RAV4 owners typically rave about fuel economy, highway ride quality and noise levels, and semi-sporty handling.
The fourth-generation Toyota RAV4 hit dealers in 2012 for model-year 2013 with new styling, tech, power, and safety equipment – all of which intended to maintain the model’s leadership position in one of the Canadian market’s hottest segments.
Built to capitalize on proven fun-to-drive character, fuel efficiency, and just-right sizing, the fourth-generation RAV4 was available in numerous trim grades, and with numerous option packages, to suit a variety of shopper needs, tastes and budgets.
Look for feature content including navigation, push-button start, heated leather seating, a moonroof, full multimedia connectivity, outward-looking hazard detection systems, and automatic lights, wipers, and climate control. An eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, self-dimming rearview mirror and leather-wrapped steering wheel could also be specified. Ditto a motorized tailgate.
According to your writer’s notes from a past test drive, this generation of RAV4 hits hardest for good ride quality on most surfaces, low noise levels, a solid and safe feel in inclement weather, and a deep, spacious, and flexible cargo hold.
Engines / Trim
The vast majority of used RAV4s will be powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, tweaked for minimal internal friction to boost performance and efficiency. Output was rated at 176 horsepower. All units got an automatic transmission, and front- or all-wheel drive could be specified.
Note that RAV4 was also available with a hybrid powertrain in this generation, though most used models offered for sale will be powered by the conventional gasoline engine.
What Owners Like
RAV4 owners typically rave about fuel economy, highway ride quality and noise levels, and semi-sporty handling. The slick and seamless AWD system is a feature favourite in inclement weather, and a just-right amount of ground clearance enables confident tackling of light to moderate trails, without diminishing handling. Upscale touches throughout the cabin are also appreciated, including the RAV4’s luxurious dashboard.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints include a slow-to-activate power tailgate that beeps loudly a few moments before moving, as well as a marked deterioration of ride quality on rougher surfaces, especially on models with the larger wheels.
The Test Drive
As a relatively new used model, shoppers should have little trouble finding a used RAV4 from this generation with highly reasonable mileage, covered by some portion of remaining factory warranty. Still, a few notes are worth consideration.
First, test all electronics, paying attention to keyfobs, the engine start button, all power locks and windows, and the sunroof. Try each, several times, over the course of your test drive, confirming proper operation. Pay close attention to the engine start button, confirming that it fires the engine up quickly and consistently, with all available keyfobs. If that’s not the case, the keyfobs, or the start button itself, may need some attention.
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If the RAV4 you’re considering has the power tailgate, triple-check it for proper operation. If the tailgate stops part way through opening or closing, or unexpectedly reverses direction, the computer that controls it may need to be reset, or the body-mounted latch may need adjustment. Confirm that one of these cheap fixes gets the power tailgate working properly before you agree to buy.
Give the central display screen/radio interface a good workout, going through all functions, several times. Numerous owners have reported issues with wonky stereo display units that crash, lag, choke, or reset themselves repeatedly for no apparent reason. The most common outcome here seems to be replacement of the head-unit display, which can be pricey if it’s not under warranty. Shoppers are best to ensure the head unit is in proper working order, before agreeing to buy. If the unit is acting up, do not attempt to fix or reset it by unplugging and reconnecting the vehicle battery.
On the topic of the stereo system, note that some owners have complained of sub-par performance from the up-level JBL stereo, due to poor sound quality and other issues. Many of these owners say the mid-level stereo is a better performer. Note that a software update may help fix issues with poor stereo system performance.
Though reported rarely, test-drivers are advised to be aware of a potential whining sound from the RAV4, often loudly audible, consistently, at or near highway cruising speeds. Here’s some more reading. The gist? This problem is reported with frequency too low to cause any widespread concern, and the cause of the noise seems inconclusive – though some owners have reported that an in-warranty transmission rebuild with revised gears was required to address the issue.
Further, be on the lookout for a rare but notable shuddering sensation from the RAV4’s driveline at moderate speeds, which could be the result of a problem with the transmission’s torque converter.
The transmission-related issues seem very rare, but could be expensive to repair out of warranty, so be on the lookout. If the driveline or transmission in the RAV4 you’re considering exhibits any of these trouble signs, be sure to have a Toyota mechanic investigate before you buy, or move to another unit.
If the brakes squeal loudly on the RAV4 you’re test-driving, or if they start to do so after your purchase, note that a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) was issued by Toyota to its dealers, instructing them to replace brake pads and shims with revised parts. This repair may be covered by warranty. Coax the offending sound out of the vehicle by applying light to moderate braking at moderate to low speeds, with a window open, while listening closely. Sometimes, squeaky brakes are simply worn out and need replacing.
Other owner-stated gripes seem minor, centred around broken floor-mat clips, some easily scratched interior trim pieces, and broken glove-box doors and latches.
A few final notes: first, if you’re considering a used RAV4 Hybrid, be sure to have the model inspected fully with a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) at a Toyota dealer before buying, and work with the dealer to confirm that all applicable software updates and recalls have been carried out. Running a hybrid vehicle with the latest available on-board computer software can help prevent headaches.
Second, familiarize yourself with the RAV4’s maintenance and service schedule, which is located in the owner’s manual. If any upcoming service or fluid changes are due soon, or past due, call this into your pricing negotiations. Though Toyota is known for building some of the most reliable vehicles on the road, they are still machines with parts, components, and fluids that require periodic attention. Skipping or prolonging maintenance and service items will reduce the reliability and lifespan of the vehicle, as well as diminishing its resale value.
Finally, a note regarding warranty. If the model you’re considering is coming up on the end of its warranty coverage, be sure to report any and all noted issues to a dealer as soon as possible, and have them documented. This may help speed warranty claims, if required. And, if you’re offered up an extended extra-cost warranty package, consider it – but also consider sticking the required amount of money away in your bank account, so it’s available if a repair is needed, and still available, if it’s not.
The fourth-generation RAV4’s most worrisome problems are reported with insufficient frequency to warrant much concern, and other issues reported to date seem fairly minor in nature. If the driveline and stereo head-unit in the used model your considering exhibit no signs of issue, proceed confidently with your purchase – after a Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI) at the dealer.
Here’s a list of recalls.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick +
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (late 2015 builds and on)