It’s hard to believe the Toyota Rav4 has been on the road for well over 20-years. During that time, the economy has been way up, and of course way down; and that was well before everyone had a smartphone in their hands.

Well, the first thing you’ll notice about the 2019 RAV4 is that Toyota dialed up a seriously rugged new design for this new generation, including plenty of cues from the 4Runner. Hiking boots and cargo pants aren’t required to drive it, but they certainly wouldn’t be out of place; even if your adventures are limited to car pool lanes and suburban cul de sacs.      

The front end is bigger and bolder, with a grille patterned after Toyota pickups; while the sides are defined by chunky fenders and clearly defined shoulders. Wheelbase is up about an inch. The rear view is manly as well, featuring a big bumper with lots of simulated skid plate cladding.    

The macho makeover doesn’t transfer over to the driving experience, however. We headed to California for our first drive opportunity. While the seating position is high, with a generous amount of hood to look over, giving it a big truck feel; steering is very light, and handling is as predictable as a Camry.  

There is plenty of engine noise under spirited acceleration; but once up to highway speed, things quiet down very nicely. We found the standard 8-speed automatic transmission shifts pretty quickly, in both front and all-wheel drive configurations. The driveline connects to the Camry’s 2.5-liter I4 engine rated at the same 203-horsepower. The government rates Combined fuel economy at 28-30 MPG depending on model. In addition, a Hybrid version will also be available later in the model year. 

The returning Adventure model, as well as Limited trim, can be ordered with a new Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel drive system with Rear Driveline Disconnect. All other trims get a more basic system as an option, though it does include Multi-Terrain Select. Ground clearance is as high as 8.6-inches, half an inch more than before.  

The RAV4’s interior design is clean, burly, and truck-like too, with a dash that is more horizontal than before, as well as physically lower to improve visibility. The center stack houses plenty of large controls, while above sits a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen. Entune 3.0 Audio Plus adds another inch to the screen size. 

Rear seat passengers will get a better experience than before, with easier access and comfier seats; as well as more space due to the wheelbase stretch and reshaped door panels.  

The cargo floor is longer, but cargo volume is actually down a little in capacity from last year. 

Safety systems get an update. Toyota’s Safety Sense is now known as TSS 2.0, and it has Smart Stop Technology standard.  

For our complete road test of the 2019 Toyota RAV4, be sure to catch MotorWeek episode #3824 that begins airing February 15, 2019. For a listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to and click the “About The Show” tab at the top. MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on the MotorTrend cable network.

Making a choice right now for a compact crossover is about the hardest of any segment, with literally dozens of great options. But, for over 20-years, the Toyota Rav4 has remained a leader of the pack. With this vastly improved 2019 version, it’s a safe bet that won’t change.