Best & Worst Toyota RAV4 Years

Are you considering a Toyota RAV4 but unsure which model year that you should buy? Here's the ultimate guide to help you make the right choice.

It goes without saying that not all Toyota RAV4 model years are made equal.

With decades of experience and countless hours spent under the hoods of these cars, we’ve compiled a list of the best and worst model years of this popular crossover.

From the admirable reliability of some models to the unforeseen hiccups of other models, we’ve laid it all out for you.

We’ll start by listing the generations of the Toyota RAV4 as those represent major changes to the car the models in each generation share many similarities.

Afterward, we’ll show you the best Toyota RAV4 years and which Toyota RAV4 years to avoid.

Let’s rev those engines and get started!

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Table of ContentsShow

Toyota RAV4 Generations

GenerationYears
Toyota RAV4 (1st generation)1996-2000
Toyota RAV4 (2nd generation)2001-2005
Toyota RAV4 (3rd generation)2006-2012
Toyota RAV4 (4th generation)2013-2018
Toyota RAV4 (5th generation)2019-present

We’ll list the best and worst Toyota RAV4 years for each generation as it gives a better understanding of which years to avoid and which to look for.

Furthermore, we also list what we call neutral years. These years are neither good nor bad as we couldn’t justify categorizing them on either side.

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
1st generation1996
1998
19971999
2000
2nd generation2001
2004
2005
2002
2003
3rd generation2009
2010
2008
2011
2012
2006
2007
4th generation2013
2015
2016
2017
2018
2014
5th generation2022
2023
2019
2020
2021

We are using our own combined score to categorize the models. Our score is based on multiple factors that each has an assigned weight. We’re also using qualitative datasets such as owner surveys to come up with the final decision.

Some of the factors are:

  • Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
  • Annual maintenance costs
  • Safety rating
  • Consumer Reports reliability score
  • Consumer Reports owner satisfaction score
  • NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
  • Edmunds owner ratings
  • JD Power owner ratings
  • Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
  • VehicleHistory owner ratings
  • Cars.com owner ratings

As mentioned, each factor has an assigned weight and by combining all these values and the frequency of negative factors (e.g. recalls), we get an accurate score for the total reliability of the car model.

Here’s a graph with all the scores:

Toyota RAV4 Car Smite Score (Combined Overall Score)

Best & Worst Years for Toyota RAV4 1st Generation (1996-2000)

Toyota RAV4 1st generation 1996 model
The 1996 Toyota RAV4

The first generation of the Toyota RAV4, introduced in 1996, was a trailblazer in the compact crossover SUV market, combining car-like comfort with off-road capabilities.

Characterized by its distinctive two-door design, this innovative model quickly gained popularity and helped shape the burgeoning segment with its blend of practicality, versatility, and style.

The Best Years: 1996 and 1998

The 1996 RAV4 kickstarted a new era of SUVs with its compact design and car-like ride, offering a choice between a 2.0L four-cylinder engine and a more fuel-efficient 1.8L option.

In 1998, Toyota added enhanced safety features such as dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes, along with minor aesthetic tweaks like restyled headlights, further cementing the RAV4’s position in the market.

The Neutral Year: 1997

The 1997 model served as a transition year for the RAV4. While not offering substantial upgrades, it did consolidate the strengths of its predecessor, including the innovative unibody construction that combined the benefits of a car and SUV.

It also continued with the reliable 2.0L four-cylinder engine, maintaining a solid balance of performance and fuel efficiency. There are however a few reliability issues, which Toyota fixed the following year.

The Worst Years: 1999 and 2000

The 1999 and 2000 RAV4 models, despite maintaining the core strengths of the first generation, began to show their age in the rapidly evolving SUV market.

Limited advancements in technology and interior comfort were evident, especially when compared to the emerging competition.

Furthermore, there were some reported reliability concerns, particularly related to transmission and engine longevity, which tainted these model years’ reputation.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota RAV4 2nd Generation (2001-2005)

Toyota RAV4 2nd generation 2001 model
The 2001 Toyota RAV4

Beginning its second era in 2001, the Toyota RAV4 displayed a polished layout, enhanced capability, and a bigger, cozier inside.

The model made strides in technological advancements and safety, presenting a more mature and capable compact SUV offering.

The 2001 RAV4, despite remaining true to its roots, was noticeably more refined, reflecting Toyota’s commitment to staying ahead of the rapidly evolving segment.

The Best Years: 2001, 2004 and 2005

The 2001 RAV4 introduced a more robust 2.0L four-cylinder engine, offering improved performance and fuel efficiency, which was well received by consumers. By 2004, the model introduced new safety enhancements, including standard anti-lock brakes and an available stability control system.

The 2005 RAV4 continued this pattern with further refinements and optional features such as a more potent 2.4L four-cylinder engine, a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, and a spacious interior, which made it one of the most comprehensive compact SUVs on the market.

The Worst Years: 2002 and 2003

The 2002 and 2003 RAV4 models fell short due to some reliability issues. The models faced reports of transmission problems, particularly automatic transmission failure, which impacted their reputation, and as such, we recommend that you stay away from these.

