What comes to mind when you think of the Toyota RAV4? If you're like me, I'm thinking it's the small SUV that my auntie drives - has enough room to fit her dog in the trunk or transport her plants. If you've piloted a first-gen like me, it's a bit uninspiring when it comes to being fun to drive or something you'd show off to your friends. Am I spot-on with what you're thinking?
Fast forward to the latest RAV4... Its style and swagger is still a bit conservative in my book, but if the '16 RAV4 Hybrid concept is signs of what's to come, we're in for a sporty, younger crossover SUV that might be an option for buyers that don't necessarily fall into the same category as my auntie. However, while the appearance for the next-gen RAV4 is being finalized, the current all-wheel drive RAV4 is still a vehicle that shouldn't be overlooked by folks in our age group. Sure, we have our stereotypes of the RAV, but our friends at Toyota were on a mission to shatter my stereotype of the car and show me that its crossover SUV could do more than just haul groceries.
Of all places, I was invited out to Las Vegas to see what the new RAV4 AWD could do - a very dangerous place to send any magazine editor... Nonetheless, I managed to wake up hangover-free early the next morning for a full day of testing. A pack of Limited-trim, '15 RAV4s set out from the Las Vegas strip to a national park known as the Valley of Fire. Located a little over an hour north of the Strip, the Valley of Fire sits within the Mojave State Park and is named after its gorgeous red sandstone. Some of these backgrounds might look familiar to you because movies such as Total Recall and Transformers were filmed there, as well as the old TV show Air Wolf.
On the way there, I enjoyed the RAV's comfortable and stylish interior - I know... a couple words you normally wouldn't associate with something like the RAV4, but it's the truth. Toyota has made the interior such as the dash and controls feel user-friendly and modern while also promoting its relationship with Sirius XM radio - I don't recommend driving a car without it!
As far as raw horsepower and outright speed is concerned, this isn't a Porsche Cayenne. We're still talking about an affordable SSUV so it comes with a 2.5L four-cylinder power plant which equates to 176hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic, the RAV4 has decent pickup getting around town if you're trying to pass some cars or make a light, but don't expect it to outrun a car at 80+mph. After a full day in RAV, it's still clear that the car was designed as a great daily commuter with impressive fuel mileage - 22mpg city and 29mpg on the highway (24mpg and 31mpg in the FWD models). And in all fairness, Toyota didn't intend this to impress people with its speed but show us how durable it was, hence why we made our way to the Valley of Fire...
I entered the park via a fire road in small town Logandale, Nevada, driving with caution in the gravel, however the RAV4 handled like butter. Although I was told not to do so, I couldn't resist pushing the throttle until the car was up to 40-50mph, flying through the dirt with no concerns. About two miles in, though, is when the road started looking a bit more challenging with bigger rocks, sand pits and more (probably snakes, too!). To my surprise, the RAV4 didn't hesitate or slip. These roads suited a Jeep or FJ Cruiser more, but the RAV4 I was maneuvering around these massive rocks and dirt pits had zero issues even when it came to climbing some steep hills. Our biggest concern was puncturing the all-season tires, but our SUV performed like a rockstar conquering the park with ease. I should note, the all-wheel drive system in the Toyota can shift up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels and can also lock that power to a 50/50 split when necessary. But I didn't even need to use this feature which tells me this all-wheel drive system could probably handle tougher terrain.
After an entire day in the Valley of Fire, the one thing I can say is "surprised." This RAV4 isn't anything close to what I thought it would be. It has a hidden bad boy side to it. It might not be able to rock climb or roast anyone in a quarter-mile, but it can run with the toughest vehicles and it definitely proved itself.
Other features you wouldn't think a RAV4 would have:
Push button start with smart key. Leave that key in your pocket when you're hittin' the ignition.
Sirius XM radio and Bluetooth connectivity. We simply can't ride in a car without this anymore.
60/40 split, reclining, fold flat rear seats. Comes in handy when moving stuff around and it's easy to use.
Interior design and materials. Feels high-end and not your average affordable crossover.
Sport mode. While it doesn't make the car any more powerful, it improves the throttle response and helps you drive a bit more aggressive when needed - comes in handy when you want to pass a car.
If it can rally...
Still think our review is bullshit? Toyota knows it can't change people's minds overnight so renowned off-road superstar and '14 Baja 1000 champion Ryan Millen was commissioned to build and drive a rally version of the RAV4. It will compete in the Rally America Open Class. And to our surprise, they've kept it mostly stock! Check out the article here.