Toyota drove the boring out of the 2019 RAV4. The sales leader among compact SUVs is likely to soar past a half-million sales by 2020 and extend its dominance as the best-selling vehicle in America that isn’t designed for a gun rack. It’s that good. The 2019 RAV4 looks better outside and feels better inside. Toyota has a nearly complete driver assist/safety system standard on all trim lines. A hybrid RAV4 is just $ 800 more than its gasoline counterpart. The Adventure RAV4 will make Subaru Forester owners sit up and take notice.
The RAV4’s faults are few: The four-cylinder engine gets buzzy when pushed, there’s no turbo for added oomph, and the V6 RAV4 remains gone and will not be coming back. Instead, for performance, Toyota points you to the hybrid trim lines that use the electric motor as a turbo to make the RAV4 hit 60 mph quickly and then settle down to return 40 mpg at steady highway cruising speed.
Drive the new RAV4 and you’ll be taken immediately by the big step up in cockpit quality, noise control, and — yes — driving enjoyment. Back seat passengers are comfortable even on medium-long trips, although tall rear-seat passengers make take issue with Toyota’s lowering the roofline (and the roof rack above) by an inch for a sleeker look.
I was impressed by how well all the all-wheel-drive RAV4s handled unpaved roads and undulating terrain, even the hybrids with gas-engine power in front and electric drive in back. The non-hybrids have mechanical torque vectoring to distribute power the wheels that need it. On the higher trim lines, the driveshaft decouples to reduce friction. Toyota estimates fuel economy will range from 41 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, 39 mpg combined for all hybrid RAV4s down to 24/32/27 for the Adventure and Limited AWD grades. All other models should get about 29 mpg combined.
The Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite has a measure of self-driving on highways between adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and what Toyota calls lane tracing assist, which essentially steers the vehicle toward the center of the lane. It’s useful on road trips and in dense commuter traffic. TSS 2.0 also includes a pre-collision warning and braking system, automatic high beams, and road sign recognition. TSS lacks blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert (and braking), but it’s standard on all but the entry trim line, where it’s a $ 500 option. Toyota (and Honda) are taking the lead in providing key safety features standard or near-standard, and embarrassing premium automakers.
Toyota also has embedded telematics, which includes the ability to track your car from your smartphone, or to query battery state of charge or gasoline levels from Amazon Alexa, but only on Android phones. Conversely, Toyota offers Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto. Toyota believes Android needs more robust security.
Five RAV4 Trim Levels, $ 27,000 to $ 40,000 Loaded
The 2019 RAV4 comes in five trim lines or grades. Fans of the marque will notice each trim has a slightly different grille and front-end treatment. Most buyers will simply think, “The grilles look big, and a little bit angry, and overall it looks a little more robust, or rugged.” Toyota and Lexus are big on big grilles.
From cheapest to most-equipped, the RAV4s are:
- LE, the entry grade for both gas and hybrid. Standard are LED headlamps and tail lamps, a 4.2-inch multi-information display in the instrument panel, privacy glass from the second row back, and a 12-volt jack in back as well as the front, to go with one USB jack. The front-drive LE is $ 26,545 including $ 1,045 shipping, all-wheel drive LE is $ 27,945 (a $ 1,400 difference), and the AWD hybrid (there are no front-drive hybrid RAV4s) is $ 800 more. The price differentials (minus $ 1,400 for front drive versus AWD, plus $ 800 for the hybrid) hold for all trim lines.
- XLE adds 17-inch alloys, auto-on/off headlamps, heated power side mirrors, a moonroof, rear climate control vents, smart key access to front doors and the liftgate, and five total USB jacks. Base price, AWD, is $ 28,745.
- XLE Premium, gas only, jumps to 19-inch alloys, leather-look SofTex seats, and a multi-way adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment (sorry, passenger). Base price is $ 31,945.
- Adventure is gas-engine-only, all-wheel-drive-only, with raised roof rails. The Adventure, Toyota says, “[is] equipped for all-weather urban, suburban, and trail exploring.” It will give a Subaru a run for its money, but this is not a Jeep Wrangler. Still, check out the photos of a RAV4 on uneven terrain. The cockpit has orange-lined storage trays and orange stitching. Base price is $ 33,945.
- XSE, hybrid-only, is the sportiest RAV4. Toyota says it does 0-60 in 7.8 seconds. There is a lot of blacked-out and piano black trim inside and out, a sportier suspension and 60-series tires, although the Adventure has 55-series. The interior is heavy on black trim with blue accents throughout. The roof is black, with a choice of four body colors: Blizzard Pearl, Silver Sky Metallic, Magnetic Gray Metallic, or Blueprint. Base price is $ 34,745.
- Limited steps up the luxe: standard power moonroof and power adjustable driver’s seat, optional ventilated/heated front seats and heated rears. It also gets a bigger 7-inch instrument panel MID and onboard navigation. A power liftgate is standard, and hands-free power is optional. The Limited and XSE hybrid are the first Toyotas in North America with a digital rearview mirror (Toyota’s term), meaning a mirror that flips from optical (a mirror) to a wide-angle, camera-based view. Base price is $ 36,745.
Options include tech packages (but TSS 2.0 is part of the base price), audio upgrades including an 11-speaker JBL system, and panoramic moonroof. Check every options box on the Limited and you’re looking at a $ 40,000 sticker price.
Should You Buy?
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 may well be the best compact mainstream SUV overall without being best in any one category other than predicted reliability and predicted hybrid reliability. The Mazda CX-5 is better at handling and providing a class-above cockpit. The Subaru Forester has been (in the past, at least) a more capable light-duty off-roader and snow-country vehicle. The Honda CR-V and the Kia Sportage/Hyundai Tucson are desirable all-around vehicles; the CR-V in the past has been seen as sportier than the RAV4 until now. Nissan Rogue is one of the price leaders and offers ProPilot Assist semi-autonomous driving.
In the past, the RAV4 gave you appliance-like reliability and good fuel economy. Toyota stepped up the game with generation five: a sportier feel, much-improved interior, better ride and handling, onboard telematics, and the safety suite. If you want performance, there’s no turbo-four, but the hybrid’s electric motor does the same thing and you’ll likely top 40 mpg on the highway.
If you’re comparison shopping in the compact SUV market, the RAV4 is a must-drive. Which one? If you’re a bargain-hunter and look at the entry LE, make sure you get one with the $ 590 blind spot detection option; every other trim line has it standard. But you probably should start with the XLE for $ 1,800 more. The RAV4 Adventure is a reasonable off-roader — here, off-roading doesn’t mean rock-crawling — that competes with the Subaru Forester and Jeep Cherokee (as well as the less-regarded Jeep Compass). Among US-flagged automakers, the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain are worth looking at. If you’re looking at a performance RAV4, that would be the XSE.
Toyota was the pioneer in the compact SUV market 22 years ago, back in 1996. It took 10 years to hit 100,000 sales per year, eight more to get to 200,000, and just five more (to 2017) to double sales to almost 408,000 last year. Now, the RAV4 is poised to be the first vehicle in a long time to sell more than 500,000 units a year, other than the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Suburban, and (formerly Dodge) RAM pickups. The RAV4 is riding the wave from sedans to crossovers/SUVs, downsizing from large to medium, and even more so from medium (usually a sedan) to compact.
Now read: 2020 Toyota Corolla Shames Luxury Sedans With Standard Safety Suite, 2017 Honda CR-V improves comfort, adds volume knob, loses LaneWatch, and 2017 Mazda CX-5 first drive review: Will more tech, quieter cockpit match Audi, BMW?