By on November 21, 2018

2019 Toyota RAV4

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 wouldn’t, at first glance, be my first choice for a run down famed California Highway 1 from just south of Monterey to the famed Bixby Bridge and back.

It probably wouldn’t be yours, either.

So I was pleasantly surprised when a mid-morning coastal ride in the RAV4’s Adventure trim showed me something I’d not seen from a RAV4 before — a personality. Not to mention on-road manners that were quite good by crossover standards. I already had the review written in my mind before I even swapped seats with my drive partner. Before long, however, I was reminded that snap judgments are often wrong.

(Full disclosure: Toyota flew me out to Monterey, California and put me in a hotel room that was uncomfortably close to my condo in size. The company also fed me several great meals, and the 2020 Corolla was unveiled during one of these meals).

This generation of the RAV4 is the fifth (makes me feel old; I still remember the first-gen trucklets), and it’s changed a lot. The styling no longer features gentle curves, instead going for a more macho look. The powertrains are new, and an eight-speed automatic transmission replaces the six-speed. An all-wheel-drive system with torque vectoring is now available.

A hybrid version goes on sale in March 2019. Non-hybrid models get a 2.5-liter four that makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, while hybrid models generate 219 net system horsepower and be all-wheel-drive only.

2019 Toyota RAV4

If all-wheel drive is your jam, you have two systems to choose from. Both allow you to pick drive modes that match the terrain, but the higher-zoot option features torque vectoring and disconnects the rear driveline during gentle cruising in order to improve fuel economy.

You can get your RAV4 in one of five trims if you select the regular, non-hybrid powertrain, or four trims if a hybrid is more your speed.

I started my day in the Adventure trim, which is the second-highest in the pecking order and offers orange interior accents to go along with exterior styling that includes larger fenders, a different bumper and grille, and different fog-light surround. It also has 19-inch wheels with five-spoke wheels that won’t be seen on other trims, and 8.6 inches of ground clearance (0.2 inch more than other trims).

2019 Toyota RAV4

That ground clearance and the aggressive styling may make it seem like an off-road trim, and while the Adventure proved capable on a relatively easy-peasy off-road course, it really shined on road. The steering felt natural and well-weighted, the engine snarled a bit under power, acceleration was quicker than expected (if not what I’d call fast), and the ride was sporty without being stiff on California’s mostly pristine roads. I’ll note that the Sport mode didn’t really make much of a difference.

After that, I hopped in an XLE Premium. Despite having the same wheels and steering ratio as the Adventure, and despite the fact that non-hybrid RAV4s all have the same independent MacPherson strut with hydraulic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar (front) and trailing wishbone multilink suspension (rear), the XLE Premium didn’t feel as engaging to drive. The steering felt more distant and artificial, the ride softer, the handling also softer. Once again, Sport mode didn’t make much of a difference. I yearned for Adventure.

I took two turns in a hybrid – one in an XSE HV, and one in an XLE HV. The XSE has a sportier tune to its suspension (the hybrid suspension adds a rear stabilizer bar and loses the front shocks, but otherwise is the same as on non-hybrid models), and the difference is subtle but noticeable. That said, the hybrid drove much like the previous-gen model, with steering that’s a little artificial in feel but not too far in the wrong direction (it felt a little more natural than what’s on tap in the non-hybrid XLE) and a ride that can occasionally get a little too soft. The biggest difference is that it feels lighter on its feet under acceleration than before, although it still could use more oomph.

2019 Toyota RAV4

Like before, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine combines with the electric motor, and a CVT remains the only transmission available. Fuel economy is listed at 41 mpg city/37 mpg highway/39 mpg combined.

While control layout changes a bit depending on trim, the RAV4’s cabin is a pleasant place to be. The front seats are all-day comfortable, and rear-seat room is enough even for my taller frame. A wheelbase extension of just over 1 inch may be responsible for this, even though overall length shrinks slightly. Visibility is much better than it was before, and I dug the digital speedo on the Adventure trim while still liking the more traditional gauge cluster on the other trims.

The radio knobs and drive-mode selector knob are adorned with a cool rubber-like material, but as per usual, I am annoyed with an infotainment screen that stands above the center stack instead of being integrated. Interior storage trays abound – you’ll have plenty of places to put your cell phone while you try to avoid calls from your boss.

