2012 Toyota Rav4 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Jan 19, 2012

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2012 Toyota Rav4 Buying Advice

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 is the best SUV for you if you want a stout compact crossover that’s roomier than it looks and sportier than you’d expect.   

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 finally gets a USB iPod interface and Bluetooth hands-free streaming is now standard on all models. The upgrades correct a competitive deficit but they’re overdue and come in the final year of this 2006-vintage RAV4 design generation. A redesigned RAV4 is due for model-year 2013. It could have sleeker styling and will likely dump the available V-6 to rely solely on four-cylinder power. The 2012 RAV4, meanwhile, continues to battle the likes of the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Nissan Rogue in the compact-crossover class. Unlike those rivals, the RAV4 is just large enough to accommodate a small third-row seat, making it one of the few in this class with seven-passenger capability. It’s also offered – for now -- with a powerful V-6 that makes it the fastest crossover in its competitive set.       

Should you buy a 2012 Toyota RAV4 or wait for the 2013 Toyota RAV4? Buy a 2012 RAV4 if you’re among the 10 percent of RAV4 buyers who want the V-6 or you’re fond of the styling and unsure you’ll like whatever comes next. Note also that closeout deals on 2012 RAV4s should be juicy as Toyota dealers begin to clear inventory in preparation for the redesigned 2013 model. Some of that savings, however, likely will be offset by the accelerated depreciation that comes with buying a model in the final year of its lifecycle. Wait for the 2013 RAV4 if you’re a Toyota loyalist and want to see what your heroes come up with to counter the redesigned 2012 CR-V and the all-new 2013 Escape and 2013 Rogue.

2012 Toyota Rav4 Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Toyota RAV4 looks no different than the 2011 RAV4. It remains a cleanly styled four-door wagon with a tailgate that hinges open to the side rather than lifting skyward like those on most competitors.

The 2012 RAV4 continues to qualify as a crossover because it has SUV-type ride height and available all-wheel drive, but uses car-type unibody construction in which body and frame is essentially a single unit. Traditional SUVs, such as the Toyota 4Runner, use heavier tuck-type construction which the body is attached to a separate frame.

The 2012 RAV4 is larger than most compact crossovers, although it’s still easy to maneuver and garage. Its styling and proportions are more truck-like than the crossover norm, and it’s distinct from Toyota’s larger crossover SUVs, the five-passenger Toyota Venza and the seven-seat Toyota Highlander.

The 2012 RAV4 lineup is again comprised of three models: Base, Sport, and Limited. Visual distinctions are slight. The door handles and mirrors on Base models are black instead of body-colored, and so is the grille trim. Sport models have body-colored trim while Limiteds get a chromed look.

Base RAV4s have steel wheels – 16-inchers with the four-cylinder engine, 17s with the V-6. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels are standard on Limited and optional on Base models. Sports get exclusive 18-inch alloys and are the only RAV4s available with and Appearance Package option that, among other features, eliminates the tailgate-mounted spare tire in favor of run-flat tires that don’t require a spare.

Mechanical: The 2012 Toyota RAV4 continues a powertrain strategy in which each model is available with a four- or six-cylinder engine and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

The four-cylinder accounts for some 90 percent of RAV4 sales. It’s a 2.5-liter that continues at 179 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the force that gets you moving, horsepower as the energy that keeps you moving). The four-cylinder is sufficient for most chores but can feel strained in a RAV4 filled with passengers or one trying to merge with fast freeway traffic.

The V-6 is a 3.5-liter and it has 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. That’s muscle enough to turn the RAV4 into a sporty-quick crossover. It’s also enough to trigger annoying torque steer, the tendency of powerful front-wheel-drive vehicles to veer to the side during rapid acceleration from low speeds. Ordering AWD negates this effect.  

Both engines again come only with automatic transmission. RAV4s equipped with the four-cylinder get an automatic with just four speeds, an outdated design that gives up response and some fuel-efficiency to the five- and six-speed automatics found in virtually every competitor. RAV4s equipped with the V-6 get a five-speed automatic; it too is out of step with the six-speed automatics used by rivals.   

As per crossover-SUV custom the 2012 RAV4 comes with front-wheel drive, which places the weight of the engine and transmission over the tires that propel the vehicle. That’s an aid to traction on slippery surfaces. For better all-around grip, RAV4’s available AWD system can automatically reapportion power to the rear tires when sensors detect the fronts are slipping. The system automatically reverts to front-wheel drive when traction is restored.

