End approaching for smash-hit RAV4 generation, but 2018 model still has plenty to offer

2018 Toyota Rav4

2018 Toyota Rav4

What changes will make the 2018 Toyota RAV4 different?

The Adventure, a new off-road-themed model that encourages this popular compact-class crossover SUV to wander a bit further from the beaten path than its tamer trim levels. Also newly available on select versions of the 2018 Toyota RAV4 is an optional Cold Weather Package that provides heated cloth front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a windshield-wiper deicer. These additions are prelude to the expected arrival of a fully redesigned RAV4 in calendar 2018 as a 2019 model. It’ll have updated styling, revised drivetrains, and a new underskin architecture.

Calendar 2016 marked the best sales year ever for the RAV4 and its No.1 rival, the Honda CR-V. The CR-V claimed the segment sales crown by about 5,000 units. Toyota could well have finished first, if not for supply constraints. Still, more than 350,000 buyers took home a RAV4 in 2016, an 11.6 percent increase over 2015.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To audition the newly added RAV4 Adventure, which comes with a slightly raised suspension and unique interior and exterior trim. Like other RAV4s, its available with front-wheel driver or all-wheel drive (AWD), but also like other RAV4s, it’s no compact-crossover off-roader to rival the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, or even the Subaru Forester. But it should help sustain some interest in the crossover as designers ready the next-generation model. That’s important in the face of significantly freshened or completely redesigned 2017-model competitors from Chevrolet, Honda, Jeep, Mazda, and Nissan.

The ’18 RAV4 lineup will reprise a gas-only roster consisting of base LE, volume-selling XLE, sport-themed SE, uplevel Limited, and flagship Platinum. The Adventure slots between the XLE and SE for pricing and features. All will again come standard with front-wheel drive with AWD returning as a roughly $1,400 option. Also expected to return for ’18 is the RAV4 Hybrid. This AWD gas/electric crossover should again be available in XLE, SE, or Limited trim.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes, if the Adventure model doesn’t spark your wanderlust. Any RAV4 ‘17 is an excellent compact-crossover value, with great passenger and cargo volume, a refined manner, and terrific customer ratings for reliability and resale value. The SE furnishes a hint of driving involvement, but the balance of the line clearly favors milquetoast dynamics and isolation from wind and road ruckus over sporty handling. Toyota made some notable improvements to the 2017 RAV4, foremost among them making important safety features standard on all models. Collected under the “Toyota Safety Sense-P” (TSS-P) banner, these include lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, plus adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead. Also included is autonomous emergency braking that can bring the vehicle to a heal to mitigate a collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian. That feature earns all RAV4s the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” status from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The ’17 RAV4 also gained a new flagship trim level called the Platinum, which offers high-end features not previously available on this compact crossover. The updates came on the heels of a model-year 2016 freshening that included revised styling and the addition of a sporty model called the SE, plus a segment-first gas-electric Hybrid model.

The newly standard safety equipment makes RAV4 an even stronger choice in this hotly contested segment. Honda has upped its game by making a similar set of features standard on most iterations of its redesigned CR-V. However, buyers of the entry-level CR-V LX model are out of luck, whereas Toyota fits Toyota Safety Sense-P to every RAV4, including the base LE.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but only for the new Adventure model. It’ll look unique from other RAVs by virtue of its light-duty underbody skid plates; flared fenders; and trendy black wheels, headlight bezels, and foglight surrounds. It has 6.8 inches of ground clearance, about a half-inch more than other RAV4s, but well short of the 8.7 inches boasted by the Cherokee and Forester.

Other models will retain the styling updates they received for model-year 2016. Highlighted by a slightly more aggressive front-end appearance, it’s a look that debuted on the 2016 Toyota Prius hatchback and represents the brand’s design language going forward. Engineers distinguished the RAV4 SE with a lowered sport suspension and unique wheels, but this model doesn’t have a more powerful engine or any other mechanical enhancements designed to improve driving dynamics. The Platinum has body-colored instead of black lower-body trim, along with specific interior accents.

Inside, the Adventure has some unique trim panels and comes with a leather-wrapped shift know, special door-sill protectors, and logos all-weather floor and cargo mats. Like all ’18 RAV4 models it’ll feature impressive passenger and cargo room. The RAV’s seats are accommodating and there’s ample headroom and legroom front and rear. The cargo hold can carry more than 70 cubic feet of stuff, even in the Hybrid. That’s midsize-class flexibility.

Any mechanical changes?

No for the core lineup, yes if you count the minor upgrades to the Adventure. Like all front-drive RAV4s, it’s front-drive version will have a limited-slip differential and it’s AWD model will retain the standard AWD system, which shuffles power fore and aft to quell tire slip and lacks low-range gearing. It does however get upgraded cooling capacity for the engine and transmission, which contributes to a 3,500-pound towing capacity for the AWD version, double that of other RAV4 models. It’ll share the 18-inch all-season tires also found on the SE, Limited and Platinum models (versus 17s on the LE and XLE). So while it’s no off-roader, it should be the most capable RAV for those who like getting the body panels a little dirty.

