By on March 28, 2018

While the fourth generation of Toyota’s RAV4 contained a touch of menace, the model has always been an easygoing compact utility vehicle. When it hit North America in 1995, it didn’t have a lot of competition. General Motors’ collaboration with Suzuki resulted in a bevy of micro SUVs that weren’t spacious or comfortable enough to compete with Toyota’s compact crossover. Likewise, a lot of consumers found it made more sense to purchase something that was more capable on pavement than off-road, and the Corolla-based ute definitely fit the bill.

Two decades later and the RAV4 now has more than its fair share of competition, yet remains totally relevant. In fact, it spent most of 2017 beating the snot out of the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue to retake its place as America’s best-selling small SUV — a miraculous feat considering the current generation has been around since 2012.

While Toyota could probably keep selling them unchanged at ludicrously high volumes for another two years, the time has come for a redesign. The automaker absolutely has to hit a home run; the RAV4 is Camry levels of important at this point. It may not have the sedan’s history, but it has the numbers — and with the crossover craze stronger than ever, it absolutely has to be a unmitigated success. 

Toyota said it took special care to listen to its customers and dealer network to ensure this happens, which is something you don’t hear companies say about their products that much anymore. Sure, we know automakers spend an obscene amount of cash on market research. But their opening arguments for why you should buy typically revolve around having the most pimped-out tech and hardware — not an emphasis on customer satisfaction. That’s okay, as the 2019 RAV4 appears sufficiently pimped.

The only exception to this is the bodywork. Toyota appears to have harkened back to the vehicle’s roots. It’s arguably less angry looking than the current generation, which is fine with us. Scowling headlamps are not the pinnacle of automotive design and, while the new RAV4 maintains a strong dose of attitude, it drops the squinty grimace. It also looks more like an SUV than its predecessor, thanks to a flatter face and a more traditional grille.

Toyota also resisted the urge to upsize the model, something that has become extremely common among smaller vehicles. The 2019 RAV4 is 0.2 inches shorter in both length and height. However, it’s 0.4 inches wider and the wheelbase has been stretched by 1.2 inches. That means shorter overhangs and, theoretically, more off-road prowess when handling rugged terrain. Swapping from the New MC to the TNGA platform also increased body rigidity by around 57 percent, according to the automaker.

We’re willing to bet most people will keep their RAV4 on the pavement and consign their sporting urges to the occasional stoplight blast. For that, they have two powertrains to choose from. The base option is a 2.5-liter inline-four VVT-iE mated to an eight-speed automatic. However, Toyota will also deliver a 2.5-liter hybrid system (THS II) for those seeking added performance (and who don’t mind a CVT). Transmissions aside, Toyota claims the RAV4 XSE Hybrid is the way to go for driving dynamics. It did not, however, provide any metrics on either of those powertrains. We’re expecting something around 200 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque from the 2.5-liter without hybridized help.

All-wheel-drive versions of the solely gasoline-powered Limited and Adventure trims come with torque vectoring and rear-driveline disconnect. That ought to improve highway mileage a bit while simultaneously improving handling at the limit — be it on a slippery highway entry ramp or dusty trail. Toyota says limiting rotational vibrations also makes for smoother cruising.

Lesser RAV4s can still have all-wheel drive, but it comes sans torque vectoring. Meanwhile, the hybrid models get an improved version of the current RAV4’s AWD-i system. The average shopper is unlikely to notice, but those intent on wringing out the XSE — which comes with “tauter shock absorbers and springs” — may appreciate it.

Small improvements abound. Side mirrors have been lowered to improve forward visibility, every non-hybrid AWD model now comes with terrain-select as standard, and Toyota says it has taken great strides to improve interior ergonomics while improving rear passenger comfort. We’ll wait to confirm that (Toyota has been solid on quality but hit-and-miss on ergonomics as of late).

Bigger changes include the standardization of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 — which adds pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control (capable of speeds up to 110 mph), lane departure warnings with steering assist, lane tracing, road sign assist, and automatic high beams. The automaker also chucked in Etune 3.0 for the 7-inch center display, with Wi-Fi connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and even Amazon Alexa. Some extra dough will an another inch to the center screen, plus Sirius XM, extra USB ports, wireless device charging, a JLB audio system and on-board navigation.

Overall, it seems Toyota really did a number on the fifth-generation RAV4 without betraying what it was. It also sounds like it has created a strong base to build upon and intends to outfit the higher trims in meaningful ways that will differentiate them by their intended purpose: Adventure (off-road), Limited (luxury), XSE Hybrid (sport and style). But we’ll have spend time with each to see if that’s really the case. Most will be on display at the New York International Auto Show and we fully intend to “get up in them guts” this week.

[Images: Toyota]

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54 Comments on “2019 Toyota RAV4: From Cute Ute to This...”


