The New Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive system is several steps above the RAV4’s regular AWD system in terms of capability. It can send up to 50 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels as needed for more traction, and it can also direct power to the left and right rear wheels to boost grip when slippage is detected. There’s also a multiterrain selector that optimizes the AWD system for mud, dirt, rocks, sand or snow.
The RAV4 owners I know are exclusively pavement drivers, but should the urge to wander off the beaten path strike, the Adventure model lives up to its name. I drove it on dirt, and it very capably mastered steep hill climbs, ruts and moguls. The new AWD system is standard on both Adventure and Limited trims.
A Step Up Inside
The old cabin’s bland look and budget materials have been replaced with a sharper design and more padding. The Limited model I tested had ample cush in knee and elbow touch points, as well as handsome, two-tone imitation-leather seats and surfaces. The hybrid model had less padding for elbows, but its interior still stood out, with pops of chrome trim and an interesting seat upholstery pattern. Toyota cranked the style dial to 11 on the Adventure model, jazzing up its gray and brown color palette with pops of orange on the seats, doors and dash.
Space is good inside, too. At 5 feet, 6 inches tall, I was comfortable in the backseat with the driver’s seat where I’d normally have it. By the numbers, the new model offers slightly more rear legroom than the outgoing one, with 37.8 inches. That rivals the Rogue (37.9) but is less than the CX-5 (39.6) and CR-V (40.4).
Caregivers with kids in car seats will likely have enough room for two car seats, and installation should be eased by the RAV4’s exposed lower Latch anchors.
Cargo room is a mixed bag. In front, there’s a handy storage shelf nestled into the dashboard, along with a decent-size center console box and a small bin ahead of the shifter. Also useful is a reversible cargo floor in back; one side is carpeted, but you can flip it over for an easy-clean plastic side.
In terms of room in back, however, cargo space is down in the gas-powered version. The new RAV4 offers 37.6 cubic feet of space, almost a cubic foot less than the outgoing model and less than the CR-V (39.2) and Rogue (39.3). The CX-5 offers even less, however, with 30.9 cubic feet.
The hybrid version sees an increase in cargo room compared with the old hybrid thanks to a skinnier battery pack; it now matches the non-hybrid version’s space.
(Almost) Modern Multimedia
Attention to detail continues with the RAV4’s new multimedia system, Entune 3.0, which features a standard 7-inch touchscreen that includes Amazon Alexa connectivity and Apple CarPlay. Available upgrades include an 8-inch display, satellite radio and navigation, but what’s missing is Android Auto compatibility. Toyota says it still has work to do to ensure seamless integration with the system but promises it will come eventually; many other compact SUVs already offer it.
The high-mounted tablet-style system is a big win with its clear, responsive screen and easy-access tuning and volume knobs. Those dials win the best knob award (which I just made up); they have a solid, quality heft and are ringed with grippy rubber, making them easy to grasp.
Other available goodies that bring the cabin up to date include Wi-Fi hot spot capability, heated and ventilated front seats, a foot-activated liftgate, a camera-based rearview mirror, up to five USB ports, a Qi wireless charging pad for compatible mobile devices, and an 11-speaker, 800-watt JBL premium audio system.
Despite finding some other camera-based rearview mirror systems unnatural, I like the RAV4’s. It’s highly customizable, so you can change the view angle up or down, shift right or left, and zoom in and out.
All RAV4s come with Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system, which includes a forward collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane detection and lane keep assist (which Toyota calls Lane Tracing Assist). There’s also a new road sign assist system that identifies road signs and can warn the driver with alerts depending on sign type.
Options include blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera system, parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking.
That list is long, but the Rogue’s is longer, including standard blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. The CX-5’s standard safety list is less robust, but it also offers standard blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. The CR-V trails competitors with many features not standard — and some not even optional on the base trim.
At $26,545 for a base FWD LE, the 2019 RAV4 starts higher than both the old version and its competitors; it’s $1,200 more than the CR-V and CX-5 and $700 more than the Rogue. All-wheel drive adds $1,400 to each trim level, and the hybrid powertrain is an additional $800. The new model’s impressive list of standard safety features helps take the sting out of the price hike, but with prices starting $840 higher than the outgoing model, it’ll take more to win me over completely.
When I’ve been asked to recommend a compact SUV, the Toyota RAV4 has never been on my list, but the 2019 version — especially in hybrid trim — has earned itself a spot for those with the budget to accommodate it.
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