2019 Toyota RAV4 first drive review: Reaching new heights

November 20, 2018

Traffic on California’s winding, tourist-riddled Highway 1 creeps along on a Tuesday morning in November. I’m in a 2019 Toyota RAV4 and I’m stuck behind a wandering Mustang with Nevada plates, almost certainly a rental, and I watch in vain as its occupants snap photos of the Pacific.

It’s a slow enough pace for me to consider some numbers, and they don’t all revolve around the RAV4’s $26,500 base price, the nearly $36,000 Toyota charges for the well-equipped RAV4 Limited with all-wheel drive that I’m driving, its 27-mpg combined rating, or the availability of a 39-mpg combined highway RAV4 Hybrid.

MORE: Read our 2019 Toyota RAV4 review

The crucial number is rather more personal—it’s my height. I’m 5-foot-11, which puts me a click or two above the typical American male. That means there are plenty of folks out there taller than me, and I’m not sure how they’re going to fit in the RAV4.

This is a big concern for one of America’s most popular vehicles. Outside of pickup trucks, more new RAV4s were sold last year than any other vehicle. We want crossover SUVs and we lined up in droves for the old RAV4.

I could fit in that one.

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

The new one has about 38 inches of head room up front with the sunroof that’s standard on all but the base RAV4 LE trim level, a number that’s largely meaningless given that the driver’s seat is height-adjustable. More importantly, the passenger’s seat is fixed at an unexpectedly high position and the RAV4’s new platform dictates a lower roofline and a more angled windshield pillar than before. Even at my height, just slightly above average (I must be from Lake Wobegon), I bonked my head testing out the passenger’s seat earlier and the baseball cap I’m wearing is now brushing against the headliner.

The good news is that the rest of the RAV4 is a marked improvement. Get used to neck contortions if you’re above average for height and the RAV4 makes a solid case for itself.

Likable personality

The RAV4’s buff new duds tie it into a family that also includes the Tacoma pickup and 4Runner SUV. Unlike those trucks, the RAV4 is based on a modular platform shared with the Prius and Camry, among other Toyotas.

It’s a stiff structure, which allows for soft tuning of its fully independent suspension. The RAV4 sits fairly high off the ground with as much as 8.6 inches of rock-swallowing clearance. Front-wheel drive is standard, with one of two optional all-wheel-drive systems available for the non-hybrid versions.

The RAV4 Hybrid comes only with all-wheel drive—it uses one electric motor to motivate the rear wheels and another to supplement its version of the 2.5-liter inline-4 gas engine.

Hybrids are rated at a heady 219 horsepower, while the standard RAV4 checks in with a still-decent 203 hp.

Acceleration is brisk for a compact crossover SUV in either iteration. The non-hybrid’s quick-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission (hybrids have an electronic continuously variable transmission) makes up for the RAV4 Hybrid’s extra grunt.

The RAV4 Adventure trim has looks trail-ready and it has some goods to back up that style. It’s like a trail running shoe, perfect for light-duty use with its more advanced all-wheel drive system and its two additional traction control modes for slippery surfaces.

2019 Toyota RAV4

2019 Toyota RAV4

Toyota could have specified more sound deadening for the RAV4 regardless of which badge is on its tailgate, but with the radio turned up it’s a pleasant enough cruiser. Its suspension takes big bumps in stride but can feel less settled on pockmarked pavement than some of its competitors. Perhaps the 19-inch wheels fitted to most trim levels are partly to blame. The Hybrid rides on 18-inch wheels with slightly more sidewall and it seemed to absorb bumps with slightly more grace.

Aside from its dismal head room, the RAV4’s interior is a pleasant, well-conceived place. Small-item storage trails the Honda CR-V, but the RAV4 has more zest with its colorful plastics and contrasting upholstery designs matched to each of its trim levels.

A tablet-like touchscreen for infotainment sits high on the dash, its 7.0- or 8.0-inch display relaying pertinent information. It’ll talk to an Apple phone through CarPlay but isn’t ready for Android commitment yet. Amazon Alexa compatibility is included, which makes it convenient to order the paper towels you forgot at Target when you’re on your way home.

DON'T MISS: 2019 Toyota RAV4 debuts in New York

The RAV4’s cargo area doesn’t suffer from the low roof like its passenger compartment does. At around 37 cubic feet with the second row upright, it’s plenty spacious.

All RAV4s come standard with a wide array of active safety tech—adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and active lane control are standard on all, and most come with blind-spot monitors.

Seven trim levels are on offer—LE, XLE, Adventure, and Limited for the base engine, plus LE, XSE, and Limited for the RAV4 Hybrid. You’ll have to crunch the numbers to decide which one’s best, but the XLE all-wheel drive with the optional Premium package bundles synthetic leather seats, real hides on the steering wheel, a power liftgate, and a few other features for a reasonable $32,000.

That’s a good number—as long as you’re not too tall to ride.

Toyota provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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