Toyota RAV4 review

Category: Family SUV

Low CO2 emissions and relatively roomy, but rivals are quieter and more comfortable

Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 rear cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 interior dashboard
  • Toyota RAV4 interior back seats
  • Toyota RAV4 interior infotainment
  • Toyota RAV4 right driving
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 interior front seats
  • Toyota RAV4 interior seat detail
  • Toyota RAV4 interior steering wheel detail
  • Toyota RAV4 interior detail
  • Toyota RAV4 kickplate detail
  • Toyota RAV4 boot open
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 rear cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 interior dashboard
  • Toyota RAV4 interior back seats
  • Toyota RAV4 interior infotainment
  • Toyota RAV4 right driving
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 front cornering
  • Toyota RAV4 interior front seats
  • Toyota RAV4 interior seat detail
  • Toyota RAV4 interior steering wheel detail
  • Toyota RAV4 interior detail
  • Toyota RAV4 kickplate detail
  • Toyota RAV4 boot open
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by
Max Adams
Published20 September 2023

Introduction

What Car? says...

SUVs are all gas-guzzling planet-polluters, right? Well, not the Toyota RAV4 – it actually pumps out less CO2 than a number of city-dwelling small cars.

We're not pulling your leg. This large SUV really is one of the most efficient models in its class. That’s according to official figures, and it didn’t disappoint in our independent True MPG testing either.

The RAV4 is a hybrid car so you fill it up with petrol in the normal way, but as well as an engine, there’s also an electric motor to share the effort and cut fuel consumption. If you'd rather plug your car in to enjoy a longer electric range, then the RAV4 is also available as a plug-in hybrid car.

The five-seater RAV4 sits above the Toyota C-HR but below the rough-and-ready Toyota Land Cruiser in the Toyota SUV line-up. The car it competes with most directly is the Honda CR-V – they're roughly the same size and both are available in hybrid form.

If you need an even bigger hybrid, we’d point you towards the excellent Kia Sorento or the What Car? award-winning Hyundai Santa Fe – both of which have seven seats. When you cast your net beyond hybrid SUVs, similar-sized rivals include the Peugeot 5008 and the Skoda Kodiaq.

How efficient is the RAV4 exactly and, even if the figures stand up to scrutiny, is it a good car in other key areas too? In this review, we’ll give you all the information you need, including how good the performance and handling are, how much space there is in the back and how much it will cost to run.

Overview

The RAV4 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has an impressive all-electric range and low emissions, but the extremely high list price limits its appeal for private buyers and company car buyers alike. The regular front-wheel drive RAV4 hybrid is the sweet spot in the range. It’s fairly ordinary to drive, but strong resale values, astounding economy and a fantastic reliability record make it a tempting option in the large SUV category.

  • Exceedingly frugal
  • Regular hybrid has slow predicted depreciation
  • Strong reliability record
  • Poor infotainment system
  • Rivals are better to drive
  • No seven-seat option
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Toyota Rav4 2.5 VVT-i Hybrid Design 5dr CVT review
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

When the Toyota RAV4’s electric motor and petrol engine work in unison, acceleration isn’t too shabby and overtaking is a breeze. The two-wheel drive model can do 0-62mph in 8.4sec, that’s faster than in the hybrid versions of the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe – although it’s worth noting this version of RAV4 has a rather weak towing capacity of 800kg. The four-wheel drive version is fractionally quicker at 8.1sec and is also a much more capable tow car, matching the Sorento and Santa Fe hybrid’s 1650kg maximum pulling weight.

The RAV4 Plug-in pairs the same 2.5-litre petrol engine with a more powerful electric motor for a combined power output of 302bhp, and that's a pretty speedy combination – enough for 0-62mph time of just 6.0sec and a top speed of 111mph. That means it’s as quick as the impressive Range Rover Evoque P300e, and comfortably quicker than the Ford Kuga PHEV and the Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e.

Toyota RAV4 image
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The electric motor in the plug-in hybrid is powerful enough to take the RAV4 to motorway speeds without the petrol engine joining in, and we managed more than 30 miles on volts alone during our varied test route (Toyota says 46 miles is possible, which is further than the equivalent Kuga).

The regular hybrid version won’t take you very far on electric power alone. Even with its electric vehicle (EV) mode selected, you’ll be lucky to go more than a few hundred yards before the 2.5-litre petrol engine takes over. Still, if you mainly drive on urban roads, then you might find that you can drive for a significant amount of time on electric power.

