2017 Toyota RAV4: This Roomy Compact SUV Goes All-In on Safety

Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

And best of all, Toyota’s top safety features are standard.

The average car on the road is 11.6 years old, which makes me well above average. My 2003 Dodge Durango turned 14 this year. When I got a chance to take a 2017 Toyota RAV4 on a road trip, I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle must have felt after his long nap. It was both wonderful and overwhelming to drive this roomy SUV crammed with safety features.

I took the car on two road trips—a 300-mile round trip to Indianapolis for a business event and a 500-mile round trip to Iowa to visit my daughter in college. The ride was comfortable, the storage space more than adequate, the technology helpful and relatively easy to use. Hubby, a car guy, pronounced the dashboard design to be natural and intuitive.

But it was the safety features of this compact crossover SUV that left both my husband and me in awe.

The Toyota Rav4 Has Plenty Of Cargo Space For A Compact Suv.

The Toyota RAV4 has plenty of cargo space for a compact SUV. Photo: Cindy Richards

Who This Car is For

  • Small families or couples who want an SUV but don’t need a third row
  • People who lug a lot of stuff but don’t want a giant vehicle
  • Buyers who care about safety 
  • Conscious buyers who need a budget-friendly ride
  • People who want a sustainable, fuel efficient small-sized SUV, which can be found in the hybrid model RAV4
Author Cindy Richards Peers Out Through The Toyota Rav4 Sunroof.

Author Cindy Richards peers out through the Toyota Rav4 sunroof. Photo: Tess Fisher

What it Costs

The Toyota RAV4 I drove was the top of the line Platinum all-wheel drive model. It starts at $34,750 and includes the Toyota Safety Sense safety package, hands-free, foot-activated power liftgate, 5-door Smart Key System and a Bird’s Eye View Camera.

The Toyota Safety Sense package comes standard on all RAV4s. Other models are:

  • LE, starting at $24,410 and including Entune Audio with integrated backup camera and available all-wheel drive with dynamic torque control. (That means the car will automatically shift from two-wheel to all-wheel drive if the front wheels start to slip.)
  • XLE, starting at $25,500, with dual zone automatic climate control with air filter, available blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, available height-adjustable power liftgate and Entune premium audio with navigation.
  • SE, starting at $28,790 and including sport-tuned suspension, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, sport shift lever, floor mats and doorsill protectors.
  • Limited, starting at $30,905 and including 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory function and available Entune premium JBL Audio with navigation.

A hybrid version of the RAV4 is available in XLE (starting at $29,030), SE (starting at $32,185) and Limited (starting at $34,030).

Other “compact” crossovers worth a look: Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, Honda CR-V, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Rear View Of The Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv.

Rear view of the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV. RAV stands for recreational active vehicle. Photo: Cindy Richards

Adaptive Cruise Control? Yes, please

Since my 14-year-old Durango doesn’t have so much as a back-up camera, the safety features on this Toyota RAV4 took center stage during my week-long test drive. The first safety feature I noticed: The adaptive cruise control (called Dynamic Radar Cruise Control in Toyota parlance).

While hubby likes to keep his foot on the gas even on long highway drives, I prefer the more relaxed experience offered by setting the cruise and zipping along. Traffic congestion on Chicago’s overcrowded highways makes it difficult to use cruise control. Way, way too much slowing down and speeding up.

Using the standard cruise control on my Durango means watching the traffic and tapping the brake to turn off the cruise before plowing into the slowed traffic ahead. Imagine my surprise the first time I hit a construction slow-down on the way to Indianapolis. The adaptive cruise control kept a reasonable, safe gap between my car and the one ahead. It took a while to learn to trust the sensors, but once I got used to the idea, I found it to be a comforting way to travel.

Front View Of The Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv.

Front view of the Toyota Rav4 compact SUV. Photo: Cindy Richards

Safety Comes First in the Toyota RAV4

The Toyota Safety Sense package comes standard on all 2017 RAV4 models. That earned this compact SUV the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The SUV boasts “360-degree” camera–cameras on the bumpers and sides of the car that give the car eyes all around.

Among the standard safety features:

Pre-Collision System

This senses that you’re about to rear-end the vehicle ahead of you. If you haven’t already started to brake, a warning bells goes off. If you don’t respond, the system will engage the brakes for you. And if you are braking but the sensors think you aren’t braking hard enough to avoid the collision, the system will engage something call Brake Assist to increase braking power.

The whole thing felt a little unnerving, until I read the manual. It notes that the system is smart enough to understand that if you hit the gas and turn the wheel hard, it likely means you are trying to avoid a collision. In that case, the braking function will not engage. Fortunately, I never needed to test this.

It’s also important to note that this function is set to assist the driver, not replace her. Toyota warns that it will not work in some situations, including extreme fog and when someone pulls out in front of you suddenly.

This feature also is designed to detect a person walking in front of the car. Fortunately, I never needed to test this either.

Blind Spot Monitor

This feature lights up a tiny display in the side view mirror to tell you that someone is creeping into your blind spot. It was a nice feature, but I thought the sight lines in the RAV4 were good. Coupled with the side mirror, I never felt like there was a huge blind spot. I don’t remember noticing the rear cross-traffic alert that tells drivers backing out of a parking space that another vehicle is approaching. I was sitting high enough in the RAV4 that I didn’t feel like I needed the extra help.

The 2017 Toyota Rav4 Is A Compact Suv With Outsized Safety Features, Huge Cargo Space And A Few Features That Make For A Comfortable Family Road Trip. Reclining Rear Seats, Anyone?

