adjustable.
Standard safety equipment on every 2014 Toyota RAV4 includes antilock disc brakes, a rearview camera, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A driver knee airbag is also standard. A rearview camera is standard across the board, while the optional Technology package on the Limited provides blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and lane departure warnings.
In Edmunds brake testing, the RAV4 stopped from 60 mph in 128 feet, which is longer than average.
In government crash tests, the Toyota RAV4 received a rating of four stars out of five for overall protection, with four stars awarded for frontal protection and five stars for side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the new RAV4 earned a top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. Its seat/head restraint was also rated Good for whiplash protection in rear impacts. However, the RAV earned a Poor rating (the lowest) in the Institute's small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and the RAV4 is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
In Edmunds testing, an all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 needed 9.2 seconds to hit 60 mph, an average time for a small crossover with a base four-cylinder engine.
The front-drive RAV4 is EPA-rated at 26 mpg combined (24 mpg city/31 mpg highway), which are good, but not class-leading numbers for a small crossover. The AWD model is rated at 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city/29 mpg highway).
Most small crossover shoppers will find the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine adequately powered for most tasks and sufficiently fuel-efficient. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive assertively, you'll find it slow to downshift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing steady mountain grades, we've observed that the transmission has a tendency to hunt between gears (rather than picking one gear and sticking with it). Both of these issues are a consequence of Toyota's efforts to tune the drivetrain for maximum gas mileage.
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 handles well and feels refined and comfortable when cruising down the highway. A potential exception is the Limited model, which can get a little jittery on rough or broken pavement due to its big 18-inch wheels. In spite of that, the cabin remains very quiet, making Toyota's crossover a good option for families with young children who sleep in the car.
Overall, the RAV4 is similar in personality to Honda's CR-V, and more demanding drivers might find it less enjoyable to drive than sportier crossovers like the Escape and CX-5, which have more responsive steering. If comfort is your overriding priority, though, the Toyota should do right by you. Additionally, if you need to venture off the beaten path, the RAV4's available AWD system quickly applies power where it's needed for optimum traction and actually gives it a decent amount of off-road ability.
Although the 2014 Toyota RAV4 isn't a standout in any one area, its combination of features, passenger space and everyday utility warrant a closer look if you're shopping for a small crossover.