As incredible as it might seem, Toyota has completely redesigned and redone its best-selling vehicle, the RAV4 compact SUV. Wait, what?? Toyota redesigning one of its top-selling models? How did an auto manufacturer as conservative as Toyota come to take such a risk?
Well, in part anyways, it’s because it had to. The compact SUV segment the RAV4 plies its trade in is highly popular and ferociously competitive; Toyota could not let Chevrolet, Honda or Ford poach away the sales of such an important vehicle for it! Indeed, the built-in-Canada RAV4 has become the best-selling Toyota vehicle in the United States as well as in Canada. In the US, sales of the RAV4 outpace those of every other vehicle with the exception of the Big Three’s top-selling pickup trucks.
See also: Our Top 10 Best Compact SUVs in Canada
The new RAV4 carries few if any remnants of the preceding generation. For starters, it sits on Toyota’s New Global Architecture platform (TGNA), the same found under the latest Prius and the new Corolla Hatchback. That means the wheelbase is a little longer (by 30 mm) than the previous generation, and it’s also a little larger, though by a mere 10 mm. It also has a ground clearance higher by 15 mm; for a vehicle that wants to be identified as an off-roader, that’s important.
Then, there are its looks. Here also, the new RAV4 has retained virtually nothing from the previous generation. Though the outgoing RAV4 was already appreciated for its sturdy look, the new generation actually takes inspiration from Toyota’s more-rugged models like the 4 Runner, adopting sharper lines and a much more aggressive front design.
In the case of the Trail edition, it even evokes the Tacoma TRD off-roader. Then there’s white-painted roof, which deftly reminds us of the defunct FJ Cruiser. The rest of the four-door body is notable for its straight sharp lines while our Trail version (called Adventure in the United States, by the way) is distinguished by unique plastic claddings.
Obviously, the interior had to be redone too. It starts with a completely new dashboard with sharper lines and, more importantly, instruments and dials that are more intelligently arrayed. The instrument panel is well-situated in front of the driver, and the central dash screen seems to rest on the top of the dashboard for a flatscreen TV effect. That screen is designed for radio tuning, heating and cooling and a rear view camera.
Navigation? Our tester didn’t have it. Instead, users have to hook their smartphone to the dashboard (via Apple CarPlay) to get nav.
A quick word about the rearview camera. Its picture could be a lot clearer. Not only does it lack definition but also, its « fish eye » results are confusing.
The console retains the gear lever and a few buttons to modify the 8-speed transmission’s functions and all-wheel drive system to fit the driving situation. More on this in a bit.
Toyota designers have given the RAV4 interior a more rugged look while retaining a fairly modern and luxurious style. But maybe they went a little too far with the inner door panels. The door handles look nice and all, but they’re placed too far forward, making the closing of the door a little difficult. Ergonomically speaking, it requires an odd movement of the arm in order to pull the doors shut.
The (heated) seats are pretty comfortable up front, and the back row can accommodate two or three passengers in decent comfort. The rear seats do fold down to increase the rear cargo capacity. Our Trail model had the power function for opening and closing the tailgate. By the way, the Trail version gets distinct colour elements for the interior. Fit and finish were clearly well done.
Under the hood
When Toyota introduces an all-new vehicle or generation, it’s mostly all-new all the way through. In the case of the RAV4, for example, that means the engine, a 2.5L 4-cylinder unit, is 27 hp stronger than the outgoing powerplant and now delivers 203 hp. Torque is also up, by12 lb for a total of 184 lb/ft. Take note that Toyota also has a Hybrid version of the RAV4 but not in Trail trim.
It comes with an new-for-the-RAV4 8-speed automatic transmission with all-wheel drive including the Dynamic Torque Vectoring system with disconnecting rear differential (a technology that reminds me of the system found in the Focus RS sports car). All of it is computer-driven with the driver having no control on it.
Steering is electrically powered while braking is ABS and features emergency braking. The all-wheel drive system can be adjusted for mud, sand, rock, dirt or snow driving thanks to the aforementioned switches on the console.
The model’s regular tires are of the P235/55R19 dimensions, but in our case the winter tires we were riding on were Bridgestone Blizzaks, which turned out to be very useful during our late-winter test drive.
On the road
So what’s it like to drive the new RAV4? Basically, it’s actually difficult to find major differences with the outgoing model. That said, if I had the ear of the engineers at Toyota, I would ask them if they could see about making the engine quieter, for example by adding some sound-insulating material between the engine compartment and the cabin.
Then, there’s the automatic transmission. It’s an all-new 8-speed unit that should help with improving fuel economy. However, you have to consider which drive mode you want before setting out. In Normal mode, the car has to stop completely when you get to a stop sign. Attempt a rolling stop, and the transmission will react quickly to get back to first gear and the resulting jolt can get annoying in everyday driving.
Acceleration feels brisk but it still takes some nine seconds for the RAV4 to reach 100 km/h. While passing is done with confidence, the engine roars angrily when doing so, and it might take a little more time than you expect.
Overall, the RAV4 is pretty stable on the road. We did some highway driving with a strong side-wind blowing and we were surprised how little effect that had on the RAV4’s stability. The little SUV cruises quietly on the highway and it’s also pretty nimble in town.
Turning radius, however, is more than expected for such a “small” SUV, and that can make parking manœuvres a little difficult. On the other hand, visibility is better than in some other vehicles (those who owned one will remember how terrible it was with the FJ Cruiser).
The RAV4 Trail is intended for drivers who like to tackle off-road trails… as long as you don’t overdo it. This is no Tacoma TRD, let’s be clear! The RAV4 Trail can be useful on slightly difficult trails, that’s true. But we don’t recommend attempting more-demanding trails because its front valence might not withstand harsher contact with the ground or obstacles.
The Trail does get the job done in medium-to-heavy snow, and can handle the average cottage road strewn with minor obstacles. We tried to test the Dynamic Torque system but it was difficult to do. Eventually we found some terrain that demanded a little effort of the RAV4 and it came through with flying colours. And the system is quite remarkably transparent and discreet.
Average fuel use during a full week of winter driving worked out for us to 9.9L./100 km, which is pretty much what we expected of the little SUV.
Base price of the 2019 RAV4 Trail is $38,960 in Canada. Add to it the option of the two-tone paint ($ 540) and you get to $39,230. Then add to that the $100 A/C tax (that dates back to the mid-70s!), delivery and preparation fees and other incidentals and the total invoice amounts to just over $41,000.
Chances are the new RAV4 will be as popular if not more so than the outgoing version. Many motorists will surely go for versions less lavishly- equipped than the Trail, while others will opt for the new RAV4 Hybrid model coming to market soon.
Obviously, we expect to see robust responses to this new RAV4 from the competition; Ford for example is about to unveil its next-gen Ford Escape. But with Toyota’s sterling reputation of reliability, we think that the new RAV4 will be another success, including in the off-road-lite Trail trim.