2019 Toyota RAV4

Also pleasing is the aggressive exterior styling. I mocked the next-gen RAV4 a bit after first seeing one months ago, but I’ve come around … somewhat. It’s not pretty, exactly, but it makes a stronger statement than the previous RAV. At least it looks rugged, even if few RAV4s will ever see a truly challenging off-road scenario.

We got to “off-road” a RAV4 – one of each powertrain – but the course was pretty easy; it was mostly meant to show off the vehicle’s hill-descent control, which features an in-dash graphic showing you which wheel is slipping and by how much (that graphic may be useful in the Snow Belt).

Feature-wise, there’s too much to list here – we’re talking about nine trims, for Pete’s sake. The list is LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, and Limited on regular models, and LE, XLE, XSE, and Limited (all of which get a HV tacked on) for hybrid models.

2019 Toyota RAV4

Key available or standard features include Apple CarPlay (but NOT Android Auto), multiple USB ports, premium audio, fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, power moonroof, power liftgate, navigation, in-car Wi-Fi, heated front seats, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and panoramic sunroof. Available wheel sizes are 17- and 19-inch on regular models, with hybrids offering 17-inch or 18-inch wheels.

Available safety tech includes digital rearview mirror, lane-departure alert with lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic braking, blind-spot monitoring, pre-collision system, and rear-cross traffic alert. The digital mirror works nicely, projecting a clear picture, but the lane-departure alert annoyed. At least the lane-keep assist system wasn’t too intrusive.

Fuel economy numbers for non-hybrid models ranges from 24 to 27 mpg city, 32-34 highway, and 27-29 combined. Prices start at $25,500 for a non-hybrid LE and work up to $33,500 for a Limited. All-wheel drive tacks on $1,400, and the AWD-only Adventure hits at $32,900. Hybrid pricing ranges from $27,700 to $35,700, and all have AWD. D and D adds on another $1,045.

2019 Toyota RAV4

If my money were on the line, I’d select the Adventure trim without hesitation. It was the most engaging to drive, and while some of the style elements are tacky – I liked the orange accents well enough, but I could take ‘em or leave ‘em – it does look a little bolder than the others in the lineup.

The rest of the RAV4 line leaves me feeling mixed. I still like the overall exterior look, and I appreciate the greater visibility from inside the cabin, but the driving dynamics are an incremental improvement, at best. The content mix is fine, but Toyota remains behind the times by not having yet made Android Auto available.

Toyota has taken a chance with the 2019 RAV4. It looks different from any that came before (no more cute ute), and I give the notoriously conservative company credit for opening up the playbook a bit. Toyota has also proven recently that it CAN make its cars engaging to drive – I generally feel good things about the current Camry, Corolla hatch, and even the newest Avalon. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, but the “appliance” label is being shed bit by little bit.

2019 Toyota RAV4

Unfortunately, from a driving standpoint, the RAV4 hasn’t fully shed its commuter past. The Adventure gets there, and the XSE hybrid hints at it, but there’s still work to be done.

Give me an Adventure or don’t give me a RAV4 at all. Okay, fine, that’s not exactly true, and it doesn’t have the same ring as that more famous phrase. Still, if the RAV4 tickles your fancy and you fancy yourself someone who cares about driving, that’s the trim to go for.

Let the soccer parents who think they’ll take their RAV to the Rubicon scoop up the rest. Based on previous sales numbers, you know they’re going to.

[Images: © 2018 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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58 Comments on “2019 Toyota RAV4 First Drive – Choose Adventure Time...”


  • avatar
    make_light

    Why does Toyota seem to think that looking “tough” means looking like an angry cartoon?

  • avatar
    whynot

    It is mildly distressing to me how appealing I am finding this Rav4 to be. I can’t believe I am actually liking it. A year from now when there are roughly 2 billion on the road that will possibly be cured though.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      The numbers sure look decent, and it looks less cheap than the model that preceded it. They’re staying away from turbos and CVTs and that’s good (and the engine is dual-injected iirc), I find Honda’s 1.5T+CVT to be a fairly unpleasant and unsatisfying combination, and the reports of oil/fuel contamination are worrisome.

