CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif . — Toyota has really been upping its game over the last couple years. The automaker is slowly but steadily ditching its stodgy styling and adding a lot of nice technology to its new vehicles.
The 2019 Toyota RAV4 is the latest vehicle that bucks the previous boring trend by pepping up the design and including up-level features in all of its trims.
The exterior has more aggressive lines, opting for a more upright and SUV-like façade.
Overall dimensions aren’t incredibly different from the previous generation, but a lot of the styling cues hearken from the truck lineup rather than the car lineup with a bold and blocky grille as well as strong horizontal lines along the side.
The interior, however, gets a huge upgrade. The materials themselves are less cheap and flimsy, and the design is simple and streamlined, which gives it a much more upscale appearance.
I loved all the texturized touch points -- from the ridges on the dials to the patterned surfaces inside the cubby bins. Plus, there are more soft-touch surfaces on the dash, doors and armrest.
Frankly, this is the biggest – and most needed – update that RAV4 gets.
Another huge win: RAV4 is the next beneficiary of Apple CarPlay in the Toyota lineup. First seen in Avalon and the Corolla Hatch, this phone mirroring system is now standard fare in RAV4 as well.
What’s more, with the recent iOS update, this now includes Waze integration and Google Maps. Hallelujah!
We played around with Waze a bit during our drive and found that it filled the screen completely and worked just as well on the in-car screen as it does on your phone – complete with crowd-sourced incident reports and police sightings.
Android Auto remains unavailable on Toyota vehicles, and no, there’s no word about when it might be available.
Yet another win in the RAV4 falls under the safety umbrella.
For 2019 Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is now standard. That means features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, lane trace assist, lane departure warning and road-sign assist are all included in every trim.
Outside of the standard CarPlay and safety features, there are many unexpected up-level amenities on the new RAV4. Some features of note include the rear camera mirror, 360-degree camera, vented front seats, panoramic moon roof and up to 5 USB ports.
The 2019 RAV has six trims with two being exclusive to the gasoline powertrain and one being exclusive to the hybrid (HV) powertrain.
The gasoline models will be available in both front- and all-wheel-drive platforms, and the hybrid will be all-wheel-drive only. Pricing is as follows:
In the FWD gasoline models, add $1,400 for AWD.
In addition to trims, Toyota has what it likes to call “grades”: Sporty, rugged and standard.
As you might have already surmised, the Adventure trim is considered to be at the rugged end of the spectrum with a blockier grille, higher ground clearance and Toyota’s Terrain Select system. It also is the only trim that gets orange interior accents.
Oddly, the sporty grade is a hybrid. The XSE trim, which is exclusive to the hybrid powertrain, gets glossy black lacquer exterior accents, a sport-tuned suspension and slick blue-and-black cloth seats.
Why, you might ask, is the hybrid supposed to be sporty? Because the addition of the electric motor naturally gives it more horsepower and a faster off-the-line start.
Gas and hybrid models get the same 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine, but the gasoline model delivers 203 horsepower and the HV delivers 219.
Both models are decently powered for a vehicle this size. My personal preference leans toward the hybrid, however, as you can definitely feel the difference 16 horsepower makes.
Plus, the hybrid is quieter.
The RAV4 handles very well on the highway as well as in twisty, technical driving. It’s compact enough to maneuver well in tight situations, but it’s long enough to maintain a comfortable ride for long drives.
The gasoline version of RAV4 hit dealers in December, and the HV models will be available starting in March of 2019.
The Bottom Line:
I’ve been wracking my brain for things I didn’t like on the new RAV4, and I’m not coming up with much.
Yes, the gasoline model is a little louder than the hybrid. And yes, the lower trims have a little more plastic-touch surfaces.
But overall, Toyota knocked the design out of the park and added a lot of great content.
From Apple CarPlay to all the standard safety equipment, RAV4 is going to be a very competitive vehicle. In fact, if you’re looking at Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape, I’d recommend the new RAV4 over all these every day of the week.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.