  • avatar
    thegamper

    Jeep Compass anyone? At least in profile. I’m not a huge fan of 4x4s, but this is pretty good looking and perhaps a bit more reliable if you have any FCA hangups. Interesting roof color options. Does current model come with v6 option? That would be really nice on this model.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    This right here is the new volume seller in America, not including big trucks. Great interior (may be Caddy can learn something, look at them knobs everywhere).

    Great 8 speed automatic. may be Honda can learn something and get rid of its CVTs.

    Still weak engine, but we can’t have everything. This is otherwise the new King. Camry is dead. All Salute the new King RAV4.

    • 0 avatar
      N8iveVA

      Camry is hardly dead at 387,000 sales in the US last year, but yeah, this new RAV4 is a big improvement over the outgoing RAV4, which I thought was awful but sells like crazy.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Taking just one drive in my friend’s 2016 Rav4 LE AWD that he just picked up with 12K miles last month I would agree about it being awful. It was very noisy on the highway, unrefined, underpowered once you were past 30 MPH, the seats were rock hard with rubbish fabrics and the interior felt cheap with lots of hard plastic everywhere. Still I guess it was an improvement over his 2005 Subaru Outback that was quickly falling apart and becoming a real money pit

  • avatar
    jh26036

    The grill could have been that black honeycomb design and be much better. Rest of it, you know, not too shabby. It kind of has a Crosstrek feel to it.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    A JLB audio system?

  • avatar
    RSF

    I think Toyota is hitting it out of the park lately. This has spot-on exterior looks, a beautiful interior, and the usual Toyota reliability. Now, let’s get them on the Sequoia and Tundra…

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Currently own a 2016 Seqouia and having owned both a 2011 and 2016 Tundra, there’s nothing wrong with the way they are.

      Changing the styling isn’t what sells them, it’s the reliability and rock-solidness.

  • avatar
    detlump

    Seems like a bit of Tacoma/4Runner in the front end. Still a bunch of zigs and zags all over the place. Makes you think the designers just sit around and think “well lets put another crease here”.

    Points for having a body line run through the fuel filler door though.

    I’m sure you can get it in black so you don’t have to see all the weird angles.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Agreed, I was wincing at the teaser shots but this actually looks good. More Tacoma in the front than gaping-maw Lexus. Rear styling is tidy as well.

      I don’t care at all for the decrease in refinement of the DI 2.5L+8spd powertrain, but it is a useful bump in performance and mpg compared to the previous port injected 2.5+6A. The old 2.5+6A in the Camry was plenty, perhaps merely adequate in the heavier and less aerodynamic Rav4. The new powertrain is welcome here. I just wish they could refine it a bit more, apparently even Toyota struggles with the clattery-ness of a DI 4cyl.

      Curious to see how much the torque vectoring and electronic wizardry really helps offroad to shuttle enough power to the rear axle, and to manage it when this inevitably quickly runs out of articulation and is spinning wheels in the air. Toyota trucks have the fairly effective A-TRAC system, Jeep’s BLD on their offerings is quite refined and effective (until you run out of torque/gearing on the non-Cherokee Trailhawk applications).

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Jeep Compass was the benchmark?

  • avatar
    Clueless Economist

    That is a home run if I have ever seen a home run, assuming the driving dynamics are better than the current model. Oh, who is kidding who, Toyota will sell these like hotcakes regardless of driving dynamics.

    • 0 avatar
      Sub-600

      Here in the snow belt, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a RAV4. If there are 100 cars in a parking lot, 15 or 20 will be RAV4s. License to print money.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Toyota could offer a rebadged 1986 Hyundai Pony with plastic cladding and they’d sell every one they could build.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        They have that, it’s called the Yaris. They don’t sell many.

        The current RAV4 doesn’t sell just because of the badge. Sure, it’s a boring, characterless vehicle but it’s a very good entrant in a boring, characterless segment. I’d rather have a cx-5 or Escape 2.0T, but it’s not like Hyundai or Honda or Chevy are producing anything interesting here.

        • 0 avatar
          ponchoman49

          I would take any of those 3 over the previous Rav 4 any day of the week. The Mazda and Ford drive far better and the Chevy is more refined and comfortable.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    The interior of the current model is awful. This new one looks so much better. Overall I really like the exterior of the new one better, but the front end is the least attractive aspect of it IMO. Like the two tone paint combos too.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Looks bigger than the current Runabout vehicle-4, but I guess it’s not. Doesn’t look as terrible as the C-HR, so I guess they did okay.

    Also, 110 MPH for adaptive cruise? What?

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Frowny angry sad grille makes it SPORTY wow

    “This” is the best way to describe that headline picture.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Needs more engine.

