2020 Toyota RAV4 Review

Liz Kim | Mar 02, 2020

Introduction

It was a quarter of a century ago that America got its first taste of the modern crossover utility vehicle (CUV). Toyota introduced its cute-ute RAV4 in 1996, and in the years since, car-based CUVs have come to define the current era, serving as the conveyance of choice for people who love them for their utility and practicality. To meet consumer preferences, nearly every carmaker has multiple CUVs in their vehicle lineups.

But the 2020 Toyota RAV4 remains the one to beat — in terms of sales. Last year, after full-size pickup trucks, the RAV4 was the most popular vehicle in America. Redesigned for 2019, the RAV4 doesn’t rest on its laurels, adding the new 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road version to a lineup that now includes seven different flavors. They range from the bare-bones LE trim to the luxurious Limited, with several available with a fuel-sipping hybrid powertrain in addition to the standard engine.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road Lunar Rock Front View

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a RAV4 TRD Off-Road equipped with 2-tone paint, a Technology Package, a Cold Weather Package, a JBL premium sound system, and an embedded navigation system. It had plenty of dealer-installed accessories, too, including wheel locks, blacked-out emblems, doorsill protectors, mud guards, paint protection film, roof rack crossbars, and a rubber mat set. The price came to $42,902, including the $1,120 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 RAV4, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, the RAV4 is more frequently purchased by women. The data shows that 56% are female (vs. 50% for the compact SUV segment). They’re slightly younger, too, with a median age of 57 (vs. 59), the result of 24% of RAV4 owners reporting to be members of Generation Y (vs. 19%). Toyota RAV4 owners are not as affluent, enjoying a median annual household income of $86,818 (vs. $92,841).

Toyota RAV4 owners express strong opinions on vehicle ownership, and they select this SUV with expectations of quality, reliability, and affordability. Owners strongly agree about the following: 79% of RAV4 owners say a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is reliability (vs. 64% of owners across the segment); 74% say they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 67%); 61% say a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is the quality of workmanship (vs. 47%); and 22% say that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 15%).

Toyota RAV4 owners are also more likely to strongly agree that they’ll pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (37% vs. 29%), and that they’ll pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (18% vs. 11%).

Owners say their favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, visibility and safety, interior design, driving dynamics, and seats. Owners say their least favorite things about the RAV4 are (in descending order) the storage and space, climate control system, fuel economy, infotainment system, and engine/transmission.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Toyota RAV4 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Exterior

The latest RAV4 sports a more aggressive and rugged look than previous generations, even in base trim. Hard angles, bold forms, and plenty of SUV-style cladding replaces the soft curves of previous RAV4’s, and based on J.D. Power’s latest data, owners love the way it looks. In fact, the exterior styling is their favorite aspect of ownership.

The new-for-2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road further toughens the SUV’s looks, with its black wheels and all-terrain tires. The test vehicle’s Lunar Rock paint, which resembles the gray hue of a dolphin, in combination with an Ice Edge (white) roof made for an even more distinctive appearance.

Interior

Toyota vastly improved the RAV4’s interior materials with the 2019 model year redesign, and the result is a cabin featuring soft-touch materials in all the right places. Overall, the design emphasizes function over form, exhibiting the same utility and purposefulness of the exterior’s appearance. With TRD Off-Road trim, red contrast stitching and embroidered TRD insignias on the SofTex leatherette seats help add contrast to an otherwise dark environment.

Seats

An 8-way power adjustable seat made it easy to find an ideal driving position, but I would have appreciated even a manual seat height adjuster for the front passenger’s seat. The seats themselves had enough thigh support and bolstering, although they could use more cushioning. Also, Toyota’s SofTex leatherette does a decent impression of the real thing.

In the back seat, soft front seatback panels and plenty of room for legs and feet deliver good comfort, and passengers like the dual USB charging ports and rear air conditioning vents.

Climate Control System

Thanks to simple knobs and buttons and a dual-zone automatic climate control system, it is easy to set or adjust the temperature in a RAV4. My test vehicle was further equipped with heated and ventilated seats for greater comfort.

Infotainment System

In the TRD Off-Road, an 8-inch touchscreen display mounted at the top of the center control panel rules over your infotainment kingdom.

