I recently had the chance to drive the new 2019 Toyota RAV4, and I am absolutely mesmerized by this vehicle. I drove a mid-level model courtesy of Toyota of El Cajon, my local Toyota dealership here in the San Diego area, and the sticker price was right around $30,000. For that number, it’s crazy what Toyota is giving you.
For instance: the new RAV4 has adaptive cruise control. Not just regular cruise control, but cruise control that will slow you down and speed you up, depending on the actions of the car in front of you. It also has automatic braking that stops you if it detects you’re about to hit something — and it even has lane-keeping assist, where it’ll steer you back into your lane if you’re drifting out. And this stuff isn’t optional — it’s all standard. All of it. On every RAV4. There are also some safety options, like blind spot monitoring, but it’s amazing how many features this vehicle has — standard, at no cost — that will keep you safe.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Here’s a brief overview of the RAV4: it originally came out in 1996 as one of the pioneers of the small SUV segment, and Toyota has refined it several times now to meet changing consumer tastes and demands. The latest one, which is new for 2019, has a boxier, more muscular design to help it stand out in a world of lookalike crossovers. It also has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 203 horsepower, it returns 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, and it starts from just $26,500, which is a pretty good bargain considering how much stuff it has.
It’s also a pretty good bargain considering just how competent the new RAV4 is. No, it’s not luxurious, or fast, or especially exciting to drive, but the latest RAV4 is just effortlessly good. It feels durable and strong, the controls are well-designed and within easy reach of the driver, and the standard touchscreen is quite responsive to the touch and logically laid out. Visibility is strong, and fuel economy is excellent. And while the interior is certainly not as nice as what you’d find in a luxury car, it, too, is competent, with no imperfections or blunders.
As for the styling, I happen to like it. I think most small crossovers now totally blend in — the Mazda CX-5 looks like the Ford Escape looks like the Hyundai Tucson looks like the Kia Sportage looks like the Subaru Forester looks like blah blah blah. Toyota clearly made a concerted effort to distinguish the latest RAV4 from its rivals by giving it a bit more of a strong character — and to me, it worked. Some may disagree, but I like the risk-taking.
I also like the driving experience. As mentioned, the new RAV4 isn’t exactly a thrill, but it’s far from bad. The powertrain is the same as before, but it’s got more power now, and it’s reasonably quick for all situations — though enthusiasts will miss the downright fast V6-powered RAV4 models of the mid-2000s. The tradeoff, however, is gas mileage: the RAV4 is an impressive fuel sipper, reaching 35 mpg on the highway — a figure that clearly illustrates why the SUV is killing off the car: because you no longer need a car to get car-like fuel economy. Steering and handling is acceptable — vague and light, but par for the course among compact crossovers — and road noise is muted. It’s not a supremely comfortable luxury car or an ultra-exciting sports car, but the new RAV4 is just good. Very, very good.
And that’s why the new RAV4 easily earns itself the title of the best new compact SUV — well, that, and the amazing safety equipment that comes standard on every single one. Now, admittedly, this is a fast-moving segment, and I have little doubt that there will be a new "best compact SUV" a year from now. But for now, the latest RAV4 has the title.