      I hate to admit it, but a Rav4 would probably be a rational and functional daily driver for me instead of my current setup of an old Audi that swills premium gas and an old 4Runner which is a beast offroad but tiring on long drives.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    Much, much better looking than the previous version. But I suppose that wasn’t too hard to do considering how ugly that one is.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      No, it is not better looking at all. If you are man, you just prefer this tougher looks. But if you are woman, you probably like current model looks better.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Agreed. They might get a good old hubris sandwich on this. This segment depends more on cute and safe looking than manly. A few neuters will justify this as a must-have but most purchases of these will be driven by women. And in that regard I think the CR-V looks much more tame, non-threatening, and, well, accessible.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I agree. I hated the previous one, it just looked like a blob of partially melted plastic. This has just become the best looking Toyota by far (though that bar wasn’t exactly set very high, admittedly).

  • avatar
    ajla

    So, why did the “Adventure” trim drive differently from the “XLE”?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I reached out to Toyota to see if it was a suspension tuning thing and haven’t heard back. Will update the review if and when they get back to me. It’s possible that variations in the tuning were too subtle to be listed in the press kit.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        “That ground clearance and the aggressive styling may make it seem like an off-road trim”

        At 0.2″ more I don’t see how that makes it more of an off-roader. Is this a typo and its really 2″ ?

        There was a point in time when the RAV4 came with a V6 and was the quickest Toyota vehicle in the US. My late aunt had a 1st generation example (when it was a laughable slow) and while it ran forever it was a rattle trap and might be the loudest vehicle with a solid roof I have ever been in. That is saying something as I had a 350Z with an aftermarket exhaust.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Another concern is how low hanging that “rugged” silver painted plastic is on the front. For all of their shortcomings (including reduced clearance), the previous generation of Rav4 at least retained a very decent approach angle.

        • 0 avatar
          Tim Healey

          Not a typo. It’s more about Toyota POSITIONING it as an off-roader. Obviously two-tenths will matter little on the trail.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Because adventure has different suspension, powertrain, etc.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I generally like the looks of this vehicle. I had a RAV4 rental not that long ago. Was a hybrid, fairly basic trim. I was surprised at how easy this vehicle was to live with and how roomy it was. Still, I think as equipped it came in somewhere in the low mid $30’s and thought it seemed pretty bland and basic for that sort of money. Maybe with a few more bells and whistles I could see it, but not with no options. Well packaged overall, but pricey me thinks for a what is essentially a AWD 4cyl hatchback.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Not bad, sure beats the outgoing model with lots of available trim combos to please anyone

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Funny, this is the 4th or so review I’ve read about this new RAV4. And this is the only review that didn’t mention how course the engine is over 4000 rpm. One mentioned they couldn’t believe this was a newly designed engine.

    • 0 avatar
      SixspeedSi

      I’ve browsed through a couple review/videos as well and noticed this being one of the main downfalls. In the videos, you can truly hear how course the engine sounds.

      I honestly believe the hybrid is the way to go with the Rav4. Smooth power and it doesn’t seem as annoying compared to the base motor, even with a CVT.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        The previous 2.5 sounded louder and less refined in the Rav4 than it did in the equivalent Camry (working harder, less noise insulation through the firewall I’m assuming), and when I’ve driven the new ’18 Camries with the updated DI motor, THAT was louder than the previous port injected one. So I suppose the new louder motor in the historically louder Rav4 could indeed have some NVH issues. I will say that the new Camries with the 8 spd and 200hp 2.5 move out quite nicely and it’s all to easy to beat 40mpg in steady state driving in them, it’s not all bad. That new 8spd cracks off some really clean and direct shifts when you get on it, but around town I found it getting more confused than the old 6spd, which in turn was less refined and easier to confuse than the good old 4spd in my ES300.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        The hybrid’s 39 combined mpg score is darn good. I wish that drive train was available in the far better looking 2018.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          It’s good enough to make me sad; as I’m afraid that kind of mileage from a box on wheels, will end up further eroding what’s left of the sedan market.

          • 0 avatar
            HotPotato

            People REALLY want CUVs, enough to overpay. Looking at Mazdas for example, the “equivalent” CUV of a given sedan is actually based on the next SMALLER sedan, yet costs more.

