Susan Frissell, editor

In 2020, the Toyota RAV4 added a TRD Off-Road Trim level, that will appeal to those drivers who enjoy going off-road. Additional trim levels offered in the RAV4 include LE, XLE, Adventure, and Limited. The RAV4 Hybrid is available in LE, XLE, XSE and Limited trim levels. Quite a few choices.

The Toyota RAV4 has come a long way since first introduced in Japan and Europe in 1994, and in North America in 1995, first seen at the 1996 auto show launch. Originally a two-door vehicle, it has morphed into one of the most popular small 4-door SUVs, particularly popular with female drivers. In its fifth edition (2019), the RAV4’s second generation was introduced in 2000. The 2004 model saw a style update, and the third generation was introduced in 2006. The fourth in 2012. The RAV4-which stood for Recreational Activity Vehicle, was designed for those wanting a vehicle that had most of the benefits of a SUV, such as more cargo room, higher visibility, the option of full-time or 4-wheel-drive maneuverability, and the fuel economy of a compact car.

The RAV4’s good looks go further in TRD Off-Road models. Toyota add more off road-adjacent hardware and twin-tube shocks, chunky 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, and gray exterior accents. Opening up even more opportunities for the RAV4 to be relevant, one can’t help but assume this version will appeal to the millennial group and their outdoor activities.

Our test RAV4 TRD Off-Road came in the attractive Lunar Rock, kind of a creamy green/gray look; one of five exterior colors. The 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine in the RAV4 is standard fare. Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the combo is sufficient for the RAV’s size, but it won’t wow you. But then, it isn’t supposed to. It’s a very pleasant, right-sized SUV for many looking for a right-size, manageable SUV. Buyers in this market won’t want for much, as Toyota adds a lot of goodies, such as and including as standard equipment: rear defrost, power windows, tire-pressure monitoring system and even the ability to trail a boat, small camper behind.

Competition for the RAV4 includes the Mazda CX-5, Jeep Cherokee, Volvo XC40,Ford Escape and Nissan Rogue. Compact SUV’s are a large market and suit a large number of car buyers.

The five-seater SUV, comes equipped with plenty of safety features, although not all are standard equipment. What is standard is Brake Assist, DRL Integrated Turn Signal mirrors, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control and Child-safety Locks. Buyers may add on the Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Keeping Assist, Cross-Traffic Alert and Lane Departure Warning.

Our tester carried a MRSP of $35,780, total price jumped to $42,622 with options, with a delivery charge of $1,175. The optional equipment included TRD Off-Road Weather Package including heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, Perforated, heated and ventilated front seats, Rain-sensing Variable Intermittent Windshield Wipers w/De-icer function ($1,015).

The Premium Audio package includes Premium audio, 8-inch Touchscreen, Dynamic Navigation with 3-yr. trial, 11 JBL speakers with subwoofer, amplifier, Safety Connect w/one-year trial, Service Connect w/1 yr. trial, Wi-Fi Connect w/up to 2 GB within 3-month trial, Destination Assist w/1 yr. trial ($1620). Door Edge Guard ($140), Door Sill Protector ($199), Mudguards ($129), Running Board ($549), and Blackout Emblem Overlays ($549). In addition, our test RAV4 came with the optional TRD Off-Road Technology Package including front and rear Parking Assist with automated braking, Bird’s Eye View Camera w/perimeter scan, overhead 360-degree view in Low-Speed Drive and reverse, curb view digital rearview mirror with HomeLink and QI-Compatible Wireless Smartphone charging ($1,950).

In our view, the RAV4 has always been an ‘every man’s’ SUV; nothing special, but good dependable transportation. I had a friend who owned several of them, then lost her loyalty during the floor mat debacle. She switched over to Nissan. Not sure what she’s driving these days.

All Toyota RAV4’s are equipped with automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitors are standard on most models, and a surround-view camera system is an option. When redesigned in 2019, the RAV4 earned top crash-test scores from safety officials.

