The 2019 Toyota RAV4 is a brave new proposition in the crossover segment

Toyotas don’t get any tougher-looking than this
by Drei Laurel | Feb 15, 2019

‘It’s easy to imagine drivers getting carried away with this thing’

So I’m sitting inside the car next to Mark, our photographer, for what seems like forever, fiddling with the controls and the infotainment system, doing everything in my power to keep from falling asleep as we wait for security—which, at Toyota’s Santa Rosa plant, is tighter than a Wigo’s turning radius—to let us through.

Dozing off inside an idle RAV4 is a very tempting proposition right now, and not just because I’ve been up and about since 5am: There’s space for days in here, and the seats—albeit bare in appearance—are pretty comfy.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Vibration is kept to a bare minimum, engine noise is practically inaudible, and the six-speaker sound system—which is much, much nicer than the vehicle’s spartan infotainment screen might suggest—makes the Rey Valera medley that’s just started playing from my Spotify library sound like sweet, soft lullaby. I am cradled in my mother’s arms inside this cabin.

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Getting some shut-eye sounds appealing. But Mark—especially Mark equipped with a camera—might be the last person you want to lose consciousness in the presence of.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Finally, the nice lady guard lets us through the gates. Toyota personnel lead us to the facility’s test track, our shoot location for the day. It’s a simple setup: There’s a 1km straight leading up to a small rotunda, a corner of which is cordoned off by red caution tape—the aftermath of a recent mishap, and what I’m told is the cause for the delay. It’s time to get to work.

Now before anything else, we have to address the elephant in the room: Toyota Motor Philippines’ decision to limit Philippine availability of the all-new RAV4 to just 4x2 units raised a few eyebrows, including ours. After all, 4x4 versatility is in the crossover’s name.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Gripe all you want about the move, but the truth of the matter is very few of you were ever going to buy 4x4 units. According to the carmaker, a measly 1% of past RAV4 sales is composed of top-spec 4x4s, so it’s kind of hard to argue with the logic in discontinuing its availability. And to be honest, it’s been a while since anyone’s viewed the crossover as something built for plowing through mud and muck.

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It’s the right move, business-wise, but it still a shame, because the all-new RAV4 absolutely looks built to rough it out. I’d go so far as to say this is now the most macho crossover—at least in terms of design—available on the market. The RAV4’s angry swept-back headlights, bold character lines, and jagged edges don’t just draw attention—they demand it.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

It’s an exterior that clearly draws inspiration from the Tacoma, one of Toyota’s tougher-looking offerings in the US, it’s apparent this will appeal to Filipino consumers. No matter where we were, whether parked at a gas station along the South Luzon Expressway or sitting idle outside the Santa Rosa plant’s main building, people ooh’d and aah’d at its appearance. The crossover is particularly striking in Cyan Metallic, like the unit here with us today.

There’s a ton of dark plastic enveloping the exterior. The fenders, lower fascia, sides, and rear bumper are all clad in it, and the grille is also made from plastic (albeit with a very metallic appearance in the high-end LTD unit we’re driving). Still, its application never gives off the sense that you’ve been shortchanged, and, together with the five-spoke 18-inch wheels, it lends the crossover a stance much higher than the quoted 176mm ground clearance might lead you to believe.

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

The rugged underpinnings outside are reflected in the SUV-like interior, too. The cabin emphasizes practicality and carries a minimalist feel, and there’s a generous amount of leather and soft-touch materials scattered all around. This includes the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, both of which have a relatively premium feel to them.

The previous-generation RAV4’s ‘flat’ dashboard design is carried over to the latest iteration as well, providing a generous amount of space for both driver and front passenger (though the crossover’s headroom does leave something to be desired). It’s a simple, modern look that endows the vehicle with good ergonomics and a layout that’s incredibly easy to grasp: Controls are all easily within reach, large dials (the A/C system’s knobs are especially chunky) and buttons emphasize tactile feel, and there’s a decent number of storage compartments.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

Besides the underwhelming infotainment screen, there’s very little to complain about in terms of equipment. The top-of-the-line LTD unit we’ve been lent for the day comes with a plethora of convenience and safety features: Electronic seat adjustment, customizable digital gauges, automatic dual-zone climate control, a rear parking camera, cruise control, a panoramic moonroof, and a total of seven airbags are just some of the bits worth noting. There’s even a wireless charging pad in here, though it doesn’t top up devices as quickly as standalone pads would.

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One underrated feature I feel needs to be brought up is the RAV4’s windows. All four of them can be fully opened or closed with a push or pull of a switch—a convenience that plenty of car manufacturers take for granted, even in their top-of-the-line offerings.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

So, how does it drive? Based on our experience with the crossover so far—which we admit isn’t much yet—the vehicle’s most standout trait is its quickness.

Underneath the hood is a 2.5-liter Dual VVT-i engine mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and capable of delivering 203hp at 6,600rpm and 243Nm of torque between 4,000 and 5,000rpm. This crossover gets up to speed fast, and, taking into account its quietness, it’s easy to imagine drivers getting carried away with this thing.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

You can play around with three driving modes: Normal pretty much speaks for itself, Eco dulls performance in favor of a more efficient drive, and Sport improves throttle response and makes the vehicle a relative hoot to play around with when shifting manually. Shame, though, that this offering doesn’t come with paddle shifters.

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Steering feel is definitely on the light side. This is great in city streets, as the RAV4’s turning radius definitely feels smaller than its dimensions on paper suggest. Not as appealing is the lack of heft on the highway: The tiller doesn’t feel dull or dead by any means, but drivers like me who are used to a more weighted sensation behind the wheel may find themselves making numerous minuscule corrections at cruising speeds. Ride quality is nice overall, though the vehicle does tend to feel stiff over rougher patches of road, and there’s noticeable body roll when turning.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

So now, let’s take a step back and look at what we have here.

The RAV4 is a perfectly fine crossover with a lot going for it in terms of style, practicality, and ease of use. Quickness is a quality all variants possess as the potent powerplant is shared across the range, and the top-of-the-line LTD offering is about as convenient and feature-packed as Toyotas come.

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That said, I cannot say in confidence that the RAV4—save for the base variant with a P1,638,000 price tag—is going to strike fear in its rivals like the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5, which both get the option of a diesel mill and AWD, or the all-new Subaru Forester, which is significantly more affordable.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

I really dig the all-new RAV4. I absolutely love the design, and the interior is one of my favorites. Thing is, the LTD is a 4x2 carrying a 4x4 price tag. For less than P60,000, you can move up from the RAV4 LTD to a top-of-the-line 4x4 Fortuner that seats seven. 

It’s a hard sell in terms of value for money, and with the crossover market now more competitive than ever, the RAV4 is going to have its work cut out for it to get a slice of the segment pie. 

But the RAV4 is car that you set your mind on buying. It fulfills a desire more than it fulfills a need. And this is Toyota we’re talking about. If any badge can sell a car—regardless of drivetrain—it’s this one. Let’s see how this pans out.

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And yes, I am too young to have a Rey Valera medley saved in my Spotify library.

PHOTO: Mark Jesalva

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PHOTO: Mark Jesalva
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