            You’re not even getting into a base model RAV—the “one at this price” one that exists only in dealer ads and was always “just sold” if you ask about it—for under 30 after delivery and Tru-Coat. That is astonishing to me.

            Then again, TTAC tested a $25,000 Kia Rio recently (!?), so maybe we’re just looking at price inflation in cars generally.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I didn’t find it unusually coarse for the class, but that’s obviously subjective. I should note that traffic meant I didn’t often go over 4K RPM. I did once in the XLE and that did sound a little coarse, but not unusually so for the class. I thought I had mentioned that in the review.

      So, to recap: It was a little coarse over 4K but not so much that I really thought it unusual.

      • 0 avatar
        VW4motion

        @tim
        Course engine over 4000 rpm not unusual? Unusual for ?!? A 4 cylinder Toyota? Please explain.
        Mazda CX-5 2.5 course? No
        Honda CR-V course? No
        Even the damn boxer 2.5 in the Forester course over 4000rpm ? No

        • 0 avatar
          conundrum

          Well, we have to award Mr Healey 5 gold stars for being the only one who can correctly spell “coarse”.

          And take away four stars for not noticing it on his RAV4 rambles. Hourse cough.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Comes close to actually being an attractive Toyota, but the front end is trying way to hard. Is the adventure trim still the one to get for the towing package?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Adventure trim showed me something I’d not seen from a RAV4 before — a personality” – EXACTLY. I’ve watched reviews on this one.

    This thing looks manly and interesting inside. No more vanilla RAV4. + Adventure adds some 4wd goodies, like Jeep almost. In fact this car looks mostly like Jeep – squared off wheel wells with a lot of room for suspension travel – from 3 sides. And front is Fordish.

    But I like this effort mostly for the ability go off-road and interior. Lots of buttons – I take that any day. All the niches for storage – it screams “take me for long off road trip”. This is nice. My Highlander approaches its 11th year in service. I CAN wait till this thing gets thoroughly tested by quick adapters. The only thing that can sway me off is CX5 with Turbo rocket ship. But I am not fan of turbo – to me this is extra part to fail. Also, I have to see whats the new Passport is all about. But its Honda. I don’t count on greatness from a company that can’t make a decent gauge cluster.

  • avatar
    AK

    Aside from the hybrid, I don’t see a single compelling reason to even consider this over a Cx5.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      As they said – Adventure is as close as it gets to, lets say, Cherokee. CX5 is nice road machine. I like rugged interior here. So, if you want performance – wait for cx5 turbo. If you want to pretend you have 4Runner – wait for Adventure. If mpg most important to you – you know where to go

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m curious if the hybrid CVT has any rubber banding driving sensations for any one who drove the previous gen. I’d take 35-40mpg on my commute (50-70 miles both ways) with all weather capability.The previous gen didn’t have rear vents and the interior wasn’t as nice as this new gen.(at least from pics)

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Whether the gas motor is “rubber banding” or not, if you were deaf, it wouldn’t matter at all. The Toyota hybrid system is such that it is an instantly responding EV with a gas motor running in the background. The powerful electric “traction” motor is the only one of the three motors that is mechanically connected to the wheels. I run my 16 Prius in “power mode”, and it has zero lag throttle response. Bonus: the mpg is unaffected by choosing aggressive vs the stupidly boggy “eco” setting.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        All the motors in the RAV4 are connected mechanically to the wheels. The two traction motors are linked directly while the starter/generator is linked via the power split device (planetary gear set).

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          Good call, thanks.
          I was trying to point out that the traction motors will, having a single fixed gear ratio to the wheels, will eliminate any “rubber banding” throttle response.
          I think a side by side drive With a CVT 1.5 turbo CRV will be quite telling. I’m guessing the CRV will have lots of the same issues that the 2017 1.5T Escape I drove had. Between the motor shutdown at stops, and turbo lag off the line, I have not experienced such poor throttle response since the era of 70’s emissions tuning.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    This is possibly the least offensive car Toyota has produced in while, but as others have said the bar is low.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Tell me, whats offensive in 2018 Corolla, Highlander, 17 Camry. You are generalizing.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I should have clarified that I meant the styling. There’s a subjectively unquantifiable ick factor.