Lane Departure Warning

This sensor reads the white and yellow lines on the road to let you know if you are drifting out of your lane. I never found this to be necessary. At times, I found it to be a little irritating. I am not good about using my turn signals when I am changing lanes on the highway, much to my daughter’s annoyance. Having the lane departure bell ding every time I changed lanes made me feel like my daughter was in the car with me. And it made me use the turn signal more often just to avoid having the car yell at me. I suppose that is a good thing.

Automatic High Beams

If you have ever been blinded by an oncoming vehicle’s bright lights on a dark country road, you can appreciate the importance of this feature. It detects oncoming cars and automatically adjusts the brightness of your headlights, then returns to high beams once the oncoming vehicle has passed. It was nice to have on those dark country roads in Iowa.

Each of these safety functions can be modified or even turned off, although I didn’t attempt to do that with any of them. I wanted to see how they worked at the factory setting levels. I think that if I had kept the car for more than a week, I would have considered turning off the lane departure warning.

Peace of Mind for Parents

A display on the dash tells you whether the back seat passengers are buckled up. It makes it easy to know whether the kids are safe in the back.

The Comfortable Front Passenger Seat In The Compact Suv Toyota Rav4.

The comfortable front passenger seat in the compact SUV Toyota RAVv4. Photo: Cindy Richards

Big Comfort in a Compact Package

The Toyota RAV4 is categorized as a compact SUV, but it feels like a mid-size. We had no complaints about space–even my 6-foot, 4-inch husband was able to sit in the back seat comfortably. Equally important, my daughter was able to sit in the back seat comfortably even when her dad had his seat as far back as possible.

The cargo space was impressive when the rear seats were up (38.4 cubic feet) and astonishing when they were laid flat (73.4 cubic feet). The rear seats also can be configured with a 60/40 split that makes the cargo space more versatile. We didn’t need it, but my 5-2 mom would have appreciated the height-adjustable power liftgate. She always had trouble reaching up to pull down the fully opened tailgate on my Durango..

We had only a couple of suitcases on our road trips, but I was sorry we didn’t have this car when it was time to move my daughter home from college. I suspect we easily could have fit all of her stuff in there, just as we could in our much bigger Durango.

As an added plus, the seats in the RAV4 fold easily and the rear liftgate has kick assist. That means you can put your foot under the sensor and the tailgate lifts.

Look At The Knee Room In The Backseat Of This Compact Suv!

Look at the knee room in the backseat of this compact SUV! It’s even comfortable for a 6-foot, 4-inch man. Photo: Tess Fisher

RAV4 Offers Plenty of Driver Comfort

The front seats adjusted easily. It’s possible to set two seat adjustments, so my 6-foot, 4-inch husband and my 5-foot, 7-inch self could set the seats to fit our needs with the push of a button. The lumbar support adjustment made it easy for me to sit comfortably for the hours-long road trips.

The heated steering wheel option is a thrill. I didn’t need it in April, but I will pine for it come January in Chicago!

The Premium model includes a large sun roof that we slid all the way to back to let in the pleasant spring air. On the highway, we slid it closed and tilted the back open to give us air without so much road noise.

And, one of my favorite things about the RAV4: sun visor extenders. These panels slide out from the visor to block that couple of inches between the visor and the rear view mirror–the spot where it seems like the sun always is!

The Toyota Rav4 Back Seats Recline.

The Toyota RAV4 back seats recline. Photo: Tess Fisher

Design Is Fine, Not Fancy

The RAV4 got a facelift for the 2016 model year which modernized its look quite a bit. The SUV has been dinged for its plastic-heavy interior, but I didn’t have a problem with it. And I would never trade safety for style, especially in a vehicle I use to carry my most precious cargo: my family.

In addition, the back seat is spacious and the back seats recline! Who doesn’t love that?

The 6.1-Inch Touchscreen On The Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv.

The 6.1-inch touchscreen on this compact SUV makes the technology easy to use. Photo: Cindy Richards

Toyota Technology Makes It Easy to Connect

As I said, being in a new car for the first time was a little overwhelming. The technology seemed especially so, even with the large 6.1-inch touchscreen display.

My iPhone easily connected via Bluetooth, so that was fun (and an embarrassing first for me with my non-tech-savvy family SUV). Despite the touch screen and large display, I was focused on exploring the safety features. So I found it easier to stick with the GPS on my phone with the sound coming through the car’s JBL stereo system than to plug in my destination to the in-car navigation.

The steering wheel offers easy fingertip control of the sound system with volume, search buttons and Bluetooth on the left.

I did like the dashboard display in front of me next to the speedometer. Among the useful information was a fuel-efficiency report. I got an impressive 29.8 miles to the gallon on my mostly highway driving–about the top of the expected range for the RAV4.

The Premium package on the RAV4 includes a USB and two power ports below the large display screen. Those are near a handy spot for setting your phone while it charges.

The Usb And Power Port Is Located In Easy Reach For The Driver As Well As Handy Storage For Your Charging Phone And The Key.

The USB and power port is located in easy reach for the driver as well as handy storage for your charging phone and the key. Photo: Cindy Richards

Setting the Standard for Safety

The Toyota RAV4 showed me just how outdated my 2003 SUV is. A week in this compact SUV left me pining for a safer vehicle. Now that we are empty nesters, I no longer need the size that comes with an SUV. Once tuition payments are done, we will be in the market for a new vehicle. I now have a long list of safety features that new car must have.

What We Loved

  • The many many safety features
  • The extra large storage space
  • The smooth, comfortable ride
  • The roomy back seat
  • The affordable price

What You Need to Know

  • Four fit comfortably. Adding a third ride in the back seat could make for an uncomfortably tight ride.
  • The 4-cylinder, 176 horsepower engine provides plenty of power for cruising, but was a little sluggish merging onto the highway.
  • Impressive 28mpg on highways, 22 in the city.
  • Three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

2017 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv


Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the TravelingMom LLC companies, TravelingMom.com,... More about Cindy Richards