Originating in the latter half of the 1990s, the Toyota RAV4 was one of the first entries in the small crossover SUV market. Today's RAV4 is considerably larger than that pint-sized original, but the core appeal of versatility, good fuel economy and favorable on-road manners are firmly intact.
The RAV4 has been very popular with consumers through the years, so there are going to be plenty to choose from if you're searching for a used model. The newest third- and fourth-generation RAV4s are the most family-friendly and come with the most features, but an older RAV4 should still appeal to young families and urban singles in search of a reliable compact crossover SUV.
Current Toyota RAV4
The Toyota RAV4 is offered in LE, XLE, SE, Limited and Platinum trim levels. All have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is standard, and buyers can choose either front- or all-wheel drive. With an EPA-estimated 25-26 mpg in combined driving, the RAV4 is as fuel-efficient as its competitors. For even higher fuel economy, check out the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Base LE standard feature highlights include air-conditioning, reclining second-row seats, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, a touchscreen interface and iPod-USB integration. There's also a long list of standard safety equipment, including a forward collision mitigation system with automatic braking, lane departure warning and intervention, and adaptive cruise control. The XLE adds a sunroof, alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a power liftgate and dual-zone automatic climate control. The SE is the sport-themed model, with a sport-tuned suspension, LED headlights, blind-spot monitoring, push-button starting, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power driver seat. Going with the Limited gets you an auto-dimming rearview mirror, driver-seat memory settings and navigation, while the Platinum tops out the lineup with a hands-free power liftgate, a top-down parking camera, premium audio, a heated steering wheel, and unique trim. Some of the features offered on higher trim levels are available as extra-cost options on less expensive RAV4s.
In reviews, we've found that this Toyota RAV4 gets just about everything right. Its roomy cabin boasts more cargo room than most rivals and provides ample seating space for adults both front and rear. The overall interior design is modern looking, and the Entune system provides useful smartphone app integration, although the touchscreen's virtual buttons can sometimes be finicky to use. There's no engine upgrade available, but the RAV4's 2.5-liter four is refined and adequately powerful. Overall, we find the RAV4 to be an impressively well-rounded small crossover SUV with no major drawbacks.
Used Toyota RAV4 Models
The current RAV4 represents the fourth generation of this vehicle, which debuted for 2013. Compared to earlier RAV4s, this fourth-gen model has the typical strengths of carlike driving manners, versatile cargo and passenger configurations, and all-around comfort. It's about the same size as the previous generation but has bolder styling, a more modern interior and some new features. It also has an easier-to-use, top-hinged liftgate instead of the previous swing-out gate, though the previously available third-row seat was discontinued.
Toyota began upgrading the fourth-gen RAV4 early on. The 2014 model gained an optional lane departure warning system, while 2015 models picked up a power liftgate as well as structural changes to improve the RAV4's crash test scores. The RAV4 got a refresh for 2016, which included revised front-end styling and the debut of the SE trim and some new optional safety features. For 2017, Toyota made these safety features standard on all RAV4s and introduced the new top-of-the-line Platinum trim level.
Prior to this was the third-generation Toyota RAV4, which Toyota produced from 2006 to 2012. Compared to earlier models, these RAV4s were bigger and offered an available V6 engine and third-row seat.
In its inaugural third-generation year, two engine choices were offered. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivered 166 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque, while a 3.5-liter V6 produced 269 hp and 246 lb-ft of torque. Automatic transmissions were standard, with the four-cylinder paired with a four-speed, while the V6 received a five-speed unit.
Three trim levels were also offered: base, Sport and Limited. Base feature highlights included air-conditioning, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat and full power accessories. The Sport added 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and a roof rack, while the Limited topped it off with 17-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat and an upgraded audio system. A third-row seat, a moonroof, leather upholstery and a DVD-based rear entertainment system were options on upper level trims.
We praised these models for their pleasant driving manners and convenient cargo space, but deducted points for the side-hinged rear gate and noticeable road noise. We also preferred the powerful V6 over the base four-cylinder engine that suffered with its outdated transmission and mediocre fuel economy.
Changes since its debut were minimal but included additional standard airbags in 2007, a slight styling update in 2009 (with an option to delete the external spare tire) and a power increase for the four-cylinder engine (from 166 hp to 179 hp). A newly available touchscreen audio interface and Toyota's Entune smartphone apps were introduced for 2012.
The second-generation Toyota RAV4 (2001-'05) was larger than the original RAV4, with more expressive styling and innovative removable second-row seats that gave it truly impressive cargo-carrying capabilities. Early models had a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 148 hp; it came up short compared to the larger four- and six-cylinder engines offered by competitors. Toyota addressed this to some extent in 2004 by replacing the 2.0-liter with a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 161 hp. Acceleration was markedly improved, and buyers could still choose a manual or an automatic transmission. Overall, we found this RAV4 to be a fun-to-drive urban runabout thanks to its precise suspension tuning and high fuel economy ratings.
The first-generation Toyota RAV4 (1996-2000) was offered in two-door and four-door body styles, with a convertible version for a brief period. The first-gen RAV4 was appealing to young singles, but due to its narrow width and tight rear legroom, this cute ute was ultimately no substitute for a traditional family vehicle. Advantages included carlike handling, a low cargo floor and a large rear door that made loading cargo a breeze.