First drive: 2014 Toyota Rav4 Limited review

The RAV4 shows off Toyota’s practical side. However, it does so to a detriment, leaving very little room for anything fun or exciting.

A few weeks back I drove the Toyota Highlander. While it’s not the sort of vehicle that inspires feelings of passion, it represents everything that Toyota does well. Unfortunately, I moved from the Highlander to the RAV4. And the RAV4, I discovered, is a living, breathing example of some of Toyota’s worst qualities.

Still, no matter how long its litany of sins, the RAV4 is still a Toyota, which means it is at least a very practical way to move the people and things you can convince to ride in it.

The thrill is gone

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think to spend more than a couple of minutes on performance when it comes to small crossovers. It is not a class of vehicles where fun is a tent-pole of the design process, but fun is precisely what the RAV4 used to be. The third generation possessed an optional and hilariously overpowered 3.5-liter V6 capable of stunning feats of straight-line speed.

Sadly, practicality has won out and the RAV4 now wades into battle with decidedly damp power. Now, the only engine offered is a 2.5-liter 176-horsepower four-cylinder.

Sadly, practicality has won out and the RAV4 now wades into battle with decidedly damp power.

As uninspiring as this sounds, the reality underwhelms even more. The RAV4 may manage a 0 to 60 sprint in around 8.0 seconds, but it does so in buzzy and lifeless style. Activating Sport mode helps the matter a little and highlights the cars one performance bright spot: a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic.

As for handling, let’s just say that the RAV4 doesn’t. Oh, it turns and changes direction just fine. However, thanks to completely lifeless electric power steering, the driver’s only clue about what’s happening is whatever they can see out the windows.

It’s not like Toyota has compromised performance to produce a quiet, smooth ride. The RAV4’s suspension isn’t terrible but the ride is surprisingly rough on bad pavement. Road noise is also an issue; on the highway it’s loud enough that people on the other end of the hands-free phone system can’t understand the driver’s voice.

The best box on wheels

Even if the RAV4 is lifeless and joyless as a driver’ car it is at least a supremely practical box. Toyota made this car’s name on being the most efficient use of space possible and that is still true.

Other crossovers shudder at the RAV4’s packaging and load space. With the backseats down, there is a simply huge amount of load space. So much so that the load floor of my editor’s GMC Yukon press demonstrator looked small by comparison.

2014 Toyota Rav4 Limted left side

With the rear seats up in the RAV4, there is room for three actual adults in the back row, something that can’t be said of essentially any of the RAV4’s competitors.

Toyota’s design department has not extended the same courtesy to the front row passenger, as a stylish lip protruding from the dash cuts into front seat legroom.

On the top of the line Limited edition I tested, the seats weren’t just large, but also very comfortable. The leather was of a surprisingly high quality, considering the RAV4’s modest $32,000 price tag. They provided excellent support to boot.

The Limited model also comes with the top-end Entune infotainment system. Though, it unfortunately makes due with a frustrating 6.1-inch screen.

The same cannot be said for all of the trim. The base RAV4 starts at just $23,550 and some of that budget mindedness is present in the interior. For instance, the plastic shift gate is flimsy enough that it can be depressed a full inch with one finger.

Still, despite the cheapness, the RAV4 probably has the best laid out, most practical interior in the segment.

A mixed bag

Ultimately, I found the RAV4 very frustrating. Then again I am not the car’s target customer. Its lifeless driving experience just isn’t that relevant to the people buying a small crossover. So while it is difficult for me to overlook what feels like a lazy effort on that front, it isn’t what defines the RAV4.

Looking past the driving experience to the practical side of things, the RAV4 does have a lot to offer. It offers massive interior room and an unbeatable amount of cargo space. If, like most drivers, you have large dogs or kids or both, these things matter far more than an exhilarating sprint to 60 mph.

For those of us who don’t hate fun, but still need something with a whiff of practicality there is always the Subaru Forester XT.

Highs

  • Comfortable seating
  • Massive cargo space
  • Large back seat

Lows

  • Lackluster performance
  • Uneven interior quality
  • Uncomfortable and load ride
Product Review

The Nissan Rogue is smart, handsome, and practical. What’s not to love?

Year after year, Nissan’s Rogue compact crossover is a consistent best-seller, outpacing Honda’s CR-V, and even Toyota’s mighty RAV4. We looked for the reasons why people love the 2019 Nissan Rogue, and found them.
Cars

Can electric cars be S3XY? Tesla says yes with the new Model Y crossover

Tesla introduced a crossover named Model Y at its design studio in Los Angeles. It's a more spacious alternative to the Model 3 it shares 75 percent of its parts with, and is a smaller sibling to the Model X.
Cars

Sibling rivalry: The Tesla Model Y takes on the Tesla Model 3

Tesla expanded its lineup with a fourth car named Model Y. It's an electric crossover positioned as a more spacious alternative to the Model 3. The two cars share about 75 percent of their components, but they're aimed at different buyers.
Product Review

Toyota’s 2019 RAV4 is smarter, while remaining as value-packed as ever

The 2019 RAV4 shows that Toyota is serious about moving its leading compact crossover upscale to near-premium status, and making it more capable as an off-highway vehicle. But will it lose the RAV4’s historic affordability in the process?
Cars

Nuro’s awesome robot delivery pods are tootling into Texas

Robo-delivery startup Nuro is taking its cool-looking autonomous delivery pods to Texas. The pods will deliver Kroger groceries to customers' doors in Houston following a successful pilot program in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Cars

Adventurous and electric, Porsche’s second station wagon will arrive in 2020

The Mission E Cross Turismo concept Porsche unveiled during the 2018 Geneva Auto Show will morph into a production model tentatively named Taycan Cross Turismo. This 600-horsepower electric station wagon will arrive in showrooms by 2021.
Cars

Automakers are spending billions on self-driving technology people are afraid of

Automakers are spending billions of dollars on developing the technology that will power self-driving cars, but research shows consumers have no interest in giving up control. Will they ever recoup their investment?
Cars

Mustang-like and electrified. What did Ford just show a preview of?

Ford posted an enigmatic picture of a blue Mustang emblem on a black background right as Tesla prepared to introduce the Model Y. Is the Blue Oval teasing a hybrid Mustang, or is it previewing a Mustang-inspired, battery-powered crossover?
Cars

Amazon and Kia team up to simplify EV home-charging station installs

Kia Motors announced a new program with Amazon for electric vehicles. Customers planning to purchase a new Kia EV or PHEV can check out recommended Level 2 240-volt home charging stations and arrange installation in their homes.
Cars

Unrestrained by heritage, Polestar sets its sights on becoming a digital brand

With no heritage to worry about, Polestar is free to move full-speed ahead towards its goal of becoming a digital brand. All of the company's upcoming models will be electric, and they will inaugurate an Android-powered infotainment system.
Cars

Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

Fisker plans sub-$40,000 electric SUV with 300 miles of range for 2021

Fisker Inc. plans to launch an electric SUV with a base price of under $40,000, and a range of around 300 miles in 2021. The unnamed vehicle could compete with the Tesla Model Y, if it ever gets into production.
Cars

Tesla gives us a cryptic look at its cyberpunk, Blade Runner-inspired pickup

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself. It could make its debut in 2019.