2019 Toyota RAV4 Review and Video

Unexpected Excellence

Best selling doesn’t always mean best in class.

Hershey’s has shipped an unfathomable amount of chocolate, but it’s unlikely any gourmand would proclaim this company’s namesake candy bar the world’s finest confectionery. Similarly, Toyota delivers scads of RAV4s every year, but as compact utility vehicles go, it’s hardly the segment’s most appealing option, not as long as Mazda is building CX-5s and Honda factories keep cranking out the CR-V.

Toyota’s current RAV4 may have fallen behind some of its competitors in key areas, though that is not to say this vehicle is without virtue. There are reasons it’s the best-selling model in its class as well as the Japanese automaker’s most popular nameplate in the United States. (Yes, it outsells even the perennially popular Camry.) Motorists drove home from their local Toyota stores in nearly 408,000 of them last year, a dizzying clip equating to roughly 47 copies sold every hour of every day, a pace that’s propelled it to the position of the best-selling non-pickup nameplate in America.

Two Flavors of RAV4

As before, Toyota is offering a standard, gasoline-powered RAV4 or a hybrid that’s, oddly enough, both more economical and sportier, providing appreciably more rapid acceleration. All told, there are five trim levels of the former and four of the latter, though the company has cut the total number of orderable build combinations in half, reducing it to about 100.

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Currently, the hybrid model accounts for about 10 percent of this nameplate’s sales but with the 2019 model, product planners expect that figure to increase to about 25. Aside from remarkable fuel economy, gasoline-electric RAV4s are priced just $840 more than comparable all-wheel-drive combustion versions, a reduction of $925 compared to the outgoing model, something that should help it reach that sales target.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Mazda CX-5 Pros and Cons

Visually, the 2019 RAV4 better fits in with the rest of Toyota’s truck-and-SUV lineup. With an angular grille and chiseled flanks, it looks more like a mini 4Runner than your run-of-the-mill mall-going crossover, a welcome change.

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TNGA Bones

The redesigned RAV4 builds on the outgoing model’s success while bolstering the areas where it has fallen behind. Core to this mission is TNGA, the Toyota New Global Architecture, which is shared with other vehicles in the automaker’s sprawling lineup including models like the Corolla, Avalon, and Prius.

Serving RAV4 duty, this platform is 57 percent more rigid than the one it’s replacing. TNGA also helps provide greater versatility, more comfort, and reduced fuel consumption, important attributes in any vehicle, particularly a crossover.

Like practically every redesigned model that hits the market these days, this vehicle has grown. The wheelbase is 1.2 inches (3.0 cm) longer, the body’s a hair wider and it even offers half an inch (1.3 cm) more ground clearance than before, maxing out at 8.6 inches (22 cm). The cargo area is also about 2.5-inches (6.4 cm) longer, which provides more luggage space. Maximum stowage capacity has yet to be determined but the new RAV4 offers 37.6 cubic feet (1,065 liters) of volume behind the second-row seats, a broad and deep space ready to swallow your latest spoils from a shopping trip to Costco or a heap of roll-aboard suitcases.

The Biggest Improvement

Upon first meeting the 2019 Toyota RAV4 you’re most likely to notice its handsome new exterior design, but this crossover is much more than just a pretty face. Perhaps its most important attributes are found inside, the space you’ll occupy and interact with whenever and wherever you drive.

Simply put, the new interior is superb. Attractively grained soft plastics abound, as do storage cubbies. The various controls operate with well-oiled slickness and there are plenty of carefully considered amenities. At long last, the RAV4’s cabin is what it should be, with no feelings of junkiness or cut corners to be found. The chunky climate control knobs with their turbine-like grooves are particularly satisfying to use, rotating with the precision of a machinist’s micrometer.

ALSO SEE: 2019 Subaru Forester Review

Improving outward visibility, the exterior mirrors that have been moved onto the doors, the A-pillars are smaller, there’s redesigned side glass and a lower dashboard. An available digital rear-view mirror, which pipes a video feed from the reverse camera to a small display screen hidden beneath the mirror’s reflective surface further enhances the sightlines. While not the industry’s first implementation of this technology (GM has offered it in certain products for a number of years), it’s nonetheless Toyota’s first application of it. The Digital Rear-View Mirror is standard equipment on Limited-trim models (both gasoline and hybrid) as well as XSE hybrid grades.