Suspension and ride comfort

Ride comfort is not the RAV4's strongest suit. The suspension is rather firm so the car thuds over potholes and motorway expansion joints more than you might like in a family-friendly large SUV. It’s by no means back-breaking, but it never feels particularly settled, and you’ll find it twitches as you drive along all but the smoothest of roads.

The Honda CR-V is noticeably more settled around town and retains its composure better over sharp ridges and potholes. The Peugeot 5008 – which isn't available as a hybrid but is roughly the same size as the RAV4 – is another more comfortable alternative. The RAV4 is less wearing on long motorway journeys than the firmer Ssangyong Rexton though.

Toyota RAV4 rear cornering

Handling

A few family or large SUVs are relatively fun to drive, as the Mazda CX-5 demonstrates. Sadly, hybrids – especially plug-in hybrids, with their larger battery packs – rarely handle as tidily as pure petrol or diesel SUVs because of the weight of all that electrical gubbins.

The Toyota RAV 4’s greater weight causes it to roll into corners more than the CX-5, and it never feels particularly willing to change direction quickly. It doesn't have a great deal of grip compared with rivals either, although the four-wheel-drive models have a bit more traction in slippery conditions.

The even heavier RAV4 Plug-in, meanwhile, suffers in comparison with the PHEV Kuga, which feels more stable through tight twists and turns, and benefits from quicker steering and a keener front end. The RAV4 is easy to manoeuvre at low speeds, though.

Noise and vibration

Putting your foot down hard in the RAV4 sends the petrol engine revving high as the car accelerates, and the revs only start to subside when you ease off. This behaviour – due to the CVT automatic gearbox – doesn’t make for what you’d call relaxing progress because the engine sounds rather coarse and channels vibrations up through your feet.

There is also considerable tyre noise and wind intrusion that will have you cranking the radio volume up at motorway speeds. The CR-V is fitted with a petrol engine that is noticeably less intrusive, and also suffers from a bit less tyre roar on a motorway.

The RAV4 is quite hushed at a gentle cruise and in stop-start traffic when compared with the majority of pure petrol and diesel rivals, though. As with many hybrids, its brakes tend to be a bit grabby while the regeneration system tops the battery up under deceleration, which can make it hard to slow your progress smoothly. That's something you get used to, though.

"If you’re just going around town in fully electric mode, it’s quiet and progress is smooth. But this CVT gearbox can be annoying. Hard acceleration sends the revs soaring and it sounds coarse until you ease off."  Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Driving overview

Strengths Hushed at a gentle cruise; comfortable on longer journeys

Weaknesses Doesn't have a lot of grip in corners; CVT automatic gearbox; ride comfort

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

Driving position and dashboard

Drivers of all shapes and sizes are well catered for in terms of head and leg room in the Toyota RAV4. Seat adjustment is manual unless you step up to pricier Excel trim (not available with plug-in power), which adds full electric seats with a memory recall function. The sports seats you get with higher trim levels have power adjustment but no memory. 

Models with electric seats get adjustable lumbar support to help support your back on longer journeys, but it’s frustrating that you can’t add this as an option on lower trims, especially when the Honda CR-V provides this feature as standard.

Whichever version you go for, though, the RAV4's driving position is typical of an SUV – high up to give you a commanding view over the road. The large centre armrest is a real boon for comfort. That SUV flavour is further instilled by chunky dashboard controls that are clear and easy to reach. The priciest GR Sport RAV4 PHEV features a head-up display which projects the speed onto the windscreen, so you can see it without glancing down at the instruments.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

Seeing out of the RAV4 is pretty easy: the windscreen pillars are slimmer than those of the Peugeot 5008 so your vision isn’t badly obscured at roundabouts, and the rear screen is wide and deep. However, while the rear-most side windows give you a clue to what’s over your shoulder, there’s still a thick pillar on each side of the rear screen obscuring potential hazards when you're reversing. 

That said, the RAV4 comes with enough aids to lessen the fear of parking in tight spots, with front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera fitted as standard.

Another welcome feature is the RAV4's standard LED headlights, while a surround camera system is an option on higher trim levels.

Toyota RAV4 interior dashboard

Sat nav and infotainment

Infotainment is undoubtedly the RAV4's biggest weakness. The first problem is the hardware – the 10.25in screen can be slow to respond compared with those of rivals, which can make it tricky to use on the move. Plus, Toyota's software isn't the easiest to get along with.