Although they offered similar features as their immediate successor and predecessor, these mechanical issues proved a significant drawback for these model years.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota RAV4 3rd Generation (2006-2012)

Toyota RAV4 3rd generation 2006 model
The 2006 Toyota RAV4

With the launch of its third generation in 2006, the Toyota RAV4 presented a significant evolution, moving closer to mid-size SUV territory.

Featuring a new exterior design, a roomier interior, and the option of a powerful V6 engine, it promised an enhanced balance of performance, comfort, and utility, appealing to a wider audience.

The Best Years: 2009 and 2010

The 2009 and 2010 models stood out in this generation, marking a high point in the RAV4’s development. Both years offered a refresh with a restyled exterior, an updated interior, and advanced features like a rear backup camera and an optional touchscreen navigation system.

Toyota also continued offering the popular V6 engine, which was lauded for its impressive power and fuel efficiency.

Additionally, the introduction of the RAV4 Sport, with its sport-tuned suspension and unique styling cues, gave consumers more choices to suit their lifestyle and driving preferences.

The Neutral Years: 2008, 2011, and 2012

The 2008, 2011, and 2012 RAV4 models represented solid, albeit unspectacular, years for the RAV4. While they maintained the quality and reliability Toyota is known for, and offered competitive features, these models didn’t introduce significant improvements or changes.

However, they retained their appeal with the roomy interior, available third-row seating, and the continued option for the capable V6 engine.

The Worst Years: 2006 and 2007

While the 2006 and 2007 models represented a leap forward for the RAV4 in terms of size and power, they were also plagued by some issues.

These years suffered from reported problems related to excessive oil consumption, which negatively affected the vehicle’s reputation.

Additionally, some owners reported issues with the transmission, specifically with shifting, which further dampened the appeal of these otherwise promising models.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota RAV4 4th Generation (2013-2018)

Toyota RAV4 4th generation 2013 model
The 2013 Toyota RAV4

Launched in 2013, the fourth generation of the Toyota RAV4 displayed a remarkable departure from the previous design, boasting a sleeker, more contemporary aesthetic.

Along with a more car-like ride and enhanced fuel economy, the model also welcomed a suite of advanced safety features, echoing Toyota’s commitment to a safe and comfortable driving experience.

The Best Years: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018

The 2013 model debuted the generation with a bang, introducing a stylish new design, a 2.5L four-cylinder engine, and a more fuel-efficient six-speed automatic transmission.

The 2015 RAV4 expanded on this triumph with a newly available technology package, presenting blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. In 2016, Toyota Safety Sense P became standard on all RAV4s, incorporating characteristics such as adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection.

The 2017 and 2018 models continued this momentum, enhancing standard equipment and introducing a sporty SE trim and the RAV4 Adventure, a trim with added ground clearance and rugged styling cues.

The Worst Year: 2014

Despite the overall success of the fourth generation, the 2014 RAV4 stood out as a low point due to a few key issues.

Consumers reported problems with the interior accessories and infotainment system, which was sometimes slow or unresponsive.

Additionally, although the engine and transmission continued to be reliable, the reported interior issues slightly tarnished the reputation of this model year.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota RAV4 5th Generation (2019-Present)

Toyota RAV4 5th generation 2019 model
The 2019 Toyota RAV4

In 2019, Toyota unveiled the fifth generation RAV4, setting a new standard for the compact SUV segment with a more rugged design and a host of high-tech features.

Adopting Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, the RAV4 saw improvements in ride quality, stability, and efficiency, highlighting Toyota’s commitment to continuous evolution.

The Best Years: 2022 and 2023

The 2022 and 2023 RAV4 models shine as the standout years of this generation, showcasing Toyota’s latest advancements in safety and technology. The 2022 model brought a major refresh with a more powerful and efficient hybrid system, in addition to a new plug-in hybrid option, the RAV4 Prime.

The 2023 model further improved on this, offering a more refined infotainment system with enhanced connectivity, user-friendly controls, and a streamlined user interface.

Both years also highlighted Toyota’s commitment to safety, featuring advanced driver-assistance systems as standard, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

The Worst Years: 2019, 2020 and 2021

Despite the innovative changes brought by the fifth generation, the initial years – 2019, 2020, and 2021 – faced some teething problems. Some customers reported issues with the new infotainment system, which included connectivity problems and a lack of intuitive controls.

Furthermore, some RAV4 models from these years suffered from reported issues with the new eight-speed automatic transmission, which occasionally exhibited harsh or uncertain shifting.

Despite these issues, the models remained competitive with their advanced safety features and fuel-efficient powertrain options.

Toyota RAV4 Average Resale Values

It’s also interesting to know what Toyota RAV4s of the specific years sell for. In the following chart, we’re showing the average resale value of each year’s model.

Toyota RAV4 Average List Price

Conclusion

Now that we’ve taken a comprehensive ride through the best and worst years of the Toyota RAV4, we encourage you to answer what your experience has been with the RAV4. Do you own one of our top-rated years, or perhaps one of those on the “worst” list?

We’d love to hear your stories and see how your experience matches our findings. Feel free to comment about your experience below. and let’s keep this conversation going!

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Jonathan Eckert

Jonathan is an ASE-certified mechanic with over 22 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. His expertise spans a wide range of vehicles, but he specializes in diagnosing and repairing Japanese cars. His previous workplace highly commended his meticulous attention to detail, and that's exaclty what he uses at Car Smite to craft the best guides for each purpose.