TFLcar’s Five Little Steps to Modern Baby Crossovers end with #1 – the 1995 Toyota RAV4.
The “Modern” baby crossover can trace its origin directly to the 1995 Toyota RAV4 (its platform is known as the XA10) – specifically, the three-door. Why choose the 1994 Toyota RAV4 as the top choice for TFLcar’s Five Little Steps to Modern Baby Crossovers? The 1995 Toyota RAV4 was (in essence) the first purpose-built crossover. The acronym RAV4 means Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive.
Yes, the first RAV4 was sold in Japan as a 1994 model, most of the RAV4s sold in the United States began as 1995 models.
While at the 2014 Los Angeles International Auto Show, one thing became abundantly apparent, baby crossovers are about to hit the North American consumer – hard. The next year will see baby crossovers like the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade and Chevrolet Trax, among others. Currently, baby crossovers in the United States consists of the Nissan Juke and MINI Countryman; however, the MINI sits in a much higher financial bracket.
A “Baby Crossover” is a super small SUV/crossover that’s based on a small car platform. For instance: the upcoming Mazda CX-is based on the Mazda3 platform. Few of these vehicles are capable of any real off road excursions (the Jeep Renegade looks like it might be the exception to this rule), most are capable in foul weather and snow.
Is this category reallythat new?
Toyota took lessons it learned with its Toyota Tercel 4WD SR5 Wagon and built a vehicle on a dedicated platform that would start the crossover revolution. The first generation RAV4, (the XA10 series) was constructed on a unique platform with components sourced from several other Toyota vehicles (Corolla, Celica, Camry etc.). Originally sold in the United States with a three and five-door configuration, in some markets the Toyota RAV4 had a three door with a soft-top option.
Power came from a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that made 129 horsepower (@ 5,600 rpm) and 129 lbs-feet of torque (@ 4,600 rpm). Connected to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, power was fed to the front wheels. A push-button four-wheel lock engagement was available for the manual transmission model and an automatic system for the automatic transmission RAV4.
The automatic transmission had (STD I) full-time all wheel drive. An electronically controlled multi-plate clutch locking center differential. An optional Torsen limited slip rear differential was available, though rarely equipped. Early models have a “C.DIFF AUTO” button that, when depressed, prevents the center differential from locking.
When no button is present the multi-plate clutch always operates in AUTO mode.
The first generation Toyota RAV4 equipped with the manual transmission had a full-time all wheel drive with 50/50 torque split. Manually locking center differential via the C.DIFF LOCK button on the console. There was an optional Torsen limited slip rear differential too. (paraphrased) – – awdwiki
The four-door model was about 16-inches longer and substantially more utilitarian. Still, the focus here is on the three-door model with the tiny 86.6-inch wheelbase. In many ways, it’s smaller than the new batch of baby crossovers. Still, if you look at the current Toyota RAV4, it’s much larger than the original RAV4. This is the case with other crossovers from the 90s like the Honda CR-V and Forester.
Packaging and interior layout of the 2015 Toyota RAV4 was remarkably flexible. Seats could be flattened to make a (bumpy) bed. The high seating position made for an easy ingress/egress. Along with a large, boxy load space, the novelty of the left-side opening rear door quickly diminished when you’re access to the curbside was impeded by the same door. This was because the rear door was designed for the Japanese market. They dive and load on the other side of the street.
Driving characteristics of the 1995 Toyota RAV4: This is where all of the lessons of the past came together. All of those years with beefed-up station wagons, hatchbacks and boxy styling were a footnote with this new creation. Power was good, but not spectacular. Off the line, the 1995 Toyota RAV4 is very quick up to 30/40 mph. The five-speed manual is very easy to use and wouldn’t be out of place in an number of hatchbacks of the day.
The highway ride in the five-door was quite good. The three-door was a bit choppy given its short wheelbase, but it was a hoot to sling around a corner. Four wheel independent suspension and larger-than-any-car’s wheels gave the wee-little crossover a bit of bite. Sure, it leans a bit, but it’s still fun. Put it in snow or dirt and it becomes a poor-man’s rally car.
That last part I can definitely attest to. Just like all of the vehicles featured on this list, I’ve actually driven the 1995 Toyota RAV4. In this case, it was a well-used 3-door that was eventually (slightly) upgraded for a rally race in Palmdale, CA. I drove it on the streets and in snow too. Man, it’s a fun little ride.
In another case, it is a 1997 five-door that a family member drives in Denver, CO.
Both vehicles are a breeze to park, drive and live with. The diving position is still one of the best out there, but the rear seats in the three door are a tad snug. Road noise is noticeable, it’s ruckus is reminiscent of cheap hatchbacks of the day – not a Camry-like experience at all.
Used model info: The rear suspension needs to be tightened up for better all-around performance. There are a variety of aftermarket suppliers that can fix the sag. Brakes can be a bit flimsy in well-used models, so keep an eye on that if you’re looking to buy a used one.
The 1995 Toyota RAV4 brought the notion of a small crossover to a hungry audience. In North America, the Toyota RAV4 is still one of the top selling vehicles out there. Ironically, Toyota is one of the few automakers that’s not (at the time of this writing) even teasing the market with a baby crossover to send up against the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-3, Jeep Renegade, Chevrolet Trax, MINI Countryman and Nissan Juke.
Please drop TFLcar a comment below if you have something you wish to include. Stay tuned for a ton of videos coming in 2015 featuring the new batch of baby crossovers!
Speaking of unique AWD systems – here’s one of the pioneers of the baby crossover segment – the 2015 Nissan Juke!
1150 kg 2535 lb
fuel tank capacity
58 litres 12.8 UK Gal 15.3 US Gal