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2015 Toyota RAV4 Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
February 19, 2015
6 min. Reading Time
2015 Toyota RAV4 ・  Photo by Benjamin Hunting

2015 Toyota RAV4 ・ Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Sometimes being so good for so long can lead a movie franchise to lose touch with its core audience.  After all, if you've been stacking up the awards and accolades - and your sales numbers confirm the validity of your hubris - why take the chance of messing with a successful formula?  Like a big budget series heading into its fourth sequel, the 2015 Toyota RAV4 could have easily turned its back on the wants and needs of the buyers who crowned it one of the most popular compact SUVs on the market, but it didn't: the Japanese company has instead been honing this small people mover's charms ever since it first went on sale at the end of the 1990s.

Is the Toyota RAV4 the perfect entry-level SUV?  Like any blockbuster that aims to be a hit with the widest possible audience, there are a few gaps in the plot that will stand out to anyone who's had the chance to sample fresher blood in the segment (or drive the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, each of which outsell the Toyota).  Still, the RAV4 represents one of the most compelling crossover packages at its price point, especially if you're willing to stick to the script and avoid inflating the budget with unnecessary options.

Models and Prices

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 comes in three distinct trim levels.  Those seeking the basics will want to avail themselves of the RAV4 LE (MSRP $24,565), a model that features power folding side mirrors, tinted windows, power windows and door locks, automatic headlights, 17-inch steelies, a 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, keyless entry, and a rearview camera.  Moving up to the not-much-more-expensive XLE edition (MSRP $26,125) adds satellite radio, fog lights, a sunroof, dual automatic climate control, alloy rims, better bolstering for the front seats, heated side mirrors, and more access to individual options.  Selecting the RAV4 Limited (MSRP $30,735) introduces keyless ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a navigation system, a power liftgate, heated front seats wrapped in synthetic leather (with power adjustments and memory features for the driver), the Entune app feature, and an automatically dimming rearview mirror.

The vehicle I drove was a 2015 Toyota RAV4 XLE that had been customized with all-wheel drive and Entune Premium Audio with Navigation.  The total price for my tester came to $27,225.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting


  • The 2015 Toyota RAV4 carries over last year's design.
  • The XLE model gains a new wheel design.

What a difference paint selection can make.  The Barcelona Red Metallic wrapped around my 2015 Toyota RAV4 was worked wonders to separate it from the sea of silver and grey SUVs typically found on Toyota dealer lots.  The color worked especially well with the vehicle's split-spoke rims to give the XLE trim a sportiness that isn't obvious in most other hues.  Although not an extroverted design with its conservative greenhouse and gently sloping roof, Barcelona Red graduated the RAV4 from background noise to reasonably stylish SUV. Given that there are only three actual colors on the Toyota's order sheet (i.e., not variants of black, white, or silver), you might have to search far and wide if you want to locate a similarly-striking Blue Crush or Hot Lava edition of the vehicle.

The interior of the Toyota RAV4 is absent of flourish but in its place is a pleasing practicality that ensures all the important items are easily accessible during the daily commute.  A prominent tachometer and speedometer keep things analog in the gauge cluster, while an a double-decker center stack splits climate and entertainment controls from the rockers for the vehicle's heated seats and traction control button.  The console that runs between the front seats features an honest-to-goodness parking brake handle (a rarity these days) and a basic shifter.  My Canadian-market RAV4 came with a faux-carbon fiber surround on the console and armrests that I could have done without, but the red contrasting stitching on the seats was a nice touch.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Comfort and Cargo

  • The 2015 Toyota RAV4 adds a power liftgate option to the XLE trim.

Spend a few minutes inside the 2015 Toyota RAV4 and it becomes clear that this compact SUV was designed to work for a living.  For starters, it offers reams of space available for hauling, including 38 cubic feet behind the rear seat alone.  Flip the second row forward to reveal an almost flat load floor and you can cram 73.3 cubic feet of cargo into the RAV4, which makes it one of the roomiest small sport-utility vehicles around.

Want to haul humans instead?  The backseat reclines and offers excellent legroom, which means you won't hear any whining from even taller friends who fold themselves through the Toyota's second set of doors.  It's a comfortable, well-packaged interior that prizes ergonomic excellent everywhere except for steering wheel position, as I found it quite difficult to adjust the seat and steering column so that I had a comfortable grip without being too close to the pedals.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Features and Controls

  • The 2015 Toyota RAV4 does not introduce any new features for the current model year.

If I had one gripe about the 2015 Toyota RAV4's control set, it's that maybe it's a little too simple.  I regularly outsmarted myself trying to get the XLE model's steering wheel-mounted buttons and dials to do things they were never designed to do, but after I eventually figured out the workflow there wasn't much that was opaque about the SUV's various systems.  The graphics for the Entune infotainment interface feel dated, but the system works as advertised, and is far better than the Remote Touch design found in Toyota's Lexus luxury brand. 

