The thing about a Sport Utility Vehicle is that market demands have pushed manufactures toward building “sporty” SUV’s with a higher level of luxury. People are driven towards more conveniences and driving characteristics that match their memory of their favorite car, like a Toyota Camry. This means having the vehicle not lean in the corners or ride rough like a truck. In other words, potential buyers want it all and are willing to pay for it.
All the amenities, electronic features, and accessories add thousands to the MSRP. My test SUV 2017 Toyota RAV4’s are prime examples of compact SUV’s. Originally, the RAV4 was introduced as a basic, car-based SUV and it was very affordable. I experienced both an RAV4 XLE AWD and the loaded Hybrid Limited AWD RAV4 for several weeks of real world driving. Both are capable on-road vehicles with good road manners and able to handle light off-road duties. There is sufficient room for 5 people or a family of 4 with car seats.
The Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD with the premium infotainment system and navigation has an MSPR of $30k and the Hybrid Limited runs all the way north of $35K. This is a lot of SUV for that price but more expensive than entry-level luxury vehicles. Thus, people who want it all, go anywhere, and have all the modern safety features, will like either of the RAV4 powertrains.
Even so, this is not a simple, inexpensive, family wagon. Toyota has loaded all their newest safety features into the XLE/Limited models such as the Toyota Safety Sense™ Pre-Collision System with a camera and radar Pedestrian Detection. Introduced on higher-level models, Toyota has brought these electronic safety features into their most popular models.
The lane departure alert system includes a steering adjustment function which corrects the course of the RAV4 if the SUV is drifting across the lane lines without a blinker activated. This system also includes their top-rated Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC). With the cameras monitoring lane lines (required for the software to sense lane position), Toyota has added a “sway alert” to detect tired drivers and annoy the driver enough to wake them up or have them pull over for a rest.
The Limited RAV4 also comes with automatic high beams that detect cars in front of the RAV4 at a great distance so you do not blind drivers in the leading vehicles or on-coming traffic. This system was amazing when I traveled up Highway 101 on the California coast late at night with just an occasional car on the road with me, adjusting high to low and back to high beams when needed.
Hybrid power is provided by a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder, 150 horsepower, all-aluminum engine in combination with two electric drive motors in this All-Wheel Drive RAV4.
The front motor drives the front wheels, provides regeneration during braking, works with the generator/starter hybrid system, and provides an extra 141 horsepower to the drivetrain. The rear permanent magnet AC 650V motor/generator drives rear wheels and provides regeneration during braking, while adding another 67 hp (50kW) to the drivetrain. Add it all up and this hybrid system has a total of 358 horsepower if every motor was running at full capacity. All of this is needed to get the RAV4 Hybrid’s 3,950 pound curb weight down the road.
The Hybrid version is not a slow SUV off the line with all that electric motor instant torque. It does lack some mid-range power, typical of hybrid vehicles, and the gas engine is noisy if you lean on the accelerator. With a full load, the RAV4 does feel strained when running up a mountain grade at freeway speeds. After all, the Constant Velocity Transmission (CTV) is designed for efficiency and not drag racing.
So does this Toyota hybrid system- proven in other Toyota/Lexus vehicles- deliver the mileage promised? Yes. After nearly 1,000 miles of driving this 2017 RAV4 Hybrid Limited AWD in heavy traffic, heavy rain and snow, crowded cities, and on the open road, I averaged 31.1 miles per gallon. The best mpg achieved was 39.9 mpg while hyper-mileage driving from the mountains down to the South Bay area of Southern California. The lowest mpg was 30 mpg- besting the EPA rating of 34/30/32 (city/highway/combined). Additionally, this drivetrain runs on 87-octane or higher fuel and produces an emission certification of SULEV.
The gas-version runs the venerable 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine tuned to output 176 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and torque of 172 lb‐ft. @ 4,100 rpm. This powertrain is linked to Toyota’s six-speed transmission that shifts smoothly and predictably well at lower speeds. I experienced some rougher downshifts from 6th to 4th under load and hard acceleration. The gas AWD model is also tuned for economy and delivered 27.6 mpg on the highway. EPA ratings are 22/28/25 mpg and accurate according to my evaluation.
The new RAV4 suspension includes independent MacPherson struts with stabilizer bars up front and a double wishbone coil spring setup in the rear. The RAV4 is agile enough for mountain roads and stable at highway speeds. The gas-powered XLE is lighter and more fun to drive in the corners. The Hybrid version has to be sprung more stiffly in order to compensate for the extra weight so it has a slightly harsher ride over rougher pavement and P235/55R18 (SE, Limited, Platinum) tires. Both models are decent cruisers with similar road manners, but I prefer the gas version’s ride.
