How Do You Improve the Most Popular Compact SUV on the Road? The All New 2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The answer: Very carefully!

It was a little risky to tinker with the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV. But, it was time.

This little cutie is the best selling compact SUV in the country. And, it’s Toyota’s best seller, too. That it’s a best seller isn’t a surprise: It’s versatile, capable and has all that we love about SUVs, including folding seats, room for our kids, dogs, and cargo- and it’ll get you out of a snowbank in a cinch.

Recognizing that RAV4 buyers really love these compact SUVs for their weekend and holiday adventures, such as kayaking, hiking, and camping, the RAV4 Adventure was introduced in 2017. It was so popular that Toyota has made the Adventure a focus of the new RAV4 lineup.

Further reading: We loved the current RAV4 model, too! 

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The steering wheel and center console in the Toyota RAV4. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who This Car is For

  • Singles, couples or small families
  • Buyers who need space for passengers and/or cargo
  • Buyers who need the capability of an AWD or 4WD vehicle
  • Drivers who want AWD and a hybrid SUV—there are very few options!
  • Buyers who love the reliability and experience of Toyota
  • Drivers who love adventure as much as they love the comfort

Further reading: Need a bigger SUV? Check out the Toyota Sequoia

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The 2019 RAV4 alongside an older model; you can see the evolution of the design; the 2019 model is sleeker and has more aerodynamic angles. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What This Car Costs

The RAV 4 will hit dealerships soon, and hybrid models will be available in March, 2019. Toyota nicely broke down the starting MSRP for us here. As with any car, adding features or packages can add to the price, but each trim level offers a nice package of features. Some features, like Toyota Safety Sense package of active safety systems, are standard on all models.

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

RAV 4 Pricing grid

The gas model has 203 horsepower and gets and up to 29 MPG; the hybrid is a bit more powerful with 219 horsepower and getting up to 39 MPG.

Further reading: This cute little SUV might be a great alternative to the RAV4

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

My friend BJ Killeen and I in the Toyota RAV4. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Who Really Buys the RAV4?

You! More than half of buyers of this compact SUV are women, and 36%+ of buyers are multicultural— African American, Asian or Hispanic. This has proven a popular SUV for families and buyers who live in urban or suburban areas where garages can be small, parking can be tight and drivers just don’t need huge vehicles.

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

With the live view camera in the Toyota RAV4 you can see a vide of everything behind the car. Here I caught my friend BJ making faces at me. Photo: Scotty Reiss

So, What’s New In This Redesign?

The first thing you’ll notice is the new look: The 2019 RAV4 embodies Toyota’s new DNA of sculpted and modern design. The front end features angled headlights and sportier grille; the profile has a slightly sloping roof and the angled and sculpted rear end is designed to maximize aerodynamics.

Inside, the RAV4’s design is streamlined and updated to fit the lifestyle of its many fans. Among the improvements:

  • A nicely redesigned cabin featuring a center console with side-by-side cup holders (which were added based on customer feedback), a cubby for phones or other small items, and two ‘stuff shelves’ built into the dash (a long one on the passenger’s side, a small one to the left of the steering wheel)
  • More visibility: between a higher ground clearance for higher ride height to a only slightly sloping roof, it’s easy see ahead and behind the RAV4
  • More versatility, from lots of places to stash stuff to under-floor cargo storage (including a great place to stow the cargo cover!!! So when you need it it’s not in the garage covered in cobwebs and dust.

  • A panoramic sunroof. YAY.
  • Rear seat climate control and charge ports. Another yay. Or, Phew. No more kids fighting for the USB port in the front seat.
  • Wireless charging. LOVE this!
  • Apple Car Play: Plug and go … your phone is mirrored on the touchscreen so you can text your friends at the push of a button, play your playlist and best of all, use Apple or Google Maps instead of built-in navigation
  • Toyota Alexa: Amazon’s popular smart home app is now integrated into Toyota, allowing you to ask for the weather, play a song or order dog food. You can also get directions which download to turn by turn directions on the touchscreen. This only works with Android phones, however.
  • A household outlet!
  • A JBL premium sound system
  • A motion-activated liftgate; kick your foot under the rear bumper (with your key in your pocket) and voilà, it opens
  • The Hybrid model features blue-accented interior details and the Adventure model features orange trim and textured surfaces
  • Heated and ventilated seats (perhaps Toyota’s designers realized the need for this when the company moved its North American HQ to Dallas and finally experienced a real Southern summer…?)
  • A digital rear view mirror that toggles between the live view and a reflection… just flip the tab at the bottom of the screen to change the view
2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The center console of the 2019 RAV4 includes the gearshift, drive mode selector, climate control and a cubby with wireless charging. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Did Someone Say Hybrid???

