We drove a $39,000 Toyota RAV4 to see if the best-selling SUV in America is worth the money. Here’s the verdict.

Our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited test car.

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Our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited test car.
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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

  • The Toyota RAV4 is new for 2019 the model year.
  • The RAV4 is the best-selling compact crossover SUV in the US, ahead of rivals like the Honda CR-V, the Nissan Rogue, the Chevrolet Equinox, the Ford Escape, the Subaru Forester, and the Mazda CX-5.
  • The 2019 RAV4 is powered by a 2.5-liter, 203-horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine that’s shared with the Toyota Camry sedan.
  • We liked the RAV4’s impressive suite of standard safety features and its redesigned interior. We were unimpressed by the RAV4’s harsh and unrefined powertrain.
  • The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE with front-wheel drive starts at $25,500, while the top-spec Limited trim starts at $33,500. With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited carried an as-tested price of $38,565.

The original Toyota RAV4 crossover SUV arrived in American showrooms in 1996. It was a world powered by beepers, fax machines, and dial-up modems. American Online was all the rage, and the best-selling car in the US was the Ford Taurus.

Fast-forward 23 years, and the world has changed considerably. Smartphones, social media, and WiFi dominate daily communications. AOL is but a shell of its former self, and the same can be said for the Ford Taurus that’s once again headed for the chopping block.

Last year, Toyota sold more than 427,000 RAV4s, making it the fourth-best-selling vehicle in the US, behind only the Ford F-Series, the Chevrolet Silverado, and the RAM 1500.

Read more: We drove a $34,000 Hyundai Tucson to see if it’s a legitimate rival for Honda, Toyota, and Subaru. Here’s the verdict.

The RAV4 is also the top seller in a compact SUV segment that accounted for roughly one out of every five vehicles sold in the US last year and is growing at a rate of 11.9%, according to data compiled by Kelley Blue Book.

In the marketplace, the RAV4 is a direct rival to the Honda CR-V, the Nissan Rogue, the Subaru Forester, the Mazda CX-5, the Chevrolet Equinox, and the Ford Escape.

For 2019, Toyota introduced an all-new, fifth-generation RAV4.

Business Insider recently had a chance to spend a week with a 2019 Toyota RAV4 prototype in Limited trim.

The base 2019 Toyota RAV4 LE starts at $25,500, while the mid-grade XLE, XLE Premium, and Adventure models start at $27,300, $29,500, and $32,900. The top-grade Limited trim starts at $33,500.

Hybrid variants of the RAV4 start at $27,700 for the LE and run all the way up to the Limited trim, starting at $35,700.

All-wheel drive is available as a $1,400 option on all trims except the Adventure and Hybrid variants, in which it comes standard.

With options and fees, our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited carried an as-tested price of $38,565.

Here’s a closer look at the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited:


In 1994, the first-generation Toyota RAV4 debuted in Japan. It didn’t arrive in the US until 1996 and was available as both a four-door …

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Toyota

… and a two-door. In case you were wondering, RAV4 stands for Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive.

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Toyota

Read more: We drove an all-new $32,000 Subaru Forester SUV to see if it could compete with Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. Here’s the verdict.


Toyota even offered an all-electric version of the RAV4 in select regions from 1997 to 2003.


Toyota launched a second-generation variant for the 2001 model year …

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Toyota

… and a third generation for the 2006 model year.

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Toyota brought back the RAV4 EV from 2012 to 2014. This time, it featured a Tesla drivetrain.

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Toyota

The fourth-generation RAV4 arrived for the 2013 model. It ended its production in 2018 as the best-selling SUV in America.

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Toyota

For 2019, Toyota is back with an all-new, fifth-generation RAV4.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The new RAV4 is built on Toyota’s new TNGA-K global midsize platform shared with the Camry sedan. Previous RAV4s were built on compact platforms shared with the Corolla and the Prius.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Its wheelbase is now 1.2 inches longer — but apart from that, the RAV4’s overall dimensions remain virtually unchanged.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Its ground clearance has also increased by roughly 2 inches, to as much as 8.6 inches.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The RAV4 sheet metal is handsome and modern, delivering suburban civility with a subtle evocation of 4Runner/Land Cruiser ruggedness.

