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VEHICLE REVIEW 2015 Toyota RAV4: Better than your memory
Plus: Chicago Auto Show details. Special to the online edition
by Casey Williams,

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My best friend is looking for a new mid-size crossover and, as usual, called for a list of suspects to explore. When I mentioned the RAV4, which is well-loved by another friend, he paused before saying, "Toyotas always seem noisy and soulless to me." While Toyotas do tend towards competence over excitement, that's not categorically true. And, as we found, not true at all of the RAV4.

Styling follows current Toyota convention with the front jacked from an imaginary cross-tour Prius, but the finlike rear fenders and lamps are especially sexy. The rest follows current crossover style with an arching windshield and roofline that tapers gently to a hatch spoiler. Put 17" alloys under it, top it with a versatile roof rack, and you're ready for adventure.

RAV4 interiors are among the best in the segment. The wide modern dash design is a cross between a Lexus RX and Corolla with a central control pod, cubbie storage, and floating stitched panels. Silver finishes on the dash and doors—and faux carbon fiber texture on the center console—add style. Even the notched gear selector feels like it was carved from a Lexus.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4Seats are firm, but comfortable, hugging you snugly without sucking you in. Cloth is perfect for pets and offspring. I could go for heated seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, but I'll survive. Dual-zone automatic climate control, reclining/folding rear seats with ample legroom, power moonroof, and deep cupholders add convenience. Open the rear hatch and toss in a week's worth of gear.

But, only if you want to get lost, because you can get navigation, accessed through a gesture-recognition touchscreen. Swipe to scroll as on your iThing. You can connect your things through Bluetooth or USB connections and access an array of apps that will make all things jealous. Check the back-up camera to stay away of immovable other things.

Driving it is a lively experience. Click down a cog or two in the six-speed automatic transmission with your big right piggy to feel the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine toss all of its 176 horsepower. Send it to the road through the torque-shifting all-wheel-drive system as in our vehicle and you can make short work of snowy roads or fast turnpikes. Take it out of "Sport" mode and put it into "Eco" to employ start-stop technology and conjure 22/29-MPG city/hwy.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4 powertrains are almost always Lexus-smooth, but the driving experience usually equates to riding inside a baked biscuit, but without the buttery smell. Pleasant, but not tasty. The RAV4 was surprisingly nimble on its four-wheel independent suspension, which allowed just the right amount of road feel to seep through to the electrically-powered steering wheel. At speed, wind noise is barely heard. Four-wheel disc brakes clamp down from speed without drama.

As my friend looked at competitors, it's clear the RAV4 is in tough territory. The Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Chevy Equinox, Kia Sportage, and VW Tiguan are right there with it. Yet, its combination of Toyota durability, modern styling, refined handling, spirited powertrain, and functional interior are all reasons he should consider a RAV4. He'll be surprised—especially when he sees a base price of $23,680.

Storm forward!

2015 Toyota RAV42015 Toyota RAV4

Five-passenger, AWD Crossover

Powertrain: 176hp 2.5-liter I4, 6-spd auto trans

Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind

Wheels: 17"/17" alloy f/r

Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr

Must-have features: Style, functionality

Fuel economy: 22/29 mpg city/hwy

Assembly: Japan

Base price: $23,680

Chicago Auto Show specifics are out

The public portion of 2015 Chicago Auto Show will run Saturday, Feb. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 22. Show hours are slightly adjusted. For 2015, the Chicago Auto Show hours will be 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day except for the last day, when the show opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices remain unchanged: $12 for adults and $6 for seniors and children age 7-12. Children age 6 and under are admitted free. Special days include Family Day on Feb. 14, Women's Day on Feb. 15 and Hispanic Day on Feb. 17.

The show's black-tie benevolent event, First Look for Charity, will be Feb. 13, 7-11 p.m. Visit or for more information .

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