2019 Toyota RAV4: Doubling down on a Best-Seller

Toyota invests heavily in a re-engineer of its top-selling C-class SUV.


To say the RAV4 is a crucial product for Toyota might be underselling it. In the U.S., the 5-seat, 5-door FWD/AWD C-class SUV is Toyota’s best-selling vehicle, the nation’s best-selling non-pickup truck and the best-selling vehicle in its class. The market’s SUV sway is also apparent in RAV4, as its annual sales volume has doubled in the last five years, cresting 400,000 in 2017.

For 2019, the all-new fifth-generation RAV4 sees a complete revamp with a new platform, more efficient gasoline and hybrid powertrains, an available torque-vectoring AWD system and additional standard safety and infotainment content. The RAV4 also sees a new trims that create distinct model differentiation within the lineup (left to right below: XSE, Adventure, Limited).

According to Yoshikazu Saeki, RAV4’s chief engineer, his team spent the last four years working to ensure each model felt more confident and responded more naturally to driver input. “It sounds simple,” Saeki said, “but getting the intent of the driver to match the action of the vehicle is difficult to implement.”

New TNGA underpinnings

The 2019 RAV4 is based on Toyota’s proliferating TNGA platform, sharing the same K-variant that underpins Camry and Avalon, where it previously shared a foundation with the Corolla. That change in platform was significant, Saeki noted, as they were no longer constrained by the limits of the Corolla architecture.

“If you try to engineer items at the limits of performance, there's not too many things you can do,” Saeki, who has managed RAV4 since 2003, explained. “But if you use a Camry platform, you don't have to push anything, you don't have to stress anything. There's all kinds of different possibilities that become apparent, and now we can try these things that we couldn't do before.”

Compared to the previous-gen RAV4, overall length/width/height are within 0.4 in, but shorter front and rear overhangs and a longer wheelbase (+1.20 to 105.9 in) provides more second-row legroom and a 2.5-in longer luggage compartment. Ground clearance is up 2.3 in, and both the front (+1.2 in) and rear tracks (+1.9 in) are wider. The 2019 RAV4’s unibody structure sees stiffness increase 57% compared to the previous model, allowing a more compliant tune for the front-strut and rear multi-link suspension.

A lower powertrain placement permitted by the TNGA-K platform (below) and additional use of lighter high-strength steels in the upper body drops the cg, and a new saddle-style fuel tank distributes weight more evenly (the RAV4 previously had its fuel tank positioned on one side of the vehicle). The electric power steering system is now rack-mounted, and column and mount rigidity have been increased to improve steering response and feel. A lowered beltline, enlarged rear-quarter glass and door-mounted side mirrors target improved visibility.

Even with additional standard content, curb weights have dropped roughly 100 pounds on gasoline versions and 170 pounds on hybrid trims, with only 220 pounds separating base AWD gasoline and hybrid models (3,490 vs. 3,710 pounds). Braking is managed by discs at all four corners (12.0-in front/11.1-in rear), and 17-inch wheels are standard with 19-inch wheels available for the first time.

All-4-cylinder powertrains; Hybrid/CVT refinements

Both the gasoline and hybrid 2019 Toyota RAV4 feature an all-aluminum, DOHC, 16-valve 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine with direct/port injection and variable valve timing that is electrically adjusted on the intake side. In non-hybrid models, the 4-cylinder sports a 13.0:1 compression ratio, is paired with a conventional 8-speed automatic transmission and produces 203 hp @ 6600 rpm and 184 lb·ft @ 5000 rpm.

Toyota claims a maximum thermal efficiency of 40 percent for the 2.5-liter gasoline engine, and 41 percent for Atkinson-cycle version in the RAV4 Hybrid. (Toyota)
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 offers a torque-vectoring AWD system on Limited and Adventure trims, and a Multi-Terrain Select feature offers modes to maximize traction depending on surface type. (SAE)

In the RAV4 Hybrid, the 2.5 L uses an Atkinson cycle with a 14.0:1 compression ratio, is coupled to a CVT and is rated at 176 hp (131 kW) and 163 lb·ft (220 N·m). Total hybrid system power is rated at 219 hp (163 kW), but Toyota has not published a total system torque figure, only listing torque specifications separately for the front/rear electric motors (149/89 lb·ft; 202/121 N·m).

Hybrid-model updates include a transaxle that mounts the two, higher-rpm front electric motors coaxially (rather than in-line), reducing friction and packaging size. The reduction gear is now a parallel shaft (vs. planetary), and a new multi-function gear integrates the power-split planetary ring gear, parking gear, and counter-drive gear. Combined with better integrated and lighter power electronics installed directly above the transaxle, Toyota claims transmission losses are reduced 25% compared to the previous model.

Other efficiency improvements include a variable cooling system using an electric water pump and thermostat, and a fully variable oil pump. The new 244.8V Ni-MH battery pack is more efficient than in the previous RAV4 Hybrid and now small enough to be installed under the rear seats, creating equal cargo space for gas and hybrid models.

To reduce CVT “wail,” the system optimizes electric-motor assist and engine rpm so engine speed is synchronized with vehicle speed, and a differential pre-load function yields better standing-start performance and straight-line stability. Both the hybrid’s Sport mode and a sequential-shifting feature aim to make the 2019 RAV4 Hybrid feel more conventional and responsive.