    Those interested in “tauter” shocks and springs will be those completely uninterested in hybrids.

    Note that in the current hybrid, the rear seat does not fold flat, I suspect due to battery size imposing itself on this feature.

    But it seems great, and they’ll sell eleventy billion of them.

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    Making the ramp angle worse will not improve “off-road prowess”. And the real problem with the front overhang on RAV4 is not the angle as such, but what happens when you exceed it. First time I ripped the front fascia off, I bought a new one. It was something like $170. Funny thing though, Wrangler also have a flimsy-looking plastic fascia, known as “airdam”, but that thing is almost indestructible. Just different design around the attachment points and a better plastic.

  • avatar
    Goatshadow

    Toyota’s design language is working a lot better in this effort. A little overwrought, but in a pleasing futuristic way. If only the Taco looked this good.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Looks nice.

    But I still ain’t buying one.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I know I am probably in the minority, but that just took the ugliest nose crown away from Lexus.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Looks Fordish

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I love that they increased the wheelbase while making the vehicle shorter overall. I love that there are a variety of AWD systems available while so many competitors are going to systems that barely send any torque to the non-primary axle. I like that the Adventure package is available which includes beefed up cooling system etc.

    I honestly think they’re aiming this at the “Tacoma/4Runner” crowd who thinks they need a beefy AWD system to get to the trail head so they can unload their mountain bikes and get muddy.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet on that fancy sounding AWD system being a serious offroad performer. I’ll wait for the TFLcar guys on youtube to take it up their Gold Mine Hill challenge and decide from there. As cheesy and occasionally misinformed as they are on technical details, they’re the only reviewers I see taking both 4wd and lighter crossover vehicles over terrain that is NOT pre-selected by the manufacturer.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Notice I said “THINK” they need.

        I’m talking about the kind of people who could probably get there in a Civic with a trunk mounted bike rack.

        • 0 avatar
          syncro87

          I don’t need a beefy AWD system to get to where I bicycle. Often, though, there are a few miles of gravel / rock / dirt roads to drive down to get to the trail head. My Civic will get me there, but it isn’t much fun hearing rocks blasting the nether bits of the car for 10 minutes on the way in and again on the way back to pavement. I rarely if ever need AWD, but taking a typical low-slung sedan or hatch down a gravel road with any crown in it at 45 mph is no fun, especially if you have a few people in the car.

          2wd and decent ground clearance would work fine for me. You might as well opt for AWD, though, in my area, because you’ll get that $1500 or 2k back when you trade or resell, generally…and we don’t even get much winter weather in Kansas City to justify AWD. People want it, though, for whatever reason.

          But no, you don’t need a Grand Cherokee, Land Rover, or 4 Runner to get to many bike paths. Something with the ground clearance of a RAV is fine 95% of the time.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I agree in full synchro, that is very much the sort of area I end up going most of the time here in Central Indiana (Charles C Deam wilderness). I see people in cars and minivans trundling down the gravel access roads all the time. The confidence from having just a few more inches of ground clearances makes all the difference. Having said that, there have been a few extreme cases after overnight storms where nothing short of a serious SUV did the trick (have the dents and scratches on my skid plates to prove it). And when I drive some of the seasonal access roads when I visit my folks in central NY or my brother in central PA, that’s kind of pushing the envelope of what most people would be willing to do even with a Subaru, let alone CRV/CX5 class crossover. My brother was telling me about a time he was one his mountain bike riding one such access road and followed a trail of spilled motor oil that eventually led to a stalled out Mazda3 in the middle of the trail lol.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The blue one that I’m assuming is the Adventure! model frankly looks pretty good. The front fascias on the others are still awkward.

    The interior looks promising, but of course it does in a heavily manicured photograph of a top-trim. The base LE isn’t as likely to wow, although the LE Camry sitting in the dealership the other day was nicer than I thought it would be.

    The tacked-on-tablet continues to spread like the flu and seems to be making differentiation in dashboard styling difficult. Yesterday’s Elantra GT is infected. So is the new Altima. Accord. 6. 3. They’re all starting to look the same.

  • avatar
    Grenade

    That white top / blue body is very reminiscent of the FJ and old school land cruisers. Cool ‘yota livery if you ask me.

    http://carsboard.pro/2017/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/7e3afd70870b639e8c8a49c7a8999da7.jpg

    https://img2.carmax.com/img/vehicles/15430532/1/320.jpg

    My wife and I bought a mid spec ’17 Rav4 last summer for her to drive. It continues to impress me with the content. Its stereo beats the Bose in my ’12 G37 quite handidly.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    Home run of a design. It looks like what the 4Runner should be, size-wise. I think if the reviews are good this may be my next vehicle. I think I’ll take the Adventure trim, cool two-tone look.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      “It looks like what the 4Runner should be, size-wise”

      I used to think so as well, but after packing for a week-long camping trip for four in our current 4Runner, I appreciate the extra space that has accompanied the bloat.

