Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

The other day I had a salad made with heirloom tomatoes, and they tasted pretty good. They didn’t look that much different – kinda round and red – but it was the veggie’s heritage that apparently justified its elevated standing in the foodie world.

Lineage and history resonates with we humans. What’s cooler than enlightening your friends to the fact that Porsche’s signature left-side ignition switches can be traced back to the days of running starts at Le Mans?

Or telling your friends your 2014 Toyota RAV4 is the fourth generation of the seminal cute-ute – the vehicle that started this whole mainstream compact crossover thingy way back in 1995?

Ta-da.

Actually, there are a trillion-gazillion things way cooler than that. But there you have it, the RAV4 beat the Honda CR-V to the market by about a year. And now everybody and their donkey has a jacked-up-wagon-hatchback-soft-roader for sale.

It’s one of the fastest growing automotive segments, and to keep the RAV4 in the running Toyota gave it a complete makeover last year.

Gone is the V6 engine – too thirsty and no longer relevant in this segment. Okay, Jeep and Mitsubishi will argue that. Gone is the vestigial third row – too cramped and not enough takers. Gone is the awkward right-hinged rear door saddled with heavy spare tire – just plain dumb. Gone is the four-speed auto, replaced with a modern six-speed unit.

The port-injected 2.5L four carries forward with a slight drop in horsepower (176 vs 179) but torque remains the same at 172 lb-ft.

Tested here is the entry-level FWD LE model that starts at $23,870. For this we get seats trimmed in durable looking fabric, 17-inch steel wheels wearing alloy-look covers, a tilt and telescoping plastic steering wheel,

Bluetooth, USB and Drive Mode Select which offers three modes of throttle response and shift mapping (Eco, Normal and Sport).

This tester had an optional $1,500 package that adds heated front seats, cargo tonneau cover, silver pained roof rails, back-up camera, privacy glass and six-speaker audio with 6.1-inch display. We’d say this upgrade package is pretty much a given.

At the time of this writing the Honda CR-V starts at $25,990, the Mazda CX-5 at $22,995, the Ford Escape at $23,749, the Mitsubishi Outlander at $25,998, the Nissan Rogue at $23,498 and the Chevy Equinox at $26,375.

The RAV4’s wheelbase is unchanged from the previous generation but Toyota claims the suspension has been tuned for more sporting responses.

Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE dashboard & centre stack. Click image to enlarge

It certainly is a sharper looking rig with its more aggressive snout and angular haunches.

The interior suffers from Toyota’s recent mandate that suggests there were too many blokes in the design studio and they all hated each other. It’s a mish-mash of textures, materials, themes and angles that add up to “huh?” The faux carbon-fibre on the door panels and centre console clashes spectacularly with the cheapo metal-look plastic trim on the dash.

Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE toyota car test drives
2014 Toyota RAV4 FWD LE gauges & shifter. Click image to enlarge

That said, it’s all quite ergonomically sound. There is a trio of large rotary controls for the HVAC and the push buttons surrounding the display are similarly prominent and logical. The downside are the small and sometimes unresponsive “buttons” on the touchscreen for the radio presets and a row of buttons for seat heat and dynamic drive that are tucked down low in front of the shifter. Granted, these won’t need continuous access.

There are a couple of cup holders in the centre console and several storage cubbies, although you’ll find more in the Honda CR-V.

The front seats are reasonably comfortable but I found them a bit flat and lacking in lateral support. Not that anyone is buying a RAV4 for its cornering ability.

Dynamic accolades in this category go to the surprisingly agile and communicative Mazda CX-5. The Ford Escape and Jeep Cherokee also are decent handlers.

Not to say the 2014 RAV4 is a slouch on the road. It shows good body control and quick steering – it’s just that there is nothing here that says sporting.

The 2014 RAV4 LE is all Toyota, all the time, delivering an innocuous driving experience that neither inspires nor offends. It’s a marvelously effective tool that gets the job done with minimal intrusion. I spent two hours in horrendous Toronto traffic and I don’t remember a damn thing about the RAV4. Other than nothing about it contributed to my escalating frustration. In fact, its general low key competence and compliance may have tempered the rising tide of homicidal road-rage festering within.

Which is why Toyota sells boatloads of cars.

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