With their up-for-anything personality, easy-to-park size and sensible appetite for fuel, compact crossovers are some of the most popular vehicles on the road. Versatility is their greatest asset, as you can easily fill them with auto seats, groceries, sports equipment or the latest spoils from an antiquing trip and be on your merry way. Among these practical SUVs, the Toyota RAV4 has long been a favorite of savvy shoppers of all ages and tastes.
Thanks to increasingly more competent rivals, the 2015 Toyota RAV4 isn’t quite the no-brainer pick anymore. Still, you’ll likely find that it checks off most of the boxes on your “must-have” list. The “compact” classification is almost unjust, given the Toyota RAV4’s roomy passenger and cargo compartments. The latter is especially noteworthy not only for its capacity (which at 73.3 cubic feet is among the most generous in its class) but its laudable usability. Whether you’re loading it up with a couple of dogs or a couple of bags of heavy top soil, you’ll appreciate the cargo bay’s low load floor and, on upper trims, the availability of an adjustable-height power liftgate.
A pleasant demeanor on the road makes the RAV4 especially likable. In particular, good outward visibility, a composed attitude around corners and a smooth, quiet drive are character traits anybody can appreciate. But unlike most competitors, this Toyota offers just one engine choice. There’s no engine upgrade if you’d like more oomph than the average performance. Also, the RAV4’s fuel economy numbers are good, but not class-leading.
Given the quality of the competition in the small crossover class, it’s worth checking out a few alternatives. When it comes to all-around versatility, the 2015 Honda CR-V dominates the class thanks to its roomy cabin, abundance of storage compartments, strong fuel economy and quiet, cozy ride. Those who truly enjoy driving should consider the engaging and athletic 2015 Mazda CX-5, though its interior isn’t quite as functional as the others. There’s also the well-regarded 2015 Ford Escape, which boasts a choice of three engines and a well-trimmed cabin. Finally, if you plan on taking any off-road excursions, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee is tops in that area, and it’s also one of the few models available with a V6 engine.
All things considered, the 2015 Toyota RAV4 is not overwhelmingly strong in any one area, but it shines as a solid, well-rounded entry in a very competitive segment. As such, the RAV4 should easily meet the needs of most shoppers.
Most small crossover shoppers will find this Toyota’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine adequate for most tasks and sufficiently fuel-efficient. The 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, but if you tend to drive assertively, you’ll find it slow to downshift in passing situations. Additionally, when climbing steady mountain grades, we’ve noticed that the transmission has a tendency to hunt between gears (rather than picking one gear and sticking with it). Both of these characteristics are likely a consequence of the powertrain being tuned for maximum gas mileage.
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 handles well and feels refined and cozy when cruising down the highway. A potential exception is the Limited model, which can get a little jittery on rough pavement due to its big 18-inch wheels. In spite of that, the cabin remains very quiet, making Toyota’s crossover a good option for families with young children who tend to sleep in the car.
Overall, the RAV4 is similar in personality to Honda’s CR-V, and more demanding drivers might find it less enjoyable to drive than sportier crossovers like the CX-5 and Escape, which have more responsive steering and sharper acceleration. If comfort is your overriding priority, though, the Toyota should do right by you. Additionally, if you ever need to venture off the beaten path, the RAV4’s available AWD system quickly applies power where it’s needed for optimum traction, giving it a decent amount of off-road ability.
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover offered in three main trim levels: LE, XLE and Limited.
The LE comes standard with 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, power-folding mirrors, keyless entry, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split and reclining second-row seat, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a CD player, an auxiliary sound jack and an iPod/USB sound interface.
The XLE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, roof rails, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, sportier front seats, a cargo cover and extendable sun visors. The sound system is upgraded on the XLE to include satellite radio, HD radio, traffic and weather. Options for the XLE include a height-adjustable power liftgate, a navigation system and Toyota’s Entune smartphone app integration.
The top-level Limited comes with all of the above plus 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with memory settings, heated front seats and premium synthetic leather upholstery.
Options on the Limited include a navigation system bundled with a premium 11-speaker JBL sound system. The Technology package adds a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alerts, a lane-departure warning system and automatic high-beam control for the headlights. There’s also the Blizzard Pearl Premium Package, which features Blizzard Pearl paint along with 18-inch machine-finished wheels with black accents.
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 features an interior design with pronounced angles and lines that form a streamlined and modern-looking dash. Overall, though, the RAV’s design and materials are average for the compact crossover class, and a few of the sound and climate controls feel slightly flimsy. The cupholder count is adequate, but there aren’t as many useful storage cubbies as you’ll find in the CR-V.
Although all of the RAV4’s sound systems have Toyota’s Entune branding, only XLE and Limited models with the navigation system include the Entune suite of smartphone-connected services, among these the Bing search engine, Pandora streaming radio and traffic, sports and stock information. There’s quite a bit of functionality here, but getting started with Entune can be a hassle: You have to install an app on your phone and register for an account, plus you always need an active data connection to use its features. The touchscreen interface has straightforward menus, but it’s sometimes unresponsive to user touch (curiously, we’ve found the more basic touchscreen in the LE better in this regard). On the upside, all the conventional controls in the 2015 RAV4 are easy to use.
Rear seat passenger comfort is hampered slightly by a low-mounted backseat, but space is nevertheless abundant enough even for taller adults. We also like how the seat provides a large amount of recline adjustment.
The cargo bay measures 38.4 cubic feet and opens up to a generous 73.3 cubes when the second row is folded. That’s one of the largest capacities in the class. There’s also a payoff for that low-mounted rear seat: a very flat load floor and low load-in height, both of which help minimize the strain of loading heavy items or even a couple of large dogs. The power-operated and height-adjustable liftgate is especially convenient.
Standard safety equipment on every 2015 Toyota RAV4 includes antilock disc brakes, a rearview camera, stability control, traction control, whiplash-reducing front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A driver knee airbag is also standard. A rearview camera is standard across the board, while the optional Technology package on the Limited provides blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and lane departure warnings.
In SUVS brake testing, the RAV4 stopped from 60 miles per hour in 128 feet, which is about 5 feet longer than average.
In government crash tests, the Toyota RAV4 received four out of five stars for overall protection, with four stars awarded for frontal protection and five stars for side-impact protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the 2015 RAV4 earned a top score of “Good” for its protection of occupants in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests. It also earned a “Good” score for the side-impact, roof strength and seats and head restraints tests.
The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 176 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, and all versions of the RAV4 are available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
In SUVS testing, an all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 took 9.2 seconds to hit 60 mph, an average time for a small crossover with a base 4-cylinder engine.
The front-drive RAV4 is EPA-rated at 26 miles per gallon combined (23 city/31 highway) in LE and XLE trim (with a slightly lower 30 miles per gallon highway rating on the Limited); these are good, but not class-leading numbers for a small crossover. All AWD models are rated at 25 miles per gallon combined (22 city/29 highway).
Roomy interior for people and cargo; strikes a good balance between drive comfort and sure-footed handling.
Although the 2015 Toyota RAV4 isn’t a standout in any one area, its combination of features, passenger space and everyday utility warrant a closer look if you’re shopping for a small crossover.