Toyota helped create the compact crossover segment when it introduced the original RAV4 in 1996. Twenty years and 2.5 million U.S. sales later, it has given the 2016 version substantial changes for its midcycle freshening. Highlights on all 2016 RAV4s include a revamped exterior, a plusher and more comfortable interior, better handling and a more refined presence overall. The 2016 iteration also seeks to expand the crossover's reach with the first RAV4 Hybrid, available only with all-wheel drive, and the new sport-oriented SE trim. Toyota expects each of the two RAV4 family additions to account for 10 to 15 percent of the overall mix. The hybrid could be the winner of the lineup: For just $700 more than the gasoline version, buyers give up a bit of cargo room but get significant fuel economy gains in return.
- Powertrain: 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; hybrid adds two electric motors (one for rear wheels as part of standard awd system); gasoline models get a 6-speed automatic transmission and the hybrid has a continuously variable transmission.
- Technology: Available Toyota Safety Sense comes with precollision braking, radar cruise control, lane-departure warning; bird's-eye camera also available; 6.1-inch in-dash touch screen standard
- Safety: 8 airbags and standard backup camera
- Target: 400,000 U.S. sales a year
- Competitors: Nissan Rogue, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox
- Strengths: Vastly improved interior noise and comfort levels; $700 is small price to pay for hybrid variant.
- Weaknesses: Hybrid's batteries don't take up much room, but the cargo space they do take is noteworthy because it means the load floor isn't flat when seats are folded; powertrain gets noisy when pushed.
- Bottom line: While these midcycle updates are less dramatic than the wholesale reboot Toyota gave the Camry last year, the effect is the same: The RAV4 is a stronger contender in a brutally competitive segment. The vehicle now has the refinement and comfort that the earlier version lacked, and a hybrid option to differentiate it. With competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue firing on all cylinders, this well-executed update couldn't have come at a better time for Toyota.