Twenty-five years ago, Toyota practically invented the modern crossover segment with their four-wheel drive Recreational Activity Vehicle: the RAV4. Over the past four generations, the company has come to dominate the segment, topping the sales charts year after year. But while the crossover craze reached an absolute fever pitch in 2018, the RAV4 faces stiffer competition from the likes of Nissan, Honda and even General Motors. For the 2019 Toyota RAV4, something had to change.
Fortunately, Toyota was paying attention, because pretty much everything changed for this new generation. Here, we have the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure — what is, ostensibly, the RAV4’s most off-road capable version yet, barring the arrival of the 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road. To see just how capable it is, I took it to the wilderness near Rocky Mountain National Park with a couple questions in mind: Does Toyota’s most rugged-looking RAV4 bring the goods as a capable off-roader? Is this a car I’d feel comfortable to take into the Colorado backcountry and make it out again?
Let’s start with the way it looks. Toyota designers took their cues from the FT-AC concept that hit the 2017 LA Auto Show. From there, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 carried over most of its concept-like traits into production. That includes the flat, aggressive news, headlight and taillight design, as well as the lines, creases and two-tone paint scheme. Thankfully they dialed back the cladding quite a bit, but there’s enough there to speak to this car’s off-road intentions. Styling is subjective, but I think it looks much better than the outgoing model.
While the 2019 Toyota RAV4 has a new interior layout to the previous model, there are still plenty of nice soft-touch surfaces. What’s more, there are enough alternating colors throughout the interior that it doesn’t feel dark or gloomy. The orange trim may be a bit much, depending on your tastes. Overall, the interior design shows Toyota made an effort to make this new RAV4 Adventure much more interesting than the old one.
Comfort and Convenience
While this new RAV4 makes an effort to look more interesting, it wouldn’t be a Toyota if it had a stupid, unintuitive layout. Fortunately, it doesn’t, as all the controls fall where you’d expect them. Most of the audio controls are accessible on the steering wheel and give you a visual indication in the 7.0-inch digital multi-information display. Adjustments are easy enough through the 8.0-inch Entune 3.0 infotainment system, since you still have buttons to access all the menus. In the new RAV4, the system does support Apple CarPlay, but it does not support Android Auto.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 also has five USB ports throughout the cabin, as well as a 12V/120W power outlet up front. The Adventure offers a 100W AC power outlet in the rear cargo area, which is a nice touch on a camping trip.
The only button I kept fishing for was the heated steering wheel, placed to the left of the steering wheel beneath the instrument cluster. You’d think the button would be near the heated and ventilated seats, but you instead find the button to turn off the traction control.
The SofTex-trimmed seats offer a leatherette surface that feels nice enough on normal days, but they do get a bit hot after a long drive. The ventilated seats on the Adventure and Limited help combat that, but it could be a dealbreaker for some, and it doesn’t feel as nice as genuine leather, which Toyota does not offer on any trim level.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 offers an impressive amount of technology right off the bat, across all trim levels. That’s particularly true when it comes to safety, as Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 comes standard. The suite features a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, automatic high beams, and Lane Tracing Assist. Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is standard on XLE and above trims, and optional on the base LE.
The digital rearview camera is a worthwhile option as part of the $1,265 Adventure Grade Technology Package. Flip the middle switch, and a camera mounted inside the rear tailgate just behind the glass activates, even if you’re moving forward. That lets you keep an eye on traffic behind you if you fill the cargo area up with gear, or if you tow a small trailer, as the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure has a 3,500-pound towing capacity. All other trim levels are limited to 1,500 pounds.
Other technology options on this 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure included a $1,185 Adventure Grade Weather Package, which added a heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats and rain-sensing wipers. The $1,620 Entune 3.0 Premium Audio system ups the speaker count to eleven, and adds a subwoofer and retains the 8.0-inch touchscreen display.
All standard 2019 Toyota RAV4 models, including the Adventure, are powered by the same naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Toyota calls this new powerplant its ‘Dynamic Force’ engine, and the numbers look encouraging on paper. The engine puts out 203 horsepower (up from the old model’s 176) and 184 lb-ft of torque (up from 172). Power is routed in the case of the Adventure to all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy figures on all-wheel drive models are respectable, with an EPA rating of 25 City / 33 Highway / 28 Combined mpg.
Despite how the numbers play out, the powertrain is where the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure really fell down for me. Especially at altitude, the engine sounded raspy when pushed hard, and it’s awfully noisy as well. As a matter of disclosure, this particular car is a “pre-production prototype”, according to Toyota, so it could have been this particular car having that issue. Nonetheless, the engine neither felt nor sounded as refined as I expected from a ground-up redesign.
The transmission was surprising, as well
Then there’s the transmission. It shifts smoothly enough, so it provided for a comfortable driving experience. When I wanted a bit more engagement, however, the automatic was slower to respond than I would have liked and the shifts lacked crispness, even when I put it in Sport mode.
This is going to sound weird, I know, but it felt more like a CVT. First and second gear are fairly short, but third through eighth are taller gears, and they’re spaced fairly close together. So any two or three-gear downshifts at speed are tough to discern, and it just didn’t feel like I’d come to expect a traditional automatic would. On the flip side, though, having an actual torque converter is nice when you need to meter out low-speed torque.
All-wheel drive versions of the 2019 Toyota RAV4 offer six drive modes through the Multi-Terrain Select system. Apart from Eco, Normal and Sport, you also get Mud & Sand, Rock & Dirt and Snow modes. The Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel drive system performed flawlessly even in Normal mode, but it’s nice to have some additional settings that do make the car more capable on loose surfaces.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure is more capable than the rest of the lineup, but it’s no 4Runner TRD Pro. The all-wheel drive system and Multi-Terrain Select are no replacements for locking differentials and two-speed transfer cases off road. As a crossover, though, you should expect to make that sort of compromise. If you are looking for a more serious off-roader, I’d certainly recommend looking at a 4Runner.
On that basis, the Adventure is akin to cars like the Subaru Forester or Outback. Its 8.6 inches of ground clearance should see you over obstacles. The RAV4 Adventure also has enough power and technology to perform well as a light backcountry off-roader and an admirably comfortable solid daily driver. I’d definitely consider it as an alternative to Subaru’s crossovers. At any rate, it’s a step above its competitors, like the Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox and Honda CR-V on off-roading capability.
As capable as the Adventure is, Toyota also offers its most popular car in a range of models. The base price for the Adventure starts at $32,900, which is a bit steep for a compact crossover. Add all the packages and a $1,045 destination fee, and suddenly you’re at $38,865. There are more value-minded trims, like the LE and XLE, as well as the more feature-minded Limited trims. As with the old model, Toyota offers the RAV4 Hybrid as well, which we will fully test soon.