Toyota makes good on its mid-cycle refresh by not trying too hard

2016 Toyota RAV4 SE AWD Review

It does a lot of things pretty well, just not all things really well

By: Amos Kwon

Web2Carz Editor-In-Chief

Published: February 17th, 2016

There was really nothing wrong with the RAV4 that got totally redone in 2013. It was appealing to many thanks to its all-around practicality and ease of use, and no one would find it offensive except for those craving a sporty experience. Well, Toyota improved a handful of aspects of the 2016 RAV4 that happened to receive a solid mid-cycle refresh that even addressed the driving dynamics.

This is what leads us to the RAV4 SE, Toyota's attempt to make the RAV4 more sporting in nature. It's an interesting meld of old and new recipes, of which the result is a RAV4 that's more appealing without taking things into a whole new driving echelon. We recently drove it during a Chicago winter, and the results were pleasing, if not astoundingly good.

  • Exterior: Cleaned up for the better

    The biggest changes, while still subtle, are to the RAV4's fascia. The grill is smaller, the headlights are more aggressive, and the hoodline is lifted -- giving the car more presence. The rear treatment changes are less noticeable, but there's more of a taper and more red plastic across the taillight width is noticeable. Overall, Toyota made the right changes without fussing with the recipe too much.

    • The redone front and rear lend to a more refined look for the RAV4, and it no longer looks like a bargain CUV.
    • SE model gets 18" dark aluminum wheels, a tougher looking front skidplate and projector beam LED headlamps that infuse the right amount of attitude.
    • Still won't lure burly Jeep customers to its still very friendly exterior.

  • Interior: Sporty digs for those millennials

    We've never been fans of Toyota interiors, but the RAV4 SE's gets the right tweaks with contrast stitching on its faux (SofTex) leather seats and shift knob. Seating is also more comfortable for driver and passenger thanks to bigger side bolsters and power adjustment for the driver. The dash could still use an ergonomic study since it's edgy and a bit wonky in appearance.

    • The seats are grippy and much improved for long haul driving.
    • Visibility all around is good, as is the riding position which allows for untrammeled sight out the front window.
    • Ideal cargo and passenger space for a car that's really meant for urban dwellers in need of a CUV.
    • Sound deadening could use some improvement to drown out the buzzy engine.

  • Driving Impressions:

    The SE is mostly notable not for its aesthetic changes but for suspension changes that are meant to deliver a more spirited driving experience. Though there's no power difference in the SE, the fact that the car handles better and moves with more athletic prowess means that you won't be totally anesthetized for the drive.

    • Steering is still RAV4 numb, but the car responds better to inputs thanks to the decrease in body roll.
    • The addition of stiffer springs, larger anti-roll bars, and firmer damping makes the SE the "carver" of the RAV4 line.
    • You'll want to use the provided paddle shifters to manually execute what the 6-speed automatic tranny won't do on its own.
    • Though ride quality isn't cushy or overly jarring, the RAV4 strikes a good balance for its price point. Driver and passenger will ride comfortably, and the soundness of the RAV4s structure is evident when things get bumpy.

  • Final Impressions:

    We give props to Toyota for doing the right thing for their reliable CUV. The RAV4 SE AWD is the right combination of space, comfort, efficiency and that added dose of driving fun. Sure, it's no Mazda CX-5 when it comes to handling prowess and entertainment behind the wheel, but the SE improves on the RAV4's abilities when the roads get curvy.

    Toyota needs to figure out what they want their interiors to look like, and the RAV4 needs help. Just take a look at the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5 to know how it should be done. The asking price that's well north of $30K optioned out isn't a small price to pay, but you do get a CUV that won't really ever disappoint. It does a lot very well -- hauls people and gear/groceries, handles the slick and muddy stuff and also manages to look pretty good in the meantime. Customers won't be let down by this very usable all-arounder.

  • Specifications & Price

    Engine: 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder

    Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

    Drivetrain Layout: Front-engine, All-wheel drive

    Power Output: 176 hp / 172 lb-ft of torque

    Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city / 29 mpg highway

    Base Price: $30,665

    As Tested: $34,595 (including $900 delivery and processing fee)

    Options on our tester: Advanced Technology Package: Bird's Eye View CAmera with Perimeter Scan, Front & Rear Parking Sonar, Entune Premium JBL Audio with Integrated Navigation and App Suite and Toyota Safety Sense: Pre-Collision System w/ Pedestrian Detection, Steering Assist, Auto High Beams and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control

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