The 2023 Toyota RAV4 remains an important vehicle for the automaker, as it’s traditionally its top seller overall, as well as the best-selling SUV in Canada.
This year there’s a new multimedia system with wireless connectivity, larger infotainment and instrument cluster screens, and upgraded driver-assist and safety systems. All RAV4 trims now also feature standard all-wheel drive (AWD), with the base LE no longer available in a front-wheel drive configuration.
It’s available with both plug-in and conventional hybrid powertrains, but the one tested here is the gasoline-only version. The lineup starts at $34,520 – including a non-negotiable delivery fee of $1,930 – but this top-end Limited checks in at $46,180 before taxes.
The RAV4’s looks are best described as functional rather than handsome, with its angular face and double grille. At the rear, the long and wide hatch means a low and wide opening, so while the RAV4 doesn’t quite match some of its competitors for cargo volume, it’s easy to put your items inside.
The cabin looks similarly functional, with the climate and drive mode controls contained within the console and centre stack and surrounded by a metallic bezel. Lower trims have fabric upholstery, while upper levels have simulated leather that’s good-looking and easy to clean.
In crash testing, the RAV4 earns the highest five-star rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It also earns a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It falls short of the highest Top Safety Pick+ designation due to the IIHS modifying its front- and side tests to better simulate being struck by a larger SUV. The RAV4 earns “Acceptable” ratings in these, one below the top “Good” score.
All trims come with a number of driver-assist and safety features, including adaptive cruise control, emergency front braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles. For 2023, the forward collision warning system has been updated with pedestrian detection in low-light situations, emergency steering assist, and intersection assistance; it detects and, if necessary, brakes for oncoming vehicles when you’re turning left, or for pedestrians at intersections in either direction. The Limited trim exclusively adds 360-degree cameras and emergency rear braking.
All trim levels receive a larger infotainment screen. Lower trims go from a seven-inch to an eight-inch display, while the Limited swaps its previous nine-inch tablet for a 10.5-inch screen. Regardless of size, all get a new multimedia system with subscription services, including up to a three-year trial for remote connectivity, and a 10-year trial for service and safety connection. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay needed a cable in last year’s RAV4, but they’re now wireless in all trims.
In addition to the standard safety assist features, the base trim includes heated front seats, all-weather floor mats, windshield de-icer, variable intermittent wipers, and LED headlights. Moving up the trim levels adds such items as a power sunroof, roof rails, a heated steering wheel, cargo privacy cover, cargo net, rain-sensing wipers, and a wireless charger. My top Limited tester exclusively included a premium audio system, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, eight-way power driver and passenger seats with driver’s side memory, and a digital rearview mirror.
The RAV4 features easy-to-use controls, with large temperature dials that can quickly be grabbed and turned with a minimum of distraction. The steering wheel controls show their longevity – they were originally meant to mimic the circular switch on an iPod – but they’re equally simple. The Limited’s new larger touchscreen abandons its previous menu hard buttons for icons on the screen, and they’re still effective. But my tester’s connectivity system, with voice control that answers to, “Hey, Toyota” to bring up functions or navigation destinations, could be slow to load and properly respond after vehicle start-up, especially in the cold.
The RAV4 is easy to load thanks to its large cargo opening, but its 1,059 L of space behind the back seatsput it toward the lower end of the segment, where the Hyundai Tucson has 1,095 L and the Honda CR-V offers 1,112 L. The rear seats fold for extra space and it’s easy to do that, but they don’t fall completely flat. Small-item storage is good, including open cubbies in the dash for stashing a pair of gloves or sunglasses. Towing capacity is 680 kg (1,500 lb) for all trims except the off-road-specific Trail, which can tow up to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb).
The RAV4 offers front-row legroom that’s similar to the Tucson and CR-V. Its second-row legroom is tighter than those but should still be enough for most passengers to stretch their legs, and headroom back there matches or slightly exceeds that of many rivals. The seats are supportive and stay comfortable on longer drives, and the ride is well-composed and quiet. The Limited includes heated and ventilated seats, and each has three levels for comfort selection.
Under the hood is a 2.5L four-cylinder engine that makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, with an eight-speed automatic transmission transferring that output to the all-wheel drive system. It can get noisy on hard throttle, but overall it accelerates smoothly from a stop, has enough power for passing on the highway, and settles down into quiet operation at cruising speed.
Among its closer rivals, it has more power than the Tucson at 187 hp, the CR-V at 190 hp, and the Ford Escape’s base engine at 180 hp, although that model also offers a 250-hp turbocharged 2.0L engine.
Driving Feel: 8/10
All RAV4 trims come with AWD – up until last year, the base trim still featured standard front-wheel drive – which primarily powers the front wheels but can send up to 50 per cent of power to the rear as needed for extra traction, including on curves and when accelerating. The two top trims, Trail and Limited, further add a torque-vectoring system. When the rear wheels are being powered, the system can further adjust the distribution between the left or right wheels, providing extra assistance in sticky situations or turns. When driving all four wheels isn’t needed, the rear ones disconnect for improved fuel economy.
The selectable driving modes adjust the all-wheel drive, transmission response, and throttle for sport, eco, snow, and off-road terrain. I’d appreciate a bit more steering feel, but overall the RAV4 is on point for the segment. It’s responsive, well-planted, and straight on the highway, and the brakes feel confident. The standard adaptive cruise control and lane centring provide highway driving assist, keeping a preset distance from vehicles in front and staying within its lane, but it’s a helpmate and not a hands-free system.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
The RAV4 is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) at 9.5 L/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway, and 8.5 in combined driving. I had it during a bitterly cold week and came in much higher at 11.0 L/100 km. That official rating is close to that of its AWD competitors, where the Ford Escape rates at 8.4 L/100 km with its base engine; the Honda CR-V at 8.4; and the Hyundai Tucson at 9.3.
The RAV4 in base LE trim starts at $34,520, a rise over the 2022 price but with standard all-wheel drive and upgraded features, and midway in the segment where the Tucson starts at $32,424 and the CR-V at $38,990 (all prices are for AWD and including delivery).
My top-line Limited was $46,180, more than many rivals but with a lot of features for that price tag. While the move from gas-only to the RAV4 Hybrid varies in price depending on the trim, it’s an additional $1,600 to go to the gas-electric Limited and which might be money well spent, especially for its smooth performance and fuel efficiency.
The 2023 Toyota RAV4 comes by its popularity honestly. Although it doesn’t outweigh its competitors in every category, it does a lot right, and the total package is a well-rounded blend of performance, practicality, comfort, and features.
|Peak Horsepower||203 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||9.5 / 7.2 / 8.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,059 / 1,977 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2023 Toyota RAV4 Limited|
|Price as Tested||$46,280|