Reviews

2012 Toyota RAV4 Walk Around

The design of the current RAV4 is aging. And while a few years ago it looked contemporary and composed, we think a new look is due for the baby crossover.

Visually, the fenders are separate elements from the engine bay, with a tight rectangular grille atop the wider bumper slits below. Headlights are compact and focused. Vertical brake scoops, lined with black ribs, bite into the bumper beneath the headlights; fog lights nestle into these scoops on Sport models. A wide track gives the RAV4 a solid stance visually, while resisting rollovers in emergency maneuvers.

Limited models have a look all their own, with a single, deep, trapezoidal grille opening bolding bisected by a body-color horizontal bar with a large, chrome Toyota World-T badge at its center. A pseudo-skid plate wraps up from the bottom, leaving no room for additional lower air intakes. Tubular nacelles supporting the fog lights replace the brake scoops of base and Sport models.

The side view is oblong, a mix of boxy and oval, which helps to accommodate the optional third-row seat. In back, a single-piece rear bumper cradles the swing-open tailgate, which, sadly, still opens from the left side, so you have to walk around it when unloading curbside. Taillights are positioned high on the rear fenders. The spare tire bolts into a recess offset to the right in the swing-gate, and doesn't dip below the bumper line. The rear license plate, sunk into the lower left side of the swing-gate below the handle, visually balances the spare. The Sport model's spoiler hangs conspicuously off the top edge of the roof.

The Sport Appearance Package eliminates the spare entirely, and centers the license plate up high. A bulge low down on the tailgate fills in the step in the standard bumper when the tailgate is closed. A handle on the left side still betrays the gate's swing-open design, but in spite of this the overall look with the Sport Appearance Package is remarkably more car-like, more station wagon than SUV.

The RAV4 EV looks distinct from the rest of the bunch, with a solid upper front grille that's blacked out below. New headlights integrate high beams, low beams and turn signals in one housing. A vertical LED daytime running lamp helps the antiquated RAV4 design look a little more modern. Different sideview mirrors, as well as a rear spoiler, help reduce aerodynamic drag.

Interior

Inside, the RAV4 is functional, if a bit eccentric in style. Placement of the gauges will be familiar to anyone who has owned a previous RAV4. The position and function of the controls populating the center stack is very good; that also applies to the arrangement of the hand brake and the shift lever. The dash is sharply split by a horizontal indentation running the width of the car. About the only plus we found in this garish feature is a bi-level glove box, with an upper bin covered by a retracting lid and a lower bin fitted with a traditional, bottom-hinged cover.

A couple of years ago, we would have said interior materials in the RAV4 were high quality. But as competitors up the ante with soft-touch dashes, improved fit and more attractive looking finishes, we'd say the RAV4 has some catching up to do. All three trim levels share the same motif, with contrasting but complementary colors and brushed metallic trim elements around the stereo and climate controls, surrounding the shift gate and swooping around the door handles. The standard side-curtain airbags allow a passenger assist grip, which folds down from the headliner over each door.

The RAV4 EV uses a thin film transistor (TFT) display for the instrument cluster, which is perhaps the only thing on the RAV4 that looks thoroughly futuristic. It provides the driver with information such as driving range, driving time, odometer, average efficiency and a Eco Coach function, which rates drivers' ability to get the most range out of their vehicle. A touchscreen interface on the center stack uses a menu that will be familiar and easy to use for anyone who owns a smartphone or iPad. Interior upholstery is an off-white, which we think will show dirt over time.

In all models, the front seats are supportive but not overly firm, with modest bolsters and decent thigh support. The tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and height-adjustable driver's seat enable almost any size driver to find a comfortable fit, and without the added complexity (and cost) of adjustable pedals. The relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood make for good visibility to the front. The lengthy side windows ease lane checking. Fully retracting head restraints in the second row and optional third row seats improve the viewing range through the inside mirror.

It's interesting to note that the RAV4 EV comes standard with heated seats. With electric vehicles, the heater will suck up battery power, because, unlike cars powered by combustion engines, there is no engine heat ready sweep into the cabin. Toyota engineers say it's more efficient to heat the seats (and thus, the person) than to generate hot air through the blowers.

The second-row seats are less padded than the front seats, without bolsters. It's no surprise, really, seeing as how that seat has to fit three people in a pinch.

The optional third row seats barely qualify as such, with flat bottoms and equally featureless backs and head restraints. Access to that back row, by folding and tilting the outboard second-row seats, is not especially easy, but it isn't as much of a strain or as awkward as in some larger, full-sized sport utilities.

Storage areas are plentiful. Beyond the glove box, the doors have fixed plastic map pockets, the backs of the front seatbacks wear net pouches, and a total of ten cup holders are situated about the cabin. When the third-row seats aren't ordered, a deep cargo area awaits beneath a water-repellant, foldable deck board.

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