2019 Toyota RAV4 Review: The Best-Selling Crossover’s New Adventure
The quintessential compact crossover becomes more getaway-friendly in its 5th generation.
Aaron Miller/Capital One
Toyota likes to brag about more or less inventing the compact crossover segment when it first unveiled the first generation RAV4 in the mid-1990s. Back then, it was a small, quirky crossover, and at one point, it could be purchased with just two doors and a manual transmission. A quarter century later, the RAV4 isn’t just Toyota’s best-selling vehicle, it’s the best-selling non-pickup truck in the United States. Period.
Over 400,000 people bought RAV4s in 2018 despite the promise of a newer, better version on its way for 2019. In other words, it would be a gamble for Toyota to deviate from the formula that made the outgoing model such a sales success.
And yet, it’s done exactly that.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 isn’t just an all-new version of a highly popular vehicle. It’s a re-think of several key attributes that get buyers onto showroom floors by the hundreds of thousands. If the fifth generation RAV4 is to be as successful as its predecessor, it needs to deliver on its promise of newfound ruggedness without sacrificing the day-to-day civility that drives the core of its sales.
With keys in hand and a 2019 RAV4 on loan from Toyota for a week—decked out in its “Adventure Grade” trim, no less—we set out to determine if it has what it takes to stay on top of the proverbial sales mountain.
RAV4’s Designers Took a New Angle
The RAV4 is the first of Toyota’s crossovers to get a dose of design from its truck division. In the front, that means a six-sided grille and exaggerated bulges, both in the corners and around the headlights. The revised-for-2019 color palette includes several options for a two-tone paint scheme. That’s both in line with similar offerings for Camry and the C-HR and a subtle nod to Toyota’s legendary Land Cruiser of decades past.
All told, the new RAV4 is far more angular than the outgoing version. Judged on looks alone, it’s far more camping trip ready than before. That holds doubly true for the “Adventure” grade, which adds roof rails, unique front and rear trim, and exaggerated plastic moldings over the wheel arches.
All told, it’s almost half an inch wider than before and an inch and a half taller. From a functional standpoint, ground clearance is up between 2.3 and 2.5 inches, depending on trim level. For context, curbs in the U.S. rarely exceed eight inches in height, so the new RAV4’s extra clearance (8.4 to 8.6 inches) means it can drive over a curb to get to a prime tailgating location that previous RAV4s simply couldn’t reach.
Inside, It’s a Mix of Practicality and Tech
Climb into the new RAV4 and the interior style matches the exterior. Angles abound and contrasts are everywhere, especially on the Adventure grade, which mixes in a healthy dose of orange accents. The crossover’s newfound style comes without sacrificing front seat headroom. Though the available panoramic moonroof lowers the interior roof by two inches, only the very tallest of drivers are likely to miss the extra space.
No matter the trim, Toyota’s controls are well thought out and easy to use without being intrusive. Sort through the available trim levels and packages, however, and the RAV4’s focus transforms from elemental practicality to everyday comfort and convenience. The Adventure and Limited grades include a digital instrument cluster that adds to the tech-forward feel. The center console offers inductive charging for compatible phones, and the optional rearview camera converts the mirror to a full-time digital display at the flip of a switch. It doesn’t present the same clarity as the absolute best rearview cameras on the market, but it’s still a nice bonus that’s especially rare in vehicles at this price point.
On the Road, Toyota’s Safety-First Mentality is Evident
Every RAV4 now comes with a full suite of advanced driving aids, including automatic emergency braking, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and dynamic radar cruise control. For 2019, it’s among the most comprehensive suites included as standard equipment on any vehicle, regardless of price. While some other systems operate with a lighter touch, Toyota’s are more noticeable in the way the steering wheel tugs. Think of it as Toyota’s way of reminding drivers to pay closer attention to the road.
As for the rest of the driving experience, ride quality is a stark improvement over other compact crossovers. The chassis is more lively than before, and all-wheel drive models come with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select, which includes specialized settings for mud & sand, rock & dirt, and snow. The result is a feeling of confidence in a variety of situations, without sacrificing the urban and suburban qualities that made the RAV4 successful in the first place.
Power has never been high on the priority list for RAV4 buyers, and the 203 hp four-cylinder engine (the RAV4 Hybrid offers 219 hp) reflects that. While it technically makes more power than RAV4 rivals like the Nissan Rogue (170 hp) and Honda CR-V (up to 190 hp), it requires more aggressive throttle use and higher RPMs to do so, making it feel less powerful than it is. For most buyers, however, up to an EPA-estimated 30 mpg (combined) is the far more important stat.
Conclusion: Rugged Practicality To Stay on Top of the (Sales) Mountain
Rather than altering a winning formula, Toyota’s designers and engineers used the RAV4’s strengths as a starting point and added to them where they could. Crucially, the additions don’t sacrifice the type of day-to-day liveability that drives RAV4’s success. The 2019 RAV4 is simultaneously larger on the outside and (slightly) smaller on the inside than its sales-king predecessor, and it’s also a step forward in most subjective areas. Those steps forward add just enough real-world capability to live up to the rugged vibe the new, hard-edged shape projects, which should add up to continued success for the best-selling crossover.