ROAD TEST: 2015 Toyota RAV4

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By Shari Prymak

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Do you know what the name “RAV4” stands for? Nope, didn’t think so. It actually stands for Recreational Activity Vehicle, Four-wheel drive. A misleading name, in a way, since four-wheel drive is an optional extra (Perhaps the front-wheel drive models should be called RAV2?). It’s still fitting though when you consider that the RAV4 pretty much founded the screamingly popular crossover segment ages ago.

For 2013, the RAV4 had undergone a complete makeover in an effort to keep up with the increasingly heavy competition. The modern exterior design cues, though hardly eye-catching, are indeed a welcome change from the blandness of the old model.

Perhaps the most welcome changes of all are the elimination of the side-opening rear door (it now opens upwards) and its outdated spare tire. It’s anyone’s guess as to why it took Toyota so long to send that tire to the safari scrapheap. This ain’t no rock crawling FJ Cruiser. It’s a soft crossover that’ll be used for nothing more adventurous than shopping mall runs. The spare has now been put where it belongs: under the trunk floor.

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Inside, the RAV4’s instrument layout has received some nice upgrades in terms of materials and overall design. The controls remain relatively simple to use, and there’s plenty of welcome storage space. Interior room overall rivals the best among small crossovers. Four adults can sit comfortably with plenty of trunk space left over for a road trips worth of luggage. Unfortunately, there is no handy lever in the trunk area to automatically collapse the rear seats like there is in the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5.

The RAV4’s sole engine, a 2.5L 4-cylinder, is a carryover from the previous model, but it is now mounted to a more economical 6-speed automatic transmission with a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Some may miss the pleasant grunt from the previous model’s optional V6 engine, but the truth is that Toyota’s robust 4-cylinder is all the engine you’ll really need. Plus, it’ll return respectable, though not class leading, fuel economy of up to around 9.0L/100km on the highway. Figure more like 11-12.0L/100km in pure city driving.

The RAV4 starts at a competitive $24,065, which is an excellent deal for a crossover with a reputation for reliability and resale value as good as the RAV’s. $28,400 will land you a well-equipped XLE model with heated seats, sunroof, and backup camera, and $33,410 will move you into a Limited model with all the luxury touches plus all-wheel drive. If you want all-wheel drive on the LE or XLE, it’s available for a $2,200 premium.

As seems to be the case with many Toyota products, the RAV4 is really the straightforward, no nonsense choice within its segment. It’s practical, user-friendly, well-built, and well-priced, making it something of a no brainer. Its lack of personality and charm would ultimately push me into something more interesting like a Mazda CX-5, which is an excellent all-around alternative, as is the Honda CR-V. But you couldn’t go wrong choosing the RAV4. It’s no longer the innovative standout it was in its pioneering days, but at the end of the day, it’ll get the job done, and that’s all most of its buyers will ask for.