Recreational Activity Vehicle. That’s what RAV4 stands for, with the ‘4’ indicating its available all-wheel drive. The RAV4 has been on the streets globally since 1994, and has made a name for itself as a reliable and affordable compact SUV. It can arguably be considered (Toyota would argue it, while Suzuki might argue it) the first compact crossover.
Toyota gives its customers a wide variety of trim options in their vehicle line up. If you look at a Camry you can get a fast V6 or a hybrid and everything in-between. The RAV4 is no different, as customers can choose from a hybrid RAV4 with leather seats, a base model, or the Adventure with AWD. In recent memory the RAV4 has always been seen as a starter car for college students, or the go-to (along with Honda’s CR-V) compact SUV.
During my week with the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD I decided most of my testing would be done off-road. I wanted to see if this compact crossover was the real deal or just a trim level with a clever marketing campaign.
EXTERIOR: If you look at past generations of the RAV4 you’ll notice that it’s never taken a good class photo. Have you ever heard or seen the words “beautiful” and RAV4 in the same sentence? In 2016, the RAV4 received a facelift that has continued into the 2018 model year.
Now, the RAV4 looks aggressively cute. Sharp-edged headlamps and body lines give the RAV4 a more toned body exterior, but its size and reputation means that it’s still endearing. The front end reminded me of Pikachu from Pokemon in a fighting stance – an angry rabbit.
This RAV4 was the Adventure, so it came with a special edition color named Ruby Flare Pearl ($395), black alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, mud guards ($40), and a matte black hood stripe. It allows the RAV4 to stand out, good for a vehicle with a reputation of fading into the background. I liked that this trim level has its own exterior badging. The Adventure emblem is a nice touch and looks like a stamp of approval by off-road enthusiasts.
INTERIOR: Corolla-ish is how I would describe the interior, as it offers essentially the same steering wheel, infotainment, and seats that you can find in a Corolla. The RAV4 Adventure used for this review had the optional Cold Weather Package, which includes a heated, leather wrapped steering wheel, heated seat for the driver, and a windshield wiper de-icer.
Standard equipment on the RAV4 includes dual climate controls, 6.1 inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth and audio controls on the steering wheel, and a backup camera.
I saw that it had a manual parking brake and nearly raised my arms in praise to the Toyota engineers that allowed this moment of joy. The rubber floor mats, with Adventure badging, offered the necessary protection from the elements during off-road testing. The trunk is also fitted with a rubber cargo mat prefect for transporting pets, muddy camping equipment, or soaked swimsuits.
I would have liked to see more color in the interior. Solid black interiors can make any vehicle feel dull and forgettable, no matter how exciting the exterior may look. The seats won’t make you forget about any back pain, but they are firm and comfortable. Seating in the rear is plentiful and the rear seats can recline just enough to allow for power naps during long road trips.
SPECS AND PERFORMANCE: The RAV4 Adventure AWD is powered by a four cylinder, 2.5 liter engine cranking out 176 horsepower. The only transmission available is the 6-speed automatic. It feels and drives like its midsize sedan siblings, but with a small CUV that’s not a downside. The steering is light – allowing the RAV4 to seem nimble – and the engine is peppy; both make the RAV4 feel light and quicker than it is.
Above the driver’s head is a warning sticker on the sun visor, saying that the RAV4 may tip over under extreme driving maneuvers. While testing the RAV4’s stability I never felt like it was going to tip over or turn into a tripod under exuberant driving. That is partly because if the RAV4 detects that it is losing traction and starting to slide it will slow itself down to keep your safe and in control.
Off-road the RAV4 held its own thanks to its Dynamic Torque Control AWD system. Naturally, it won’t be able to go into the same places as a larger, more offroad-specific 4×4 will, so don’t expect to take it rock climbing or dune jumping. The RAV4 Adventure is best suited for muddy roads on the way to a camping trip or driving on the beach – light off-road duty. You can drive this thing over rough dirt roads and be surprised by how comfortable the ride quality is, considering the terrain.
SAFETY: The RAV4 is all about safety. Turn the traction control off and it will remind you that it is off. Even if you acknowledge that you are aware that it is turned off the warning won’t go away. It’s very protective that way.
Auto high beams (AHB) are a new safety tech feature on Toyota products that allow the vehicle to switch its high beams off when it senses oncoming traffic thanks to a camera mounted in front.
Other safety features that are standard include Lane Departure Warning, Steering Assist and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. These three work together to keep the driver on the road, allowing the RAV4 to warn the driver when the vehicle wanders out of its lane and correct its steering to get back into that lane. Radar Cruise Control allows the vehicle to slow down and maintain distance with traffic in front.
Throughout the seven days of testing the RAV4 averaged 24 mpg. On paper, the RAV4 is capable of 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. A base model RAV4 starts at $24k, and the Adventure AWD model tested carried an MSRP of $33,360.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure with AWD is a stylish, affordable, and versatile compact CUV. The Adventure trim offers exclusivity and useful features in an attractive paint and graphic scheme. The ride is comfortable, gas mileage is good, and I actually enjoyed driving it around town.
The only issue I had was that the interior looks a little dull when compared to its exterior, but that could be said about most Toyota products. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they have a reputation for reliability.
If you want the standard for CUVs (with a little glam to keep up with its competitors) then the RAV4 Adventure with AWD is definitely worth taking for a test drive. And tell the sales rep you want to go off-road!