2019 Toyota RAV4 First Drive Review

2019 Toyota RAV4

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 replaces a vehicle that sold 400,000 units last year despite being a lame duck riding on a 13-year-old platform. It’s the best-selling vehicle in the country that’s not a pickup. Playing it safe would be expected, it would be understandable, it would be exactly what Subaru did with the Forester.

2019 Toyota RAV4

And yet, Toyota did not play it safe with this completely redesigned 2019 RAV4. Not even close. It’s stylistically and philosophically different, abandoning what its engineers and designers described as the “car-like” approach of its predecessor in favor of something closer to the SUV end of the spectrum. Though it still employs Toyota’s increasingly ubiquitous TNGA car platform, the ride height is taller than before, the three available all-wheel-drive systems more sophisticated, and the styling more angular and macho.

The new Adventure trim even borrows some cues from the Tacoma. If anything, this new 2019 RAV4 seems like a return to the approach of the third-generation RAV4, which was discontinued in 2012. The outgoing RAV4 is therefore sort of an evolutionary dead end.

The new RAV4 is also yet another new Toyota created since Chairman Akio Toyoda declared that the company with his name on the door “make better cars.” Echoing the attitudes of other designers and engineers we’ve spoken to, the new RAV4’s chief engineer and longtime company veteran Yoshikazu Saeki is clearly overjoyed to carry out the new marching orders. In fact, beyond making the new RAV4 subjectively “better,” he wanted to fundamentally change perceptions.

The new XSE trim level is one such area. Like other Toyotas, the letters “SE” indicate the sportiest trim level. It similarly has a sport-tuned suspension and the raciest styling with tell-tale glossy metallic black trim on the fascias, enhanced wheel arches and contrasting roof. It’s also only available as the hybrid. You can practically hear a record scratching, but Saeki has always disagreed with the notion that Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy drive was only suited to enhance fuel economy. It could enhance performance, too.

“I wanted to change the perception,” the jovial chief engineer said. “I wanted to break the (hybrid) mold. If you throw the hybrid unit into a regular RAV4, there’s no fun in that. That’s why I made the XSE Hybrid.”