As for most manufacturers, Toyota’s vehicles carry similar lines making it possible to identify which cars belong in the Toyota family. Same holds true for the new RAV4. A handsome Ute, the RAV4 draws from the 4Runner and Tacoma; up-do-date styling with its large fenders and larger rear roof pillars. Especially attractive are its high mounted taillights connected with a small panel. It all goes together as the panel contrasts to the fuller rear. An updated look, for sure.

The Off-Road edition features larger fenders, a roof rail and up-dated bumpers. First offered in the 2020 model,the TRD Off-Road package adds a more solid look. The TRD Off-Road is powered by the inline 2.4-liter inline-4 with the 8-speed automatic. Although 203 is enough for most drivers, one still gets that feeling of a struggling 4-cylinder. You also get that 4-cylinder sound. The Adventure and the TRD-Off-Road models are only available with the gas engine.

The ride in the RAV4 is smooth and quiet; certainly a change from earlier versions. Navigating over bumps in the road is well done and the ride is for the most part, smooth at all times. As it’s always been, the 2021 RAV4 is economical, compared to others in this category. A compact crossover, the RAV4 is rated at 26/35/30. Those looking for better fuel economy may opt for the Hybrid version-equipped with all-wheel-drive which promises 41/38/40 mpg.

All models of the 2021 RAV4 SUV include standard automatic emergency braking. IIHS named the RAV4 a Top Safety Pick in 2020 as it scored well in all crash test ratings. Standard safety equipment on the new RAV4 includes automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitors are standard on XLE and higher trim levels. This is a well-equipped small Ute. Additional features include pre=collision system with pedestrian detection, low-speed auto emergency braking. lane departure alert with steering assistance, adaptive cruise, auto high beams, lane-tracing asistance and roadside assistance. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, safety connect, and an optional upgrade to the telematics system allowing drivers to call for assistance if it detects a collision.

The interior in the 2021 RAV4 is comfortable and is an improvement from earlier models. The dash is wide, as is the touchscreen located over the vents. Storage is plentiful although the plastic surrounding it isn’t the best. Trims are differentiated by stitching and upholstery patterns. Our RAV4 TRD Off-Road tester came with attractive red stitching on black synthetic leather upholstery. We especially liked the red accent in the center console and headrest.

The Adventure and TRD Off-Road versions will appeal to outdoorsy buyers. Just the new look will make drivers feel like their ready to navigate the back roads. Not exactly a Jeep, but the RAV4 fits a larger audience. If you opt for the Adventure models, you’ll get 19-inch tires and wheels, roof rails, an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, digital instrument cluster, synthetic leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, and a power plug. For those wanting a more rugged image, the TRD Off-Road versions come with all-terrain tires and wheels, red interior accents, twin tube shocks, standard moonroof and power liftgate. As our test RAV4 TRD-Off Road loaner proved, adding on those extras can bring pricing into the $40,000-range.

We love a moonroof, but some taller drivers may find the head room a tad compromised on the RAV4. Seats can be adjusted though, which helps. We found the seats to be lacking in size for larger drivers, although comfortable enough for daily driving. On the other hand, those riding in the rear seats will notice rear leg room is adequate.

RAV4 interior

Our TRD Off-Road tester came equipped with new Android Auto compatibility, the 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay compatibility, auto emergency braking, Bluetooth. Most RAV4 models provide five USB ports, dual zone climate control, and optional heated seats. We tried the heated seats and didn’t find them very warm. Same with the heat when at full blast. Running our hand next to it, one could feel the heat, but it wasn’t projecting into the cabin, as expected. Perhaps it just needed a longer time to warm up?


Engine: 2.5 L, 4-cylinder, 203 hp, 164 lb.-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic w/OD, Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD w/Multi Terrain Select, TRD tuned suspension
Wheelbase: 105.9 in.
Height: 68.6 in.
Width: 73.4 in.
Length: 181.5 in.
Base Curb Weight: 3655 lbs.
Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.5 gal.
Maximum Trailing Capacity: 3500 lbs.
EPA MPG: 25/32/28
Tires: All-Terrain 18-inch
Wheels: 18-inch Matte Black TRD Alloy
Seating: 5
Warranty: 3 yrs/36,000 basic