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New vs Used: Toyota RAV4

Chris Kaiser

One of the biggest car buying questions of all, buying new or used? We explore all the details comparing a new versus used Toyota RAV4.

How New Is New Enough?

2021 Toyota Rav4 - pressroom.toyota.com

2021 Toyota Rav4 – pressroom.toyota.com |  Shop new Toyota Rav4 on Carsforsale.com

When shopping for a new vehicle, it’s important to look not only at the current model year, but recent years, too. The depreciation curve is at its steepest in their first five years. That means you can find significant savings on nearly new, low mileage vehicles that are almost as modern and well-equipped as the newest (and most expensive) versions on the lot. Sometimes the latest and greatest are worth the price premium. Other times, a three-year old vehicle offers almost all the same bells and whistles at a lower price. In this article, we’re going to look at the Toyota RAV4 to find out what is the smartest choice, new or used.

RAV4 – For Your Consideration

2017 Toyota Rav4 - pressroom.toyota.com
2017 Toyota Rav4 - pressroom.toyota.com

A good range for consideration when shopping a new or lightly used vehicle is new to about five years old. Technology may evolve more quickly nowadays than in decades past, but most five-year old vehicles still offer robust safety equipment and modern infotainment systems. With that said, the newer the vehicle, the more likely those kinds of features will be included on lower trim versions. What was once the province of premium trims become standard as technology improves and economies of scale grow.

For the Toyota RAV4, that gives us a range between the 2017 and 2021 model years. This happens to also conveniently coincide with the Toyota Safety Sense suite being made standard on the RAV4 in 2017, bringing with it advanced safety tech features like lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Also, significantly, the RAV4 saw a generational update in 2019, making the choice between a slightly older versus slightly newer even more salient. Therefore, our focus will be on the to the fourth generation ‘17-‘18 RAV4s versus the fifth-generation ’19 model year and onwards.

RAV4 – High & Low Ends

2020 Toyota Rav4 TRD Off-Road - pressroom.toyota.com
2020 Toyota Rav4 TRD Off-Road - pressroom.toyota.com

The low end of what you can expect to spend on a nearly new Toyota RAV4 is a 2017 LE trim which averages around $17,000 carrying roughly 70,000 miles. Mileages can vary greatly at this price depending on region, the history of the car, and trim level so take time to hunt for the best deal.

At the high end of the spectrum is the 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road trim. Yes, there are 2021s out, but last years special TRD edition is still likely the most expensive “new” RAV4 you’ll find sitting on lots today. It starts at $35,180 before adding options. The trim itself adds an off-road tuned suspension and all-terrain tires to top things off. With options you’ll find RAV4 TRDs nestled just below the $40,000 mark.

RAV4 – Powertrains & Performance

2018 Toyota Rav4 2.5L I4 - carsforsale.com
2018 Toyota Rav4 2.5L I4 - carsforsale.com

The fifth-generation RAV4 saw a number of significant changes over the fourth generation including those involving powertrain. Both feature two powertrains, a traditional gas engine and a hybrid option. They breakdown as follows.

The 2018 RAV4 features a 2.5L inline-4 making 176hp and 172lb.-ft. of torque paired with a six-speed automatic. The fourth-generation offers decent acceleration but it’s not overly swift, with a 0-60 time of around 8.5 seconds. Fuel efficiency runs 23 city and 29 highway mpg for FWD and 22/28 for AWD. The hybrid option combines the 2.5L with and electric motor for 194hp and 206lb.-ft. with a CVT netting 34 city and 30 highway mpg.

2019 Toyota Rav4 2.5L I4 - pressroom.toyota.com
2019 Toyota Rav4 2.5L I4 - pressroom.toyota.com

The fifth-generation RAV4 powertrain saw improvements in both performance and efficiency. A new 2.5L 4-cylinder puts out 203hp and 184lb.-ft. of torque. The hybrid option again combines the 2.5L and an electric motor and now produces 219hp and 163lb.-ft. Despite the lower torque number, the hybrid’s low torque curve (thanks to the electric motor) lends it greater punch off the line. Efficiency from the gas engine sees significant improvement, now 26 city and 35 highway for FWD and AWD getting either 27/34 with the Start/Stop feature and 25/33 without.