Yes! Of course, this is what Toyota is known for, so you would expect a hybrid edition of the RAV4, right? The first one was introduced three years ago and continues to be popular, despite the often low price of gas. The current model continues the Toyota trajectory of giving the hybrid seamless efficiency; you don’t notice it at all unless you notice that the engine is super quiet and your fuel efficiency is super high; it’s anticipated to get 39 MPG, great for a car this size and with this power.

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

This might be my favorite color combo: The 2019 RAV4 Adventure in Lunar Rock gray with a white Ice Edge roof. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Living the Compact SUV Live: Capability On Road and Off the Grid

That is what we have come to expect from our SUVs: They are great for daily driving, road trips, and grocery runs, but also able to get us to the river, up Mt. Washington and across the lesser-known stretches of Yosemite. For that we need AWD, and if we decide, or conditions decide for us, we may need even more capability. Toyota has revamped the AWD system so that it functions more like four-wheel drive than all-wheel drive, adding:

  • Higher ground clearance
  • Trailer sway control
  • Downhill descent control
  • Multiple drive modes for different terrain types

We drove the RAV4 across a varying terrain, including up a steep, gravel hill, through a muddy creek bed and over a very uneven gully, and it took it like a champ. It was quite impressive for a small AWD SUV like this one.

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

Yes, the rear wheel of the RAV4 is off the ground; the other three wheels are doing the job to keep the car moving on an off road course. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Capability Due to Torque Vectoring… Yes, That’s A Thing and This is Why It’s Cool

A few years ago we started to hear the technical term “Torque vectoring.” The gearheads loved it! The rest of us, well, we heard ‘blah blah blah.’ But as AWD systems became more and more capable, we started to hear the term more often. Here’s why: Torque vectoring is essentially the car’s computer sensing where a wheel needs more power and directing the power to that wheel. Or, vectoring the torque.

This means that if your rear left wheel is spinning while your rear right wheel is not, the car will send more power to the right one to get you out of that slippery situation. If you are driving over a rutted road, the system will send power to the wheels with the most traction rather than let the ones with no traction continue to spin. This gives you great capability without the added weight and fuel usage of true 4WD.

And, the system only vectors that torque when you need it. The rest of the time, the car operates in front wheel drive, saving fuel.

All the Safety Features, Standard: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0

Toyota continues to advance its suite of safety features, adding advancements as they are developed. These features are baby steps to autonomous driving and have proven to reduce accidents and make driving less stressful. The RAV4 carries the most updated package, which includes: 

  • Lane trace assist, which keeps track of the lines on the road and works to keep the car between them allowing the driver to relax the white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel
  • Road sign assist, which reads the road signs and displays them on the driver information screen, including the speed limit, Do Not Enter, and other street signs
  • Full speed adaptive cruise control so that when in cruise the car adapts to the speed of traffic ahead
  • Pre-collision detection
  • Lane departure alert
  • Pedestrian and cyclist detection
2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The infotainment screen in the 2019 Toyota RAV4. Photo: Scotty Reiss

A RAV4 for Real Life

And, that’s the point: we live our lives in our cars. Toyota recognizes this and wants you to live your life in their cars. So, their cars need to do a lot for us: be comfortable for daily routines and capable when we need it, whether we are off the grid because we choose or the grid fails us—hello hurricane season, mud season, tornado season. The updates to the RAV4 promise you’ll be capable and comfortable, no matter the drive.

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

A shelf over the glove box is a great place for holding small items or for passengers to put things. Photo: Scotty Reiss

What We Listened to in the 2019 Toyota RAV4

Driving along the California coast we were inspired to tune into the soundtrack from Big Little Lies, and more inspired by the show and the landscape. Here’s what sounded great on the JBL sound system:

A Few More Photos From Our Time With the RAV4:

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

Details in the RAV4 Adventure include textured surfaces on dials and handles, like this radio dial. Photo: Scotty Reiss

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

A little shelf to the left of the steering wheel offers the perfect place to store change or small items. Photo: Scotty Reiss

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

A Qi charge pad is offered in the 2019 RAV4; it’s embedded in the cubby under the center console. Photo: Scotty Reiss

2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The enhanced AWD system is controlled by this terrain selector. Photo: Scotty Reiss


2019 Toyota Rav4 Compact Suv

The design of the JBL sound system is integrated into the car, here the speakers are part of the door panel so that it feels right at home in the RAV4. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss