Toyota brings the TRD Off-Road to the RAV4 line.
Things have certainly changed for Toyota and we’re not talking about the current pandemic world we live in.
Prior to 2020, we saw a shift in car-buying habits that remains current today: consumers are moving away from traditional car models such as the compact Corolla and midsize Camry, and toward car-based utility vehicles such as the Toyota RAV4. Indeed, where the Camry and Corolla were the 1-2 sales punch for Toyota for the past two decades, both have been supplanted by the RAV4, which is now America’s best-selling vehicle that isn’t a pickup truck.
Before we move on, one personal note is in order: my wife and I have owned or leased a RAV4 for 16 years until we traded our more recent one in for a Corolla this year. The Mrs. is particularly fond of the RAV4 (and all Toyota products for that matter), thus it was easy to get her a second Corolla. As a journalist and new vehicle reviewer, keeping our biases under wraps remains important. We’ll endeavor to do so as we examine the current and fifth-generation Toyota RAV4 as presented to use in TRD guise.
2020/2021 Toyota RAV4 Review
Because we’re transitioning between model years, the pricing and trim information presented here covers the 2021 model. The rest of our information pertains to the 2020 RAV4.
Toyota offers the 2021 RAV4 in six trims: LE ($26,050), XLE ($27,345), XLE Premium ($30,050), Adventure ($33,155), TRD Off-Road ($35,780), and Limited ($34,580). Add $1,120 for the destination charge. Separately, Toyota markets a RAV4 Hybrid model. This one is available in five trims with prices ranging from $28,500 to $37,030. It’s a standard hybrid, therefore you won’t find federal or state incentives as you would with a plug-in hybrid. Speaking of a plug-in hybrid, a RAV4 Prime model rolls out later in the 2021 model year.
Our test TRD Off-Road retailed for $41,780. It came with several package upgrades, including a Weather Package ($1,015), a Premium Audio and Navigation bundle ($1,620), and a Technology Package ($1,950). Other charges included a two-tone color scheme ($500) and paint protectant film ($395). By far, this was the most expensive RAV4 we’ve seen.
We’re fans of the styling changes Toyota has made in recent years, including with the current-generation model that rolled out in 2019. The current RAV4 is the sportiest one yet and mirrors the exterior improvements Toyota has made to its cars in recent years.
Some critics say that there is only so much you can do to a crossover to differentiate it from the pack. While the silhouette is roughly the same, it is the various cutouts, angular lines, gaping grille, and lighting elements that make the RAV4 shine. Add in stylish wheels and an available two-tone paint scheme, and the RAV4 makes its mark in a crowded sphere.
The standard model comes with 17-inch steel wheels, while other trims offer various 17-, 18-, and 19-inch alloy wheel designs. All models come with all-season tires, except for the TRD Off-Road and its all-terrain tires.
Standard LED lighting (headlights, daytime running lights, and rear lights) are an unexpected, but welcome feature. Toyota brings in fog lights with the XLE trim. Power-controlled and folding side mirrors are standard; most trims add heating. You’ll even find puddle lamps on the Limited.
Available equipment includes a power tilt-and-slide moonroof. The Limited model makes available a panoramic glass roof along with the moonroof.
Roof rails are standard; roof rack cross bars are optional. All but the base trim have a power liftgate.
What sets the TRD Off-Road apart from the others? Well, thanks to the Adventure trim, Toyota already had something to work with, including an 8.6-inch ground clearance. TRD, by the way, stands for Toyota Racing Development. This division is responsible for the marque’s performance and off-road development.
The TRD Off-Road possesses features no other RAV4 can claim, including high-rise roof rails, larger over-fenders, and sporty grille and bumper designs. As mentioned, the all-terrain tires are unique to this trim and look great with the matte black TRD alloy wheels. Special badging also denotes this model.
Compact utility vehicles seem roomier than ever. Thanks to a competitive segment, most manufacturers are building slightly larger models with roomy interiors. We put the RAV4’s interior space about on par with the midsize Camry sedan. Thus, you’ll find ample room for five inside.
The interior is clean and inviting with driver and cabin controls sensibly placed. There’s also a lot of hard plastics within view, but that’s common to this segment. Most trims include soft-touch materials in plain sight – such as along the dashboard. Both the LE and XLE have a urethane-wrapped steering wheel; you’ll find leather beginning with the XLE Premium.
Toyota describes the standard seating surfaces as “fabric-trimmed” which represents a type of cloth material. Most trims use SofTex, a synthetic material that has the look and feel of real leather. We find this trim comfortable and breathable; some buyers like it because no animal-based materials were used in the manufacturing process. Interestingly, real hides are not available on any trims, although the steering wheel and shifter are wrapped in leather on most trims.
Just as the TRD Off-Road brings flair to the exterior, the interior is similarly adorned. Beautiful red stitching and red trim accents add pop and distinction, offering a fitting contrast to the black seats covered in imitation leather. Check out the TRD logos stitched in the front headrests and the matching all-weather floor mats.
The list of standard features for the RAV4 includes keyless entry. Most trims have push-button start. Full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescopic steering column, and climate control are included. Also, dual-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated outboard rear seats are available. Further options include a cargo area cover and ambient lighting.
Toyota equips the RAV4 with a 7-inch touch-screen display and six speakers. Also included is Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility, connected services, and one USB media port.
Among the upgrades are an 8-inch touch-screen display with HD Radio. Some packages include an 11-speaker JBL audio system with navigation and as many as four USB ports.
An available Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging pad is bundled within a package available beginning with the XLE Premium. Our model had one and we were pleased to be rid of our cord.
Another upgrade to consider is a bird’s eye camera system to replace the standard backup monitor. It’s available on the two top trims only and is also part of a package upgrade.
