Why are crossovers and SUVs so popular these days? You might think it’s because you sit up higher, or the widespread availability of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. But there’s a more elemental reason: the size, height and ground clearance of the most popular compact utility vehicles aren’t much different in size from sedans built 80 years ago. Both employ what designers call “two-box design,” with the hood being the first box and the cabin being the second box. Both are about 180 inches long, have approximately 8 inches of ground clearance and are 68 inches high. It’s the perfectly sized vehicle, not too big not too small, with enough ground clearance to overcome whatever weather nature throws at it.
The fifth-generation 2019 Toyota RAV4 fits those specs within an inch or so, making it a modern classic in terms of packaging. It’s large enough to hold you, four friends and a whole mess of lifestyle debris, but not so immense as to make parking problematic at Publix. Of course, the same could be said of the previous RAV4, and it’s why the RAV4 is not only the bestselling Toyota in the United States, but also the bestselling vehicle that’s not a full-size pickup. It’s an ideal size.
What couldn’t be said of earlier RAV4s is that they were visually dynamic. In terms of styling, most RAV4s have been little more than stylistic sleep aids, with performance to match. The same can’t be said of the 2019 model. Clad in tough, chiseled sheet metal, the new RAV4’s aggressive couture recalls the 4Runner and Tacoma yet has a unique charisma distinctly lacking in its forebears. Offered in ascending LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure and Limited models, the RAV4 wears slightly different faces depending on trim level, but all retain the new models rugged charisma.
That feeling continues inside, but not at the expense of functionality. The new vehicle’s wheelbase has increased 1.2 inches, and overall width is up by 0.4 inches, lending the cabin a roomy feeling. The center console sits 0.7 inches higher to match door armrest height, just the sort of detail Toyota catches, but few other automakers do. A number of built-in trays enhance interior storage, while soft touch surfaces and contrast stitching lend the interior funky, chic vibe.
A 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen anchors the dashboard and is flanked by knobs for volume and tuning. A Verizon Wi-Fi hot spot along with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple CarPlay compatibility are standard. Qi wireless phone charging and a digital rearview mirror are available. A USB port is standard on LE models; others get an additional four outlets.
When it comes to hauling, the 37.5-cubic-foot cargo area is more than 2.5 inches longer than before and features a cargo deck board that adjusts to two heights. And its reversible underside makes it ideal for carrying wet or dirty objects. Nevertheless, the hauling that’s more important to most people is the kind that comes from planting your right foot to the floor.
For the time being, there’s one driveline: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. At 203 horsepower, the RAV4 has 27 more horsepower than before, enough to reach 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. In March, Toyota will offer a hybrid variant, which uses a modified version of the same gas engine teamed with electric motors. More powerful than its siblings, the hybrid RAV4 reaches 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, while its all-wheel-drive system uses an electric motor mounted to the rear axle to power the rear wheels. A sport-tuned suspension, tauter spring and shock absorber tuning, and 18-inch alloy wheels are available.
Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered. In LE and XLE models, all-wheel drive is optional, and can send up to 50 percent of available power to the rear wheels. Limited and Adventure models get all-wheel drive with torque vectoring that manages power distribution between the left and right rear wheels. When not needed, the rear wheels are disengaged to reduce fuel consumption. A Multi-Terrain Select system assists when driving through mud, sand, rocks or dirt.
No matter which RAV4 you drive, you’ll find the engine to be far more responsive than before, with a punchy feel that invites enthusiastic driving. The vehicle has a rewardingly solid feel, absorbing the worst road shocks with enough compliance to provide a comfortable ride. Body motions are very controlled. The RAV4’s more spirited driving character comes through, ensuring that its aggressive nature is more than skin deep.
Toyota Safety Sense system is standard and includes forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and road sign recognition. Blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert are optional.
The 2019 RAV4 is a significant improvement over past models, with attractively aggressive styling, superior performance and an overall package that’s perfect.
Given that the RAV4 created the crossover segment 25 years ago, its masterful packaging is easy to understand. By any measurement, it’s just about right, maybe even classically so.
Base prices: $26,550-$36,125
Engine: DOHC 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Torque: 184 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 24-26/32-34
Wheelbase: 105.9 inches
Length: 180.9 inches
Ground clearance: 8.4-8.6 inches
Cargo capacity: 37.5 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500-3,500 pounds
Curb weight: 3,380-3,615 pounds