Toyota RAV4 — Compact CUV reinvented

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Many things have changed in the two decades plus since that initial RAV4, not least the RAV4 itself, which enters its fifth generation with the 2019 model. It reinvents itself with a bigger, more fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine; a more rugged appearance especially with the Adventure trim level; more driver assist technology; and with a new hybrid powertrain that feels quicker than the gas-only version.

Not only is the RAV4 now the nation's top-selling crossover, it has eclipsed the vaunted Camry midsize sedan and compact Corolla as Toyota's best-selling nameplate. Toyota designers and engineers faced a daunting task in a complete redesign walking a tightrope between too much and too little.

Although the RAV4 continues with basically the same dimensions as the outgoing vehicle — it has a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase, a wider track and more ground clearance — it is endowed with a beefier and more substantial look. Built on Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) that underpins the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES, the new RAV4 sheds about 100 pounds while increasing passenger and cargo space over the outgoing model.

The SUV gains 27 horsepower and 12 pound-feet of torque over the outgoing vehicle, having been endowed with the same powertrain as the current Camry. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine generates 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's rated at a near-class-leading 27 mpg city, 34 highway and 30 combined in front-wheel drive burning regular gas. Mileage suffers just slightly with all-wheel drive at 25/33/28.

The upgraded engine provides adequate performance. But like so many recent Toyota vehicles, we felt it was a bit sluggish considering its 203 horses. For comparison, 0-to-60 performance has been measured at around 8 seconds, about like the outgoing RAV4. But the real star of this show is the hybrid drivetrain. It surprised us after a drive along the Pacific coast near Carmel last fall, starting out with a sophisticated ride, better performance than the standard gas-engine model, and with the prospect of delivering a gas-stingy 41 mpg city, 37 highway and 39 combined. Currently the hybrid represents only about 12 percent of RAV4 sales. We expect it will more than double by year’s end.

In addition to better gas mileage, the hybrid is infused with more horsepower — and it can be felt on the road. Powering the RAV4 hybrid is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 176 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to an electric motor sending 118 horsepower and 149 lb-
ft of torque to the front wheels and 54 horsepower and 89 lb-ft to the rear wheels for a combined system output of 219 horsepower, 25 more horsepower than the last-generation hybrid.

The new cabin has a more spacious feel with improved materials that look and feel better to the touch than the outgoing model. The dashboard's cleaner design is an improvement. Seating is comfortable, and rear-seaters will find ample legroom. There are three audio systems to choose from with the premium
option featuring 11 speakers and 800 watts. All have Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi Connect, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The touchscreen is flanked by easy-to-use volume and tuning knobs for the radio, and big rubberized knobs along with a series of buttons for climate-control. Storage spaces abound thanks to the two-tiered dashboard and large center console.

To Toyota's credit many standard safety features are bundled into what Toyota calls its Toyota Safety Sense package. The package includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high-beams, lane tracing assist, and road sign assist. One sour note, however, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is not included in the package and is available only on top trim models.

The RAV4 comes in five trim levels — LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure and Limited — starting at $26,745 including the $1,095 destination charge. The lineup tops out at $36,145 for the Limited AWD, and it’s possible by checking off enough available options to top the 40 grand mark.

Standard all-wheel drive can be added to the LE, XLE and XLE Premium for $1,400. The Adventure and Limited can be outfitted with an upgraded all-wheel drive system featuring torque-vectoring that can distribute power between the rear wheels to enhance traction when driving on dirt or snowy roads.

Our test XLE trim test vehicle with AWD had a nice assortment of standard equipment for $29,795. With $3,904 of options it brought the bottom line to $33,899. And our AWD Adventure test vehicle loaded with $6,268 of extras had a bottom line of $40,263.

Base price: $26,745; as driven, $33,899
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 203 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 184 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 180.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,380 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 37.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 69.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined (AWD)
0-60: 8.0 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox

The Good
• Excellent cargo, passenger space
• Quiet interior
• Easy-to-use controls

The Bad
• No Android Auto compatibility

The Ugly
• Lackluster power