When the newest generation Toyota RAV4 showed up on the scene a few years ago, it was clear that Toyota was trying to do something a bit different. The car looked less like an appliance and it actually drove with an athletic edge.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Power: 176 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 30 highway, 26 combined for FWD models, 22 city, 29 highway, 25 combined for AWD models
Fuel Economy (l\L/100 km): 10.1 city, 7.7 highway, 9.0 combined for FWD models, 10.6 hity, 8.1 highway, 9.4 combined for AWD models.
Pricing (USD): $30,165 for the FWD SE models, $31,565 for AWD SE models
Pricing (CAD): $34,870 for AWD SE
In our testing, that translated to a polarizing design and a harsher ride, but the RAV4 still sold well thanks to Toyota’s reputation of excellent reliability and good value. For 2016, the RAV4 returns to the table, trying to doubling down its bet on being the sporty, exciting choice with a new trim level called the SE.
Toyota made a similar move with the Camry. The SE model allowed the brand to take the drab midsized sedan and turn it into a more interesting car to look at. Using this same formula on the RAV4 is a unique idea, but if it worked on the Camry, why wouldn’t it work on the bigger vehicle?
SE = Sexy Exterior
So, the 2016 RAV4 SE arrives with big 18-inch wheels attached to a suspension that’s tuned for more feedback and fun. Along with updates on the 2016 model-year refresh, the RAV4 SE also gets LED headlights, tail lights and a unique front bumper and lower grille that does well to portray the sportier nature of this trim level. People were actually checking out the new-look Toyota crossover, something that’s rare for the competing products, save for the new Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5. Kudos to Toyota for making a compact crossover look cool.
More SE specific details are found inside the car: sporty red-illuminated gauges greet the driver, while the faux-leather seats feature contrasting stitching. Other interior trim elements include unique floor mats and door sill protectors and gunmetal grey trim. When we first reviewed the fourth-generation RAV4, we found the fake carbon fiber trim bits to be goofy and out of place, but as the SE is positioned as a sportier model, it makes more sense here.
The interior is a good blend of practical elements and nice details. There are good storage spaces for small things like change and cellphones for both the front passenger and driver, while the cupholders have been redesigned to fit larger coffee tumblers that have handles. The soft-touch dash has an appealing feel, along with the well-designed climate control switches and infotainment system. Where other automakers use slick looking touch-buttons or sliders, Toyota sticks to the tried and true formula of big buttons and tactile knobs.
Other nice additions found on the SE model include the moonroof, power liftgage, dual zone climate controls, heated front seats, a blind spot monitor and rear-view camera. The SE also comes with a smart key and push-button ignition so you don’t have to take the keys out of your pocket to lock or unlock the car. As mentioned before, the 6.1-inch touchscreen audio system is easy to use. Those looking for more technology can opt for the $3,030 Advanced Technology Package, which includes a bird’s eye view-style camera, parking sensors, an upgraded JBL audio system and navigation.
While seating space and passenger space are on par with the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4 features more cargo space behind the second row of seating compared to those rivals. One complaint is that the seats aren’t especially plush and supportive, leading to backaches on longer drives. There’s also a few ugly harder plastic panels found in the cabin, though they’re kept out of reach.
On the Road
On the road, the RAV4 SE model drives much like its other iterations. Great sightlines make it an easy car to pilot, although acceleration is noticeably weak. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 176 horsepower and the only way to get more power is to opt for a Hybrid model, which is considerably more expensive, heavier, and only adds 20 horsepower.
Other competitors feature peppier engine choices thanks to turbocharging, but Toyota sticks to the naturally aspirated philosophy. Toyota again strays away from the norm with its six-speed automatic transmission, while the competition moves to more fuel-conscious continuously variable units. While a traditional automatic typically results in a more enjoyable driving experience, it can also lead to less impressive fuel economy numbers. The RAV4 is capable of getting 25 mpg combined when equipped with the all-wheel drive system, like this tester is, and earns 26 mpg in base front-wheel drive form. This is a bit behind the CR-V and Forester, which both return 27 mpg in AWD guise.
All-wheel Driving Dynamics
While the engine is underwhelming, the all-wheel drive system is a clever one. While power goes to the front wheels in normal driving conditions, the RAV4 can send up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels as needed, using factors like vehicle speed, steering input and throttle to determine when and where to distribute power. A 4×4 lock mode is also available and stays active until speeds of 25 mph are achieved.
Even though it’s slow and focuses on fuel efficiency, the RAV4 SE is still fairly enjoyable to drive, thanks to its updated suspension and well-weighted steering. Although the RAV4 can get a bit rough over patchy pavement, the sport suspension does give the crossover an extra hop in its step and helps send a bit more feedback to the driver.
Coming in at $30,165 for the front-wheel drive SE model and $31,565 for the all-wheel drive model tested, this trim level sits right in middle of the RAV4’s spectrum of pricing. Base RAV4s come in at $25,250 while fully loaded, non hybrid models go for $33,810.
The Verdict: 2016 Toyota RAV4 SE Review
It’s clear that Toyota no longer wants to be seen as the automaker that makes boring appliances and would rather make cars that look interesting while still being sensible and liveable. The RAV4 SE lives up to that promise as an even more exciting looking vehicle and lives up to the promise of being a slightly more engaging crossover to drive.