      • 0 avatar
        MeJ

        30 mile
        Don’t get me wrong, I like the new 4Runner a lot. A friend of mine had a 92 4Runner and it seemed about the size of the current Rav4. it just amazes me when I see one now how big they’ve become.
        It’s like Porsche 911’s. They’re a third bigger than 20 or so years ago.

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          No, I totally see where you’re coming from, vehicles have packed on a lot of size and weight. Which encourages people like me to fill them up with stuff instead of using discipline and doing without. Which raises the opinion among owners that a little more room would be nice. Which makes the next generation of the model bigger…

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            As the owner of a 3rd gen, the interior is narrower than that of a modern compact. Three across in the back is for short trips only. Cargo area is really big though (45cu ft) with rear seats in place. We fill ours up with 2 people+2 large (er) dogs and either camping gear or clothes/things for a week plus christmas gifts and such. We’re looking to start a family soon and there’s just no way I can see a baby+seat+baby things fitting with all that other stuff. To say nothing of the lack of modern child seat attachments or airbags and such in a 22 year old SUV.

            I want to convince my wife to step up to a ’17+ Armada then I can keep my old 4Runner lol

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Awhile ago I looked at autotrader listings for lightly used base Armadas and as much as I dislike Nissan right now, I can really see the appeal. That’s a big brute of a proper SUV with real clearance, strong old fashioned big-displacement V8, and a charming combination of velour cloth and wood paneling.

            Needs a little more attitude in the front fascia, though. Stretching the Pathfinder’s round anodyne face across the front of this rig isn’t a look that works for me.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            yeah I really wish the Armada kept the overseas Patrol’s approach angle. Not sure if it’s purely a stylistic thing for our market or something related to 5mph bumpers. I also think the amount of travel in both the front IFS and rear IRS is pretty pathetic to be honest. Again, our market is denied the crucial mechanical rear locker and the Hydraulic Body Motion Control (Nissan’s KDSS as I understand it). It looks like the US market simply got big fat roll bars to give it tighter on-road handling at the full expense of offroad articulation. Then again we also get this brute at a steal of a price compared to overseas.

            What I really wish is that I could buy a factory-fresh gen 1 Sequoia, that really hits the sweet spot for me in every engineering respect: some of the best SUV interior packaging/space IMO with an honest to God usable third row that is fully removable opening up something like 67 cu ft of space behind the second row, 120cu ft with second row folded. Adequate and rock solid iron block 2UZ powerplant that gets palatable-ish highway mpg if driven near the speed limit. Solid rear axle with good travel, gen 1 yota dual wishbone IFS with the same pluses and minuses as my ’96 4Runner (good travel but need to watch lower ball joints). Multi-mode 4wd and an early implementation of ATRAC, and finally, the roll down rear window which I absolutely love.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    >>In fact, it spent most of 2017 beating the snot out of the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue to retake its place as America’s best-selling small SUV — a miraculous feat considering the current generation has been around since 2012.<<

    Not really. The RAV discounts massively. The CR-V, not much at all.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Sounds like a lot of smart consumers to me. If you’re going to buy a boring soul-sucking appliance, why overpay for the Honda?

      • 0 avatar
        thornmark

        not really – because the CR-V is the best rated and doesn’t need to discount

        I’m sure Toyota wouldn’t massively discount if it didn’t need to massively discount

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          The best rated boring soul-sucking appliance is still a boring soul-sucking appliance, thorn.

          If that is the route I’m going, I would rather pay less for the same utility and save the balance for something interesting. The H emblem is only magical for a certain subset of fetishists.

          • 0 avatar
            thornmark

            it’s not magic, Honda just makes better cars in some classes so it doesn’t have to discount

            and most people don’t consider Hondas to be appliances, that is usually reserved for companies like Toyota and Nissan that rely heavily on fleet sales and discounts to move their commerce

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            “and most people don’t consider Hondas to be appliances”

            LOL. I think you are a little confused about the definition of “most”. And if the Type-R halo has extended over the CR-V for some buyers, they are paying a premium on their crossover appliance for that delusion.

          • 0 avatar
            ernest

            I’d disagree here. A sale is a sale, a profit is a profit. Toyota sold 2.1 million cars in the US last year, plus another 300K Lexus’s. Darned sure they didn’t lose money on any of them. Honda sold 1.5 million- not a bad showing either, by any means. But make no mistake, they’re both mass marketers of efficient transportation devices. Damned good ones, I might add. Having owned both, I’d say it’s almost a coin toss.

  • avatar
    sensiblebuyer

    And here I thought the ugliest RAV4’s were behind us…..


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