2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

Celebrating 25 years of production, this compact crossover offers something for everyone.

4 months ago
Jason Fogelson
Managing Editor
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission outperforms competitors' CVTs
  • Very good fuel economy
  • Available all-wheel drive and Adventure Grade mean RAV4 has off-road chops
  • Standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 up and down the lineup
  • Prices can seem steep compared to competitors
  • Loaded RAV4 is trying to punch above its weight

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is a five-passenger compact crossover that is celebrating 25 years of production. It is offered in many different models, with various powertrains, to appeal to an expansive audience. Whether shoppers are seeking value, off-road capability, luxurious appointments or fuel efficiency, Toyota has a stylish and capable RAV4 model that likely fits the bill. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 starts at about $26,000.

RAV4 Exterior

It may come as a surprise, but the RAV4 crossover is built on the same chassis underpinning many popular Toyota and Lexus sedans. This is what makes the RAV4 a crossover vehicle – an SUV-style body built on a sedan-engineered platform. This architecture is lighter than body-on-frame, but isn’t as intrinsically robust (explaining why many off-road purists dismiss crossover vehicles). Yet the RAV4 strikes a design balance in this generation, sporting chiseled details and linear features expressing ruggedness, without over-promising. 

The RAV4 boasts generous ground clearance (up to 8.6 inches), which is a very respectable number for light off-road duty. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard on the base model, with 18-inch and even 19-inch wheels available on upper trim levels. Overall, RAV4 is a crossover SUV with looks and capabilities fit for every driveway or parking lot, from custom cobbles to rutted dirt.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

RAV4 Interior

RAV4’s interior matches its exterior in spirit and execution. Gone is the faux ruggedness of old, replaced by a very clean, easy-to-read dashboard with a horizontal bent emphasizing the width of the cabin. The center console/stack combination gives the illusion of transecting the dash, with a touchscreen interface at the top (7.0-inch in LE, XLE, and XLE Premium; 8.0-inch in Adventure, TRD Off-Road, and Limited). The dash and center console/stack have multiple storage cubbies, a very useful design flourish. 

The RAV4 welcomes all body sizes and shapes, and makes it effortless to get into a confident driving position with a decent view of the road. The front seats are wide, supportive and comfortable, and the second row outboard seats are roomy and comfortable enough for full-grown adults, with room enough for a compliant smaller passenger in the middle seat.

The cargo compartment is accessible by a top-hinged liftgate with a fixed rear window, and can hold a generous 37.5 cubic feet behind the second row. Fold the second row flat, and you’ve opened up 69.8 cubic feet of cargo space.

The RAV4 is also capable of light towing (maximum towing capacity is 1,500 lbs for LE, XLE, XLE Premium, and Limited, and up to 3,500 lbs for Adventure and TRD models).

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

RAV4 Powertrain

Like most in the segment, the RAV4 is fitted with a four-cylinder engine. The Toyota is fitted with a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine putting out 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Toyota recommends regular 87-octane unleaded gas, which will save you a few dollars each time you fill-up. The RAV4 gets an eight-speed direct-shift automatic transmission as standard equipment, which helps deliver fuel economy of 28 – 30 mpg combined, depending on configuration.

Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional on all trims. All-wheel drive is standard on Adventure and TRD Off-Road models.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

RAV4 Driving Experience

The four-cylinder engine’s 203-horsepower output feels just right propelling the weight of the RAV4, which can range from 3,370 to 3,655 lbs depending on the configuration. With a 0-60 mph sprint taking about 8 seconds, the RAV4 won’t have you heading for the drag strip, but it has no problem keeping up with traffic or reaching and sustaining highway speeds without strain or thrashiness.

Braking feels stable and confident, and the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is tuned for comfort rather than sharp response. Four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson struts up front/multi-link rear with stabilizer bars at both ends) delivers a comfortable car-like ride without floundering body roll in the corners. 