Like its predecessors and like virtually every competitor, the 2012 RAV4 isn’t intended for hard-core off-road driving. Unlike the 4Runner, for example, it lacks the low-range gearing useful in rock crawling or mud slogging. The 2012 RAV4 does, however, continue among the few crossover SUVs with a dashboard switch that enables the driver to lock the AWD system into a traction-enhancing 50/50 front-rear split up to 25 mph. And RAV4s equipped with the V-6 engine or the third-row seat add hill ascent and hill descent control.

The 2012 RAV4’s trailer-towing ratings top out at 1,500 pounds with the four-cylinder engine and 3,500 pounds with the V-6.

Features: All 2012 RAV4 models get a new standard audio system equipped with a USB iPod interface and hands-free Bluetooth mobile-phone and music-streaming connectivity. This system includes an AM/FM/CD stereo, six speakers, and an auxiliary audio jack.  

Toyota again offers the RAV4 with a GPS navigation system but again limits the option to the top-line Limited model. The navigation system available on the 2012 model, however, is a new and improved unit. It’s Toyota’s Display Audio System with Navigation and Entune. It again uses a dashboard touchscreen but now is capable of responding to voice commands for navigation inputs and for a host of audio functions. It also includes such features as iTunes tagging to store music for later purchase and text-to-voice capability that reads incoming text messages aloud. The voice- and button-activated Entunes component links with an onboard smartphone to deliver with such mobile apps as Pandora Internet radio.

The 2012 RAV4 otherwise continues with a good array of standard and optional features. On the safety front, every 2012 RAV4 has antilock brakes to improve control in emergency stops and traction and antiskid control to enhance grip on take-offs and in rapid changes of direction. All 2012 RAV4s also include head-protecting curtain side airbags. They cover only the first two seating rows but deploy both in side collisions and when sensors detect an impending rollover.

Air conditioning, height-adjustable driver’s seat, remote keyless entry, and power mirrors, windows, and locks are again included in the base price of every 2012 RAV4. So are ten beverage holders and a 60/40 split-folding second-row seat. A tilt/telescoping steering wheel is again standard but all models now have steering-wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth functions.

Limited models come standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, hands-free unlocking with pushbutton ignition, and interior footwell lighting. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are standard on Limited models, and leather upholstery is optional Limited and Sport models. Base and Limited 2012 RAV4s are eligible for the third-row seat option, a cramped 50/50 split-folding bench suited for small children.  

Popular 2012 RAV4 options include the Upgrade Value Package that gives Base models the 17-inch alloy wheels, color-keyed door handles, daytime running lights, a roof cargo rack, rear privacy glass, and uplevel fabric upholstery. The package also includes a power moonroof, which also is optional on Sport and Limited RAV4s.

In addition to eliminating the outside spare tire, the Appearance Package for Sport models includes heated outside mirrors with turn-signal indicators, a stainless steel exhaust tip, and interior chrome accents.

2012 Toyota Rav4 Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2012 Toyota RAV4 is $23,460-$29,460. Compared with model-year 2011 base prices, that’s an increase of less than 1 percent, or $175, for most RAV4s and a decrease of $135 for Limited models. That price control may be evidence that Toyota recognizes this third-generation RAV4 is long in the tooth and that it needs to strengthen the value proposition versus fresher competitors.  

Note that all base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee. Toyota’s baseline fee for the 2012 RAV4 is $810, though Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are delivered by independent suppliers and may carry different destination fees.

Base versions of the 2012 RAV4 with the four-cylinder engine start at $23,460 with front-wheel drive and at $24,860 with AWD. With the V-6, 2012 RAV4 base models are priced from $$25,495 with front-drive and from $26,895 with AWD.

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 Sport models with the four-cylinder have a base price of $25,160 with front-wheel drive and $26,560 with AWD. With the V-6, 2012 RAV4 Sport models start at $27,090 with front-drive and at $28,490 with AWD.  

Base price for 2012 Toyota RAV4 Limited models with the four-cylinder engine is $26,140 with front-wheel drive and $27,530 with AWD. With the V-6, 2012 RAV4 Limited models are priced from $28,060 with front-drive and from $29,460 with AWD.

Prices for popular options include $1,145 for the Base model’s Upgrade Value Package and $577 for the Sport model’s Appearance Package. Available on Sport and Limited models is the $1,930 Premium Package that contains leather upholstery, heated front seats, and an eight-way power driver’s seat.

Optional at $475 on all 2012 RAV4s is a backup camera that projects its image on a portion of the inside rearview mirror when the transmission is shifted into reverse.

The price of the Display Audio System with Navigation and Entune for the 2012 RAV4 Limited model had not been released at the time of this review. This option is offered on some other 2012 Toyotas, where it costs $1,050-$1,170, depending on model, and is likely to be priced in that range for the RAV4 Limited.