Toyota continues to dial in the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering for a better on-center feel. They have set the overall steering ratio to 14.5:1 for the XLE and a more comfortable 14.7:1 for the Limited and SE models. There is still not a lot of direct feel from the front tires to the driver’s hands through this type of steering system, which is important for off-road driving, but now there is enough feedback for the typical RAV4 owner.
The Limited, SE, and Platinum interior designs have been “softened” with leatherette material and stitched edges. The seating position is comfortable and upright, even with the manual adjustable seats. Most of the switches, buttons and knobs are in a logical position that helps keep the drivers hands and eyes on the road. The exception is the Tune/Scroll knob on the audio system that is a far reach for drivers of any size. However, Toyota continues to provide large controls and buttons, including a welcomed Volume/Power knob instead of electronic touch pads.
Cargo space is good, but not as large as the Honda CRV. Behind the front seats with the second row folded flat, there is 73.4 cubic feet of space (38.4 cu. ft. behind the second row). Toyota has also included a hanging net that can be adjusted to keep items from sliding around the cargo area. This is their answer to multi-layer storage, compared to Nissan’s hard cargo platform shelves. The net can be stowed when not in use.
The exterior styling for all of the Toyota models has been a moving target. My wife is reminded of the Star Wars storm trooper helmets whenever she sees the front end of a RAV4. I see Darth Vader’s front grill when I look at the Lexus and Camry grill. Isn’t Nissan the company that paid huge dollars for the Rogue: Star Wars promotion? These pop culture styling cues are not accidental; however, I would like to see Toyota find a trademark look that is more consistent and less trendy.
Overall, the RAV4 packaging makes it easy on adventurers to throw a kayak on the included roof rails and cross members. The XLE cloth fabric seats are comfortable and durable, while the higher model leather-like seats are equally comfortable and heated. There is enough ground clearance (6.1 inches) and functionality to take this SUV into the woods for a camping trip. There is even more driver-assist safety wizardry to make sure occupants get home in one piece. This is not the inexpensive, hose-down RAV4 of yesteryear but it will provide enough utility for modern families to enjoy life while living day-to-day in the country and in the urban jungle.
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 XLE package includes:
• Integrated fog lights with chrome surrounds
• Halogen Daytime Running Lights (DRL)
• 17-inch twin 5-spoke alloy wheels with 225/65R17 tires
• Front and Rear silver painted skid plate garnish
• Color-keyed power heated outside mirrors with turn signal indicators with folding feature and blind spot mirror
• Washer-linked variable intermittent windshield wiper and intermittent rear window wiper
• Power tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade
• Height‐adjustable power Liftgate with jam protection
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid XLE and Limited packages include:
• Dual-zone automatic climate control with in-cabin air filter
• Backup camera with projected path dynamic lines
• 4.2-in. TFT Multi-Information Display with audio, customizable settings, odometer, outside temperature, clock, fuel economy and trip information, fuel economy history, current average fuel economy, distance to empty, cruising range, average speed, trip distance with timer, hybrid system information EV Driving Ratio, Hybrid System Indicator, ECO Savings Record, energy monitor, 4WD Drive Force distribution and warning messages. Eco, Sport and EV Modes
• Toyota Safety Sense™ P - Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist function (LDA w/SA), Auto High Beams (AHB) and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC)
• Tilt/telescopic leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio, multi-information display, voice recognition and Bluetooth® hands-free telephone controls
• Fabric-trimmed 6-way adjustable driver’s seat with sport bolsters and seatback pocket; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat with sport bolsters and seatback pocket
• Fabric-trimmed 60/40 split, reclining, fold-flat second-row seat with center armrest
• Power windows with driver auto up/down with jam protection
• Remote keyless entry system
• Smart Key System on front doors and liftgate with Push Button Start
• Illuminated entry system (key illumination, interior light, and front personal light)
• Two front and one second row 12V auxiliary power outlets
• Leather-wrapped steering wheel
• SofTex®-trimmed 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, power lumbar support, sport bolsters and seatback pocket; 4-way adjustable front passenger seat with sport bolsters and seatback pocket.
• Driver and front passenger heated seats
• SofTex-trimmed 60/40 split, reclining, fold-flat second-row seat with center armrest Limited
• Frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink®
• Leather-trimmed shift lever with silver accents
• SofTex covered sliding center armrest with console storage box