Shortcut buttons for primary menus flank the sides of the display while separate power/volume and tuning knobs further the system’s ease of use. The graphics seem dated, however, with old-school fonts. Still, Toyota’s Dynamic Voice Recognition did a fine job of recognizing inputs for hands-free operation.

For 2020, Toyota finally adds Android Auto smartphone projection to the RAV4, a complement to Apple CarPlay that makes life easier for people who shun the iPhone. You can also opt for a subscription to Wi-Fi hotspot service.

Storage and Space

Although they aren’t big, the design of the RAV4’s storage compartments reflects plenty of forethought on Toyota’s part.

Of particular note is the shelf running nearly the entire width of the dashboard. A wireless charging pad forward of the gear selector made a natural home for my smartphone, and while the center console bin isn’t sizable, it proved deep enough to store a DSLR camera out of the view of prying eyes. The glove box barely held the owner’s manual, however.

Behind the RAV4’s rear seats, the SUV provides 37.6 cu.-ft. of cargo volume. Folding the seat nets you 69.8 cu.-ft. These figures are competitive in the compact SUV segment.

Visibility and Safety

Toyota RAV4 owners say that visibility and safety ranks as their second favorite aspect of ownership, and it’s easy to understand why. Outward visibility is excellent, in part thanks to side mirrors mounted on the doors for improved sightlines to the front corners of the vehicles. Large windows aid the view, too, and the test vehicle had both a 360-degree surround view camera system with perimeter view capability and an excellent rearview camera mirror with multiple settings.

Impressively Toyota equips every 2020 RAV4 with its Safety Sense 2.0 suite of advanced driver assistance systems. They include adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. The test vehicle also had a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning.

As far as crash-test performance goes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the RAV4 a 5-star rating for its ability to protect passengers in the event of a crash, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives it a Top Safety Pick designation.

Engine/Transmission

Toyota RAV4 owners rank the SUV’s powertrain as their least favorite aspect of the vehicle, citing dissatisfaction with transmission shifting, the sound and smoothness of the engine, and acceleration response and passing power. During my time with the RAV4, it did not strike me as deficient in any of these areas compared to its direct competitors.

A 203-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is standard, providing more motive force than you’ll find in many compact crossovers. It provides decent acceleration, though it can sound coarse and loud as the revs climb. The test vehicle’s 8-speed automatic transmission behaved properly during testing, proving snappier when in Sport mode than when driving in Eco or Normal modes.

The point of the TRD Off-Road is off-roading, and here the Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel-drive system, the Multi-terrain Select traction system, the hill descent control system, the all-terrain tires, the TRD-tuned suspension, and 8.6 inches of ground clearance helped this version of the RAV4 venture down trails most other crossovers couldn’t.

Fuel Economy

Toyota also equips its AWD system with a rear driveline disconnect function to improve fuel economy. The SUV operates in front-wheel-drive mode until it needs the rear wheels for extra traction.

Does it work? The EPA says that you should expect 27 mpg from the TRD Off-Road in combined driving (25 city/32 highway). I came nowhere close to this figure, averaging 23.4 mpg during a full week of driving.

Perhaps this is an anomaly. Unlike with most vehicles, where fuel economy lands dead last in terms of owner satisfaction, RAV4 owners place this quality mid-pack, suggesting that widespread unhappiness with gas mileage isn’t a problem.

Driving Dynamics

While the Toyota RAV4 lacks the dynamism of the Mazda CX-5 or the all-around affability of the Honda CR-V, this latest iteration is more enjoyable to drive than most of its predecessors.

What impresses me most about the TRD Off-Road, aside from its unexpected capability on a trail, is its ability to deliver a smooth ride around town. The special shocks used on this model, perhaps coupled with the all-terrain tires, absorb most pavement imperfections to provide a drama-free commute.

Parking is a breeze, given its compact dimensions and the test vehicle’s myriad cameras, and its direct steering and well-modulated brakes draw no undue attention to themselves.

Final Impressions

While many people who choose a 2020 Toyota RAV4 might not drive over anything dustier than a fairground parking lot, it makes good sense for the company to offer the TRD Off-Road trim level. Not only does it burnish the brand, its actual capabilities can be useful to those who want a combination of off-pavement skills and on-road refinement in a small but useful package.

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