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A contender despite its age-related shortcomings

 

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Starting Price: $25,370 | Price yours

Above Average: Comfortable seats, practical packaging

Below Average: No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, expensive

Consensus: Covers all the bases, but feels behind the times

This generation of Toyota RAV4 debuted in 2013, yet the 2017 RAV4 Platinum we drove held its own against the younger whippersnappers in our test. It's because the fundamentals are so right. The 2017 Toyota RAV4 offers plenty of passenger space, it has the second-best cargo space, averaged second best in fuel economy during our test, was eminently comfortable for every driver and tops it all off with Toyota's excellent reliability record. When it comes to power the RAV4's engine output pencils out second to last, but in reality it felt just as quick as most of its competitors. Where the RAV4 shows its age is in features: rear-seat passengers don't get a USB or power port, or even vents for the A/C; the hard plastic feels chintzy; it's noisier than the others; and Toyota refuses to offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

2017 Toyota RAV4

2017 Toyota RAV4 Ratings

 

Highway Driving

On the open road, the RAV4 offered up a comfortable ride, universally praised seats, decent power and a good driving position. It has all the makings of a solid road tripper but for one thing: road noise. We all agreed that the RAV4 suffered from more noise than the other cars in the test, regardless of road texture or conditions. However, turning up the volume on the JBL sound system helped drown out the din. Active cruise control made the drive home from Las Vegas a breeze, but remember, it shuts off at low speeds, so be ready to take command if traffic comes to a stop. Eco mode didn't seem to improve fuel economy much, but it did make the active cruise control feel lazy. The transmission tended to hunt a bit on some of the longer stretches, and occasionally clunked harshly into gear as it downshifted.

City Driving

Despite being on the larger side of the compact SUV segment, the Toyota RAV4 proved easy to maneuver in tight parking lots. Credit high-technology: The RAV4 not only comes with backup sensors, but like the Chevy Equinox it offers an around-view camera, making it easy to get into and out of tight spots. The RAV4 also has good visibility to the front and side. It's not quite so good to the rear thanks to the thick pillars, but big outside mirrors and the parking cameras mitigate that problem significantly. The blind-spot detection helps out a great deal as well, and in stop-and-go traffic fuel economy remained solid.

Interior Appeal

Judged purely on function, the RAV4's interior scores well. The front seats offer plenty of comfort for the driver, and it's easy to find a good driving position. There are plenty of storage spots for knickknacks, cups, bottles and the like, and we especially like the dash shelf in front of the passenger. In the back, the RAV4 rivals the Honda CR-V for passenger space, with plenty of legroom and headroom for even tall passengers. The cargo area offers a low liftover and there's an available dealer-installed net system that uses molded-in slots on the cargo walls to expand cargo utility in a bunch of different ways. However, many of the materials inside feel inferior to the other cars in the test, especially the hard plastics surrounding the driver. The door panel armrest offers meager padding, and even some of the button placement feels off. For example, the off switch for stability control is above the audio system, yet there are blanks lower on the dash next to the other safety controls.

Infotainment

Our RAV4 Platinum model came with an upgraded JBL Audio system with 11 speakers, navigation, USB input, a 7-inch touchscreen display and Toyota's Entune infotainment suite. It sounded fine, was loud enough to overcome the interior's ambient din on the highway, and the touchscreen was nice and responsive. However, Toyota doesn't offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in any of its cars, making it the lone holdout in our test (Mazda has promised the technology is coming soon). It's frustrating, because the infotainment system's Entune integration of iPhone and Android playlists simply isn't as good, and using Siri Eyes Free doesn't hold a candle to the voice recognition of CarPlay, either. The graphical interface looks dated, using map and touchscreen graphics that feel out of place in 2017. Lastly, there's only one USB port, meaning if your friends need to charge their phones, you'll need 12-volt adapters.

Rear Seat

The rear seat offers up three seatbelts, with the center position's shoulder strap tucking neatly into the ceiling when it's not in use. That's not just convenient, it's a clue that the center position is meant for occasional use thanks to its rock-hard cushions; at least the center hump on the floor is relatively small. Outboard positions are more comfortable, offering good padding and plenty of knee and headroom. The seatbacks adjust for angle as well, and if the headcount remains at four total, the rear seat isn't a punishment. However, there are compromises. The rear door tops aren't padded like they are in front, and there are virtually no amenities for rear seat passengers: No vents, no USB ports, not even a 12-volt outlet.

Cargo Area

The RAV4's low liftover, generous floor space and wide cargo opening make it one of the cargo champs of our test. Only the Honda CR-V outranks it in sheer volume, and that's by less than one cubic foot. If you fill up the 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seatbacks, you can drop them down for a total of 73.4 cubic feet. However, you'll have to walk around to the side of the car, open the door, manually fold down the headrests, and then fold the seatback down; the Mazda, Chevy and Honda all offer remote releases in the cargo area itself. In addition, we wish the RAV4 had the kind of underfloor storage you get in the Chevy. On the flip side, the RAV4 offers a cool cargo net system from dealers, helping you organize your cargo area in multiple ways.

Fuel Economy

The RAV4 puts a lie to the idea that you need a turbocharged engine and fancy transmission to get good fuel economy numbers. Its 2.5-liter 4-cylinder tied the Mazda for biggest displacement, and it uses an old-school 6-speed automatic transmission. Yet during our test, it still managed 26 mpg in mixed driving, only 0.4 less than the leading Honda CR-V. On the other hand, that CR-V was all-wheel drive, and boasted an additional 14 horsepower over the front-wheel-drive RAV4. Nonetheless, fuel economy impressed us, and the numbers didn't plummet when the RAV4 left the highway and was in stop-and-go city traffic.

Resale Value

One surprise about the RAV4, especially given Toyota's strong reputation for reliability, is that its 5-Year Cost to Own trails the rest of the field for which we have data. Chalk it up to having the highest purchase price: Despite being only front-wheel drive and having less equipment, the RAV4 was still $1,200 more than the all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V. It also had the highest base price of the test. Resale value itself is decent, with the RAV4 depreciating at about the same rate as the Honda CR-V over the long haul, after taking a bigger first-year hit.

 

Inside and Out Photo Gallery: 2017 Toyota RAV4

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