Twenty-three years ago, the first Toyota RAV4 arrived on the scene, sparking a new “baby crossover” segment of compact crossover SUV’s. Immediately popular, that first generation model found 56,709 customers for the 1996 model – and has grown to sales of 427,170 units in the USA last year. Those numbers demonstrate the wild popularity of both the RAV4 and its segment. Now also built in North America, RAV4 is Toyota’s best-selling vehicle in the U.S., and the best-selling non-pickup truck in the country. The acronym RAV4 means Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive.

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We tested the all-new, fifth-generation 2019 Toyota RAV4. Like most vehicles today, it is larger than its original model. It also brings more “sport” to “utility,” enhancing its agile handling, comfort, and efficiency. RAV4 is available in both gas engine and hybrid models.

Our test model was the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD, with a base MSRP of $32,900 and final price of $38,853 with many popular options, excluding freight and fees. The base model LE starts at $25,500.

The new design looks great. It drew inspiration from Toyota pickup trucks, particularly in front-end and grille design, to create an athletic, chiseled appearance. Sculpting creates a more dynamic profile and robust shoulders create a brawnier stance, giving it a “get up and go” attitude.

Driving the RAV4, I felt the benefits of the more rigid unibody, and the front strut / rear multi-link suspension. From steering into the first corner, and over the first bump, the chassis set-up provided enhanced agility while providing a smoother, quieter ride. It has crisper on-road handling and a more accommodating and quieter ride than its predecessor.

Power comes from the new Dynamic Force 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder DOHC engine paired with an 8-speed Direct-Shift Automatic Transmission in the gas models. This smooth engine makes 203-hp and 186-lb-ft of torque, with fuel economy estimates between 25 and 33-mpg.

In addition to standard front-wheel drive, RAV4 gas models offer two types of available all-wheel drive. The new (optional) Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive and the Multi-Terrain Select (tested) gave us the ability to maximize traction when driving through mud, sand, rocks, dirt and snow. The system is easy to use thanks to control buttons or a control dial positioned to the left of the transmission shift lever.

Inside, the cabin has been refined, and re-defined. It’s larger, quieter and more comfortable, with more usefulness, flexibility and cargo room than before. It’s more upscale and user-friendly. The dash layout is modern and uncomplicated.

Details large and small show the focus on enhanced everyday comfort and convenience. Front and rear seats are more supportive and more comfortable. Available two-zone front heated seats include a thoughtful touch: greater heat provided in the center of the back and the thighs, which many people typically find comfortable.

This new model is like a high-style pack mule. Toyota remembers a key reason why people buy these vehicles: carrying capability. The cargo area is more than 2.50 inches longer, and the cargo area deck offers two height levels and flat deck with rear seats folded down.

Also available is Entune 3.0 multimedia, including Wi-Fi Connect powered by Verizon, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant capability, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
The RAV4 gas models are offered in five grades: LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure and Limited. RAV4 HV will be offered in four grades: LE HV, XLE HV, XSE HV and Limited HV. Our test model (Adventure grade) was a fun, robust package that is equipped for all-weather urban, suburban, and trail exploring – and we did all three.

Safety is a hallmark of Toyota products and innovations. This new platform includes and improves upon excellent safety technology. This includes collision protection, while standard driver-assist technologies are designed to help prevent collisions, or to mitigate their impacts. It’s also equipped with eight airbags, along with a backup camera with projected path, and Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, Anti-lock Braking System, Smart Stop Technology, and more.

Toyota’s 36-month/36,000 mile basic new-vehicle warranty applies to all components other than normal wear and maintenance items. Additional 60-month warranties cover the powertrain for 60,000 miles, plus two years / 25,000 miles of ToyotaCare, a complimentary plan covering normal factory-scheduled maintenance, and 24-hour roadside assistance.

Overall, I like this new 5-th generation RAV4. It’s true to the original mission of that first model, with improvements in all areas, especially styling, comfort, size and capabilities. In many ways, this new model contains a lot of the “quirky” individualism as that first model – which is why I think you’ll like it if you drive it.