Rugged good looks. The 2019 Toyota RAV4 rolls in with a brand-new, sharper, more off-road-ready look that includes a more upright stance, sharper body lines, a higher ride height, and other cues from the Toyota Tacoma and Toyota 4Runner.
This strikes a nice balance between comfier crossovers and more rugged SUVs that contrasts the rest of the class nicely, ensuring the new off-road-focused suit stands out in an increasingly larger sea of vanilla look-alike competitors.
Looking past the rugged new look, nighttime driving – and overall visibility – has been improved with standard LED headlights, daytime running lights, and tail and stoplights. The power outside mirrors also have a folding feature, especially important when leaving the trails behind and parking on crowded urban streets.
Form above function. First, the good news. Inside, the RAV4 still offers the softer side crossover buyers seek. The cabin is well equipped even in base LE form, with soft-touch surfaces at most touch points, a plethora of cup and bottle holders, and 37 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats that expands to 69 cubes when they’re folded.
The standard infotainment system offers a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Bluetooth, five USB ports (one media, four charging), and a Verizon-compatible, six-month wi-fi hot spot trial with a 2GB data cap per month.
At the same time, while that rugged exterior is sharp, there's a bit of a compromise buyers must make inside. A roofline lower by an inch from the outgoing model intrudes on interior space, cutting head room to just 37.7 inches with the optional panoramic sunroof. Taller riders may feel cramped, while even average-height drivers feel a little too close to the headliner for comfort.
Safety for the win. Toyota has made advanced safety features part of the standard equipment in most of its new vehicles, and the RAV4 is no exception. It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus thanks to all of its standard active tech.
The list of standard equipment includes forward- and rear-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and rear parking sensors.
In addition, while drivers in cooler climates will find the RAV4’s base all-wheel-drive system adequate, the torque-vectoring AWD system that's standard on Adventure trims and available on the Limited delivers impeccable slick-road handling. This system also enhances off-road handling and on-road cornering.
Nice ride, average performance. A stiff structure and soft suspension tuning allow the RAV4 to absorb everything from minor road irregularities to larger bumps well, while gasoline-only models as well as hybrids offer plenty of off-the-line acceleration.
Both powertrains work well with their respective transmissions (a continuously variable transmission for hybrids and a conventional eight-speed automatic for the others). In addition, the brakes are easy to modulate, with plenty of feedback through the pedal.
On the other hand, overall performance is only average, steering is generally numb with very little feedback, and the gasoline engine, when pressed, sounds rough and unrefined.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Toyota RAV4 does so many things right that it meets the needs of virtually any buyer. One particular standout is the more rugged Adventure trim with its advanced all-wheel drive, off-road-focused wheels and tires, and traction-management system. These features make it a perfect fit for off-road enthusiasts who also want to use this rig to commute to work and haul the kids to soccer practice.
Sure, there are models with more power, like the 2.0-liter-equipped Ford Escape and Kia Sportage, or others with more cargo room, like the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V, and competitors with more luxurious interiors, like the Mazda CX-5, but few check as many boxes as the RAV4.