Thankfully Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – which allow you to use smartphone apps through the car’s touchscreen – are standard, so you can bypass the clunky Toyota interface.

Better news, though, is that the screen is positioned high up on the dashboard, so you don't have to divert your eyes far from the road to view it. You get a DAB radio and Bluetooth on all versions of the RAV4, and in posher trim levels you get the option of a JBL stereo, which delivers good sound quality.

Quality

Most of the materials on the upper surfaces look smart and feel relatively plush, helping to make the RAV4 feel more upmarket inside than the CR-V, which has more hard shiny plastic and obviously fake wood trims on some versions.

The slick action of the RAV4's dashboard switches gives it an air of integrity and the rubberised finishes, including on the controls for the air-con, add to its rugged SUV appeal. If you’re searching for the visually spectacular, nothing at this price beats the striking interior of the 5008, which makes the RAV4 appear a bit staid.

Although the Kia Sorento and the Kodiaq are similarly conservative in design, they have classier interiors than the RAV4 and feel a bit more solid inside.

"It’s pretty decent inside... most of the materials look smart and feel relatively plush, and the dashboard switches feel really slick and solid." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Interior overview

Strengths Most materials feel high quality; infotainment screen is positioned high up; standard-fit reversing camera

Weaknesses Fiddly infotainment system; rivals have classier interiors; poor rear visibility

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

The RAV4's front leg and head room are fine, but if you’re really long in the leg or body you might want to try the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Santa Fe or the Kia Sorento because all those large SUV rivals are more spacious overall. The RAV4 does have a wide interior so you won’t feel your passenger encroaching into your personal space.

There are lots of storage options, including a cubby under the front armrest, decent-sized door bins, a couple of cupholders and trays for keys or your phone in the dashboard.

Rear space

The RAV4 is a big car, and the upshot of its size is that you won't be haunted by groans of discomfort from your back-seat passengers. The CR-V, the Sorento, and the Santa Fe are even more accommodating, though, especially when it comes to leg room. 

The RAV4 isn’t available as a seven-seat SUV so if you need to carry more than five people, consider the brilliant Peugeot 5008 or the Sorento and Santa Fe.

Toyota RAV4 interior back seats

Seat folding and flexibility

A lot of rivals in this class come with sliding and reclining rear seats, but the RAV4’s only recline. They also split 60/40, which doesn’t offer the greatest flexibility when it comes to seating passengers while carrying longer or bulkier loads. A better option is the 40/20/40 split you get in the 5008.

Another feature missing is a set of handles in the boot to unlock and fold the rear seats. You get these in the 5008, CR-V, Santa Fe, and Sorento, and they’re helpful at those moments when you're at the boot and realise you need more cargo space.

In the RAV4 you have to put down whatever it is you’re trying to load, walk round, open the rear doors and release the seatbacks by pulling levers next to the rear headrests. It’s a small detail, but this sort of thing can often make all the difference.

Boot space

The RAV4 has a bigger boot than most rivals. In our tests, it managed to swallow an impressive 10 carry-on suitcases below its tonneau cover with the rear seats in place. That's the same as the 5008, Santa Fe and Sorento and one more than the CR-V.

You can, of course, fold down the rear seats when you need extra space. This creates an enormous load bay that's perfect for a trip to the tip. The rear seatbacks lie at a slight angle, which isn't a big problem, but the CR-V has a flatter extended load area.

If you go for the PHEV version, you will sacrifice a bit of boot storage space compared with the standard hybrid RAV4. That means the 580-litre boot becomes 490 litres, and you’ll fit in eight suitcases rather than 10. So it’s still not exactly small, and there’s some underfloor storage for the charging cables too.

"In the back there's a good amount of room. This is a big car so head and leg room are decent, if not quite as spacious as the Kia Sorento. And, unlike the Sorento, there isn’t a seven-seat option." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Practicality overview

Strengths Has a bigger boot than most rivals; decent front and rear space; enormous load bay if you fold the rear seats down

Weaknesses Rear seats don't do anything special; no seven-seat option; PHEV version sacrifices some boot space

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

The Toyota RAV4 will cost you less to buy than the rival Honda CR-V and the seven-seat Kia Sorento. Plug-in hybrid versions cost more than regular hybrids, but is still in line with other premium plug-in hybrids such as the DS 7 E-Tense and Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e. If you’re looking for a large SUV for less, there's the Citroën C5 Aircross to consider – although that's not a hybrid, so won't be as fuel-efficient.