Three AWD systems

No Android Auto support as of yet for the RAV4 new touchscreens (7-inch standard, 8-inch (shown) on higher trims), but Apple CarPlay and Alexa compatibility are already on hand. (Toyota)
Braking on the 2019 Toyota RAV4 is is managed by discs at all four corners (12.0-in front/11.1-in rear). Standard are 17-inch wheels with 18-inch (shown) and 19-inch wheels available – the 19-inch wheels for the first time. (Toyota)
With the new 244.8V Ni-MH hybrid battery pack now small enough to be installed under the rear seats, cargo space is the same for gas and hybrid models of the 2019 Toyota RAV4. (Toyota)

Hybrid models are AWD-only (an on-demand setup), and gasoline versions of the 2019 RAV4 offer two AWD variants. The on-demand AWD option for LE and XLE RAV4 gasoline trims can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels when necessary. Standard on AWD-equipped Limited and Adventure gasoline trims is an all-new dynamic torque-vectoring setup, a first for the compact SUV class.

“It's easy to say, ‘Hey, we're out with new torque vectoring,’ but the more important thing is taking that hardware and being able to master it and to use it properly,” Saeki said. “Torque vectoring is just a tool to distribute torque, but with that we'll use braking, EPS, electronic throttling systems, etc. The trick is how to connect them with each other and how you are using it.”

The torque-vectoring setup on the RAV4 sees up to 50% of available engine torque sent rearward via a ratchet-type dog clutch that can stop the rear driveshaft’s rotation when AWD is not needed. Torque is dynamically apportioned to either rear wheel via two multi-plate clutches. The complementary Active Cornering Assist can brake an inside front wheel and overdrive an outside rear wheel to sharpen cornering response. A Multi-Terrain Select feature offers modes to maximize traction depending on surface type, with an entertaining gauge-cluster display (below) to view torque allocation.

Additional safety and infotainment electronics

Compared to the previous-gen RAV4, overall length/width/height are within 0.4 in, but ground clearance is up 2.3 in, and both the front (+1.2 in) and rear tracks (+1.9 in) are wider. (Toyota)
The angular rear combination lamp, the exterior door handles, active grille shutters, the rear roof spoiler and side and a full underbody cover enhance aerodynamic performance on the 2019 Toyota RAV4. (Toyota)
Toyota claims an EPA-combined mpg figure of 29 mpg for the gasoline models and 39 mpg for the hybrid 2019 RAV4. Towing capacity is 3,500/1,500 lb for gas/hybrid versions. (Toyota)
Those missing the FJ Cruiser will want to note that the 2019 RAV4 Adventure trim can be optioned with a two-toned Ice Edge roof paired to one of three exterior colors. (Toyota)
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 features an optional JBL audio system with 11 speakers, 800 watts of amplification and NACA-duct A-pillar tweeters. (Toyota)

The 2019 RAV4 debuts with the second gen of the Toyota Safety Sense system standard on all models and includes a pre-collision system with enhanced speed reduction capabilities plus pedestrian detection in daytime or low-light and daytime bicyclist detection. Also standard is full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning/assist, lane-trace assist to help drivers stay centered in their lane and road-sign recognition that can prevent certain engine auto-start/stop engagements.

Options include rear cross-traffic alert/braking, Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, bird’s-eye/360-degree/curb-view cameras and a slick new digital rearview mirror (a boon when loaded with passengers or gear). All 2019 RAV4 models are equipped with Apple CarPlay/Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant (Android Auto support is “in the works”) and standard is a 7-inch touchscreen, with upper trims netting an 8-inch touchscreen and an available JBL audio system with 11 speakers and 800 watts of amplification.

On the road

Toyota seems to be aware of which way the wind is blowing in terms of the growing sales popularity of SUVs, and compact versions in particular. Already the most popular in its class, the 2019 RAV4 appears primed to defend that mantle with generous content and upmarket feature availability, including new heated/vented front seats, heated rear seats, dedicated rear-seat A/C vents, an e-parking brake and illuminated storage areas. Its new platform and design also give it a wider, more premium feel with more adept dynamics.

Its newfound agility and composure is notable for the class, particularly with the new (non-hybrid-only) torque-vectoring AWD setup. The TNGA-K chassis feels stout, and when pressed reveals buttoned-down body motions. The combination of torque vectoring and active cornering assist turns the new RAV4 into a surprisingly eager and satisfying backroad partner – enough to make you wish it still offered Toyota’s rorty V-6.

The hybrid version, when driven at a normal pace, feels more polished and conventional than the previous version, but its extra weight and CVT traits are still apparent in enthusiastic driving. With identical cargo capacity, a 10-mpg gain on the EPA combined figure and only an $800 walk from a comparable AWD gasoline version, the hybrid should prove even more irresistible.

The 2019 RAV4 is based on Toyota’s TNGA platform, sharing the same K-variant that underpins Camry and Avalon, where it previously shared a foundation with the Corolla. (Toyota)

The 2019 Toyota RAV4 will be assembled in Japan, China and Canada (with U.S. models sourced from Canada and Japan), and goes on sale in December in the U.S. with a starting MSRP of $25,500. Hybrid versions are expected to be on sale in the U.S. in late-March 2019, with a starting MSRP of $27,700.