Keeping passengers happy, the rear seat offers additional legroom with enhanced cushioning. The fold-down armrest is now wider and equipped with deeper cupholders to keep Big Gulps firmly in place rather than splashed across your lap. Even the back doors open to a slightly wider angle for improved access, great if you have kids or baby seats.

As for entertainment and connectivity, a range of Entune infotainment systems is offered in this RAV4. Wi-Fi with connectivity provided by Verizon is available, as is Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple CarPlay integration (but no Android Auto). You can even get an 800-Watt, 11-speaker JBL sound system. Up to five USB ports are also offered, each with 2.1 amps of power, so no one’s gadgets should ever run out of juice.

Despite offering plenty of features, Entune is still far from my preferred infotainment system. I find it confusing to use and rather slow to respond.

The Drive

The sole engine offered in Toyota’s latest RAV4 is a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder. Augmented by the company’s D-4S fuel-delivery system, with its port and direct injectors, this engine delivers a class competitive 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It also boasts 40 percent thermal efficiency.

Under heavy acceleration, this engine is smooth and howling, emitting an unexpectedly husky growl while working. It sounds pretty good, an unusual compliment for a four-banger. With a friction-free demeanor, it’s also happy to rev.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox offered in combustion-powered models. Smooth and responsive, it effortlessly hands off from one gear to the next, even under heavy loads. My only minor complaint? Downshifts could manifest a bit faster when you boot the gas.

In normal driving, the RAV4 offers more-than-adequate acceleration, zipping to 60 miles an hour in around 8.2 seconds. Performance may suffer when loaded with people and cargo while climbing a mountain road, but for typical use, it’s perfectly fine, especially when you consider the fuel efficiency.

Front-wheel-drive XLE models should return 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highway drives. Combined, it’s estimated at 29 mpg. Naturally, other models are slightly less economical, particularly if you opt for all-wheel drive. Adventure and Limited grades with four-corner traction should deliver 24 city, 32 highway and 27 combined.

But if you really want to save cash at the pump, you’ll have to get a RAV4 hybrid. Every model features standard all-wheel drive, provided by a rear-mounted electric motor. They sticker at 41 city, 37 highway and 39 mpg combined.

In addition to much-improved fuel efficiency, Hybrid versions also provide greater acceleration, blitzing to mile-a-minute velocity in 7.8 seconds, nearly half-a-second faster than combustion models. System combined net horsepower clocks in at 219.

Three kinds of all-wheel drive are offered: the one that’s standard on hybrid models, plus one with torque vectoring and another without. Both arrangements offered on combustion-powered RAV4s feature Multi-Terrain Select, a knob on the center console that allows the driver to easily tailor the system’s performance to varying surface conditions from mud and sand to rock and dirt.

As for steering feel, the RAV4 is surprisingly precise, smooth and quick. Toss this crossover into a corner and the effort builds naturally, giving it a light, airy feel. The brake pedal is, unfortunately, a bit too soft for my liking.

Another feather in this vehicle’s cap, Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is standard on all grades. This suite of advanced driver-assistance technologies includes features like a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, road-sign recognition and much more.

The Verdict: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Review

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 offers more equipment and technology, refinement and efficiency. Further increasing its appeal is attractive pricing. The base LE model gains $2,000 in extra equipment for a price increase of around $800. High-end Limited versions benefit from four-grand in additional goodies for an upcharge of $2,300.

Base price for a front-drive LE model is $26,454 while an entry-level hybrid should go for $28,745. Both prices include $1,045 in delivery fees. If you want an all-wheel-drive gasoline-powered model plan on spending an additional $1,400. The new RAV4 should start arriving at dealerships next month with hybrid models slated to go on sale in March 2019.

Toyota is bound to sell a ton of these crossovers, and for good reasons, but is it the best in its segment? We’ll have to put it through back-to-back comparisons to be sure, but it has a very high bar to meet.

Photos and Video by Ben Sanders

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