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The Toyota RAV4 arrived on the scene in the U.S. in 1996 (1994 in Japan), what was then a usual car-cum-truck, but a vehicle with too much body side cladding and a height-to-length-to-width proportion that looks, well, almost toy-like. Gen Two, with a more-familiar appearance (i.e., even if you didn’t know exactly what its called, you’d know what it is), appeared in 2001, Three in 2006, and Gen Four in 2013, this time with a design that is less “ute” and more stylish, particularly as the front end doesn’t stand up like its predecessors, but leans back.

Know that in the first 11 months of 2018 Toyota sold 388,501 Gen Four RAV4s in the U.S. To put that number into context, it is worth knowing that it delivered 343,439 Camrys. Most every other vehicle manufacturer in the country would be over the proverbial moon with that RAV4 number, but part and parcel of the Toyota Production System—which permeates all aspects of the company in their own ways—is continuous improvement, so for the RAV4 Gen Five the decision was made to go from what they considered the more “car-like” proportions of the previous version to something that has “more aggressive, authentic SUV” proportions. Obviously, this isn’t something that was designed with a T-square and fabricated with a press brake, but the tapers of Gen Four have certainly given way to something that resembles the Toyota Highlander more than the Camry.

If we go back to the Gen One RAV4, which appears as though a hard turn would cause it to tip onto its side, the new model is one where there is serious substance, as in having a more-planted design, predicated in large part by an increase in overall width: depending on the trim the width is either 73 or 73.4 inches (the wider one is for the Adventure trim, which is more clad), which is up from 72.6 inches for Gen Four. It is a bit higher than the previous—from 67 to 68.6 inches vs. 65.9 or 66.3 inches—but the ground clearance, in keeping with the whole SUV approach, is boosted, as well: 8.4 or 8.6 inches vs. 6.1 and 6.5 inches.

The RAV4 was styled and developed in Japan. According to RAV4 chief engineer Yoshikazu Saeki, “At the very beginning of the design process, we reviewed RAV4’s distinct product value and considered how best to evolve the original concept of ‘an off-road vehicle built for an urban environments that’s a pleasure to drive and look at.’”

Saeki was the deputy chief engineer for the fourth-generation RAV4. He started with Toyota in 1987; his first job was working on the Toyota Land Cruiser, so clearly Saeki know more than a passing amount about SUVs.

“We came to define ‘Adventure & Refinement’ as the design concept for the fifth generation,” Saeki says, adding, presumably with more than a little bit of pride driving his words, “Just looking at the new RAV4 ignites the urge to get in and go somewhere.”

Without going full Euclid, it is worth noting that the design of the RAV4 is predicated on geometric forms, notably the octagon that forms the overall front view of the vehicle (although it should be noted that this polygon does not have equal sides—nor do any of the other forms to be mentioned). Then the main grille is trapezoidal and there is another trapezoidal shape beneath it, above the lower grille and skid plate. On the body side there is a light catcher that is stamped into the front and rear doors, forming a triangular shape. The wheel arches aren’t arcs; they are, in effect, half of a hexagon. Around back there is less pronounced geometry, with the exception of the pocket for the license plate, which is a deep irregular hexagon.

Although the RAV4 rides on the Toyota Next Generation Architecture (TNGA)-K platform, which underpins the current-generation Camry and Avalon, as well, the intention was to provide a car-like ride with some more exceptional capabilities.

The vehicle has a front suspension that includes MacPherson struts with a stabilizer bar and hydraulic shocks; the rear is a trailing-wishbone style multilink setup. Overall, the unibody structure is 57 percent more rigid than the last generation’s, which allows for more precise tuning of the suspension. The previous car had had the electric steering motor mounted on the column; it has been moved to the rack for improved steering response. The new platform allows the engine to be positioned lower, which contributes to a lower center of gravity, as does a new saddle-style gas tank, which puts the weight on both sides of the vehicle, rather than on one side, as had been the case.

While on the subject of gasoline, the 2019 RAV4 has two powertrains, both of which are based on a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that features 16 valves, dual overhead cams, variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust, with the intake side featuring an electric motor. The “Dynamic Force” engine produces either 203 hp @ 6,600 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm or 176 hp @ 5,700 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque @ 3,600 to 5,200 rpm, and the former is mated to an eight-speed electronically controlled automatic and the latter to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.

The reason for the difference? Well, the one with the lower horsepower rating actually is used in the RAV4 Hybrid (which they’re abbreviating “HV”). The hybrid also has a pair of electric motors, one in the front and one in the rear, that are used for propulsion, too, so the total power is 219 hp, combined, net. (Here’s an interesting factoid: although the HV is heavier than the gasoline-only models, with the curb weight range for the HV going to from 3,710 to 3,800 pounds, depending on trim, and the gas models from 3,370 to 3,620 pounds, the hybrid is the quickest RAV4.)

(And it should be pointed out that there is a third motor in the system: it is up front, coaxially mounted with the other electric motor on the transaxle; it is designated “MG1” and provides propulsion at start and as a generator to charge the nickel-metal hydride battery; the other motor, MG2, is primarily a traction motor for the RAV4. Speaking of the battery pack: it is 11 percent lighter than the previous model’s and is packaged completely under the rear seat without taking up space in the cargo area.)

On the inside, there is evident attention to tactile comfort, ranging from the array of soft-touch surfaces (e.g., even rubberized knobs) to the fact that the center console is 1.5-inches wider and 0.7-inches higher, thereby providing a more comfortable position for the front occupants. Visually there are contrasting colors in the cabin depending on the selected trim, and textures and stitching that are coordinated with the interior theme.

The vehicle has the second generation of the Toyota Safety Sense system, which means that even with the base model the vehicle is equipped with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection; full-speed range dynamic cruise control (for highways and freeways, 0 to 110 mph capability); lane-departure alert with steering assist; automatic high beams; lane tracing assist (works with the adaptive cruise on highways and freeways, centering the vehicle in its lane by using lane markers or, absent them, the path of vehicle ahead); road sign assist (can “read” signs and display the information in the multi-information display; will also keep the engine start-stop system from activating at stop signs, as there is likely to be just a short stop).

And it has upped its game in the infotainment category, with Wi-Fi Connect from Verizon, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant capability, and Apple CarPlay compatibility in the Entune multimedia system. Audio engineers from JBL worked with Toyota engineers to develop specific head-units and speaker systems available in the RAV4.

Twenty-two years of RAV4. In the last five years, sales of the vehicle have doubled. Says Jack Hollis, Group Vice President and General Manager, Toyota Div., Toyota Motor North America, “I don’t think we’ve reached peak RAV yet. It probably won’t be the growth it has been, but. . . .”

And so the company has designed the 2019 with distinctive looks between the models: the two-color (roof/body) approach of the sportier XSE HV; the brightwork of the upscale Limited; the brawnier trim of the Adventure. Hollis explains that when you have such a wide array of customers, addressing their desires more closely is something that will have them come back to the vehicle. The Toyota Production System (the RAV4 is built for the U.S. market at both the Toyota Woodstock plant in Ontario, Canada, and the Takaoka plant in Japan) helps make this possible.

“The surprising thing to me,” says Hollis, “is not the RAV, but that the segment has continued to grow.”

The compact SUV segment that the RAV4 created.




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