Toyota Wants More Dudes Buying the RAV4, Along With Everyone Else

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
toyota wants more dudes buying the rav4 along with everyone else

The RAV4 has quickly become Toyota’s most important vehicle. While the Corolla still trumps it in overall global volume, the small crossover has made a ridiculous amount of headway over the past decade. Prior to the recession, domestic sales of the RAV4 just barely surpassed 70,000 units per year. Then, after the introduction of the model’s third generation in 2006, volume suddenly doubled — progressing to 2017’s all-time high of 407,594 deliveries.

Still, Toyota thinks it can further broaden the model’s appeal. It wants to see more men behind the wheel of the redesigned 2019 model that debuted at the New York International Auto Show last week. The recipe involves a more butch design, added power, an upgraded all-wheel drive system, and new trim levels giving a nod to sporting aspirations. Meanwhile, an updated interior provides more space for manspreading and big rubbery knobs some gentleman find totally irresistible.

It’s a different story with the 2018 RAV4. It’s incredibly practical and quite comfortable within its segment, but lacks some of the edge of its successor and isn’t a lot of fun from the driver’s seat — two things we’re told most men care about. According to Toyota General Manager Jack Hollis, the fourth-gen RAV4’s best-selling year saw 56 percent of sales going to women and only 44 percent to men. In a perfect world, he says an even split would be much better for a high-volume model.

The rest of Toyota agreed and the hunt for more men directly influenced the fifth generation’s design. “We’ve doubled RAV4 sales in the last four years, so when you do that and you’re at the 400,000 level, you have to appeal to a broader part of the market,” Bill Fay, senior vice president of automotive operations, told Automotive News in an interview. “We put part of that challenge into the development of this.”

A big part of that will be further separating the trim levels in both appearance and function. Last year, Toyota introduced the Adventure trim to draw in males. But it offers little more than a unique set of wheels, a tow prep package, and some very mild off-road aesthetics. On the new model, the face of the vehicle is completely different from the rest of the lineup — borrowing heavily from the rugged styling of the FT-AC Concept.

However, Toyota doesn’t want to focus entirely on looks. It claims the new RAV4 should be more capable both on and off the pavement. While it’s unlikely to best a Jeep Wrangler on a craggy hillside, it should trounce its predecessor by a wide margin. But we all know the most serious action most examples of this unibody crossover will see are pothole-riddled city streets on a particularly snowy day, something the upgraded suspension and torque-vectoring AWD systems should handle nicely.

Toyota is even covering the sporting angle. The old RAV4 doesn’t really have a sport variant to speak of, despite the hybrid model technically offering more power. But the focus was always on efficiency at the expense of some cargo space, and it delivered overall. For 2019, Toyota keeps the hybrid (now with the battery under the rear seat) as the most fuel-efficient option but adds an XSE trim for those truly interested in performance.

The manufacturer says the XSE will be the fastest and best handling version of the RAV4, thanks to a stronger powertrain (details forthcoming) and sport-tuned suspension. But it also added styling cues not found on any other model. It gets the contrasting roof of the Adventure model in black, along with black-painted fender overriders, mirrors, wheels, and bumpers.

On the other end of the spectrum will be the more luxurious Limited trim, which Toyota has equipped with upscale materials and thinks will make up a large portion of sales to women. This will be further helped by an ad campaign that helps distinguish the trim levels and their purpose, with each targeted at a specific demographic. But will it work?

It certainly did on me. While I haven’t seen the marketing materials yet, I can attest to being utterly taken with the updated RAV4 after spending fifteen minutes with it at the New York Auto Show. Without driving impressions, there is no reason to commit to anything fully. But the new styling and hardware seems like a big win and I’m desperate to find out more. The models themselves are also incredibly different. The Adventure and XSE look totally unique, despite only a handful of trim pieces separating the two. The Limited’s interior is above average for this class of vehicle.

Toyota definitely hit the mark in terms of intent, but it will be interesting to see how the public responds. Building a better car doesn’t always guarantee more volume, but we have a strong feeling the new RAV4 will help close the gender gap for Toyota’s best-selling model.

[Images: Toyota]

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  • Mopar4wd Mopar4wd on Apr 03, 2018

    I found a 2007 or 2008 with the V6 white middle trim that was clean back in July but the dealer (BHPH) wanted to much for it cash.

  • Mchan1 Mchan1 on Apr 12, 2018

    Rented a Rav4 LE for a week and it was bad but wasn't great either. No lumbar support and the engine was weak and had to keep the transmission on Sport mode to get life from the engine. The stereo system Sukked Ash and couldn't even program the stations! WTF?! It was relatively roomy for a 6 footer with wide shoulders and average build and had room in back as well. I'd consider buying the newer Hybrid AWD Rav4 in the future considering that there's currently really just 2 options available for Hybrid CUVs... Rav4 or Rogue. Hopefully, the fuel economy is improved and the engines are replaced with new, powerful versions.

  • SilverCoupe I am one of those people whose Venn diagram of interests would include Audis and Formula One.I am not so much into Forums, though. I spend enough time just watching the races.
  • Jeff S Definitely and very soon. Build a hybrid pickup and price it in the Maverick price range. Toyota if they can do this soon could grab the No 1 spot from Maverick.
  • MaintenanceCosts Would be a neat car if restored, and a lot of good parts are there. But also a lot of very challenging obstacles, even just from what we can see from the pictures. It's going to be hard to justify a restoration financially.
  • Jeff S Ford was in a slump during this era and its savior was a few years away from being introduced. The 1986 Taurus and Sable saved Ford from bankruptcy and Ford bet the farm on them. Ford was also helped by the 1985 downsize front wheel drive full sized GM cars. Lincoln even spoofed these new full size GM cars in an ad basically showing it was hard to tell the difference between a Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile. This not only helped Lincoln sales but Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria sales. For GM full size buyers that liked the downsized GM full size 77 to 84 they had the Panther based Lincoln Town Cars, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Ford Crown Victorias that were an alternative to the new GM front wheel drive full size cars that had many issues when they were introduced in 1985 and many of those issues were not resolved for several years. The Marks were losing popularity after the Mark Vs.
  • SCE to AUX Toyota the follower, as usual. It will be 5 years before such a vehicle is available.I can't think of anything innovative from them since the Gen 1 Prius. Even their mythical solid state battery remains vaporware.They look like pre-2009 General Motors. They could fall hard.