The Display Audio System with Navigation and Entune system isn’t available in combination with the third-row seat, however. Depending on other features present, the third-row seat costs $840-$940 on base models and $750-$850 on Limited models.

2012 Toyota Rav4 Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 RAV4 are unchanged from model-year 2011. With the four-cylinder engine, 2012 Toyota RAV4s rate 22/28 mpg city/highway, and 24 mpg combined city/highway with front-wheel drive and 21/27/24 with AWD.

Equipped with the V-6, 2012 Toyota RAV4s rate 21/27 mpg city/highway, and 22 mpg combined city/highway with front-wheel drive and 19/26/21 with AWD.

2012 Toyota Rav4 Release Date back to top

The 2012 Toyota RAV4 went on sale in December 2011. Incidentally, Toyota says RAV4 stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive.” That’s an accurate description, if you allow Toyota the marketing license to call all-wheel drive “4-wheel drive.” We define four-wheel drive as a system that normally operates in rear-wheel drive and requires some driver action, such as the turn of a dashboard switch or the flip of a floor lever, to share power with the front wheels. The Toyota 4Runner, for example, has true four-wheel drive.

What's next for the 2012 Toyota Rav4 back to top

The redesigned 2013 RAV4 likely will hit showrooms in Spring 2012 and will kick off the fourth-generation of an SUV nameplate that originates with model-year 1996. Each successive RAV4 generation has grown in size, but the current third-generation version, introduced for model-year 2006, seems to have achieved an ideal that provides interior roominess without exterior bulk.

The next-generation RAV4 might grow wider but it isn’t likely to get much longer or taller. A third-row seat could remain available as a competitive distinction. The choice of front and all-wheel-drive will remain, and a wider range of infotainment and connectivity features also is likely.

The styling will be different and could veer from the third-generation’s relatively muscular look to adopt a more streamlined form. Most industry observers predict Toyota will not offer the redesigned RAV4 with a V-6 and will instead favor a four-cylinder engine that delivers better fuel economy than the outgoing version. That suggests use of an automatic transmission with at least six speeds.

And Toyota and the electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors are cooperating in the development of a pure-electric RAV4. It’ll be a low-volume model rolled out regionally at first largely as a symbol of Toyota’s thinking about alternative powertrains. The RAV4 EV is set to go on sale during calendar 2012 and may be introduced as a version of the third-generation RAV4 rather than as part of the coming fourth-generation design.

2012 Toyota Rav4 Competition back to top

Honda CR-V: Stretching credulity, the Ford Escape, with a design that dates to model-year 2001, was America’s best-selling compact SUV for 2011. An all-new and thoroughly modern replacement comes for model-year 2013, and we’re reluctant to recommend a 2012 Escape. The 2012 Honda CR-V certainly ought to be on an RAV4 shopper’s list. It’s redesigned for the first time since model-year 2007, with shapelier new styling, better fuel economy and more infotainment features. Somewhat disappointingly, the sole powertrain remains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Output increases slightly, to 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. But the only transmission remains a five-speed automatic. That spells middling performance though fuel economy is an impressive 23/31 mpg city/highway, 26 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 22/30/25 mpg with AWD. The 2012 CR-V’s cabin is roomy, its driving manners refined, and Honda’s record for dependability and resale value is an asset. Base-price range is $23,105-$29,355 with front-drive, $24,355-$30,605 with AWD.     

Nissan Rogue: Like the RAV4, the 2012 Rogue is in the final year of its current design generation and like the CR-V, this five-seat compact crossover offers one engine. It’s a four-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, though it uses a continuously variable transmission. Acceleration is not a strong suit, but handling is sharp. Rogue’s cabin isn’t as spacious or well-appointed as it might be but prices are very competitive and so is fuel economy. Base-price range is $22,390-$28,730 with front-drive, $23,640-$29,980 with AWD. Fuel-economy ratings are 22/28 mpg city/highway, 25 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 22/26/24 with AWD.

Kia Sportage: Kia is the corporate cousin of Hyundai and both South Korean brands field a version of this crossover. Hyundai’s is called the Tucson but Kia’s version is better looking, slightly more popular, and offers the alternative of a genuinely entertaining turbocharged engine. The base four-cylinder has a passable 176 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. With the six-speed automatic transmission it rates 22/32/25 mpg with front-drive and 21/28/24 with AWD. Base price range for Sportages with this engine is $21,600-$26,200. The lively Sportage SX models have a turbo four with 260 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque, rate 21/26/23 mpg with AWD, and start at $27,700.