The 2021 Toyota RAV4 has everything. It is spartan, swanky, and outdoorsy. This earned it an Editors Choice award. The base LE is the most economical model, while the Limited and TRD Off Road models are well-equipped and offer a wide range of equipment that appeals to two different buyers. The RAV4 has a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine and an 8-speed automatic. All-wheel drive comes standard, but it is optional for the XLE, XLE Premium and Limited models. It is also standard on the Adventure, TRD Off-Road and XLE models. Although the RAV4’s square-jawed design is reminiscent of the Tacoma pickup truck and 4Runner SUV, its car-based construction provides a smoother ride than those trucks. The interior accommodations are spacious and durable. However, buyers who want modern conveniences such as blind-spot monitoring, push-button starting, power-adjustable seating, and push-button start will want to stay away from the entry-level model.
What’s new for 2021?
Toyota made one change to its RAV4 model year 2021: Blizzard Pearl replaced Super White in the color palette. The lineup now includes a plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime, as well as a new XLE Premium trim for the hybrid model. We review both hybrid models separately.
Pricing and Which One To Buy
We find it hard to resist the TRD Off Road, but we would choose the mid-range XLE Premium. The XLE Premium offers a lot more standard equipment than the LE and XLE, including 19-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate controls, faux-leather upholstery, a powerliftgate, power steering, a shift knob and leather-wrapped steering wheels. Toyota offers a standard suite of driver-assistance options across its lineup so you don’t have to choose a more expensive trim unless ventilated seats are something you want.
Engine, Transmission, & Performance
2021 RAV4 features a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 203 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Although front-wheel drive is still standard, Toyota now offers an option of all-wheel-drive systems depending on the trim. We drove the Adventure model, which was equipped with an all wheel-drive system that can disengage the rear axle to increase fuel economy. The RAV4 was faster than the 2018 model at 60 mph. It took 8.0 seconds to get the 2019 model to the track and 8.3 seconds for the 2018. Even though the four-cylinder is powerful, it can make noises, especially when passing on highways. Our test vehicle’s transmission seemed to be unable to downshift properly. The RAV4 Hybrid, which we have reviewed separately, was able to achieve a 7.4 second 60-mph speed in our hands. Although the RAV4 is solid and stable while cruising on the interstate, it struggles to keep up with traffic when turning onto twisty roads. However, it lacks the same level of confidence as the Mazda CX-5.
Fuel Economy and Real World MPG
The EPA gave the RAV4 class-competitive fuel economy estimates. The front-wheel-drive RAV4 can achieve an average of 35 mpg highway. On our 200-mile highway fuel economy route, the all-wheel-drive Adventure managed 32 mpg. This is 1 mpg less than the EPA’s estimate for this trim. This puts it in line with the Honda CR-V, and is a significant improvement over the 2018 Adventure model which managed only 25 mpg. However, it is outdone and outperformed by the Volkswagen Tiguan who delivered 33 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, & Cargo
The interior of the RAV4 is designed to be ergonomic and provide cubby storage. The dash is complemented by a useful shelf. We tested a mixture of nice plastics and soft-touch surfaces in the version. The LE base trim is very basic and includes cloth seats, a plasticky steering column, and single-zone manual temperature control. Toyota adds a few perks to the next-level XLE. But there are many more features on the XLE Premium. These include faux-leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel. The RAV4’s rear seats fold flat to allow cargo access. Ten of our carry-on bags were able to fit behind the rear seat, while 22 could be folded. Here, the RAV4 was matched by the Nissan Rogue, but the Subaru Forester won it by one.
Connectivity and Infotainment
Lower trims have a 7.0-inch touchscreen. However, an 8.0-inch touchscreen is available starting at the XLE level. The infotainment system features a 4G LTE mobile hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. Optional features include a JBL premium audio system, navigation and a wireless charging station for your smartphone. You can choose a trim without navigation. Scout GPS Link is available on all models. It allows compatible smartphones to display a map as well as turn-by-turn directions on the dashtop screen.