        Mechanically speaking I am ambivalent as I’ve not driven them aside from the auto show try and drive thing.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          I think, styling is fine in many toyotas. I still think that my 2009 Highlander is fine -looking machine. In 2011 they screwed it but next version came slick again. Camry has been fine mostly besides few iterations. 2017 Corolla looks nice (drives bad). Curreent RAV4 is just fine, so is the previous one. you may not like CHR, or ’86. I really don’t find very bad-looking toyotas much. May be the 4Runner with drop-tears…
          In fact, I can’t recall any compact SUVs that has “offensive” design. Sportage may be the only one

  • avatar
    Carrera

    Not bad at all, although I like to see it in person to see and feel the inside. I like it’s looks much better than the current bloated look of the CR-V. About time someone gave Honda real competition. Non-turbo engine is very good in my book. Unfortunately, for the first year or so, until the 2020 come out, the arrogant Toyota dealers will want MSRP plus 699 dealer fee, plus 599 Southeastern distributor fee.

  • avatar
    ThirdOwner

    It is rather telling of the modern age that 1/2 of the cockpit picture is taken by objects not directly related to operating the vehicle.

    To me, the most appealing parts are the (partially obscured) instrument cluster, and the floor-mounted gas pedal.

    As for this recent, disconcerting, trend of presenting cute utes with their wheels of the ground: what is the intent, to show just how little articulation the suspension has? A speed bump would have been sufficient to set that shot up.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      That photo is pretty darned hokey. A Lambo, with the hydraulic nose lifter on high, could traverse that “offroad” section in style….

      Not that anyone cares. The precious few Rav4 intenders who are even aware that there exists differences between two drivelines which both can send power to both/either axles, are mostly concerned about how good or bad the Rav is in snow, versus the gold standard Subaru.

  • avatar
    brn

    Not that either are anywhere near true off roaders, but I’d like to see Ford to something similar with the Escape. The Escape already has a pretty good 4WD/AWD system (locking center diff). It can’t have less articulation than what’s photographed in the article. Do something about ground clearance and approach angles, you could have some fun with it.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I am surprised Toyota is offering so many combinations of drivetrain/suspension, after all, CUVs are for people who can’t tell you a single thing about their car’s engine or suspension and don’t care.

  • avatar
    Polka King

    I will not buy any product that is designed to look malevolent. Maybe I’m out of style but I don’t think that malevolence is all that funny.

  • avatar
    jimmyy

    I saw a 19 Rav4 on the freeway … it had a manufacturers plate on it. I absolutely love it. If the vehicle has the same reliability that other Toyota products have, I will be first in line to pick one of these up.

    Finally, we have a vehicle that is more desirable than the CrV. Finally.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Oh, yea… “Toyota reliability”… My Highlander had 7 recalls and 2 warranty jobs. My co-worker got rid of his Camry because oil consumption was no longer sustainable at 100K miles.

      But you’re right, this thing looks better than CRV. But CRV… Eh. Honda = bad seats. Really bad. CX5 is also better than CRV. And CX5 turbo will be – wow!

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        slavuta, it is with great sadness that I report that our 2008 Highlander, driven by my grand daughter until Nov 19, 2018, now rests in peace in a junkyard off North Dyer in El Paso, TX.

        The El Paso, TX, heat and the 215+K miles on the clock had taken their toll over the past 10+ years. The radiator sprang a leak, the plastic inside had deteriorated into dust, the seats were torn and ripped due to wear and tear, but what sent it to the junk yard was that AC died on Sun 18 Nov and it needed a new set of tires.

        The way I look at it, we got ten good years of use and utility out of it over 215+K miles so we got our money’s worth.

        It was replaced by a brand new 4Runner, her #1 choice, so my grand daughter stuck with Toyota.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I don’t get it. Why buy one of these? If you are stuck on Toyota, buy a Camry that is better in every way, for something like $3K less.

  • avatar
    incautious

    luv that drive. plus a stop at rocky point restaurant.

  • avatar

    Are you sure you didn’t photograph a Jeep Cherokee from the rear?? Give me a 4Runner this pos


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