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.

  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.
  • Sgeffe There's someone around where I live who has a recent WRX-STi, but the few times I've been behind this guy, he's always driving right at the underposted arbitrary numbers that some politician pulled out of their backside and slapped on a sign! With no gendarmes or schoolkids present! Haven't been behind this driver on the freeway, but my guess is that he does the left lane police thing with the best of 'em!What's the point of buying such a vehicle if you're never going to exceed a speed limit? (And I've pondered that whilst in line in the left lane at 63mph behind a couple of Accord V6s, as well as an AMG E-Klasse!)
  • Mebgardner I'm not the market for a malleable Tuner / Track model, so I dont know: If you are considering a purchase of one of these, do you consider the Insurance Cost Of Ownership aspect? Or just screw it, I'm gonna buy it no matter.The WRX is at the top of the Insurance Cost pole for tuner models, is why I ask.