A step away from the conventional. After a dramatic 2019 overhaul, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 continues with an upright and rugged look that was nearly nonexistent in the compact crossover space since the 1990s. With it came a new TRD Off-Road variant in 2020 that gave the RAV4 legit off-road chops.
Though it’s always near the top in sales and now offers a blast-from-the-past look, the RAV4 isn’t for everyone. Below, we’ll run through some of its best and worst features to see how it stacks up against the competition.
Sharp design in and out, but seating space takes a hit. There's nothing to dislike about the new RAV4 design. The body is rugged and upright, harking back to the boxier compact SUVs of yesteryear with some of today’s flare.
Step up to the TRD Off-Road variant, and the RAV4 treats you to knobby tires, a higher ride height, upgraded suspension, and more rugged body cladding.
Inside is an equally rugged look with its upright dashboard and focus on straight lines. Along with these looks comes tons of storage for pocket-dwelling items.
However, seating is a little tight, as the lower headliner cuts into head room for taller riders and the narrow rear seat makes riding three across uncomfortable. Plus, the RAV4’s 37 inches of rear leg room, while acceptable, falls short of the Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V.
Features and safety are on point. The Toyota RAV4 leaves buyers craving very little in the features department. The base RAV4 comes with a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and more on the fun side. Options are plentiful too, but the optional JBL audio system, which sounds incredible in Toyota sedans, seems ill-tuned for the larger RAV4.
These standard features match most others in its class, but the Ford Escape’s standard 8-inch touchscreen is a step up. If you’re considering the CR-V, you’ll be disappointed with its outdated base infotainment that includes a 5-inch non-touchscreen that lacks smartphone integration beyond Bluetooth.
On the safety side, the RAV4 does it all. It boasts standard automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Buyers can also tick option boxes for blind-spot monitoring, which are a good idea considering its massive D-pillars.
Base engine is OK, but there’s no optional pop. The RAV4’s base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pumps out a respectable 203 horsepower. This pairs well with its eight-speed automatic transmission and is competitive in the class. It can get a little buzzy at higher revs, but that’s forgivable.
The RAV4 also offers a pair of all-wheel-drive systems, depending on the application. In LE and XLE trims, this AWD system shuttles power for and aft, depending on wheel slip. The TRD Off-Road’s AWD system rivals the Subaru Forester with fore, aft, and side-to-side torque vectoring.
The RAV4 offers no optional engine with additional pop. Buyers seeking this can look to the Chevrolet Equinox, Mazda CX-5, or Escape.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Toyota RAV4 is a special serving of Cherry Garcia in an ice cream shop specializing in vanilla. Buyers who’ve grown tired of the same old inflated-hatchback look the compact crossover segment’s had since the late 1990s will find the ol’ RAV a breath of fresh air. Plus, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road finally gives buyers seeking an off-road-ready compact crossover beyond the Jeep Compass Trailhawk and Forester.
It is, however, a polarizing look that not every buyer will love. If you like that blended-in feeling in traffic, the CR-V or Equinox are likely the best options for you.
If you plan to haul a five-person family, the RAV4 is also likely not your first choice. The Tiguan is better for three-across seating.
Check prices for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 »