Our test drives didn’t include any real off-roading, just a few dirt roads, so we can only comment on available equipment and specifications. The TRD Off-Road model comes with standard all-wheel drive, and a TRD-tuned suspension with unique parts, while all all-wheel drive models include Multi-Terrain Select and dynamic torque vectoring, which should reap benefits in both off-road and on-road situations. (Torque vectoring allows the drivetrain to direct twisting force to the outside rear wheel during cornering, which can improve turn-in and make cornering feel better and easier.)

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

2021 Toyota RAV4 Trim Levels and Pricing

The base RAV4 starts at around $26,000 and the model line tops out at around $36,000. It is offered in six trim levels with FWD and AWD models:

  • LE FWD/LE AWD (starts at about $26,000) – This is the base model with Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth.
  • XLE FWD/XLE AWD (starts at about $27,000) – Adds some standard safety and convenience items like a moonroof and dual-zone climate control. 
  • XLE Premium FWD/XLE Premium AWD (starts at about $30,000) – Upgrades to SofTex upholstery, power driver’s seat, and more. 
  • Adventure Grade AWD (starts at about $33,000) – A special package with rugged interior and exterior trim.
  • TRD Off-Road (starts at about $36,000) – Adds some race-inspired off-road suspension components and tuning.
  • Limited FWD/Limited AWD (starts at about $35,000) – Leather upholstery and all the bells and whistles.

There’s also a RAV4 Hybrid (Hybrid Electric Vehicle/HEV starting around $28,000) and a RAV4Prime (Plug-in Electric Vehicle/PHEV starting around $38,000), which we’ll cover in their own reviews.

If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a RAV4 on Toyota’s official web site.

RAV4’s Best Features

We really like the RAV4’s interior design, which balances elegance and utility. Depending on which trim level you select, the appearance scales can tip from one side to the other. Limited models approach luxury levels of appointment, while Adventure Grade highlights the rugged utility. There’s a RAV4 for every taste, and that’s cool.

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

What is our Favorite Version of the RAV4?

Our choice is the XLE Premium AWD (starting around $31,500), which is priced mid-pack in the lineup. It has all of the capability of the loaded Limited with a reasonable level of standard equipment that won’t leave you feeling deprived, and the option of adding a few premium features, like heated front seats and steering wheel.

RAV4 Notable Safety Features

RAV4’s most notable safety feature is the inclusion of Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, even on the base LE model. That means that every RAV4 comes with a host of advanced driver assistance features, including full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control and pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, safety systems we deem essential. Blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, another essential system, is standard on all trim levels except LE, where it is available as a $590 option. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

Who Should Buy a 2021 Toyota RAV4?

With a wide range of trim levels and models, RAV4 also has a wide potential appeal. Toyota’s well-deserved reputation for quality and durability makes RAV4 a good choice for people who like to keep their vehicles for a long time, getting their money’s worth. Families looking for just-right sizing will appreciate the two-row crossover setup with ample cargo space. RAV4 makes a very good commuter or second vehicle, and a good choice for empty-nesters who are looking to downsize from a full-size SUV or minivan.

CarExpert’s Take on the 2021 Toyota RAV4

The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is a good example of a vehicle that has grown up with its audience.

Sitting in between the C-HR and Highlander in the Toyota lineup, it doesn’t have to be all things to all people, but it has enough range in its trim levels to appeal to a broad group. If you’re an adventurous go-getter, choose an all-wheel drive RAV4 in Adventure Grade or TRD Off-Road. If you’re looking for an entry-level bargain, pick the LE and maximize your dollars. If you want to feel elegant, pick a Limited model. Whichever way you go, you’ll get a dependable, attractive, comfortable crossover.

Add the 2021 Toyota RAV4 to the CarExpert recommended list. 

2021 Toyota RAV4 Review

RAV4 Competitors to Consider

  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Ford Escape
  • GMC Terrain
  • Honda CR-V
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Jeep Compass
  • Kia Sportage
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Subaru Forester


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Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8.7
Ride Comfort 8.5
Safety 8.4
Fit for Purpose 8.7
Handling Dynamics 8.4
Interior Practicality and Space 8.3
Fuel Efficiency 8.5
Value for Money 8.3
Performance 8.1
Technology Infotainment 8.3