Having a set of easy-to-grab dials and rocker switches also made it easy to adjust temperature and heated seat controls while wearing winter gloves, although I found the automatic climate control system to be incapable of keeping the car adequately toasty during the sub-zero weather conditions I experienced with the SUV.  Like a lot of small SUVs, there's a bit of a button overload on the dashboard's nether regions, which meant leaning down and looking around the shifter and steering column to try to decipher a few of the RAV4's controls.  Toyota also provides an LCD clock at the top of the center stack that looks like a heritage continuation piece from the 1980s, so if you're into throwback design, the RAV4 has you covered.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Safety and Ratings

  • The 2015 Toyota RAV4 does not introduce any new safety gear compared to the previous model year.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 offers side curtain airbags, dual forward airbags, a driver's knee airbags, and side impact airbags mounted to each of the front seats.  It also comes with standard electronic stability control and traction control, as well as a rearview camera.  If you want any advanced safety equipment, however, you're going to have to pay for it, and then pay for it again: only the Limited has access to active safety systems like blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning, and then only through the optional Technology package.

The NHTSA has rated the Toyota RAV4 four out of five possible stars in crash test safety, while the IIHS awarded the SUV with a rating of 'Good' in all but the small-overlap frontal offset crash test.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Engines and Fuel Economy

  • The 2015 Toyota RAV4 carries over last year's engine.

There is but a single engine option to have had with the 2015 Toyota RAV4, and it's a 2.5-liter four-cylinder unit that delivers 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque.  Unusual though this maybe in an era where turbochargers have achieved deep penetration into the SUV universe, the RAV4 actually backed away from its six-cylinder upgrade three years ago, preferring instead to go it alone with the most efficient engine in its line-up in an effort to please budget-conscious customers. 

Mileage for the 2.5-liter is listed at 23-mpg in city driving and 31-mpg on the highway, with all-wheel drive knocking one and two miles per gallon from each respective measure.  I observed 20-mpg in combined driving, which is fairly impressive for an all-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle in the depths of a cold snap.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Driving Impressions

Winter takes a hard toll on any vehicle, but SUVs like the 2015 Toyota RAV4 are expected to take bone-chilling weather and six-inch snow dumps in stride.  I'm happy to report that the RAV4 was a willing co-conspirator during a week that saw me picking my way down highways featuring medians strewn with vehicles whose owners who decided to save a few dollars and not buy appropriate tires. 

The transparent on-demand all-wheel drive system outfitted to my tester never once had me questioning my high speed traction, as I was able to maintain stability even when changing lanes from a clear patch of pavement to one that had resisted the efforts of the several plows I passed.  Around town, I was pleased to discover that the Toyota RAV4 afforded a modicum of throttle steer that helped me kick the SUV around corners when I was feeling more spirited on snow-covered roads, and that I never had any issue escaping a drifted-in parking spot.

On smoother pavement the Toyota's ride was planted and comfortable, and while handling wasn't exactly communicative there were no surprises lurking in the RAV4's predictable chassis.  The 2.5-liter four-cylinder motor was up to day-to-day tasks as well as highway motoring, but I must admit that there were times I wasn't impressed with its passing power, especially on two-lane jaunts where the dotted line simply wasn't long enough for me to overtake slower-moving traffic.  I'd say that the majority of Toyota RAV4 owners won't take issue with the SUV's modest engine output, but those seeking a harder kick in the pants will want to investigate rivals like the Ford Escape's 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo and the Jeep Cherokee's available V-6.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed driving the 2015 Toyota RAV4, and in fact, I'd even buy another ticket to get to see the show a second time.  It may not be as flashy, or as action-packed in the engine bay as a number of its competitors, but it more than makes up for these perceived failings with its overwhelming practicality, reputation for reliability, and comfortable driving experience.  Northern dwellers will also appreciate the RAV4's competent all-wheel drive system, which is affordable even on the base LE model.

After sampling the RAV4 XLE, I find it hard to understand the need to option up all the way to the $30k Limited.  There's nothing missing from the XLE's spec that can't be added via the options list (navigation and a power liftgate come to mind), and even with that extra gear bundled in you'll still be well under the Limited's starting ask.  The mid-point of Toyota's RAV4 lineup also happens to be its sweet spot in terms of value, and with less than $2,000 separating it from the entry-level LE, it's worth the extra payout.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Pros and Cons


  • Enormous interior room for both cargo and passengers
  • Affordable
  • Useful all-wheel drive option
  • Reasonably fuel efficient, even in the winter
  • Comfortable


  • Only one engine option
  • Limited model is too expensive for what you're getting in return
  • Automatic climate control incapable of keeping up with winter's chill
  • Steering wheel position makes it hard to get comfortable, even with an adjustable column

Toyota Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.

 Photo by Benjamin Hunting

Photo by Benjamin Hunting


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