Bold, rugged design
Wide range of trims
Standard safety tech
Pricey top trims
Mediocre interior trim pieces
2019 Toyota RAV4
Launched 23 years ago in the U.S., the Toyota RAV4 (an acronym for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive) was the first-ever compact crossover SUV. Since then, it has grown in size, power, and sophistication, with the all-new 2019 RAV4 representing the fifth-generation of the model. The prescience of the original became evident in 2017, when the RAV4 overtook the Toyota Camry to become the brand’s best-seller, a position it holds to this day.
The latest RAV4 hits the hot-selling compact crossover class with a bold new look that borrows a number of off-road-ready styling cues from the rugged-looking Toyota Tacoma pickup and Toyota 4Runner SUV, offering a stance that’s more upright, body panels that are more sharply-creased, and ground clearance of an additional half-inch. The more chiseled look strikes a nice balance between cushier crossovers and tougher SUVs, and contrasts with the increasingly car-like offerings from rivals, ensuring that the RAV4’s new off-road-focused attire gets noticed in an increasingly larger pool of bland, look-alike rivals.
The RAV4’s “Adventure and Refined” design theme begins up front with a protruding hexagonal grill that rests above a massive inverted U-shaped bumper and narrow lower air intake. The narrow headlamp enclosures gain height as they drop toward the grille, while faux brake ducts house a pair of round fog lights. Along the sides, squared-off wheel arches offer plenty of daylight between the tires and fenders, while the beltline drops just aft of the A-pillars. The side mirrors are now positioned lower on the doors for increased forward and side visibility, while overall visibility is substantially improved with standard LED headlights, daytime running lights, taillights. The power outside mirrors also fold – especially important when parking in crowded urban areas.
Further back, horizontal taillights, separated by a narrow chrome trim strip, jut out from a rear fascia that also features a wide, silver-finished, lower valance.
Inside, the RAV4 Limited trim we tested offers just about everything crossover buyers look for. Although covered in SofTex rather than leather, the seats are soft, supple, heated and cooled, and look like they should wear every bit as well as the real thing. Dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen, an all-new, 3-tiered dashboard features handy storage trays on its lowest level, while the HVAC controls are now integrated into a wider, higher-sitting center console. The instrument cluster on Limited models consists of a 7-inch color display with a speedometer that can be switched between analog and digital readouts. All buttons and knobs are intuitive and buttery-smooth to operate, while the displays are clear and easily understood. Everything is nicely finished with soft touch surfaces at most touch points, while the infotainment screen, with redundant buttons and knobs for the major functions, offers a slick, easy-to-use interface with.
Amid all the technology, versatility hasn’t been overlooked as the RAV4 Limited comes with more rear legroom courtesy of a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase, a plethora of cup and bottle holders, and 37 cu ft of cargo space behind the rear seats that expands to 69 cu ft when they’re folded. The carpeted cargo deck offers two height levels for flat fore-to aft storage or more height in the aft storage area, along with a reversible deck with a plastic surface for transporting wet or dirty items. The rearview mirror found on the Limited can switch from standard to digital view, so you can stack cargo to the ceiling and still have a clear view out back.
But although comfortable, the lower front seat cushions feel short and don’t offer as much thigh support as we’d like, while the roofline, now lower by an inch, reduces interior space by cutting head room to just 37.7 inches with the optional panoramic sunroof. In addition, the interior, while nicely-trimmed at least up front (rear seat occupants are surrounded by mostly hard plastics), doesn’t come close to the luxury found in class-leading Mazda CX-5. Finally, with the rear seats folded, the RAV4’s maximum cargo room falls well short of the Honda CR-V’s and Subaru Forester’s 75.8 and 76.1 cu ft, respectively.
Under the hood
All gasoline-only 2019 RAV4s are equipped with a 2.5-liter all-aluminum 4-cylinder engine that produces 203 horsepower and 184lb -ft of torque at 5,000 rpm on regular unleaded fuel. It's mated to a more modern 8-speed, electronically-controlled automatic transmission.
Fuel economy for front-wheel-drive models is an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway, and 30 combined, while all-wheel-drive trims come in at an EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 33 highway, and 28 combined. Our own observed vehicle-measured fuel economy in primarily suburban driving was a very good 27.5 miles per gallon.
But while a single engine is offered, two all-wheel-drive systems are available.
LE and XLE models feature an available Dynamic Torque Control AWD system that measures speed, steering angle and yaw rate, and varies power transfer from 100 percent to the front wheels to a 50-50 split between the front and rear wheels.
