With so many generations of the RAV4 and standards always changing you’d think it would be hard to keep improving but the 2021 Toyota proves that wrong.
As the best-selling car that Toyota makes and the best-selling compact SUV in America, the 2021 RAV4 has a high standard to live up to. It’s with that in mind that Toyota was careful to only make subtle tweaks to this award-winning formula. The RAV4 Hybrid gets a new trim level for 2021, the XLE Premium, and the hybrid lineup (reviewed separately here) is extended to include the Prime, a plug-in model. For the TRD Off-Road trim level, a front skid plate is now standard. Super white is no longer an available color and has been replaced by Blizzard Pearl.
2021 Toyota RAV4 – toyota.com | Shop 2021 Toyota RAV4 on Carsforsale.com
Even the base trim gets a great drivetrain
Technology is outstanding
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard
Too many trim levels
Styling will be a tad aggressive for many
Not exactly a spry SUV
4WD for the TRD Pro and Adventure trims
This is a section that Toyota knows RAV4 buyers won’t be all that worried about, so all trim levels get the same 2.5L 4-cylinder and 8-speed automatic transmission. In addition, all levels get four-wheel disc brakes. All-wheel-drive models benefit from those four paws tugging at the ground when it comes to metrics like 0-60, but the RAV4 a performance vehicle it is not.
All front-wheel driven RAV4’s are rated at 28 city and 35 highway with a combined 30 mpg. That’s pretty good amongst its competitors and the all-wheel-drive model doesn’t fall far from that tree. City driving nets 25mpg while highway driving gets you around 33 and averages out to 28. As a SUV that’s much bigger than its original generation, that’s doing quite well.
Towing and payload aren’t key performance metrics for the RAV4 and it’s evident in their low numbers. Maximum payload for the RAV4 is found on the base model interestingly enough, likely due to the lack of weight of more luxurious features, and is rated at 1,240 lbs.
All trim levels have a payload capacity of at least 1,040 lbs with different trims fitting between those two numbers. Maximum towing capacity can be had only with the Adventure and TRD Off-Road trim levels and is rated at 3,500 lbs. Every other RAV4 regardless of drivetrain setup is limited to less than 2,000 lbs of towing capacity.
Comfort is where the RAV4 shines in any trim. It’s spacious and very ergo-friendly throughout with room for even taller individuals like myself in the back seats. Material quality is less than special at the XE level, but things quickly improve in the XLE and XLE Premium. Dual climate control becomes standard as do the 8-way power-adjustable front seats. No less than 5 USB ports are found inside as well as a 12v household outlet.
The Limited trim gets even more posh with blue LED ambient lighting throughout the cabin, soft-touch materials throughout, a leather-wrapped gear shift, and can be optioned with heated rear seats as well as heated and ventilated front seats. All three models come with a 60/40 split rear bench seat which leads us to cargo capacity.
This thing has 37.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity. That’s more than enough for a long weekend with three or four of your best friends. That’s also before you put the back seats down where it expands to a cavernous 69.8 cubic feet. For context, that’s like filling up 3 of the latest giant refrigerators on the market and then some. This SUV can fit a ton inside, especially with the seats down.
The RAV4 in general isn’t a tech-forward platform. Externally there’s far more going on than you’d think just by sitting inside the SUV. Nevertheless, there are some cool things in here to talk about. The 7-inch touchscreen isn’t bad at all and if you’re looking at the XLE or XLE Premium don’t feel pressured to pull the trigger for the barely larger 8-inch premium unit. The Adventure, Limited, and TRD Off-Road all get the large 8-inch touchscreen that can be integrated with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Every trim level, except the base LE, comes with a Smart Key system that allows for locking and unlocking the RAV4 without removing the key from your pocket. It also allows you to start the vehicle remotely. Depending on the trim level you can option the Smart Key with hands-free control of the rear tailgate as well.
