There’s a commonly-held belief in the automotive industry that you don’t mess with success. If a car is doing well, you leave it alone—especially if you’re a conservative company like Toyota. And yet the RAV4—a car that, by any measure you can think of, is doing very well—has been messed with in a big way. The 2019 Toyota RAV4 revealed at the 2018 New York Auto Show represents a radical departure for this founding father of the compact-SUV genre. Here are seven things you ought to know about the new compact crossover.
- It’s gone from Corolla to Camry bones.
Though the new RAV4 is about the same size as the old one, it now rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture that underpins the Camry. The size doesn’t change much, but the proportions do, and that is a major contributor to the RAV4’s radical new look.
- Its design was heavily influenced by driving in Los Angeles.
Chief engineer Yoshikazu Saeki told Automobile he spends a lot of time driving on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, which he sees as a microcosm of American driving: Bad surface conditions, a variety of straights and curves, crowded conditions, and inattentive drivers taking off-ramps too quickly as they make last-minute dives for exits. “And it’s very scary on rainy days,” he adds. He engineered the RAV4’s suspension to minimize weight transfer between wheels in order to keep traction steady and even, a formula he thinks works best for American roads.
- Engineering was subjective and not just by-the-numbers.
Saeki worked with Toyota’s takumi (master) drivers, who provided subjective feedback—a relatively new process for the RAV4, which traditionally has been developed by the numbers. The process resulted in some conflict (“Always about the process,” notes Saeki, “never the goal”) but resulted in a chassis he says has a more confident and natural feel.
- It’s got an engine we like.
The new RAV4 will use a version of the Camry’s big 2.5-liter inline-four. Sexy it isn’t, but in this day of small-displacement turbos, the 2.5 reminds us of the simple pleasures of a big naturally-aspirated four: Stout, even torque delivery and real-world fuel economy numbers that match the EPA estimates.
- This traditionally on-road CUV is now off-road ready.
It’s a bit ironic that the first-generation RAV4 eased us into the idea that SUVs didn’t have to be all about off-road ability. The new RAV4 features a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system with a fuel-saving rear-axle disconnect, along with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain Select system, which the company says will give the new RAV4 improved traction over mud, rocks and snow.
- The trapezoidal grille is gone; long live the trapezoidal grille.
It appears Toyota was finally clued in to the near-universal dislike for the trapezoidal grille. The basic hourglass shape is still present in the RAV4’s front fascia, but the grille work now occupies the upper portion, so the new RAV4 doesn’t look like it’s trying to suck algae off the surface of the road as the Camry does.
- The RAV4 can be had in three distinctive versions.
This new RAV4 seems to have a slight multiple personality disorder. For regular RAV4 buyers, there are premium models with monochromatic body trim. But then there’s the RAV4 Adventure, which is designed to appeal to the more rugged and outdoorsy among us, and the XSE that offers the high-end sporty flavor that has worked well for the Camry.