As America’s best-selling SUV, you can’t get any more bread-and-butter than the Toyota RAV4. Toyota sold more than 448,000 copies in the U.S. last year, far surpassing sales of the Honda CR-V and other rivals. We knew it wouldn’t be the most exciting vehicle to grace the MotorTrend Garage, but we had high expectations for our year with Toyota’s small SUV. Will its competency match its popularity? It won’t be an easy feat.
Our RAV4 exuded a certain charm when it arrived at our headquarters in El Segundo, California. It showed up on our doorstep with an enigmatic Lunar Rock paint color. Is it blue, green, or gray? We’ll never be quite sure. While other small crossovers have comically rounded features, the RAV4 has a chiseled front face and a boxier body that harkens back to the era of traditional body-on-frame SUVs.
Step inside, and you’ll find a simple yet stylish interior. We immediately noticed the fun geometric pattern on the seats, storage cubbies, and other areas. Initially, we thought the slanted door handles were edgy but not very practical. It didn’t take long to get used to them, though. It was a little harder adjusting to the doors not opening as wide as we’d like. This design made it a little inconvenient to load and unload cargo into the back seat. Perhaps of bigger significance is the SUV’s comfortable upholstery, which held up well over a year hauling friends, family, and weekend gear. Even now, the seats look mostly new.
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Priced at $31,500, our Toyota RAV4 came with all the things we needed. It’s an XLE, the volume model. One step up from the base LE trim, it’s nothing fancy. The bread-and-butter of the bread-and-butter gets standard features including a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, six speakers, a power moonroof, keyless entry and ignition, and dual-zone automatic climate control. We felt safe with the RAV4’s generous list of standard safety features. Our model also has the XLE Convenience package, bringing heated front seats, an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, and an adjustable power tailgate.
Notably missing from the list of goodies is Android Auto. In fact, this feature is not available on any 2019 RAV4. Toyota remedied this on later models, but it was a huge inconvenience during our time with the SUV. Not being able to select our favorite playlists from the central touchscreen made it difficult to settle in for long drives. It’s particularly frustrating because other cars I drove throughout the year have the capability.
Now we’ll switch gears from the biggest inconvenience to what was by far our biggest joy during our time with the RAV4. Over the course of a year and 17,969 miles, we didn’t spend a dime on maintenance.
The same can’t be said for rivals we’ve tested. Our long-term 2018 Honda CR-V LX FWD, with 17,737 miles on the odometer, ended up costing $286.32 for three service visits in one year. And our 2017 CR-V Touring AWD burned through $418 during two service visits and 20,447 miles. We put a substantial 28,307 miles on our long-term 2017 Mazda CX-5 AWD Grand Touring and spent $340.57 on four visits to the dealership. Finally, our long-term 2017 Kia Sportage EX AWD with 21,033 miles ate up $223.41 over the course of three services.
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Granted, the pandemic had us driving less than usual, especially during the springtime. But we definitely appreciated Toyota’s maintenance program. Toyota vehicles come with free routine maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.
While the RAV4 wins major points for its low costs and reliability, it isn’t our favorite small SUV to drive. As we’ve said in the past, the ride isn’t as controlled as it is on rivals like the CR-V. This became obvious during multiple trips down the unforgiving roads of the downtown L.A. area. Discerning drivers may also complain it thrashes and groans a bit too much during acceleration, unlike the smoother-operating RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime.
What the RAV4 lacks in engine refinement it makes up for in agility in U-turns and city parking. We were even more impressed with its real-world fuel economy. Our Real MPG results came out to 24.2/39.1/29.2 mpg city/highway/combined, outperforming the EPA rating of 25/33/28 mpg. It proved more efficient than our long-term 2017 Honda CR-V, which scored 21.9/34.2/26.1 mpg in our real-world tests.
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Keep in mind that a few things have changed since the 2019 model year. In addition to Android Auto being standard on all trims, the RAV4 LE and XLE now come standard with SiriusXM with a three-month trial. A power driver’s seat is now standard on the XLE—that would have been a nice upgrade from the manual seats on our tester.
Sure, the RAV4 may not be as spacious and smooth to drive as some of its rivals. If you never get behind the wheel of the CR-V, you wouldn’t notice. Despite its shortcomings, we can see why many consumers are attracted to the RAV4. Low maintenance costs, excellent fuel economy, and strong safety features make this SUV a strong contender for buyers’ money.
Read More About Our Long-Term 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE:
- 2019 Toyota RAV4 XLE: Arrival
- Update 1: Which Trim Level Should You Get?
- Update 2: 5 Features We Like and Don’t Like About the Compact SUV
- Update 3: Toyota RAV4 Fuel Economy: What Kind of MPG Does it Get in the Real World?
- Update 4: Toyota RAV4 vs. RAV4 Hybrid: Which Should You Buy?
- Update 5: Is the Toyota RAV4 Safe? A Look at our Long-Termer’s Safety Credentials
- Update 6: Toyota RAV4 vs. RAV4 Prime: Is the Expensive PHEV Version Worth It?
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