The Toyota RAV4 Adventure Is Actually Worthy of Taking on One

More sport and more utility make this version plenty satisfying.

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographerThe Manufacturerphotographer

Two-plus decades after the Toyota RAV4 first appeared on our shores, the new, fifth-gen edition is all grown up. What was originally a small crossover optimized for fuel economy and pleasant driving dynamics has morphed into a bigger, broader-shouldered rig that, in uplevel Adventure trim, now boasts genuine off-roading cred.

While Toyota's most popular vehicle is still available with front- or all-wheel drive, the Adventure gets as standard a more sophisticated AWD system with torque vectoring and the ability to disconnect the rear axle for enhanced fuel efficiency when AWD isn't required. (The same system is also standard on the RAV4 Limited AWD.) Similar to the Terrain Response system you'll find in Land Rovers, the RAV4's new Multi-Terrain Select system can, via a center-console knob, activate modes for Mud & Sand, Rocks & Dirt, and Snow. The system is able to apportion up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels and can also shift torque left or right for enhanced traction and responsiveness. In every mode, the driver can monitor what the system is doing via a small graphic inside the speedometer.

Multi-Terrain Select adds a welcome measure of security to the RAV4, a bit of "FJ Cruiser" to a vehicle better known for its on-road manners. Also on board are hill-start assist and downhill-assist control, both of which make negotiating off-road inclines a cinch. While Los Angeles has experienced an unusual amount of rain this spring, Mother Nature unfortunately kept the skies dry the week of my RAV4 test drive—the worst terrain I could find was a steep unpaved grade that, with downhill assist on, the RAV4 creepy-crawled down with ease. With 8.6 inches of ground clearance, the Adventure should have no issues tackling any off-road conditions most RAV4 owners are likely to encounter.

The Adventure model looks the part, boasting beefy roof rails, chunky fender flares, a chiseled front grille with thick fog-light surrounds, and 19-inch wheels with matte-black accents. Inside the grille, active shutters (standard on the Adventure) help reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. My test vehicle also sported a new exterior color, Lunar Rock, paired with a contrasting Ice Edge roof. The RAV4 has come a long way from its softer, more carlike forebears. The Adventure looks like a real SUV.

Still, being a crossover, the RAV4's main mission continues to be on-road daily driving. And that it handles like a champ. Underneath is the same ultra-rigid Toyota New Global Architecture platform that underpins the new Lexus ES350 I recently reviewed. The RAV4's wheelbase has grown more than an inch over the gen-four edition's, enhancing rear-seat legroom. Shoulder room is improved, too, while a host of noise-isolation upgrades make the cabin quieter than ever before. This is a genuinely comfy machine, with plenty of headroom up front (I'm a six-footer and fit with room to spare), excellent visibility, and an intuitive control layout that never leaves you hunting for a function. The 8.0-inch color touchscreen of the Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system (part of a $1,620 package that includes JBL premium audio) responds instantly to finger presses and, thanks to two stacks of hard buttons for accessing submenus, is a breeze to navigate.

Frankly, I was amazed at all the gear on board. The Adventure Grade Weather package ($1,185) adds heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and a heated leather steering wheel. An Adventure Grade Technology option ($1,265) features advanced parking and object-detecting sonar sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, and more. My example also included a power sunroof ($850) and a few other goodies, bringing the sticker to just over $40,000.

There's a lot to like about this new version of Toyota's best-seller. The standard DOHC, 2.5-liter four isn't the most refined powerplant around (it can get strident when your foot is deep in the throttle), but with 203 horses it moves the RAV4 well enough and helps deliver an EPA rating of 33 mpg on the highway. The eight-speed automatic keeps busy doling out the 184 lb-ft of torque, but it's good at its job, serving up quick, jolt-free shifts. Steering feel is quite good, and the ride is plenty pliant. The cockpit is bright and perky, too, with two-tone Softex seat and dash materials and bright-orange accents that add some visual splash. The rear cargo area is impressively spacious and easily accessed via a power tailgate.

Refined, roomy, and loaded with tech and conveniences, this new RAV4 also has a muscular presence and, in Adventure trim, the chops to back it up. There may be more driver-focused rivals in this segment (Mazda's CX-5 comes to mind), but the RAV4 Adventure's capabilities and solid, do-everything-well character make for a compelling ride that's sure to please the RAV4 faithful—and newcomers to the fold.

Here's betting that Toyota's impressive new crossover retains its title as the maker's sales champ.

2019 Toyota RAV4 Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $33,995/$40,263 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4; 203 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 5,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 25/33 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 181.5 x 73.4 x 68.6 in
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
WEIGHT 3,600 lb (est)
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 120 mph (mfr)
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