Our 2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited test car.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The centerpiece of the RAV4’s front fascia is a large grille, along with a sizable Toyota logo. They are flanked by round fog lamps and LED headlights.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rear-end design features a subtle spoiler and dual exhausts.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The RAV4’s interior is also new …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… and we were impressed. Material quality was outstanding, and everything felt well put together.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The leather-upholstered seats in our test car were soft and supportive, with ample adjustments available.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Toyota worked hard to make the RAV4’s cabin easy to live with — and it shows. Cabin ergonomics are top-notch. Everything the driver needs is clearly marked and easily within reach.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I’m a fan of the various storage nooks found throughout the RAV4, like this one right above the glove box.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a hybrid digital/analog instrument cluster. Our test car’s 7-inch information display worked well and offered a bevy of driving data. Lower-trim cars come with a 4.2-inch display.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Atop the center stack is an 8-inch touchscreen running the latest version of Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune is not one of our favorite systems.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Even though Toyota has made improvements to the system, it’s still clunky to use, and its presentation is decidedly outdated.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Entune is not without its merits: The system has plenty of features, such as app integration, WiFi connectivity, and built-in navigation.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

And the physical shortcut buttons around the bezels dramatically improve Entune’s usability.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Also, kudos to Toyota for including a tuner knob. It’s old-school, but it works.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

And then there’s Apple CarPlay capability. It’s available for the first time on the RAV4 and allows you to bypass Entune.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Lower on the center stack is the RAV4’s climate controls and seat heaters — again, well designed and easy to use.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

At the base of the center stack is a power socket, a USB plug, and a Qi wireless-charging pad.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came with a screen embedded in the rearview mirror that can be turned on or off using a toggle switch at the bottom.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The system took a while to get used to but worked like a charm. It’ll be particularly useful when the RAV4 is packed with people or cargo and rear visibility is obstructed.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

One of the RAV4’s highlights is its advanced camera system.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Not only does it have a rear view and an overhead view …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… it also offers a 360-degree panoramic view that will swing around to show the car’s surroundings.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The system also has a feature that shows you what the car looks like from the perspective of those around it.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here’s an overhead view from the front left.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All RAV4s come standard with Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of semi-autonomous driver-assistance technologies, including pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams, lane-tracing assist, and traffic-sign assist.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The RAV4’s second row felt roomy and spacious. It offers 37.8 inches of legroom, up from 37.2 inches in the previous generation. However, it lags behind the Hyundai Tucson’s 38.2 inches — not to mention the Subaru Forester and the Mazda CX-5, both of which offer more than 39 inches.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This massive panoramic glass roof is also a nice extra. It gives the cabin and open, airy feeling.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Open the power liftgate …

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… and you’ll find 37 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold down the second row, and cargo capacity increases to 69.8 cubic feet. Both figures are down from the 38.4 cubic feet and 73.4 cubic feet of the outgoing RAV4.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Under the cargo floor is a spare tire, an increasingly rare feature in cars these days.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

All non-hybrid RAV4s are powered by a 2.5-liter, 203-horsepower, naturally aspirated inline-four-cylinder engine shared with the Toyota Camry.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels or an optional all-wheel-drive system.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Hybrid RAV4s are powered by the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a hybrid drive system to produce 219 horsepower, sending power to all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission.


Our test car came with a fancy Dynamic Torque Vectoring all-wheel-drive system designed to send up to 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. It can also distribute power between the left rear and right rear based on road conditions.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

So what’s it like to drive?

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Shockingly unrefined.

Everything about the Toyota RAV4 conveys thoughtfulness and refinement, from the quality of its interior plastics to its comfortable ride. The same could not be said for the driving experience.

The 2.5-liter engine is one of the most coarse-sounding four-cylinder engines I’ve encountered in a long time. Under hard acceleration, the engine buzzes and strains like a poorly executed 20-year-old tuner Honda Civic.

The eight-speed automatic doesn’t help the situation. Shifts were a tad slow and came with a somewhat uncouth jolt.

What’s most surprising is that the drivetrain is shared with the current-generation four-cylinder Toyota Camry, a vehicle we thoroughly enjoyed.

On the bright side, the four-banger delivers strong acceleration amid the noise.

Overall, the RAV4’s driving dynamics are unremarkable.


Here’s the verdict.

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Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in America for a reason. It has for more than two decades now delivered solid, sensible, and reliable transportation with an extra dose of fun.

And it is set to continue that trend with the fifth-generation RAV4.

The new Toyota RAV4 delivers a capable, high-tech, and easy-to-live-with compact crossover in a handsomely styled package. Now I just need Toyota to add to some sound insulation and retune the transmission.