Another front-wheel-drive baby sport-ute I could definitely get on board with a Lexus-branded model based on the RAV4's architecture - it’s just that smooth.
Crossovers and small sport-utility vehicles have become an integral part of the new vehicle market. Brilliant new entries such as the 2014 Jeep Cherokee give the customer the option to go slightly upmarket within the same model range, while classic, appealing choices such as the Honda CR-V maintain their modest yet very good value for the dollar. Redesigned last year, this 2014 Toyota RAV4 LE represents one of the earliest sport-utility entries from Japan into the North American mainstream market – I drove it to find out how competitive it really is.
A colleague of mine here drives a previous-generation RAV4 with the 3.5L V6 engine. Simply put, it flies. This year, however, the only available engine is the 2.5L 4-cylinder motor – good for 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. The latest-generation Rav4 also has been given a new six-speed automatic transmission, up from four in the previous car. Power is adequate, and there is enough torque to get you around the city comfortably. On the highway though, I found myself yearning for the extra power bump of the now-deceased V6 model. As every other product in the Toyota and Lexus lineup, the RAV4 is incredibly smooth, supple, and easy to get along with.
Ride quality is excellent for a small sport-utility-vehicle. It’s not as thrashy as the CR-V or the Forester; the RAV4 is reminiscent of the Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan. I could definitely get on board with a Lexus-branded model based on this architecture, it’s just that smooth. Shifts from the 6-speed automatic are barely felt, and the RAV4 floats along the highway without a complaint in the world. One huge advantage Toyota has gained by ditching the V6 is that the fuel economy on this little guy has seriously been improved. I observed 8.4L/100km in combined driving over a particularly cold week. Highway mileage can drop to the low 7L/100km range if the “Eco” mode is used. I did notice though that “Eco” mode creates a bit too much throttle resistance in city driving that could prove a bit annoying. Pushing the available “Sport” button sharpens throttle response and adjusts the shifts for sportier driving. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but this mode does result in decreased fuel economy and in my eyes defeats the purpose of the RAV4.
My tester RAV4 was the “LE” model with the front-wheel-drive. Starting at a base price of $23,870, this car was optioned with the $1,500 “Upgrade Package”. This adds a 6-speaker stereo with a 6.1” touchscreen for the infotainment system, heated seats, tinted windows, a reverse camera, and a couple other trinkets here and there. Traction control and Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) are standard on all RAV4 models, along with air conditioning, a plethora of advanced safety features, and the typical power appointments. This is the value model that is a pretty darn good buy for $25,000. All-wheel-drive on this model would run you just under $27,500, and I would expect the majority of Canadian buyers to opt for that model.
Interior quality on the RAV4 is just as good as I’d expect from Toyota. The infotainment system is decently easy to use, the touchscreen is responsive, and the Bluetooth connectivity is good. I do wish that satellite radio was standard, but Bluetooth streaming audio compatibility from my phone meant I could enjoy the tunes of my choice. Sound quality from the premium 6-speaker stereo is decent, but it’s no Mark Levinson or Bose system. The seats are actually surprisingly good; they have a nice amount of support and the material doesn’t feel cheap in the slightest. There is ample space throughout the cabin.
Though our 2014 Toyota RAV4 lacked all-wheel-drive, it came to us equipped with 17” Yokohama Ice Guard winter tires. When you add up the stability control systems, the punchy 4-cylinder engine, and the good set of winter rubber, the value in this model really starts to shine. I didn’t get stuck in the RAV4 once despite having to drive across a snow-covered, unplowed Toronto highway. I’ll reiterate that I’d opt for the AWD model, but it’s not a necessity by any means. Oh, and it was in this snow storm where I achieved my best fuel economy numbers too.
In growing up and evolving with the times, the RAV4 has softened up a bit. I recall the first-generation model from the 90s having its trunk-mounted spare tire, its plastic body cladding and cheeky looks. The new one doesn’t look nearly as rugged, and appears to dress more like the other kids in the class – it has evolved to fit right into a growing segment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Toyota; it’s the reason that it’s sold so well and has proved a great buy. For the price point, the 2014 Toyota RAV4 is a very good buy. If you’re looking for a bit more style and are willing to spend a few dollars more to go slightly upscale, the Volkswagen Tiguan might be calling your name.
2014 Toyota RAV4 LE Gallery