Toyota is one of the leaders in all things driver-assist technologies. Where other manufacturers make you pay extra for these items (including not a few luxury marques), you’ll find a generous bundle of standard features under the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) umbrella.
Every 2020 RAV4 comes with a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, lane tracing assist, automatic high beams, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control (adaptive cruise control), and road sign assist.
Optional on the base trim, but standard elsewhere is blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Also, the Adventure and TRD models add something not available elsewhere: downhill assist control to join hill start assist and trailer-sway control.
As a result of these features and the way the RAV4 is engineered, this model is an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick award recipient. Likewise, the 2020 RAV4 holds a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Thus, the RAV4 scores high and consumers are the benefit.
Strong engines get the work done. That they’re also efficient is a bonus.
The RAV4 benefits from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 203 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It is naturally aspirated too – no boosting through turbochargers is necessary. Power routes to the front wheels or to all four wheels utilizing an 8-speed automatic transmission.
On most models, the RAV4 averages about 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving. Our test model averaged 29.9 mpg and that’s great as we did take it off-road.
But not everyone will use a RAV4 for anything but standard on-road work. If you do, you’ll find an engine that’s responsive, steering that’s direct, and with poised handling. We found the ride comfortable in most situations, although the TRD Off-Road seems stiffer thanks in part to its tires and specially tuned suspension system.
Most RAV4 trims come with an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar as well as a multi-link suspension with a stabilizer bar. The TRD Off-Road adds unique red-painted coil springs and jounce bumpers front and back. Unique struts are up front and unique shocks bring up the rear.
Jounce bumpers, by the way, are an interesting feature for the RAV4. They’re designed to absorb impact and dampen noise, vibration, and harshness, and are especially useful for tackling tough terrain.
We did not take the RAV4 to Uwharrie National Forest, where Jeeps and 4Runners dominate. The distance wasn’t the only issue – we believe the RAV4 isn’t designed for tough trails, but it does a laudable job where the pavement ends and gravel, dirt, and mud begin.
Utilizing all-wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive puts the TRD Off-Road at a disadvantage, but one Toyota tries to overcome by utilizing what they call a “Multi-Terrain Select and Rear Driveline Disconnect.” The second portion of the system prevents power from shifting to the rear wheels in most driving situations, conserving fuel. Otherwise, 50 percent of the power shifts rearward and that’s important when going off road.
With MTS on all-wheel-drive models, drivers can consider four modes: mud and sand; rock and dirt, snow, and normal). You’ll default to normal, but the others come in handy where conditions warrant.
We switched between the first two modes as needed, sensing increased grip to handle what laid before us. Yet, we were hesitant about climbing over anything that might puncture the gas tank or scrape the undercarriage – not one skid plate was to be had.
With this in mind, we first tackled a favorite gravel road, sensing power shifting to the rear wheels with the second mode dialed in. Carefully, we exited the road for well-trodden clay-covered spot, circling around to gauge grip. The big challenge, though, was climbing up or descending any sharp angle as the RAV4’s guidance system warned us of danger ahead. By essentially crawling forward and moving the steering wheel sharply to the left and to the right, we avoided scraping the front bumper. Certainly, this wouldn’t have been a concern of ours with a real four-wheeler, but it was with the RAV4.
In all, the TRD Off-Road showed its grace on the open road and its capabilities while tackling light-duty terrain. But take care where rocks, logs, and streams prevail – you could run into trouble. Instead, leave the tough work to the Tacoma or 4Runner, as both are imbued with much off-road mettle unlike the RAV4 Off-Road.
The compact utility vehicle market is the new segment-leading seller for automakers. Every manufacturer has at least one model in the mix. Toyota has two when you include the slightly smaller C-HR.
The RAV4’s chief competitors include the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue. Throw in the Rogue Sport for good measure. Other models in this segment include the Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Jeep Compas, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, and the Kia Sportage. Did we leave anyone out? That’s possible as there are several models that are near competitors, which gives consumers a lot to consider when shopping for a small utility vehicle.
If you’re seriously considering a RAV4 TRD Off-Road model, we think you’ll want to put it side-by-side with the Toyota 4Runner. The reason is simple: although this special version of the RAV4 has some off-road capabilities, only the 4Runner can handle tough terrain. Indeed, with its traditional body-on-frame design, stout engine, and tuned suspension, it’s the one you want to handle water fording, axle articulation, and other challenges of the trail less traveled. And with a beginning price of $36,340 ($38,315 for the Trail Edition), the cost for a 4Runner is in the same neighborhood as the RAV4.
Otherwise, if it’s a RAV4 you want, starting your search with the XLE delivers many of the features you expect in a compact crossover. You don’t need all-wheel drive, but if you want that option, you can have this model for just under $30,000. That’s a fair price point for a small SUV, especially for one that’s big on design, value, technology, and is reasonably comfortable.
2020 Toyota RAV4 Specifications
|Price Range||From $26,050 to $35,780|
|Standard Engine||2.5-liter, I4|
|Horsepower||203 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||184 lb.-ft. @ 5,000 rpm|
|Curb Weight (pounds)||3,370 to 3,620|
|Headroom (f,r…inches)||39.5, 39.5|
|Legroom (f,r…inches)||41.0, 37.8|
|Shoulder room (f,r…inches)||57.8, 56.4|
|Hip room (f,r…inches)||54.3, 47.7|
|Storage (cubic feet)||37.6|
|Gross vehicle weight (pounds)||4,610 to 4,705|
|Towing (pounds)||1,500 to 3,500|
|Payload (pounds)||1,085 to 1,240|
|Fuel Tank (gallons)||14.5|
|EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined)||26/35/30|
|Manufacturing Plant||Ontario, Canada|
Data compiled by Tom Keegan. Specifications supplied by the manufacturer.
Toyota RAV4 Off Road photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.