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?

New paint colors and probably higher sticker prices as Toyota’s popular compact crossover SUV maintains a holding pattern for model-year 2018. A fully redesigned RAV4 with new styling, revised drivetrains, and a brand-new underskin architecture is slated for launch in calendar 2018, most likely as a 2019 model.

RAV4 has been duking it out with the Honda CR-V for sales supremacy in 2016. For several months, Toyota held the lead. As of the end of October, Honda is in the top spot, a position it hopes to defend with the launch of a redesigned 2017 CR-V. In any case, the RAV4 and CR-V are on pace for about 350,000 sales each during calendar ‘17, meaning they alone could account for nearly 5 percent of the U.S. automobile market. Compact-crossover sales in general are booming and the RAV4, CR-V, and the segment’s No. 3-seller, the Nissan Rouge, account for three of the top-10-selling vehicles in America.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

You probably shouldn’t. It appears waiting would net you an ’18 RAV4 that’s a virtual rerun of the ’17, but likely priced higher. Its styling will have a shorter shelf life, too, given the all-new ’19 model in the wings. On the upside, expect big model-year-closeout discounts as dealers make way for the all-new ‘18s.

The automaker could add yet another trim level for ’18 to help sustain interest at the close of this design generation. But it’s unlikely be anything that would compel you to wait. The ’18 RAV4 lineup should reprise a gas-only roster consisting of the base LE model, volume-selling XLE grade, sport-themed SE, uplevel Limited, and top-line Platinum. Expect each to again come standard with front-wheel drive and for traction-enhancing all-wheel drive (AWD) to be a $1,400 option. As for ’17, the 2018 Hybrids will be AWD only and likely come in XLE, SE, and Limited trim.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes. This 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.

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Will the styling be different?

No. RAV4 saw its styling updated for model-year 2016, the main change being a slightly more aggressive front-end appearance. It’s a look that debuted on the 2016 Toyota Prius hatchback and will represent the brand’s design language going forward. Engineers distinguished the 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 lower body addenda that matches the rest of the paint (it’s black on other models), along with unique interior trim.

All ‘18 RAV4 models will continue to boast impressive passenger and cargo room. The seats are accommodating, with ample headroom and legroom, both 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?

Most likely not. Expect gas-only 2018 RAV4s to reprise 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 has a 2.5-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine, that teams 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 redesigned 2019 will almost certainly improve upon the outgoing model. Expect both conventional and hybrid ’18 models 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. 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.

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Will it have new features?

Not in the wake of the additional 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 and 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 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.

When will it come out?

Expect a 2018 Toyota RAV4 release date in the fall of 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 blind-spot alert/rear cross-traffic detection as standard equipment to 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]