Digital Hiccups with the 2016 Toyota RAV4

The first car to be sold on the common market was the 1908 Model-T from Ford Motor Company. Since then we’ve had 108 years of development, radical thinking and improvements in design, manufacturing, assembly, roads and even drivers. By this point in the 21st Century it’s fair to say that just about every car on the market has a solid suspension system, reliable wheels, an engine good for at least 100,000 miles and a car stereo that’ll play the local AM or FM station when turned on.

For my second go round with the 2016 Toyota RAV4, therefore, the Limited AWD sports utility vehicle, I decided to focus on the one thing that’s changed year over year more than just about anything in a car: the entertainment and electronics system.

But first, the RAV4 exterior. It’s a lovely car and its black currant color was quite striking:

2016 toyota rav4 exterior, black current

You’ve likely seen one on the road: the RAV4 is now one of the best selling cars in the Toyota lineup, selling 29,438 units in September, 2016 for an year-to-date total of 260,380 vehicles. That’s popular, and for a good reason: it’s a delightful drive, peppy, comfortable and handles the road with aplomb. But that’s where we started: the state of basic vehicle design at this point is remarkable. Even entry level cars are so much more sophisticated, powerful and reliable than they were in the past it’s easy to forget that we just keep moving the base line up.

The interior of the RAV4 was very nice too with its two-tone “latte” finish:

2016 toyota rav4 interior

And there are buttons. Tons of buttons. Even with that, however, I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the acceptable distance for what Toyota calls Dynamic Radar Cruise Control on the 2016 RAV4: every other car I’ve driven with this must-have feature has a button clearly labeled to let the driver adjust proximity preferences. Maybe it’s not adjustable?

I was also surprised by the inaccessible location of the SPORT and ECO MODE buttons: they’re tucked way back behind the gear shift, almost unreachable when driving. You can see them faintly in the above photo, but here’s a close-up:

eco and sport mode buttons, 2016 toyota rav4

To offset that, props to Toyota for having a power plug (aka cigarette lighter). As someone who likes to use a radar detector and other gear that requires access to a plug, it’s nice to have one conveniently located in the front dash.

And speaking of the front dash, Toyota’s really mastered the entire entertainment system, with its attractive split-screen audio + navigation display:

2016 toyota rav4 nav system audio map

What confuses me as a long-time Toyota owner, however, is what buttons are and aren’t included on the edges of the navigational system. Where’s the MAP button? And, for that matter, you can split the home screen into two or three panes, but you can’t set it to one pane. I have become quite attached to the full screen map on my 2008 Toyota Highlander and it’s disappointing I can’t set that as my default. You also can’t get rid of all the display elements on the nav map, unlike previous generations of the GPS system. Again, not sure why that’s not an option, but particularly when it’s just on half the screen, those buttons eat up a whole lotta space.

But then again, the car’s secretly tracking and analyzing your driving and waiting to suggest you grab a cup of coffee, of all things:

time to coffee display, 2016 toyota rav4

What I really want is the ability to tap on the coffee mug and have a steaming cup of java show up out of a secret dashboard panel. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable expectation when the car’s interior is “latte” and the navigational system can highlight coffee shops as POIs!

Which brings us to the critique portion of my review, because while so much of the 2016 Toyota RAV4 was terrific, the entire Entune entertainment system and its interface with the Apple iPhone 7 was miserable. The intention of Entune is great, to give you access to all sorts of online programs and channels by pairing with your smartphone. On the dashboard, when it worked, here’s what I’d see:

2016 toyota rav4 entune apps dashboard

The problem was on the phone. Somehow Toyota and Apple haven’t quite gotten their proverbial ducks in a row, and every single time I started up the car, I was presented with this prompt on my phone:

toyota entune wants to communicate with your toyota car apple iphone

If I did “Allow” it, at least 25% of the time I’d then get this message:

ios iphone warning: network unavailable

When it did connect, I never realized it was working correctly because this is all that was shown on the iPhone screen:

toyota entune on ios apple iphone

Nothing at all to indicate it’s working properly, no status information, no way to customize the interaction between the phone and the vehicle, just a big logo and a disconnect button. From a user experience perspective, this is not at all the way to design a smartphone-powered entertainment system and a few quick Google searches reveals that my problems with Entune were not at all unique but that the interface is known to be buggy. For a company that does such an amazing job with everything else in the vehicle, it was startling to have the Entune system deliver such a poor experience.

In fact, after a few days of dutifully tapping “Allow” and hoping it’d work, I finally just deleted the Entune app from my iPhone and found it all worked a lot more easily. The phone still automatically paired with car via Bluetooth, I could make calls, listen to audio books streaming from my iPhone, all good. Just no Entune. I can only hope that the 2017 model year vehicles will introduce Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s Android Auto equivalent, offering a better and smarter experience.

The Entune experience was the only thing to mar an otherwise delightful week of enjoying the compact size and comfortable ride of the 2016 Toyota RAV4. It’s a solid vehicle with tons of bells and whistles to appeal to even the most discerning of auto buyers. They just need to fix the entertainment experience.

Configuration: 2016 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD SUV, model 4452A, wth 2.5L DOHC 4-Cylinder engine with dual VVT-I, 175 horsepower, 6-speed automatic and dynamic torque. Addons: Advanced Technology Package, VIP Security System, Roof Rack Cross Bars, Paint Protection Film, Mudguard, Shift Knob, Interior Light Kit, Remote Start and Rear Bumper Applique. MSRP as configured: $32,910.

Disclosure: Toyota USA loaned me the RAV4 for a week so I could write about it. My opinions are my own.

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