Toyota's reputation has long been built on practical family cars, but there was a time when Toyota built some of the most rugged SUVs on the road. These utility vehicles were basic, and their simplicity made them virtually bulletproof mechanically.
Turn on the news and you may see 30-year-old Toyotas being driven in some of the most desolate terrain on the planet. Toyota still makes rugged SUVs, but it is also one of the leading brands in crossovers of every size. Few brands make as many different types of crossovers and SUVs as Toyota. From V8-powered, truck-based brutes, to ergonomically ingenious crossovers, to fuel-saving hybrids, there are options for every different style of driving and daily commuting need.
One of the longer-running SUV models harkens back to the SUV craze of the 1980s. The fifth-generation 4Runner arrived in 2009, received a facelift for the 2014 model year, and has a new infotainment system for 2016. But it’s what is under the brawny fenders that count most.
A V6 sends 270 horsepower through a five-speed automatic to the rear wheels or one of several four-wheel-drive setups. The SR5 and Trail trims have an optional part time 4x4 system with low range gearing, while the Limited has full-time four-wheel drive. The Trail edition is also available with the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which can continually adjust front and rear stabilizers based on driving needs. This model also has off-road crawl control and is available with a locking rear differential.
The RAV4 scores 12th out of a very competitive field of 18 compact SUVs, tying with the popular Jeep Cherokee. Toyota’s smallest SUV has been updated for 2016 with new exterior styling and interior materials.
Abundant cargo space and supportive seats make the RAV4 a smart choice for day-to-day practicality. The sluggish transmission held the RAV4’s score back, but the above-average predicted reliability rating should deliver peace of mind down the stretch.
The attractive two-tone available interior trim is certainly eye-catching, but sitting in one of the seats is even more pleasing. The rear seats have impressive head and legroom, and there is impressive cargo space for the class. The RAV4 is a no-brainer if you’re in the market for a spacious crossover with plenty of standard and optional features.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
A hybrid version of the RAV4 is available. It has improved fuel economy, excellent safety scores, plenty of cargo space, and is actually more powerful than the non-hybrid RAV4. New for 2016, the RAV4 Hybrid scores seventh in the U.S. News rankings of compact SUVs.
The RAV4 Hybrid’s overall score of 8.1 is bolstered by its perfect 10 score for safety. It is available with Toyota Safety Sense-Plus (TSS-P). This suite of safety technologies includes pre-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. The available bird’s eye camera further bolsters the RAV4 Hybrid’s safety credentials, and fuel economy of 34/31 mpg city/highway is quite impressive for the class.
It might be a bit long in the tooth, but big, truck-based, 3-row SUVs like the Toyota Sequoia wear their age with pride. The 2016 Sequoia has three spacious rows and plenty of cargo space, and its comfort-tuned suspension and V8 engine deliver smooth cruising with ample power.
The Sequoia’s 5.7-liter V8 engine makes a stout 381 horsepower and 401 pound feet of torque and does it with a surprisingly quiet murmur. It may only get 13/17 mpg city/highway, but the 7,400-pound towing capacity is consolation.
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Take one of the most popular 3-row full-size crossovers on the market, add a hybrid drivetrain, and you have one of the most attractive offerings among midsize SUVs, scoring second in U.S. News rankings of SUVs with 3 rows.
The 280-horsepower hybrid powertrain ensures the Highlander Hybrid is no slouch, while the 27/28 mpg city/highway rating is superb for such a large SUV. That combination of power and fuel economy comes with a high price ($47,870), meaning it competes with the likes of the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid. But at its heart, the Highlander Hybrid is still a Highlander, with a practical, family-friendly interior.
That it scores No. 1 in U.S. News' rankings of mid-size SUVs should come as no shock. The Toyota Highlander is the height of everyday practicality, scaled up for 3 rows of comfort and convenience. It also scores No. 1 in U.S. News rankings of SUVs with 3-rows and crossover SUVs.
The four-cylinder engine may have unimpressive fuel economy (20/25 mpg city/highway), but that is a small blemish on an otherwise superb vehicle. We strongly recommend the 270-horsepower V6 engine, which now comes standard with a towing package, further sweetening the pot.
But the cabin is where the Highlander really excels. There are ample storage solutions for items small and large, and the cabin materials are top notch. The above-average long-term predicted reliability will deliver peace of mind in the years to come, while the composed ride and handling is a welcomed attribute for the everyday commute.