Adventure and Limited models like our tester can be equipped with an all-new Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with Rear Driveline Disconnect system that uses those measurements – plus more - to vary torque front-to-back, and as side-to-side, along with the ability to change the logic behind those measurements according to driving environment. The system can also electronically disconnect the rear wheels from the driveline to increase fuel economy.
On the road
For 2019, the RAV4 is based on the same TNGA platform that underpins the Toyota Camry and Avalon. The result is a longer wheelbase, wider front and rear tracks, a new multi-link rear suspension, and a body 57 percent stiffer than the outgoing model. The more rigid platform means engineers can tune the suspension for more compliance, and Toyota has used this advantage to give the RAV4 a softer, smoother ride. The additional compliance also allows the RAV4’s suspension to absorb everything from minor road irregularities to larger bumps without sacrificing all-day driving comfort.
Off-the-line acceleration is more than adequate, with the more modern 8-speed automatic (that replaces the outgoing model’s 6-speed unit) pairing nicely with the more-powerful (up 27 hp from last year) 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine (hybrids get a CVT). On the highway, it's unaffected by either crosswinds or grooved pavement.
The cabin is fairly quiet, even at freeway speeds, and the latest RAV4 iteration tracks nicely down the road, feeling solid and well-planted, with the suspension doing a good job of damping out all but the harshest of ruts and potholes. There is body lean in corners, but hardly any nosedive under hard braking. And although there’s not much of an initial bite, the brakes are easy to modulate with plenty of feedback through the pedal.
At the same time, there’s little sportiness to the RAV4’s driving character, while wringing the most out of the engine requires Sport mode as, even in Normal, the transmission tends to favor fuel economy over performance. In addition, the steering wheel feels numb on-center, offering little feedback, while the engine, when pressed, sounds rough and generally unrefined.
2019 Toyota RAV4 prices
With 5 trim levels (LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, Limited), there’s a gasoline-only RAV4 for practically every budget, with 2019 RAV4 prices starting at $26,770 for a front-wheel-drive LE and topping out at around $38,000 for a fully-optioned and accessorized Limited Hybrid model.
Even the base model offers a high level of standard equipment that includes the automatic transmission and the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors). This model also offers full LED headlights with automatic high beams, LED daytime running lights and tail lights, roof rails, privacy glass, air conditioning, 4.2-inch instrument multi-information display, 60/40 split rear seat with fold-down center arm rest with cup holders, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, soft-touch dash with stitched accents, remote keyless entry, 1 USB port, 1 12V/120W power outlet, and an infotainment system with Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth phone and wireless streaming capability, a 3-year trial of Toyota’s Safety Connect services, and a 6-month, 2GB per month trial of Verizon’s wi-fi hotspot service.
Standard advanced safety features include a rearview camera, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, road sign assist, and lane keep assist.
We skip over the next four models with our all-wheel-drive Limited tester, that has a base price of $35,945 and adds a number of features to that list including 19-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off headlights, fog lights, heated outside mirrors with turn signals and blind spot warning indicators, puddle lights, moonroof, height-adjustable power liftgate, variable intermittent wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7-inch instrument multi-information display, SofTex heated front seats (8-way power driver’s with 2-position memory and lumbar support), leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift lever, all-door smart key with push-button start, a digital rearview mirror, 5 USB ports, 2 12V/120W power outlets (1 in the cargo area), and a premium audio system with navigation.
Additional standard advanced safety features include blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and an all-around sonar system with automatic rear cross-traffic braking.
Our Limited was also equipped with the Weather Package ($1,015, heated steering wheel, perforated heated and ventilated front seats, rear outboard reclining perforated heated seats, and rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers with de-icing function), the Premium Audio, Dynamic Nav & JBL Package ($580, 11 speakers, 3-year trial of real-time navigation, voice recognition, POI search), Advanced Technology Package ($1,025, foot-activated liftgate, overhead camera with in-drive, reverse, and curb view, wireless phone charging), Panoramic Sunroof ($200), and Carpeted Floor Mats ($269). All told, our Magnetic Gray tester had a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $39,034.
The Bottom Line
Despite pricey upper trims, a driving character that's hardly sporty, and an engine that's coarse-sounding when pushed, the RAV4 checks more boxes than it leaves blank. Those checked boxes includes a wide range of models, a bold new look, and a plethora of standard advanced safety features that only add to Toyota's great quality, reliability, and resale value, for a top pick in the class.