BOSTON — I stood there for a minute looking at the 2019 Toyota RAV4 that had just been dropped in my driveway. Toyota says the compact crossover’s redesign for this year was meant to evoke Adventure and Refined, drawing inspiration from Toyota’s line of trucks and giving the little SUV some attitude. It certainly did that, though I’m not sure if I love it or not.
Up front it evokes the Tacoma pickup and then about 2/3 of the way back it turns into a 4Runner. These aren’t bad looking vehicles, to be sure, but it’s clear that Toyota is laying a marker down here: the new RAV4 is definitely trucky. It’s not bland and inoffensive; it’s meant to be capable-looking, and capable as well.
Ground clearance has been increased half an inch from the prior version, and it’s a touch longer, too. Wider front and rear tracks help with stability, and shorter front and rear overhangs make it better on the trail. Not that most RAV4’s will ever wander very far off the pavement, but if you take it camping it can handle your average Forest Service trail without complaint.
Slide behind the wheel and the 4Runner-ness continues. Large rubber knobs jump out of the center stack to give you easy access to the climate controls. In our Adventure Trim variant, priced out to $39,634 with nearly every option, pleasingly bright orange rubber and trim bits are everywhere, with cubbies for your things hiding in plain sight. I particularly like the wallet-sized bin to the left of the steering wheel and the massive spot in front of the gear shift for your phone (with wireless Qi charging, too).
Coming out of the Mazda CX-5, a direct competitor, to drive the RAV4 is a particularly interesting experience. The Mazda aspires to be a luxury crossover, refined and comfortable. The RAV4 goes the other direction, aiming to be a shrunken SUV. There is body roll and you can feel the bumps. It’s not an uncomfortable ride by any means, but you can tell that it’s been tuned to be more capable on an off-road adventure than the city-focused CX-5.
Under the hood is a new 2.5-liter inline-four, with all manner of Toyota engine cleverness. The upshot is a vehicle with plenty of power for whatever you need to do, and good enough for 25/33/28 city/highway/combined. There’s a hybrid version too, with a deeply impressive 41/37/39 EPA fuel economy rating. If you find yourself driving a lot, it’s worth a look.
Limited and Adventure trims come with a fancy AWD system that can send 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels, as well as to completely disconnect the rear-axle driveshaft for better fuel economy during highway driving. A knob lets you choose terrain modes between Mud & Sand, Rocks & Dirt, and Snow — you’ll probably never touch it — and there’s a Downhill Assist function that keeps you from going too fast on steep off-road grades, which is nice if you need it.
Toyota is finally embracing Apple CarPlay which is great (and Android Auto is coming in 2020 models), and I also like the large screen sitting high atop the center stack. Toyota’s infotainment is not great, but plug in your phone and all is well.
Given how much I ripped Lexus for not having a good place to put my phone in the 2019 Lexus NX — the luxury sibling to the RAV4 — I’ll compliment Toyota for having a well-designed console and a tray to plop my phone in front of the gear shift, keeping the cup holders free for their intended purpose. Having a good place to put your phone isn’t a big deal until you don’t have one.
The Toyota safety suite is excellent (and standard), including adaptive cruise control, lane centering assist, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic braking (standard on most trims), and a bunch more. Kudos to Toyota for including so much safety stuff standard.
All is not perfect in the RAV4, though. I appreciate its enthusiasm for safety when informing me that the roads might be icy, but I don’t need it to actually beep at me every time I start the car in chilly weather. And the truck-styling might make some think twice.
But aside from those nitpicks, it’s obvious why the RAV4 is Toyota’s best-selling vehicle in America. It’s just a great car.