Limited models can be optioned with a Qi-compatible wireless charging pad if you’re into that sort of thing. They’re also fitted with a digital rearview mirror, an overhead console with map lights and storage, and a premium sound system complete with Toyota’s “Dynamic Navigation”.
Continuing a long legacy of safety first enhancements and innovations the 2021 Toyota RAV4 has achieved a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA and been named as a top safety pick by the IIHS. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is one of the best systems on the market and to be a standard feature no matter which RAV4 trim level you buy is a major plus that buyers should give real currency to. Optional features like park-assist, rear collision alert, and more are icing on the cake.
The LE might be a bit dull when it comes to features and luxurious materials inside, but it still has Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. That feature alone is a marvel that improves driver comfort and safety while reducing strain behind the wheel. It can be optioned with AWD for less than $1,000 more and we consider that a good deal if it’s already near the top of the budget. For a base model, the LE provides a generous discount on the XLE trim level and still manages to achieve high marks for the basic package it provides. No frills, all function.
The XLE makes various improvements like integrated fog lamps, alloy wheels, and more, but doesn’t offer enough for us to choose it over the XLE Premium. The XLE Premium boasts far more features at the base level. From the interior, to the exterior trim, to the tech options, the XLE just can’t compete when the next level up that has all of it and offers even more.
The XLE Premium is probably the best balance of features per dollar for most buyers. It’s a little more expensive than the XLE, but gains all of its features as well as 19-inch wheels, a height-adjustable power liftgate, a power moonroof, a much nicer set of seats, a leather steering wheel, and more.
Toyota went out of its way to push the boundaries of the RAV4 lineup towards the trail and the Adventure trim level nicely bridges the gap between the Limited or XLE Premium and the TRD Off-Road. It retains much of the off-road focused parts like standard AWD, unique raised black roof rails, and 120v AC power outlet in the cargo area. At the same time there’s a bit more focus on keeping it more subtle on the road with larger 19-inch premium wheels, all season tires instead of all-terrain ones, and color matched mirrors.
The Limited trim is the luxury-focused package for those who want the most comfortable RAV4 on the market today. It includes a digital dash, heated seats, a premium tech package with dynamic navigation, and more. It also aids drivers every day with features like a standard backup camera, front and rear park assist technology, and an anti-theft engine immobilizer system. The Limited package is by far the most opulent offering and is a truly nice place to spend time, but for its $34,580 base price there are other options on the market more appealing we think.
For a vehicle that we really feel needs a proper 4WD system, the front-biased AWD RAV4 TRD Off-Road is still pretty capable and well equipped. The wheels are 18-inch and unique to this trim level. They’re wrapped in Falken All-Terrain tires and the entire exterior of the vehicle has been lightly massaged to produce a more rugged look. The grille insert is painted to stand out, as are the blacked out badges, mirrors, and roof rails. The TRD Skid plate is a welcome addition for those who will put this small SUV to the test as well. Once on the trail, the system is pre-programmed with traction profiles for “MUD & SAND, ROCK & DIRT, SNOW, and NORMAL” drive modes, as well as Downhill Assist Control. If you love the RAV4 and have been waiting for a true off-road or at least soft-road capable version, then this is it.
A limited warranty will cover the car for 3 years or 36,000 miles while the powertrain warranty will continue on to 5 years and 60,000 miles. Toyota will handle complimentary maintenance for the first 25,000 miles of the RAV4’s life.
2021 Toyota RAV4 – toyota.com | Shop 2021 Toyota RAV4 on Carsforsale.com
Frankly, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is capable of achieving many different goals depending on your personal taste. Want to use it as a viable trail vehicle to get you out into wilderness? It can handle it. Want it to be a comfortable and well equipped daily driver to and from work? It’s perfect there too. We wish it had a bit more pep in its step and perhaps a bit more cargo room overall, but it’s hard to complain with a vehicle that can do so much otherwise. Whether you prefer a dapper and dashing exterior or something considerably more shouty, the RAV4 can handle either side of that coin as well. It’s a great all-around compact SUV that has good reason to be as well regarded as it is.