Road Tests

Quick Take: 2017 Toyota RAV4 SE FWD

From A to B with no recollection of the traffic

For the introduction of the face-lifted fourth-generation Toyota RAV4, the automaker brought journalists to an abandoned runway on the former grounds of the El Toro Marine Corps base in Orange County, California, where it set up a makeshift autocross track. Those in attendance lost themselves in the novelty of the experience of pushing a compact crossover through the improvised road course and came away from the experience with smiles and an earnest desire to shower the new RAV4 with praise.

My week with a 2017 Toyota RAV4 SE FWD, however, produced a completely different outcome. I initially couldn’t recollect even one major grievance or platitude, struggling to remember a single characteristic. As far as my brain was concerned, I hadn’t driven it at all. How could an entire week with a new car be so forgetful? Why couldn’t I remember a single positive or negative aspect, especially since I remember every detail of my initial encounter on the autocross circuit? I could recite details of that day down to the stitching pattern on the seats and steering wheel. Did I hit my head and trigger partial amnesia?

Then it dawned on me. My lack of recollection was the intended result. The RAV4 just disappears into the background as it reliably takes you from point A to point B like the excellent commuter it’s meant to be, never breaking down, giving you grief, catching on fire, causing a commotion at Cars and Coffee, or drawing the attention of law enforcement.

My week in the RAV4 can be summed up in that I got into the SUV, tuned the satellite radio to suit my mood, and headed toward the freeway. I didn’t run my hands over its surfaces thinking “this is terrible” or “this is great.” It just was. The RAV4 is just a boxy, unremarkable appliance that has great safety ratings, (five starts overall from the NHTSA), a frugal price, and all the creature comforts you’d expect in a vehicle costing $33,454.

Take for instance, the RAV4’s 2.5-liter inline-four, which is mated to a six-speed automatic and generates a suitable 176 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. This engine has been in service since 2008 and is found throughout Toyota’s lineup, meaning that there are millions of them out there. Unsurprisingly, it’s frugal at the gas pump, returning 23/29 mpg city/highway.

As for space, the RAV4 will seat five comfortably. Even my 6’4” frame wasn’t pinched for room in the rear seats. With the rear seats up, the RAV4 has a practical 38.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity, easily enough for some rather large moving boxes or large dogs. With the rear seats folded down, space increases to 73.4 cubic feet of capacity. And while it’s not advised to tow anything with the FWD model I drove, other RAV4 models have the capability of towing up to 1,500 pounds.

Practical, roomy, economical — these three words accurately describe the nature of the RAV4. It will do everything a modern car should do —drive, brake, turn, keep you and your family safe — and do so on a budget that even at its most expensive won’t break the bank. Best of all, it will completely disappear into the background of your life. You’ll never have to worry about the car again.

The RAV4 is an automobile you pass on to your firstborn when he or she turns 16 and gets a license. It’s a safe, practical family machine that brought the child home from the hospital. Now if I could just remember what color it was.

2017 Toyota RAV4 SE FWD Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $29,750/$33,454 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/176 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 172 lb-ft @ 4,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 23/29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 181.1 x 72.6 x 65.9 in
WHEELBASE 104.7 in
WEIGHT 3,520 lb
0-60 MPH 8.3 sec
TOP SPEED 114 mph

Buying Guide
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0-60 MPH:

9.3 SECS

Real MPG:

17 City / 30 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

38 / 73 cu. ft.