A look at how the Toyota RAV4 has evolved through the decades

It has gotten better through the years
Feb 17, 2019
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The RAV4 has gone through numerous changes since it was first launched in the ‘80s. Here, we take a look into how the RAV4 has evolved from its launch at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show to its current fifth-generation iteration.

RAV-FOUR Concept (1989)
A styling exercise based on neo-urban mobility for the young, offering four-wheel drive utility and a reconfigurable body, the RAV-FOUR previewed many of the RAV4’s features, such as the bubbly shape, petite proportions, and rugged plastic cladding. Despite the enthusiastic response from the public, Chief Engineer Masakatsu Nonaka had trouble convincing executives of its viability. Back then, people simply had no idea how popular crossovers would soon become.

First Generation XA10 (1994 )
Previewed at the 1993 Tokyo Motor Show, the first RAV4 used a Corolla chassis and odd bits and pieces from the Corona and Celica, most notably the 3SGE engine and four-wheel drive system. Under the RAV4’s bubbly looks and plastic fenders lied the guts of a true off-roader: permanent four-wheel drive with a locking center differential a surprising feature on such a car-like vehicle.

A five-door model followed in 1995, and cheaper front-wheel-drive models in 1996. An EV model also saw limited production. In its first three years, Toyota sold over 300,000 RAV4s.

Photo by Jim Joson.


2000 XA20 (Second Generation)
While the first RAV4 borrowed heavily from other Toyota models, 70% of the XA20’s parts were unique. Despite being much bigger, new stamping and welding technologies meant it wasn’t much heavier. More mainstream styling and less naked plastic broadened its appeal. Modern ZZ-family gasoline engines (and even a solitary diesel) gave it better fuel efficiency and performance, and a new all-wheel-drive system was introduced, courtesy of the Lexus RX.

Photo by Jim Joson.


2005 XA30 (Third Generation)
Only five short years later, Toyota launched the XA30 model on an all-new platform. Bigger in every way, it boasted better refinement and an expanded range of engine options, including the powerful 3.5 liter V6 from the Camry.

The three-door model and external rear spare tire were dropped, but a short-wheelbase model persisted for the Japanese market. Permanent four-wheel drive was dropped as well, giving way to part-time all-wheel drive. In 2012, it spawned the second generation RAV4 EV, developed in conjunction with Tesla Motors.

Photo by Jim Joson.


2012 XA40 (Fourth Generation)
The Fourth Generation RAV4 was a complete redesign, featuring sharper Lexus-like styling. The big V6 was dropped in favor of a new high-performance hybrid-electric variant, whose 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine and hybrid assist produced 194 horsepower and 40% better economy than the regular car. It would prove a hit to buyers and would stand as the top dog in this new era of ‘green’ motoring.

Photo by Jim Joson.


2018/2019 XA50 (Fifth Generation)
The new RAV4, based on the Toyota New Global Architecture platform, represents a radical departure from the norm. Rugged, muscular styling brings it back to its off-roader roots. The new 203 hp 2.5-liter engine and 8-speed automatic provide performance on par with the previous model and better economy than previous gasoline-only models. As for whether we get the mad 219 hp all-wheel drive hybrid locally, only time will tell.

Photo by Jim Joson.

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This article is created by Summit Storylabs in partnership with TOYOTA.
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