The Toyota RAV4 is what the industry calls a category killer. Which means Toyota sells a ton of them, and the competition (even if it feels it has a better-looking and performing vehicle) can’t seem to topple the king.
The outgoing fourth-generation RAV4 lacked the pizzazz of several other small crossovers. Even though there were 11 trim levels to choose from, they all looked fairly alike. Despite this anonymity, last year the old RAV4 was the best-selling passenger vehicle (i.e. not counting pickups) in America.
Bad news for the competition: The fifth-generation RAV4 has upped its game on many levels.
For starters, it really does look different, as evidenced by the three trim levels making their world debut at the 2018 New York auto show. For 2019, the RAV4 is racier and sportier with a more pronounced front end angled slightly—but not so far as to wear the shark-nose moniker. The front end features new grilles, angular LED headlights, and squared-off octagon wheel arches (think Lexus), and in back the new RAV4 has a spoiler, LED taillamps, and dual exhaust. The side mirror moves from the A-pillar to the door to improve visibility.
But the big changes are under the sheetmetal. The RAV4 moves from Toyota’s compact platform shared with other small cars to Toyota’s much-touted TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture). The crossover also moves from the C platform within TNGA (Prius, C-HR, and eventually Corolla) to the K midsize platform alongside the longer-wheelbase Camry and Avalon.
The switch gives the RAV4 1.2 inches more wheelbase at 105.9 inches, a wider track, and a half inch more ground clearance. But because the wheels are pushed to the corners, overall length shrinks by 2.6 inches. The result is a more planted stance. Bonus: The new architecture makes it possible to offer 19-inch wheels on top trims.
The outgoing 2.5-iiter inline-four has been replaced with Toyota’s all-new Dynamic Force 2.5-liter I-4 with direct and port injection and VVT-iE. In the Camry the engine generates 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, so expect similar numbers here. The six-speed automatic is replaced with an eight-speed.
For the four hybrids, the gas engine is paired to an electric motor and updated CVT, which in the Camry Hybrid generates 176 hp and 163 lb-ft.
No upmarket turbo-fours or V-6s are planned at this time; executives say the I-4 is class competitive. And although the architecture was designed to accommodate plug-in hybrids and full EVs, those are not in the initial RAV4 plans.
TNGA’s lighter, stiffer platform was also designed to provide better handling. The unibody chassis is 57 percent more rigid. Officials are not saying how much lighter it is. But if TNGA can make a dowdy Prius feel fun, imagine the possibilities with a RAV4.
RAV4 becomes the first vehicle on TNGA to get all-wheel drive. It also becomes the first Toyota nameplate to get Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD with Driveshaft Disconnect. It is standard on the Limited and Adventure AWD trim levels—sending up to 50 percent of power to the rear wheels when needed as well as to the individual wheel that needs it most. Driveshaft Disconnect stops power from going to the rear when not needed, automatically making the vehicle a more fuel-efficient front-driver. Lower trim levels get an AWD system without torque vectoring, and the hybrids have the updated AWD-i system.
In addition to Normal, Eco and Sport modes, Multi-Terrain Select provides maximum traction in snow, mud, sand, rocks, or dirt. The RAV4 has hill ascent control as standard, and with torque vectoring, Toyota now offers downhill assist control, as well.
For the 2019 model year the RAV4 goes down to nine trims: five with gasoline engines and four hybrids, but they are more differentiated to appeal to either the urbanite or the outdoor adventurer.
The two-tone performance-trim XSE Hybrid is the sporty new entry in the lineup, promising to be the fastest off the line while retaining best-in-class fuel economy. We await the specs and a test car to prove those claims. Two-tone paint is standard, with black accents on the lower rockers, front end, mirror caps, foglamps, and wheel arches for a meaner look. It is the only trim to get a sport-tuned suspension with firmer shocks and springs. There is an optional panoramic sunroof for the first time and an exclusive black interior with blue accents. Moving the battery under the rear seat removes the hump in the cargo area for a flat floor and segment-leading cargo capacity.
The Adventure trim adopts Tacoma pickup cues to lure its buyers off-road, including the pronounced lower lip and foglight design. It has beefier roof rails, increased towing capacity over the 3,500 pounds of the outgoing model (Toyota doesn’t have specific numbers yet), exclusive 19-inch wheels, and a new “lunar green” color exclusive to the RAV4 for its first year. Inside orange stitches scorch the black leather interior. Inside, headroom is ample even in the second row. There was no appetite to bring back a third-row option. The vehicle looks after your phone with wireless charging on a rubberized mat near the USB port to charge it. It is one of five USB outlets, including two for rear passengers. The front passenger also has a shelf with good grip to stash their phone.
A 7.0-inch infotainment screen is standard with Entune 3.0; upgraded systems have an 8.0-inch screen, satellite radio, and navigation. The RAV4 joins the new Avalon and Corolla Hatchback in offering Apple CarPlay, but as Toyota is still feuding with Google over third-party app data sharing, there’s no Android Auto. For 2019 the RAV4 also has Alexa connectivity and Wi-Fi, an evolution of the system introduced on the Camry. There are 11 speakers with the JBL sound system.
In front of the driver is a 7.0-inch cluster display, where one screen option shows the power flow to each wheel with torque vectoring.
For the first time in a Toyota sold in North America, there is a digital rearview mirror (Limited trim only). Flip the switch for a camera view that offers a wider view of the surroundings that can be toggled to show more area on one side or the other.
The 2019 model adds more soft-touch materials and surfaces, but the RAV4 should not be described as sumptuous. Front seats are heated; cooled seats are an option, as are a heated steering wheel and toasty rear seats.
Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 adds automatic emergency braking with nighttime pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, plus lane keep assist with Lane Tracing Assist, which keeps the vehicle centered as opposed to pinging from side to side. Another feature feeds information about signs, such as speed limits, to the driver display.
The manual parking brake lever has been replaced by an electric parking brake that is standard across all trim levels. It enables full-speed dynamic stopping, which will bring the car to a full stop.
With the decision to drop Platinum, the Limited is now the high-end trim. The other trims to say goodnight are the SE gas-powered trim and the SE hybrid, which is replaced by the upgraded XSE.
The RAV4 was designed and engineered in Japan. Production for this generation will be split between Woodstock, Ontario, and the nearby Cambridge plant. If demand for the RAV continues to be strong, additional units can backfill from plants in Japan.
The gasoline RAV4 goes on sale at the end of this year, with the hybrid following in early 2019. Pricing has not been released but is not expected to increase much over the current starting sticker of $25,505.