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Recently Driven

2020 Toyota RAV4 Trail TRD Off-Road

By: Ron Corbett, APA Staff Writer    

Not pretty, but the public has embraced the current RAV4 enthusiastically 

The acronym R.A.V., originally deciphered as Recreational Activity Vehicle, has, at some time in the past, morphed into Robust Accurate Vehicle. The nameplate debuted for the 1994 model year with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The second-generation RAV4, which went on sale for 2001, kept both drive systems but the previous two-door body style was discontinued, leaving only the four-door. The next-generation RAV4 that became available for 2006, was bigger, and offered a robust V6 engine for those who thought the four-cylinder engine lacked punch. The V6 is still fondly remembered and is still highly sought out by used car buyers. The 2013 RAV4 returned exclusively to four-cylinder power, which was joined but a hybrid variant for 2016. The current RAV4, the subject of this review, debuted for the 2019 model year.

Model mix
The all-wheel drive versions of the conventional RAV4s is offered in six different trim combinations, with only the LE and XLE trims available with front-wheel drive. A hybrid model is also available.

Vehicle tested 2020 Toyota RAV4 Trail TRD Off-Road
Body style Four-door crossover
Engine 2.5L-four (203 horsepower)
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
Base MSRP $28.090
Price as tested $41,716 (Trail TRD Off-Road)
NRCan combined fuel economy figure 8.6L/100 km
Observed fuel economy 8.4L/100 km

Like the most recent Toyota Camry, the current RAV4 veers from the bland lane into the “way out there” lane. There is little cohesive about the looks of the RAV4 and much that is visually discordant. Nonetheless, the buying public has embraced the design enthusiastically and sales have been impressive. The most positive aspect of the RAV4’s exterior design is that it encloses a large cabin with plenty of space for passengers and cargo.

Unlike the exterior, the cabin earns near universal praise for style and function. The driver faces a composite gauge package with half-moon analogue gauges at its extremities. The tachometer is on the left and the fuel level and temperature gauges on the right. In between them is a large, configurable, digital read-out that incorporates faux half coronas to make the half-moon analogue gauges circular. The top-centre of the dash is the anchor point for the now, nearly ubiquitous, free-standing infotainment screen. Each side of the screen is flanked with four buttons controlling various functions; with knobs for audio volume and tuning anchoring the lower extremities of the screen. The rubber-covered temperature knobs for the dual-zone climate system are a pleasure to grip. Fan speed, air distribution, and defrost functions are controlled by a row of small buttons located under the temperature knobs. Our high-end Trail TRD Off-Road model has an air distribution button that permits or restricts air flow to the rear passenger cabin.

The RAV4’s cabin, with abundant soft-touch surfaces, matte finishes, contrasting stitching on the dash and upper doors and nicely rendered faux alloy trim, is attractive.

The front seats on the RAV4 have generously-dimensioned bottom cushions and heavily-bolstered backrests that locate the driver well but never pinch. The rear seat is supportive and legroom is suitable for even large adults. The seats of our Trail TRD Off-Road model were clad in a vinyl upholstery that gave a convincing impression of leather. Cargo space is generous and deep below the window line.


Interesting gauge cluster has analoge edges with an electronic centre field. Note the faux inner gauge coronas that make the gauges look circular  

Simple, easily-manipulated infotainment and climate controls 

Front compartment boasts very comfortable seats, plenty of room and copious soft-touch surfaces. Seats are clad in vinyl but look quite good  

Rear seats are comfortable and occupants enjoy plenty of legroom. Red stitching is unique to the Trail trims 

Large cargo bay is deep below the window line 

The 2.5L four was panned last year for being very noisy under all conditions. Stung by the criticism over the RAV’s refinement, Toyota’s press release for 2020 made quite a point that various sound-abatement measures were undertaken to quell the racket from under the hood. While quieter now, the engine still can’t be described as refined, and more work needs to be done. One thing that remains from last year is a very enthusiastic, thoroughbred soundtrack at high revs. The big four is both quick and flexible, and with an observed fuel economy of 8.4L/100 km during our time with it, economical.

When introduced, the RAV4’s eight-speed-speed automatic transmission was criticized for some indecision and rough shifts during low-speed operation. No such faults were experienced in our 2020 tester.

Despite our tester being the off-road-oriented Trail TRD Off-Road trim, its ride is compliant with no road shocks reaching the occupants.

The off-road-specific Falken tires on our tester gripped well enough on paved surfaces and acted with the RAV’s suspension to deliver predictable handling and a feeling of control to the driver.

The RAV’s steering is nicely weighted, precise and even serves up a scintilla of road feel.

With a firm pedal and no lost motion, braking is reassuring.

Other than an engine that intrudes somewhat on brisk acceleration from a stop, the RAV4, with reasonably-suppressed road noise and little wind noise, is an acceptably refined vehicle for its class.

The powerful air-conditioning of the RAV4 keeps occupants cool in the most torrid summer conditions. The high-end Trail TRD Off-Road trim gives the driver the ability to direct, or restrict air flow to the rear compartment at the push of a button, allowing stronger airflow to the front compartment if the rear seat is vacant..

The JBL-branded audio system is quite sonorous and drivers can totally turn off the infotainment screen to better enjoy a drive-in movie. Cellphone hookup is easy and the voice command works well.


Normally-aspirated 2.5L four could be more serene but is strong, flexible and very economical 

Prices for the conventional RAV4 range from $28,090 for the front-wheel drive LE base model, to $40,710 for the all-wheel drive Trail TRD Off-Road trim driven by the APA. All-wheel drive, standard on most variants, is a $2100 option on the LE and XLE models. Most buyers opt for all-wheel drive. Even the base LE includes blind spot and rear cross traffic monitors as well as heated front seats. With a power driver's seat, alloy wheels, heated steering wheel, dual zone climate control, a sunroof, a power tailgate and rain sense wipers, among other things, the XLE trim upgrade is priced to reflect its additional content and will suit the needs of most buyers. The XLE Premium package is very expensive for the equipment delivered. The Trail trims are significantly overpriced but they do offer a 1588 kg (3500 lbs.) tow capacity, versus 680 kg (1500 lbs) for other models. Compared with the Trail, the Limited is very good value, but is pricey for a vehicle in this class. The RAV4 is an exceptional lease value for 2020.

The conventional RAV4 hybrid is readily available and transaction prices are very fair. The hybrid model is a different story. Interest in it is high, availability is limited, delivery times protracted and the actual transaction price for the hybrid is essentially full MSRP. The conventional RAV4 is very economical and can be acquired under normal market conditions. If you are a hybrid intender, you may find the conventional model a worthy alternative.

The 2020 RAV4 is in its second year and few complaints have been received since it launched. The RAV4’s normally-aspirated big four and conventional, hydraulic automatic transmission should be quite durable. The basic warranty on RAV4 is three years/60,000 kilometres, with the powertrain covered for five years/100,000 kilometres.

Two-tone paint treatment looks good but the black wheels are less than decorative 

The latest RAV4 hit the ground running, sold well in 2019 and is doing very well this year. The RAV4’s somewhat polarizing exterior design has not impeded sales, with its overtly trucky look finding favour with the buying public. With good performance, impressive fuel economy and a well-honed ride-handling balance, the driving dynamics of the current RAV4 are more engaging than they were in the last RAV4, and better than Toyota owners expected in the past. Toyota’s traditional durability, which the normally-aspirated engine and conventional automatic transmission will likely deliver, allies well with the RAV4’s newfound driving pleasure to make it a compelling choice for those who plan to keep their vehicle for a long time.