A year or so ago I had a moment of panic when I realized that I was about to turn 30 and I had yet to fully experience Southern California. So after months of trying to find time on the calendar, my fiance and I flew to LA this May and embarked on a 5-day California road trip behind the wheel of a 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure — on what I dubbed the "2019 2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure Adventure."
If it isn’t obvious, I wanted to take the opportunity to evaluate the RAV4 Adventure as an adventure vehicle, and here are my findings after 1,400 miles behind the wheel.
In terms of adventure-y stuff, the 2019 RAV4 Adventure gets a unique front and rear fascia, black plastic fender flares, unique 19-in wheels (still wearing only basic all-terrain tires) and more prominent roof-rails. It also comes with a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system than what you get with lesser RAV4s. Inside, the RAV4 Adventure gets unique interior colors along with orange trim that looked great against the Lunar Rock exterior color on our loaner. Beyond that, though, there isn’t much else that differentiates the Adventure from the standard RAV4.
We got in just before sundown — so instead of heading straight to our first Airbnb in Palm Springs, we opted to head into Santa Monica for the sunset. We made it just in time. Santa Monica is pretty overrun with tourists, though — and guys who think it’s cool to rip up and down Ocean Avenue in their chrome-wrapped Lamborghini Aventadors. We walked out onto the pier just to say we did it — and then we hit the road.
Driving late into the night, I really came to appreciate the RAV4’s radar cruise control and lane-keeping assist, both of which come standard. I really like that Toyota has taken to differentiating its vehicles from those of the competition by including its suite of active safety features as standard, because when a vehicle is safer, everyone wins, including drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Frankly, this is the ethical thing to do. I also enjoyed the interior layout of the RAV4. While it isn’t a luxury car, the RAV4 has a good design and high-quality switchgear and touch-points throughout its cabin.
Palm Springs is like another world, and the Airbnb we stayed at was very Palm Springs, and even has its own Instagram account. While the listing for the house made no mention of this, the road to get to it involved some mild off-roading. It was nothing major, and while a basic AWD RAV4 likely would’ve made it with minimal added effort, it’s instances like this where you may be glad you have the more sophisticated torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system you get with the Adventure and Limited trims. Kudos to Toyota for making the RAV4’s Adventure trim more than just an appearance package.
The next day, we headed into Joshua Tree National Park, which is kind of like any other desert except for the fact that it’s absolutely littered with Joshua Trees, which are both lanky and bulbous. We did a little hike and cruised through the rest of the park.
After another night in Palm Springs, we headed to a place that had been on my radar for a long time — Salvation Mountain. WAY off the grid east of the Salton Sea in the middle of what has to be some of the most desolate terrain in America, Salvation Mountain is an art project comprised of mud, hay, paint, and old car parts and built by a well-meaning madman named Leonard Knight. It’s featured in the 2007 film "Into the Wild" that depicts the travels of cult-hero Christopher McCandless. Knight died in 2014, but the local community maintains the site in his honor. I’d known about this place for years, and seeing it in person, it’s just as bizarre as it sounds, as is the off-the-grid community to the east of it known as Slab City.
After doing our best to process the madness that is Salvation Mountain and Slab City, we headed to San Diego where we spent a night on Coronado Island. Like many other places in California, Coronado is unlike anywhere else in the country, with perpetual warm weather and a large number of residents who get around via golf cart.
We then headed north to Santa Barbara along the Pacific Coast Highway, which I was careful to drive in its entirety from its starting point in Capistrano beach.
On our lone full day in Santa Barbara, rather than taking it easy like we had planned, we opted to do something crazy and drive as far north along the PCH as we possibly could. We were glad we did, as the views are unreal. We made it all the way to Monterey before having to turn around and head five hours back to Santa Barbara along the 101.
And that was pretty much our trip. While the Adventure trim doesn’t really make the RAV4 any more adventure-worthy beyond its offering of more functional roof rails, the saving grace is that despite a few flaws with the infotainment system, the 2019 RAV4 by itself is a comfortable, efficient (we averaged 26.5 miles per gallon), and practical road trip vehicle, regardless of the trim level. The Adventure trim simply adds to the aesthetic. Find a Toyota RAV4 for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.
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