2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Review

The bad news is you can’t get a V6 in the 2020 Toyota RAV4. Which is a shame, because with that V6, which you used to be able to get, the RAV4 was maybe one of the top ten sleepers ever.

But Toyota benched the V6 after the last major redesign back in 2013. Not because it wasn’t popular but the V6 was too thirsty for Uncle.

Since then, the RAV has come only with a 2.5 liter four cylinder engine.

The good news is the latest RAV comes with something else.

Not the V6, but something else that sets it apart.

What It Is

The RAV4 isn’t just another crossover SUV.

Well, yes…it is one of those. But it’s also a historic crossover, being the first one as well as the longest-in-continuous-production one.

It’s as hard to image a world without crossovers as it is a world without smartphones. But before the mid-’90s, there were no crossovers.

Just cars and trucks.

The original ’96 RAV4 pretty much created the template that others quickly emulated because it sold. The RAV was built on a car’s chassis, but rode higher up, like a truck. It was good in winter and good for carrying cargo, but drove pretty much like a car.

And with the V6, the thing was fast, too.

A star was born.

Today, the RAV4 is the best-selling crossover SUV in the country.

And now, it’s the first Toyota crossover to offer rock-crawling capability.

There’s a new-for-2020 TRD Off Road package that significantly upgrades the Billy Goat Quotient of Toyota’s hugely popular crossover.

It features a torque vectoring AWD system that can route engine power to individual wheels and side-to-side—not just from front to back.

And all AWD-equipped RAV4s get this upgraded system—not just the TRD.

But TRD equipped RAVs get some other stuff, including additional ground clearance (8.6 inches vs. 8.4 for all the other trims) and more towing grunt, too.

This gives Toyota buyers the extra measure capability they previously had to shop Subaru or Jeep to get.

Toyota wants those sales, too!

Prices start at $25,850 for the base LE trim with front-wheel-drive. Adding the torque-vectoring AWD system bumps the price up to $27,250.

The new TRD Off Road version, which comes standard with AWD, stickers for $35,810.

A top-of-the-line Limited lists for $34,380 with FWD; with AWD the tab rises to $35,780.

There’s an in-between XLE trim, available with or without AWD, which comes standard with more amenities than the base LE but without as many amenities as the top-of-the-line Limited.

Toyota also offers an Adventure trim that comes with some of the TRD’s additional capabilities including the same torque-vectoring AWD system, contrast-color plastic fender flares, higher (3,500 lb.) tow rating and a unique-to-this model roof rack system, but with a suspension (and tires) tuned for on-road driving.

It stickers for $32,995.

What’s New

In addition to the newly available TRD Off Road package, all 2020 RAV4s come standard with Android Auto, AppleCarPlay and Alexa capability.

You can also now buy the Weather package, which includes heated windshield wipers, without having to buy AWD.

Sirius/XM is also standard in all trims now.

What’s Good

Notched-up capability vs. same-size rivals like the Honda CR-V.

More power than comparably off-road capable rivals like the Subaru Crosstrek.

Roomier than the Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

What’s Not So Good

Subaru Crosstrek comes standard with torque-vectoring AWD (and a manual transmission) for just $21,895.

Jeep Compass Trailhawk one-ups the TRD with a Low range gear reduction feature that makes it almost as rock-crawl-capable as a truck-based 4×4 SUV.

Toyota says only the TRD and Adventure trims can pull 3,500 lbs.

Under the Hood

Toyota offers the RAV in many trims but with just one engine. And just one transmission.

The only engine available is a 2.5 liter four, which is the same basic engine that’s the standard engine in the current Camry sedan.

On the upside, it’s a powerful engine.

You get 203 horsepower without a turbocharger, which is becoming hard to find in almost any vehicle—crossover or otherwise—as the car companies put smaller and smaller engines in their vehicles. This is to get Uncle off their backs and bolt turbos to them to keep the power levels of these downsized engines at a level buyers will accept.

Unfortunately, buyers can’t get the Camry’s V6 in the RAV anymore, which they used to be able to.

Still, the RAV4 comes with more engine than rivals like the Honda CR-V, which comes only with a 1.5 liter turbocharged four that makes 190 hp and the Jeep Compass, which comes only with a 2.4 liter four (without a turbo) that makes 180.

Diversity may be our strength but you won’t find much under the hood anymore of almost any new car.

Engine options are being winnowed down to one take-it-or-leave-it “option” in most new cars, chiefly because the previously optional larger/stronger engines use too much gas for Uncle and because larger engines “emit” more carbon dioxide—the “emission” that has nothing to do with air quality but everything to do with ginning up a political pretext to kill off the internal combustion engine.

There’s not much diversity when it comes to transmissions, either.

The RAV comes only with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission—another homogenizing trend you’ve probably noticed.

CVTs are becoming as hard to avoid as turbocharged and downsized engines for the same reasons. A CVT ekes out a small MPG advantage vs. a manual or conventional automatic with fixed forward gears (rather than continuously variable ratios).

