Toyota RAV4 — More appealing for 2015

By David Finkelstein

Has Toyota Motors reinvented the personal size SUV for consumers with the availability of the 2015 RAV4? Perhaps “reinventing” is a bit strong but clearly this vehicle, which was introduced all new for the 2013 model year, has a number of changes and upgrades that make it more appealing to consumers.

To turn back the clock, RAV4 was first introduced back in1995. As for the latest version, Toyota makes it available to potential buyers in over 150 countries. Toyota's "bean counters" reminded me that small SUV sales have tripled since the 2000 model year therefore, the timing on this model is likely spot on.

The latest version is now larger than the previous generation of RAV4 and includes a lengthy list of refinements and creature comforts to help make it yet more attractive to a bigger customer base. Built in Canada, the RAV4 has a bold appearance with its dynamic body design. And based on customer input, Toyota no longer mounts the large, full size spare tire on the rear cargo access door. They elected to stow it out of sight under the rear cargo package shelf.

This change is welcomed since the tire previously mounted on RAV4's exterior would tend to impact the driver's rear view and didn't add to the vehicles appearance.

This fourth generation model is now built with increased fuel efficiency, class leading cargo capacity as well as being offered with three trim levels. However, there are no engine options to select from other than a Hybrid version for 2016.

The 2015 base model is badged as the LE followed by the XLE and then the Limited version. Focused on the vehicles price point, the LE entry level model with front-wheel-drive has a base price of $23,600. From there, the FWD XLE mid-grade model lists for $25,240 and the top of the line Limited reflects a retail price of $28,45. Destination charge is $900.

This pricing structure places it squarely up against the Ford Escape and the Honda CR-V, when similarly equipped. Of course, Escape and CR-V are often crossed shopped in this segment.

The 2015 RAV4 is engineered and carefully tailored to meet most needs of compact SUV owners. The exterior has a progressive silhouette with a sleek yet sloping roof line.The outer design further shows strong proportions while conveying agile character lines. RAV4 has aggressively sculpted front and rear fenders, a low hood and boldly designed tail lamps. Special attention was given to the body aerodynamics with both the exterior as well as under the vehicle itself. Clearly, this helps with fuel economy while driving on the highways.

The spacious interior has a premium look and feel. The "human factor" is present with the placement of driver controls and switches as the dash assembly is driver-centric and asymmetrical for ease of usage. Blue dash panel illumination is easy on the eyes and helps to provide crisp visibility while operating the vehicle after sundown.

All of the new RAV's have steering-wheel mounted audio controls as well as functions for the operation of the Bluetooth hands free phone.The multi-function dash display provides an array of drive information. The second row seating is designed with 60/40 split folding seatbacks that recline several inches to enhance passenger comfort. The head restraints are retractable for improved driver rear visibility. Privacy window glass, daytime running lights, cruise control, power side mirrors,door locks and power operated windows are standard on all versions.

Additionally, a 6.1-inch touch screen center dash mounted backup camera system is included at no additional charge.

The standard engine is Toyota's direct injected 2.4-liter four cylinder which is also offered in its popular Camry. This engine produces 176 horsepower and operates on regular grade fuel. TheV-6 engine which was previously offered in the RAV4 is no longer in the lineup.

The new six-speed automatic transmission has a number of technologies for helping to achieve improved fuel mileage. It works nicely with both the front-wheel-drive RAV4 as well as with the all-wheel-drive model. FWD models achieve an EPA estimated rating of 24-mpg city/31-mpg highway. The all-wheel -drive model shows 22/29 mpg. Those numbers are achieved with the "Eco mode switch" selected "on" which helps optimize powertrain operation to maximize fuel economy.

The vehicles suspension system is engineered to help deliver smooth and seamless suspension movements. Power assisted rack and pinion steering coupled with vehicle speed sensitive electronic power steering†helps to give the driver a precise driving feel and quick response. Seventeen-inch tires and wheels are standard however, the premium models are fitted with 18-inch tires and alloy wheels.

Under the heading of active safety,four wheel disc brakes as well as eight air bags are also included. The available and strongly suggested blind spot monitoring system helps warn the driver of approaching rear cross traffic while backing.

Four different audio systems are also made available.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 is covered by the factories 36-month/36,000mile base warranty. The powertrain is covered for 60-months or 60,000 miles. At road test, the XLE mid-grade version that I drove with front-wheel-drive had a sticker price of $26,935 after some options and S&D charges added. It also comes standard with Toyota Care, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance and 24-hour roadside assistance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first.