The All-New 2019 RAV4
The Toyota RAV4, once a spunky upstart that pioneered the compact-crossover movement, has gotten progressively more mainstream over the course of its four generations. As it has slowly adopted the anodyne character that long characterized so many Toyotas, it has actually overtaken the Camry in sales, becoming the bestselling non-pickup in the United States in 2017 (and looking to repeat this year).
For the RAV4's fifth generation, Toyota is making a valiant attempt to reverse this slide into anonymity—while, of course, maintaining the model's popularity. The new RAV4 hopes to grab your attention with a healthy dose of visual flair, a new platform that aims to improve driving dynamics, and more variety among the different trim levels.
Improved Inside and Out
Even if it will eventually blend in purely on the basis of its inevitable ubiquity, the new RAV4 is eye-catching. Its chunky, squared-off shape combines with exaggerated wheel arches and an aggressive-looking front end to make for a distinctive style with lots of presence. There's an impressive amount of aesthetic variation among the different RAV4 trims, too, such as the cladding-heavy Adventure with its decidedly Subaru-like outdoorsy vibe, and the posh Limited with a heaping helping of chrome. A vibrant color palette, with cheeky two-tone combos available, is another refreshing addition to the option sheet.
In the cabin, Toyota wisely focused on improving functionality before it started making concessions to fashion. For starters, the interior is ergonomically sound, with a prominent touchscreen sticking out of the dash that's flanked by volume and tuning knobs and an array of climate-control buttons and knobs that are easy to figure out quickly. Storage spaces abound thanks to the two-tiered dashboard and large center console, and—as in previous RAV4s—the packaging remains excellent, with a spacious rear seat and a low floor that makes loading the capacious cargo area a cinch.
If the cabin's basics weren't so well-executed, we might take issue with some of the sillier style touches in some trim levels, such as the Adventure's abundance of bright-orange accents. But because of the high-quality plastics, the bevy of soft-touch areas, and the solid feel of the switchgear, it all works quite well together. Although the Mazda CX5 has the RAV4 beat in terms of a true premium feel, we can't think of many crossovers in this price range that can match the Toyota's unique combination of funkiness and functionality, let alone its diverse array of interior treatments.
All-Wheel Drive, Three Different Ways
There's more mechanical variety than before, too. While the lineup still consists of just two powertrains—a base 2.5-liter inline-four mated to an eight-speed automatic and an Atkinson-cycle version of the same engine paired with a hybrid transaxle—Toyota is attempting to diversify the RAV4's capabilities with a choice of three all-wheel-drive systems. Front-wheel drive remains standard, and the LE and XLE models offer a fairly typical all-wheel-drive system as an upgrade. The more sophisticated setup that's optional on the Limited and standard on the Adventure incorporates torque vectoring and can disconnect the rear axle at times. The third system is present on all RAV4 hybrids, and uses an electric motor mounted to the rear axle to power the rear wheels. The hybrid also offers an XSE trim level with a sportier suspension tune.
Regardless of which setup you choose, the RAV4 rides and steers far better than it ever has. As in other new Toyota products that use the company's new family of architectures, the RAV4 has a solid and satisfying feel, with a nicely weighted steering rack and controlled body motions. The ride is firm but compliant, and damping keeps impacts from intruding on the cabin. The numbers reflect the dynamic improvements, too: Even the off-road-oriented Adventure model we tested pulled a competitive 0.83 g on the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in a solid 166 feet.
The standard 2.5-liter four is significantly more powerful and torquier than before—it now makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, 27 horses and 12 lb-ft more than its predecessor—but neither its character nor its performance is all that different. The RAV4 Adventure hits 60 mph in 8.0 seconds, just 0.3 second ahead of an equivalent 2018 Adventure model. And the engine is still somewhat buzzy, with plenty of noise under wide-open throttle, which hurts the RAV4's refinement quotient despite the more polished chassis. An eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly and helps improve fuel economy. We saw 32 mpg in our 75-mph real-world fuel-economy test, beating its predecessor by a whopping 7 mpg.
If thriftiness is what you're worried about, though, there's always the RAV4 hybrid. It gets up to 39 mpg combined now, according to the EPA. The hybrid model also has a bit of extra power, with a combined output of 219 horsepower, and the electric motor's torque makes it feel slightly more responsive in everyday driving. It's also quieter than the standard gas model, with better engine-noise isolation, and it only costs $800 more than equivalent all-wheel-drive gas models, helping its value equation.
Thoroughly Competitive Lineup
All versions of the RAV4 have a bundle of key active-safety features standard, including adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist. (Blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear cross-traffic automatic braking also are available.) Apple CarPlay is standard, but Android Auto is missing in action. The expected luxury upgrades are available, too, such as a power liftgate, heated and cooled front seats, and a panoramic glass roof. Pricing is competitive, with the base LE starting at $26,545 and several upper trims reaching into the mid-$30,000 range and the high 30s with options. The fully loaded Adventure model we tested was nearly $40,000.
The new RAV4's inherent goodness means that this newly diverse lineup of models serves to usefully broaden its appeal rather than making up for some deficiency. So if we're destined to see hundreds of thousands of these things crowding the road, at least we can be glad that they won't all be the same.