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One Week With a 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

All dressed up with no gravel to grind.

Todd LassaWriter, PhotographerManufacturerPhotographer

The second dark metallic gray vehicle to arrive at my house in as many weeks, this one with all the chrome bits and lettering nicely blacked out, beckoned for at least a bit of light off-roading. Toyota's consumer website entices potential customers of this model to dress up in all the North Face garb they own and take advantage of the TRD Off-Road's "retuned suspension with enhanced rebound control and red coil springs with revised spring rates," which "means better ride-quality for tackling gravel-covered roads."

Great! I've got a late-model gravel bike, which easily would fit in the 69.8 cubic-feet of cargo space (with the split second-row seats folded down), or on a rack up top, though that's going to require lifting the bike a foot higher than last week's graphite and black vehicle, a 2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring hatchback.

Unfortunately, this is not a good time to seek out even some light off-roading, as much as the aggressive-looking Falken Wildpeak 225/60R18 All-Terrain Trail O1As whisper from the wheel wells. Instead, I rounded up Django, our big collie. Our big trip for the week was a visit to Django's physical therapist. He had just had elbow surgery, and the PT was still taking patients. When we arrived, the therapist came out and carefully grabbed Django's leash while we waited in the car—the perfect time to poke around.

The RAV4 TRD's interior is comfortable, with heated and cooled perforated leather seats, and a suitably adjustble driving position (I always lower the driver's seat to the floor as much as possible, especially in SUVs). The Toyota's fit and finish is easily competitive with anything in the premium compact SUV category, with fairly subtle TRD stitching and interior highlights and not-so-subtle TRD emblems sewn into the front headrests. Toyota began as a loom manufacturer, after all.

On the local freeways and on relatively smooth suburban Metro Detroit boulevards, the RAV4 TRD Off-Road was well-suited to on-road driving, which is what I'd hope for a transverse-engine, unibody compact car-based SUV, but not necessarily what I'd expect. TRD may have retuned the suspension, but they didn't go overboard, and there was no indication of how serious-looking the Falken Wildpeaks were from inside. This is no Toyota 4Runner, but then, a "gravel" bike is no full-suspension, drop-seat mountain bike.

On pavement, the RAV4 TRD is smooth, cushy, and in the best tradition of Toyota's mainstream commodity cars, innocuous. That pretty much describes the entire compact two-row SUV class, whether from commodity brands like Toyota, Honda, Chevrolet, Ford, and Nissan, or whether from premium brands. Perhaps we'll find more distinction between the main players in the segment when the electric autonomous pods come to replace them.

The only complaints I have with the Toyota RAV4 TRD are sluggish acceleration and engine roughness, and then only when in Eco mode, which seemed to happen by default, perhaps as a way to boost real-world fuel mileage. Once in normal mode, the eight-speed auto shifted smoothly and the 2.5-liter engine jumped into traffic adequately. "Sport" mode seemed to shift it down at least one gear while in the midrange, though there wasn't anything terribly compelling about it.

What about fuel consumption? The Toyota RAV4 is the fourth-bestselling model in the U.S. market, behind the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, and Ram pickup, and it seems to have as many different powertrain variations as those trucks, even though each and every one begins with a 2.5-liter four. Among just the AWD versions of the Toyota RAV4, there were four different EPA numbers; 27/34 mpg for the AWD LE, 25/33 mpg for the AWD base, 27/33 mpg for the AWD base with stop/start, 41/38 mpg for the Hybrid AWD and 25/32 for the TRD.

Toyota sold more than 90,000 of those 41/38 mpg conventional (non-plug-in) hybrids in 2019, its first year on the market, and they cost just $2,200 more than conventional RAV4s, from the popular LE on up to the Limited. A TRD Off-Road AWD hybrid would certainly be worth the extra $2,200, and it would make the conventional model's Eco button superfluous.

There's more in store for the RAV4, too: The 2021 Toyota RAV4 AWD Plug-in Hybrid should arrive by fall.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off Road Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $36,235 (base)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/203 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 184 lb-ft. @ 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 25/32 mpg city/hwy
L x W x H 181.5 x 73.4 x 68.6 in
WHEELBASE 105.9 in
WEIGHT 3,655 lb