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One other major difference between the generations is ground clearance. The fourth generation sufficed with 6.1-inches of ground clearnance, with the Adventure trim level a hair taller at 6.5inches. The fifth-generation RAV4 grew considerably, adding over two inches to 8.4-inches starting out and higher trims attaining a full 8.6-inches.

Of all four, we preferred the 2019’s hybrid’s performance the best. We liked the torquy response and smoothly performing CVT that delivers some of the best fuel economy in the segment.

RAV4 – Styling & Interior

The other major change between the fourth and fifth generations of the RAV4 was the visual overhaul that reshaped the crossover inside and out. Most prominently is the changes to the grille which departs from a narrow “aggressive” nose to a flatter snout more closely resembling Toyota’s more off-road oriented SUVs and trucks like the 4Runner and Tacoma. We much preferred the new look to the old one, though many still consider the RAV4 as a bit “loud” compared to the rest of the compact crossover segment.

The (forth-gen) 2018 RAV4 was comfortable in an uncomplicated way, focusing on function over form. It features moderate used of hard plastics and just enough soft-touch materials to keep most buyers satisfied. The fifth-generation 2019 RAV4 interior was a major leap forward with upgraded materials, a new, more modern dash layout, and a repositioned infotainment screen.

The only place where the fourth generation wins out is in cargo capacity which shrinks in the newest RAV4 from 38.4 cu. ft. behind the rear seats and 73.4 cu. ft. total to 37.5 cu. ft. and 69.8 cu. ft.

RAV4 – Trims & Features

2018 Toyota Rav4 XLE - carsforsale.com
2018 Toyota Rav4 XLE - carsforsale.com

One of the major strong suits for the RAV4 has long been the generous list of standard features. We’ll cover the low, middle, and high trims of both the 2018 and 2019 RAV4s to see where you can find must-have features.

The fourth-gen 2018 Toyota RAV4 comes standard with a 6.1-inch infotainment touchscreen, rearview camera, keyless entry and Toyota Safety Sense P that includes features like adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning. The mid-level XLE adds a moonroof, fog lights, and dual-zone climate control. The top trim Platinum carries a 7.0-inch touchscreen, SofTex synthetic leather seats, LED headlights, blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alerts, JBL sound system, and a hands-free liftgate.

2019 Toyota Rav4 XLE - pressroom.toyota.com
2019 Toyota Rav4 XLE - pressroom.toyota.com

The fifth-gen 2019 Toyota RAV4’s base LE starts with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay along with a slew of safety tech features like pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, driver’s drowsiness monitor, adaptive cruise, and land departure warning. The mid-level XLE Premium adds a moonroof, power liftgate, SofTex upholstery, along with blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alerts. The top Limited trim features an 8.0-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, HD radio, navigation, and adds low-speed collision warnings and rear cross traffic braking.

The only major additions for the 2020 RAV4 is standard Wi-Fi hotspot, the addition of Android Auto, and satellite radio. Along with the TRD trim mentioned above. There were no major updates to the current 2021 model year.

Our Recommendation

2019 Toyota Rav4 - pressroom.toyota.com

2019 Toyota Rav4 – pressroom.toyota.com |  Shop Toyota Rav4 on Carsforsale.com

The final consideration when weighing either the fourth-generation or fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 is price. Aiming for the middle XLE trim, a 2018 XLE RAV4 averages $23,000. A 2019 XLE RAV4 comes in around $25,500. What you get for that $2,500 is this: a larger infotainment screen, more standard safety features, and a significantly more attractive interior and exterior. On top of it all, the 2019 has depreciated enough to make it, on average, $5,000 less than a brand new RAV4. For the sweet spot of value for a nearly new/used Toyota RAV4, we recommend going with the 2019.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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