2021 Toyota RAV4 review: Satisfying if not quite superb

The RAV4 is a small, edgy-looking SUV.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 it’s kind of like that friend everyone seems to have: always there to help out, provide a shoulder to cry on, or show up in no time if you’re in hot water at 2am in Tijuana. No, the RAV4 isn’t really a leader in the compact SUV class in any area, but it’s well-rounded, perfectly capable and ready to serve.

Like it

  • Attractive interior design
  • Standard driving aids
  • Added capacity

I do not like

  • So-so infotainment system
  • Bold reversing camera
  • Engine that rumbles

Offering drivers a wide choice, three basic versions of the RAV4 are available. There is the standard model, a budget hybrid and then the RAV4 Prime, the plug-in hybrid variant with up to 42 miles of purely electric range. The example seen here is the most robust of the bunch, the TRD off-road vehicle, which features a non-hybrid drivetrain and some additional features to improve its performance on the trails.

For 2021, the TRD Off-Road model gets a sleek stainless steel front skid plate, a first for the RAV4. This should help protect some of his delicates as he squirms in the earth. The body of this Toyota is supported by a uniquely tuned suspension, which features racy-looking red springs that supposedly provide better isolation of small bumps on bumpy roads. This vehicle also boasts dual-tube shock absorbers with valves for better body control over large surface irregularities. Providing additional traction aid is a set of Falken Wildpeak A / T Trail off-road tires mounted on 18-inch TRD wheels. These tires look super aggressive but are surprisingly nice. In fact, the TRD Off-Road’s suspension tuning is totally livable, providing a remarkably smooth ride on the pavement with little tire noise. If towing is your thing, this RAV4 can drag up to 3,500 pounds – enough for a pair of snowmobiles or a small trailer.

My tester is also equipped with what must be the most useless footboards in the history of the automobile. The RAV4 is low enough to be completely useless. To make matters worse, these things are sure to get in the way when off-roading, plus they stick out enough to make your trouser legs crawl with whatever incline you went through. But here’s the kicker: all of this added inconvenience costs $ 549 more.

Get past those optional foot pegs and you’ll find the interior of this SUV is well built and the overall design is pleasing to the eye, with no frou-frou add-ons or unnecessary carving. Mazda’s CX-5 is clearly more sophisticated and the Honda CR-V The interior is nicer too, but there’s no shortage of soft materials in this Toyota and I love the sleek-looking red stitching across the dashboard, door panels and seats. This is complemented by crimson accents around the cup holders and the available wireless charging plate, as well as on the rubber mats.

The interior of the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is beautiful and functional.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

An 8-inch touchscreen is perched on the dashboard where it’s easy to reach and see (the lower trims come with a 7-inch). Unfortunately, this display houses an outdated infotainment system that is difficult to use and rather unappealing. But hey, at least Apple CarPlay, Android Auto is Amazon Alexa they are all supported. I appreciate the rubbery temperature and audio control knobs, which feel great in my hands, but some of the other HVAC buttons are a little too small to be seen easily while driving. On top of all that, this RAV4 also features the $ 1,620 Premium Audio package, which includes an 11-speaker JBL audio system, built-in navigation, and a few other goodies.

As in other Toyotas, the RAV4’s backup camera is poor, providing a low-resolution image of what’s behind you. The $ 1,950 TRD off-road tech package includes a 360-degree camera system, which is useful, but just as gritty. This group of options also contains other goodies, such as a digital rearview mirror, parking sensors, a wireless charging plate, and more, so it’s worth the extra expense even if the camera system is just so-so.

The front seats of the RAV4 are supportive and comfortable, helping to provide a good view of the road ahead. The rear seat of this SUV is roomy too, with plenty of knee and pumpkin room, although the rear cushion is just a little too low to be totally accommodating. Also, the back door openings are narrow, so it can be difficult to access the rear compartments.

This Toyota’s four-cylinder engine runs surprisingly well, even if it is a bit noisy during work.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

The large, electrically-opening hatch on this example makes accessing the hold a breeze, which provides 37.5 cubic feet of stowage space behind the rear backrests or 69.8 cubes with them folded down. That’s more space than you get in a CX-5 or Ford Escape, but these scores are slightly lower than the capacious CR-V.

The RAV4 is powered by a familiar transmission, used to great advantage throughout Toyota’s automotive empire. Nestled between the front bumpers of this SUV is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that delivers a reasonable 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The engine is backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission which is, for the most part, smart and smooth, although gear changes can occasionally feel a little erratic. The performance of this engine is perfectly satisfactory; when empty, the RAV4 has no problem reaching highway speed. Really, I have no complaints about this SUV’s get-up-and-go, rather, I’m not a huge fan of its sophistication. The engine sounds gruff when boiling and awkward vibrations are sometimes felt.

But hey, at least the RAV4 is efficient. TRD Off-Road models feature torque-vector all-wheel drive, a feature that should make them reasonably capable little mountain goats. Despite the added weight and friction of four-corner drive, this SUV is rated at 25mpg in the city, 32mpg on the highway, and 28mpg combined. In mixed driving (albeit mostly on the freeway), I’m averaging around 31.5mpg, which is, frankly, stellar for such a tall vehicle equipped with such aggressive tires.

The infotainment system is one of the RAV4’s biggest weaknesses.

Craig Cole / Roadshow

At interstate speeds some wind noise makes its presence known, but this is hardly questionable. The ride of the RAV4 is mostly flexible and the brake pedal feels good under your feet. The steering of this vehicle is crisp and fast, but a little too light for my taste and the edge of the wheel is almost delicate its cross section is so small.

Helping keep the RAV4 bright side up, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is the standard fare on every 2021 model. This suite of driving aids includes lane departure warning, automatic high beam, traffic sign recognition and more. The main features, however, are adaptive cruise control and lane centering. Together, these two services make long motorway journeys a breeze by preventing the vehicle from wandering and adapting effortlessly to the speed of surrounding traffic.

In step with rival SUVs, an entry-level front-wheel drive 2021 Toyota The RAV4 starts at $ 27,000 and changes to include $ 1,175 in destination taxes. While in, the loaded TRD Off-Road model seen here checks out for $ 42,622. That figure includes a number of options such as the Off-Road Weather Package ($ 1,015), the Premium Audio Option Group ($ 1,620), the TRD Off-Road Tech Package ($ 1,950), Door Sill Guards ($ 140), mudflaps ($ 129) and, yes, those silly footboards ($ 549).

Well, what do you think of the Toyota RAV4 2021?

Craig Cole / Roadshow

With added capabilities and commendable refinement, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road is a likeable SUV. I still prefer the CX-5, which feels much more premium and I think the CR-V is probably a little more reasonable, but as always, the ever-popular RAV4 remains an excellent choice.

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