Here’s where you may want to have a look at the Crosstrek, which is the only crossover in the class that still offers a manual. But you’ll have to make do with a lot less power. The Soobie’s standard (and only available) 2.0 liter engine makes just 152 hp.

It could use a turbo.

On The Road

The chief appeal of crossovers vs. SUVs is that they don’t drive like SUVs but can do many of the things SUVs can—like venture out of the garage when there’s a few inches of snow on the ground and the plows haven’t gotten to your neighborhood yet.

The chief appeal of the new RAV4 vs. other crossovers is that it’s capable of handling more than just a little snow when ordered with the TRD upgrades.

Or even not.

Any RAV ordered with AWD gets the same torque-vectoring AWD system that’s the centerpiece of the TRD RAV. It has driver-selectable Rock & Dirt, Mud & Sand, Snow and Sport modes as well as Eco and Normal.

The TRD ups the ante with 8.6 inches of ground clearance and a set of knobby-tread Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires.

The only thing missing for off-roading is a low-speed crawl mode (the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is the only vehicle in the class that has this) but even without it, this RAV4 is the most capable RAV4 to date and much more so than its primary rival, the Honda CR-V.

It’s also competently quick.

It can get to 60 in about 7.5 seconds, which for perspective is several seconds quicker to 60 than the under-engined Subaru Crosstrek (which gets there, eventually, after 10.3 seconds).

The fact is the new RAV’s acceleration is only about 1.5 seconds off the pace of the old V6-powered RAV and the fact that Toyota managed this with just 2.5 liters (vs. 3.5) and without a turbo is pat-on-the-back worthy.

The powerful engine also nixes the usual problem with CVT automatics, which is their tendency to call your attention to the lack of power by stringing out the engine to redline or near there every time you attempt more than tepid acceleration. The RAV just accelerates— smoothly and quietly.

It also corners better than most people are willing to risk trying. At the same speed that would have my ’76 Trans-Am’s tail greasing around the asphalt, me having to countersteer (and throttle steer) to keep it going in the wanted direction while going more and more sideways, the RAV’s tires just squeal a little bit.

This is something.

My Trans-Am is a high-performance muscle car and was, in its time, the best handling American car you could buy.

Today, you can buy a crossover SUV that handles better.

At The Curb

It’s blandly styled, but the RAV’s beauty lies beneath its skin. The interior is very thoughtfully designed, with several storage shelves for the driver and passenger as well as a large (and deep) storage bin in the center console.

Hand-sized rotary knobs control the essential functions (cabin temperature settings, radio volume and station) rather than feedback-free touchscreen buttons.

It’s one of those increasingly rare new vehicles that you can just get in and drive without having to read a manual first.

Or take your eyes off the road.

The RAV may not have low range gearing, but it can pull more and it has more cargo room than the Jeep Compass: 37.6 cubic feet behind the back seat and 69.8 cubic feet with the back seats folded vs. 27.2 cubic feet behind the back seats in the Compass and 59.8 cubic feet with the Jeep’s back seats folded.

It’s also much roomier for people and cargo than the smaller Crosstrek, which only has 55.3 total cubic feet of cargo capacity (20.8 behind the back seats).

The same-sized CR-V has more cargo room (75.8 cubic feet with the second row down) and a much roomier second row, with 40.4 inches of legroom vs. 37.8 in the Toyota, but you can’t get the extra capability in the Honda.

What Toyota has done is wedge the RAV into a new sweet spot.

It is still technically a “compact” but if you compare specs you’ll see it’s just a few inches shy, in terms of overall length and wheelbase, of being actually mid-sized.

The same goes for the Honda CR-V.

But the RAV offers the extra capability you’d otherwise have to downsize a bit, both under the hood and otherwise, to get, in something like the still-actually-compact Crosstrek and Jeep Compass.

Smart stuff, that.

The Rest

I will probably get in trouble for typing this but here goes:

While Toyota says that only the TRD Off Road (and Adventure) versions of the RAV can pull 3,500 lbs. this is likely a marketing upsell since all RAVs have the same engine, transmission and frame.

I can see no mechanical/functional reason why any RAV shouldn’t be able to pull the 3,500 lbs. Toyota says only the TRD and Adventure RAVs can handle. Toyota says other RAVs can only pull 1,500 lbs.

Toyota is one of the first major car companies to put Alexa in its vehicles. In addition to the new RAV4, you can also get it in the Camry and Sienna minivan.

Whether you want to get it is another matter.

Alexa can be handy but is also arguably creepy. Bad enough that Big Brother comes along for the ride. With Alexa, you’ve got Jeff Bezos along for the ride, too.

The good news is Alexa’s optional.

For the moment.

The Bottom Line

The RAV may have started it, but with so many others vying for the same turf it was time to grab some new turf.

And that’s just what the new RAV does.



*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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One Response to “2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Review”

  1. Greg says:

    Just wondering if you actually drove this vehicle?

    The only ” CVT” is the hybrid system on the hybrid models of the RAV4.

    All the others come with an 8-speed automatic. The TRD had the 8 speed.

    It is hard to believe that anyone who drove this vehicle would confuse an 8speed auto with a CVT .