It’ll also share the same engine as all gas-only 2018 RAV4s, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces a middling 175 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It’ll again pair with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The redesigned 2019 RAV4 will likely move to a smaller, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with roughly the same horsepower but more torque. Combined with what should be a lighter weight body structure, and the next-generation RAV4 will likely be quicker and more responsive than the current model.

For performance and all-around drivability in the 2018 line, our pick is the RAV4 Hybrid. It also will reprise a 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine but will team it with a battery-powered electric motor to help drive the front wheels. A second electric motor provides power to the rears; it’s located where the differential would be in a conventional AWD crossover. Net output is 194 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. Despite weighing 300 pounds more than a conventional AWD RAV4, the Hybrid delivers smoother and stronger acceleration, thanks to the instantaneous torque on tap from the electric motor. These models cost more and have slightly less cargo volume, but we think the tradeoffs are worth it.

Will fuel economy improve?

Probably not for 2018. The addition of the less aerodynamic Adventure may bring RAV4’s overall fuel-economy ratings down a bit. Expect non-Adventure versions of the 2018 RAV4 to have the same EPA fuel-economy ratings as their ’17 counterparts.

With front-wheel drive, the gas-only LE and XLE would rate 23/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined while the rest of the line would rate 23/29/25 mpg. With AWD, expect LE and XLE models to again rate 22/28/25 mpg while SE, Limited, and Platinum models would rate 22/28/24. We predict the Adventure will rate somewhere in the 21/26/23 mpg area. The slight ratings difference among the models likely reflects their curb weights and their particular wheel sizes.

Look for the 2018 RAV4 Hybrid to again rate 34/30/32 mpg city/highway/combined, regardless of trim level. All RAV4s are tuned to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Will it have new features?

None, other than the stuff associated with the Adventure model and the features of the newly available Cold Weather Package. Toyota had not specified which trim levels would be available with the Cold Weather Package, but we’d surmise it’ll be offered on all but the entry-level LE model and could become standard on the Platinum. It’s only new component is the wiper deicer. Heated front seats were already standard on SE and above, XLE and above already had heated mirrors, and the Platinum has come standard with the heated steering wheel.

Otherwise, the ’18 features roster will again be highlighted by safety equipment Toyota brought to the 2017 RAV4 line. All versions of 2018 model should retain “Top Safety Pick+” status while carrying over with no significant additions or alterations. Figure on every model continuing with standard Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, and Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. All XLE models, including the Hybrid, gain dual-zone automatic climate control and a power sunroof. SE a`nd its Hybrid sibling add blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, a height-adjustable power liftgate, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, and steering-wheel paddle shifters. All Limited variants have a power driver seat with memory, full LED headlights, and in-dash GPS navigation. The Platinum would include a surround-view camera system, heated steering wheel, and a hands-free power liftgate that’s activated by waggling your foot under the bumper.

Hybrids mirror their conventional cousins in terms of standard and optional equipment.

How will 2018 prices be different?

Toyota could hold the line on prices as a competitive strategy, but some increase is more likely. It should be mild, though. Even with the addition of TSS-P to the 2017 lineup, the company increased starting prices by about 1-2 percent ($320-$560) across the board. A similar suite of safety features on some competitors costs $1,000 or more. Still, RAV4 is one of the more expensive entries in the class.

Here are base prices for the 2017 lineup, including Toyota’s $940 destination fee:
With front-wheel drive, the base LE started at $25,850, the XLE at $27,770, and the SE at $30,925. Base price for the Limited was $32,770. Platinum versions encroached into premium-class territory at $35,690. All-wheel drive should again be an additional $1,400. The Adventure will likely start at around $29,500.

The 2017 RAV4 Hybrid models cost just $800 more than their gas-only AWD counterparts. The XLE started at $29,970, the SE at $33,125, the Limited at $34,970.

Toyota will gain offer a range of factory option packages. The Entune Audio Plus package upgrades the infotainment system to support in-dash navigation via a smartphone app. For ‘17; it cost $525 on the XLE/XLE Hybrid and $675 on the LE.

A height-adjustable power liftgate was a $415 extra for the XLE. Also available on this model, the power liftgate can be bundled with a full GPS navigation system for $1,030. The $2,215 Convenience Package included all this plus blind-spot with rear-cross traffic alert and front- and rear-obstacle detection.

SE versions should again offer in-dash GPS navigation and a JBL-brand audio system for $1,310. The Advanced Technology Package includes this, along with a surround-view camera for $2,460. The JBL audio upgrade was $785 on the Limited, while the Advanced Technology Package cost $1,435. The Platinum will again come fully equipped, save for a $90 cargo cover, which is also available on the other models. Expect the Cold Weather Package to cost $800-$1,000.

When will it come out?

Toyota will release the 2018 Toyota RAV4 in September 2017.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue

What change would make it better?

Adding the Adventure model answered a question not many RAV4 buyers likely were asking. We’d like to see blind-spot alert/rear cross-traffic detection as standard equipment on all RAV4 models. At the very least, the Platinum trim should have genuine leather upholstery instead of Toyota’s “SofTex” leatherette substitute. A quieter gas engine would be good as well. We expect some of these criticisms to be addressed as part of the 2019 redesign. However, none of these are substantive enough to remove the RAV4 from your shopping list. Give it a long look.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]