2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road Review - Dressed for the Country, Fine in the City

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road Fast Facts

2.5-liter four-cylinder (203 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm; 184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
25 city / 32 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.5 city, 7.5 highway, 8.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$35,280 (U.S) / $39,430 (Canada)
As Tested
$42,567 (U.S.) / $41,421 (Canada)
Prices include $1,120 destination charge in the United States and $1,960 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.

If I told you a popular crossover that had good on-road manners got an off-road treatment, you’d probably think those manners would become a bit rougher around the edges.

In the case of the 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road, you’d be mostly wrong.

Let me be clear from the outset – I had no chance to actually take this rig off-road during my time with it, so I can’t tell you if the TRD treatment turns it into a serious rock-crawler or is more show than go. I can’t tell you how it would stack up with the similar Ford Bronco Sport (especially in Badlands trim), either. I’ve taken the Ford off-road and it’s really good – but the RAV will get an incomplete grade for now.

Instead, this review will focus mostly on how putting an off-road package on a crossover that is meant for on-road family-schlepping affects it.

Which is, thankfully, not much. At least not in a negative way.

I’m on record as saying the RAV4 drives pretty well on-road, especially in Adventure trim, with a nice balance of engaged sportiness – at least relative to the type of vehicle it is – and comfortable but not too soft ride.

The good news here is that little of that is sacrificed by the off-road package. I didn’t notice much difference, on-road, between this RAV and its stablemates. In a way, the off-road-tuned suspension is to credit for that.

It’s meant to smooth out rough trails with coil springs that are tuned for off-roading, plus re-valved twin-tube shocks that have internal rebound springs. Yet that same tuning also helps tame potholed Chicago streets that barely qualify as “roads”.

One would think the Falken Wildpeak A/T tires that ride on lighter 18-inch wheels would be cause for compromise, but they work well enough for street driving in this application.

The other active aspect of the TRD package is the use of drive modes for mud and sand, rock and dirt, and snow. Electronic trickery includes hill-start assist control, trailer-sway control, and downhill-assist control.

One notable absence – skid plates. That could limit the RAV4 off-road. Toyota seems to have rectified this for 2021, however. Perhaps that’s because the new-for-2021 Bronco Sport offers them, at least in Badlands trim?

A 19.0-degree approach angle and 21.0-degree departure angle don’t inspire confidence in terms of just how severe a trail this RAV can tackle.

Again, I had no chance to play with these modes in nature’s sandbox. I will report back if and when I get a chance to drive a TRD RAV4 off the road.

Of course, many off-road packages include plenty of decoration, and this ride is no exception. In this case, it includes available two-tone paint, more-aggressive fender flares, dark gray lower front and rear fascias, standard front LED fog lamps, red interior stitching, TRD badging, and all-weather floor and cargo mats.

An optional Off-Road Weather Package includes a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and rain-sensing wipers. A similarly optional Off-Road Technology Package includes front and rear parking assist with automated braking, digital rearview mirror, wireless cell-phone charger, and cameras that give bird’s-eye and 360-degree views and can operate during low-speed maneuvering.

But wait, there’s more – other off-road bits include mudguards and running boards.

The off-road décor does “butch up” the RAV a bit, and it does so without looking silly – or making you feel silly while driving.

Lest you think I forget about the powertrain, I did not: It’s the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque that you see on other RAV4 trims. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic and the TRD has all-wheel drive with torque vectoring.

Other available features aside from the off-road stuff include dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Toyota SafetySense (pre-collision system, radar cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering alert, lane-tracing assist, automatic high beams, road-sign assist), LED exterior lighting, moonroof, Bluetooth, USB, satellite radio, navigation, and JBL audio.

I question who this vehicle is for. Let’s assume, for a second, that the off-road dress-up is more than mere cosplay and this RAV4 can play well in the dirt. Who, other than hard-core TRD fans, puts RAV4 first when they think of small crossovers with off-road chops? Don’t most folks think Jeep Trailhawk or Bronco Sport?

Perhaps Toyota sees an opportunity here – the list of compact crossover that can truly frolic in the woods is limited. We’ve mentioned the Jeep(s) – Compass and Cherokee – and the Bronco Sport. Subaru has offerings that can get you down some rough roads, though I’m not certain a Forester can do what Toyota claims this TRD rig can. Obviously, we’ve not yet driven the Outback Wilderness. The RAV4 TRD seems to be a tweener – probably a bit more capable than the Subie and not quite on par with the Jeeps and the Ford. Again, a proper off-road test will settle that.

Certainly, there’s no Honda CR-V with an HPD off-road package.

Well, whoever the buyer is, he or she won’t have to sacrifice the best parts of the RAV4 in order to hit the old dusty trail. Though this RAV might not be as capable off-road as its targeted competition.

It may seem silly to offer a TRD package on a crossover that most peg as a vehicle for soccer parents, but to its credit, Toyota seems to have put a real effort in, as opposed to tossing on some badging and calling it a day. A bit more tweaking might be needed for true off-road chops, but this trim doesn’t lead to much on-road sacrifice.

That makes for a country critter that remains at home in the city.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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2 of 33 comments
  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on May 08, 2021

    This thing gets a hard pass for ugliness and price. Like several other vehicles lately, the price is just insane.

  • Guy922 Guy922 on May 23, 2021

    The Rav4 is not even Toyota's most premium SUV/Crossover offering.....I know this would obviously still be a higher trim level, but still. Seems really high for what you get. I rented a '20 Rav4 XLE last winter for a trip I had to take on short notice. It was a decent effort, but I realized on that trip from CO to Tennessee, that the Rav4 is not what you get because you are looking for a premium experience. It is still fairly basic transport that wont offend mainstream buyers. Those looking for more substance would be better off starting at the 4Runner or beyond. When I had that rental for ten days, by the end of the trip, I couldn't help but feel like the interior was a tad on the chintzy side compared to what I (used to) expect from Toyota. Cheap and tacky fabrics and hard plastics galore. I also wasn't impressed with the seat comfort. No Matter what I did, I never felt like I found the "right" position. Felt like I had virtually no thigh support either. I did enjoy the cargo space though. Was able to bring a sideboard back with me that I hadn't planned on. To each their own. If you must have one, please spend some time with it before committing. Personally though, even as a Toyota person, it's not for me. But then again, I'm in that minority demographic that still likes their sedans. The Avalon is far more compelling to me personally of their current offerings than the Rav4. I'm sure though, that the Rav4 is great for the right customers. I just don't happen to be part of the audience for it. Looking back though, the Rav4 has always been the one that never appealed to me out of their lineup. But they sell many and they serve their owners well. Just not my cup of tea. Couldn't justify blowing $42k on one thats for sure! I'd go for a Sienna before the Rav4, perosnally speaking.

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.
  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.