Company car drivers might find the RAV4 compelling because it produces less CO2 than the CR-V, so you'll have low tax payments. The PHEV's electric range and CO2 emissions put it in an even lower tax band, but the list price means it's not a noticeably cheaper company car than the Ford Kuga.

In our True MPG tests the two-wheel-drive RAV4 hybrid achieved 49mpg overall, with an astonishing 91.9mpg in the urban section. That beats most conventionally-powered SUV rivals. You probably won't get close to the official 282mpg fuel economy of the PHEV but if you keep the battery topped up and make mainly shorter journeys, you might rarely have to fill up. When the battery runs down, you can expect up to 50mpg with careful driving.

The PHEV's maximum charging speed is 6.6kW – quicker than the mechanically similar Suzuki Across – so if you plug it into a home wall box charger you’ll get a full charge in about two and a half hours.

Equipment, options and extras

The RAV4's equipment levels are high. All models come with adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding door mirrors and rear privacy glass. 

It’s still worth stepping up to Design trim, though, to gain extras including front parking sensors and sat-nav, as well as bigger alloys and keyless entry. Excel and Dynamic are very well-equipped, with leather trim, a heated steering wheel and heated seats, while Adventure models feature a panoramic glass roof and a more aggressive exterior style. These top-end versions bump up the price significantly, though. 

The RAV4 Plug-in is available only in Design, Dynamic or Dynamic Premium trim and is a little better equipped than the standard hybrid. Dynamic Premium includes a panoramic roof, a JBL premium sound system and a head-up display, but is eye-wateringly expensive. We’d happily stick with Design trim because it comes with everything you really need and some luxuries, including heated rear seats.

Toyota RAV4 interior infotainment

Reliability

The impressive Toyota reliability record suggests that you needn't worry about your RAV4 breaking down. The manufacturer came an impressive second place out of 32 brands in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey.

The RAV4 performed exceedingly well in the hybrid category, taking first place and beating rivals such as the Lexus RX and Volvo XC60. As a back-up, you also get a Toyota Relax warranty – a three-year policy that can be topped up to 10 years or 100,000 miles if you have your RAV4 serviced at an official dealership.

Safety and security

The RAV4 received an excellent rating from Euro NCAP. Not only does it get the full five stars overall, but if you look at the scores in each category, the model racks up some of the highest in the class — better than rivals including the CR-V and the Peugeot 5008.

That’s helped by the fact that it comes with a long list of safety equipment, including automatic emergency braking (AEB) that reacts to pedestrians and cyclists, traffic-sign recognition, lane-keeping assistance and an SOS emergency call function.

Most RAV4 trims barring entry-level Design get blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, which warns you of approaching vehicles when you're backing out on to a road.

"For company car drivers, there is clear appeal because of its 6% benefit-in-kind tax qualification, which it has thanks to its very low CO2 emissions and excellent electric range." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Costs overview

Strengths Hybrid costs less to buy than some rivals; impressive reliability record; lots of safety kit as standard

Weaknesses Blind spot monitoring not standard

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FAQs

  • Regular hybrid versions took 10 carry-on suitcases in our tests – matching the Peugeot 5008 and Kia Sorento and beating the Honda CR-V. If you go for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version, boot space is reduced from 580 litres to 490, but it still takes a decent eight carry-on cases.

  • With it being stock only, you can’t get a RAV4 through Motability but there are other Toyota models you can get through the scheme. To find out which cars are eligible see the Motability website.

  • It depends which version you go for. The front-wheel-drive hybrid tows just 800kg (braked), but with four-wheel drive and that increases to 1650kg (braked). The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has the lowest rating at 725kg (braked).

  • The RAV4 is 4600mm long, 1690mm high and 2115mm wide (including door mirrors).

  • We recommend the RAV4 with the regular hybrid engine in Design trim, which gets you everything you’d need including lots of standard safety tech.

At a glance
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RRP price range £39,885 - £50,310
Number of trims (see all)3
Number of engines (see all)3
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)hybrid, petrol parallel phev
MPG range across all versions 282.5 - 50.4
Available doors options 5
Warranty 5 years / 100000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £618 / £2,774
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £1,235 / £5,547
Available colours