Tom Crosby: Toyota’s RAV4 adds two new vehicles for 2016

Tom Crosby

Toyota’s RAV4 was a cutting edge vehicle that helped jump-start the small SUV market 21  years ago. Today it’s morphed into a small SUV on steroids with everything bigger inside and out, plus improved gas mileage.

For 2016, it competes in a hotly contested market offering more than 100 different small sport utility vehicle/cross-over vehicles.

But RAV4, one of Toyota’s most popular vehicles with better than average reliability for two decades, is on pace to sell a record number this year with the addition of two new vehicles – a sporty SE and hybrid.

RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive (AWD); two-wheel-drive options are also among seven gasoline only trims.

We test-drove the AWD SE, boasting a nicely sport-tuned suspension and sportier styling making it immediately popular for those who want some extra pep and better handling. An optional $3,030 technology package included Toyota’s new Safety Sense package and a long list of technology features, making the RAV4 SE a driving pleasure.

An independent McPherson strut in front and double wishbone coil in rear – both using stabilizer bars – maintained balance in tight curves at high speed with dynamic torque control shifting grip between front and rear wheels to maintain lateral grip. Lean was minimal and drivers will like handling control and the extra thrust provided by manual paddle shifters in Eco, normal or Sport driving mode. Acceleration is adequate from a stop, much better once underway.

Technology/Safety Sense features include Bird’s Eye View for a 360-degree view around the vehicle, back-up camera display, dynamic radar cruise control, pedestrian detection and pre-collision braking. Cabin/drive integration included voice activation, Toyota’s Entune Premium JBL audio on 11 speakers, navigation and App suite are accessed on a 7-inch high-resolution touch-sensitive dashboard screen. Music streaming via Bluetooth, real-time weather and traffic, Gracenotes Art on songs and playlist compilations contribute to cabin enjoyment.

Seats are comfortable with contrast stitching. Cargo space becomes generous with folded rear seats and a low load floor above a small spare tire. Rear seats tilt for rear passenger comfort. Quiet before, more solid insulation this year mutes noise better.

Outside, all RAV4s receive new rocker panels and restyled bumpers. The SE adds 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights and a lower grill design, plus front and rear silver skid plate garnishes. Body structure includes high-strength steel and federal crash tests give RAV4 either four or five stars in all crash positions.

Likes: Ride, cargo space, versatility, quiet
Dislikes: Acceleration
Bottom line: The SE adds some panache to popular RAV4 choices

Fact File
Toyota RAV4 SE AWD

Base price w/destination fee: $31,565.
Vehicle weight: 3,520 pounds.
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches.
Length: 181.1 inches.
Width: 72.6 inches w/fender flare.
Engine: 2.5 liter 16 valve DOHC 4-cylinder.
Horsepower: 176 hp at 6,000 rpm.
Torque: 172 ft. pounds at 4,100 rpm.
Transmission: 6-speed ECT-i automatic.
EPA rating: 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Range: 15.9-gallon tank, regular unleaded fuel
Performance: 0-60 in just under 10 seconds.

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.