The RAV4, Toyota's best-selling vehicle, is completely redesigned for 2019. Riding a one-inch longer wheelbase, the new RAV4 is slightly shorter and lighter than the model it replaces. When it was introduced in 1994 the RAV4 was one of the first compact crossovers. Today it is offered only as a 4-door wagon with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). Competitors include the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan.
Changes for 2019 include a more powerful and efficient base engine, additional safety features (including forward collision warning with emergency braking) and the availability of three different AWD systems. Gas-only models come in 5 trim levels: LE, XLE, Premium, Adventure and Limited. Hybrids are available in LE, XLE, XSE and Limited trim. Gas-only models start at $25,500 with the hybrid starting as low as $27,700.
Standard on all gas-only models is a 203-hosrepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. It makes 27 more horsepower than last year's engine and mates to a new 8-speed automatic transmission. Two AWD systems are offered on the gas-only model. LE and XLE get a traditional AWD system while the Adventure and Limited get upgraded AWD that includes a rear-axle disconnect and torque vectoring that can dynamically shift power between rear wheels to enhance traction on slippery roads.
RAV4 Hybrid pairs a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a continuously variable transmission and twin electric motors to produce a total output of 218. All hybrid models offer AWD, but unlike traditional AWD systems, the RAV4 Hybrid sends power to the rear wheels through a rear-axle-mounted electric motor. Towing capacity is 1500 to 3500 pounds and includes trailer sway control.
New for 2019 is Toyota's Entune 3.0 multimedia infotainment system. It has a 7- or 8-inch touch screen and Apple Car Play support. All RAV4s are equipped with Toyota Safety Sense, which includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist and road sign assist. Also available are blind-spot alert and cross traffic alert.
Hybrid or no, the RAV4 isn't going to win many stoplight-to-stoplight races. Though improved, the gas-only 2.5-liter 4-cylinder provides just adequate acceleration around town and decent passing response. The same can be said for the hybrid, which actually seems slightly sprightlier than the gas-only model. Unfortunately, while the 8-speed automatic on the gas-only model shifts smoothly, the CVT on the hybrid seems to slur acceleration and passing punch.
Despite offering AWD across the lineup, the RAV4 isn't intended for true rock crawling. However, the new AWD system that's available in the gas-only Adventure and Limited does offer a step up for those that might want to consider straying off the beaten path. So equipped, drivers can select Mud & Sand or Rock & Dirt mode. Also available are hill-start assist and downhill assist.
One area where the 2019 RAV4 clearly bests the previous model is in fuel economy. The front-drive gas-only models are EPA rated at 26 MPG city and 35 MPG highway. The hybrid posts even more impressive numbers at 41 MPG city and 38 MPG highway. Both are at or near best-in-class. In routine suburban commuting expect to average close to 35 MPG with the hybrid. All RAV4 engines run fine on regular-grade gasoline.
Toyota engineers worked very hard to refine the ride quality of the new RAV4 without sacrificing it's fun-to-drive nature. It's still very toss-able, if even more stable in transient maneuvers. The suspension does an excellent job of softening large impacts and filtering out minor pavement imperfections. There isn't much difference in the dynamic traits from model to model. Steering had good road feel and steady on-center highway tracking. Brakes have good stopping power, but the hybrid pedal has an artificial feeling when slowing to a stop that makes it hard to modulate. Interior noise levels are appreciably better than in the previous model with very little wind or tire noise. However, it should be noted that both the gas-only and hybrid powertrains groan in acceleration.
RAV4 sports a clean and uncluttered interior design that's dominated by a large touchscreen display at the top of the center console. Materials are class appropriate, but do get nicer when you step up in trim.
On gas-only models, drivers face a now-conventional twin-dial-information cluster that easy to read day or night. Hybrid models get a snazzier instrument cluster that boasts a larger display screen and is programmable. The center console houses dial controls for both the climate and audio system. In all there's a lot to like about the overall layout that's both functional and pleasing to the eye.
Toyota's Entune infotainment system has been refined but it still requires that you download, install and pair an app on your phone for best functionality. The addition of Apple Car Play support is nice, but there's still no Android Auto support. Also, Toyota's wireless charging tray, while a very thoughtful addition, is finicky compared to similar wireless chargers in some competitors.
The font seats, though softly padded, don't offer much support and feel a touch undersized. At least head and leg room are exceptional. Plus, outward visibility is great forward and to the sides. Entry/exit is a snap thanks to the high beltline. The rear seats are exceptionally roomy for the class and do offer good support for large adults. The floor is flat as well, allowing for three abreast seating.
Seats up, cargo capacity is 37 cubic feet. Folding the rear seats expands cargo room to nearly 70 cubic feet. Both numbers are good for the class. Plus, the rear hatch opens wide, the load floor is low and the seats fold nearly flat. Interior storage is exceptional with lots of open and covered bins throughout.
Bottom Line - There's a reason the RAV4 is Toyota's best-selling model. It offers a near-perfect blend of comfort, features, efficiency and utility. Some competitors offer more inspiring designs or exciting powertrains, but few can match the RAV4 when it comes to overall usability. Prices can be steep, but the RAV4 does have exceptional resale value.