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2019 RAV4 Limited AWD Review: A RAVishing Daily Driver

by Paul Strauss
2019 RAV4 Limited AWD Review: A RAVishing Daily Driverzoom in

    2019 RAV4 Limited AWD (Gas)

  • Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower: 203
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 184
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 25/33/28
  • Curb Weight (lb): 3620
  • Wheelbase (in): 105.9
  • Total Length (in): 180.9
  • Width (in): 73.0
  • Ground Clearance (in): 8.6
  • Base Price (USD): $34,900
  • Price as Tested (USD): $39,034

As their top-selling vehicle in the US (and the number 3 vehicle in US sales overall), it wasn’t an absolute necessity for Toyota to redesign the RAV4. People were already quite happy to buy this compact SUV as it was. But not to rest on their laurels, Toyota decided to completely revamp the vehicle, improving it in just about every way for the 2019 model year.

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This wasn’t just some cosmetic update either. Toyota moved the RAV4 to its new TNGA architecture, which underpins many of the company’s latest models. Riding on this new platform means a stiffer chassis, resulting in better ride quality, and a more dynamic driving experience overall. There’s an all-new look both inside and out too, with styling that’s definitively more athletic and masculine than prior RAVs. Most notable is the new front end, which has more in common with Toyota’s trucks than ever before.

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The angular, chiseled look continues along the sides and rear as well, giving the new RAV4 a more aggressive and rugged look, even in its most urban trim level, the Limited. The new design also benefits from added ground clearance compared to prior models, jumping by more than 2 inches up to 8.6″ (base LE/XLE models have 8.4″.) This change alone gives the new model much more capability should you take it off-road.

While the overall length of the 2019 model is nearly unchanged, it gains more than an inch in wheelbase and track width. Combined with the new frame, the ride feels more confident and planted than ever, and body roll has been well tamed, for a more car-like feel than ever, despite a 1″ height increase.

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I found acceleration from the 2.5-liter, naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine to be more than adequate, and the 8-speed automatic shifts smoothly and cleanly. With 203 horsepower, the gas model comes in about 16 horses shy of the more fuel efficient Hybrid model, but gets a more capable AWD system. Road noise is tamed nicely inside the new cabin, and the suspension does a good job absorbing speed bumps and potholes, and provides a good connection to the road without harshness.

The new all-wheel drive system offers multiple driving modes for various conditions, including mud/sand and rock, as well as a hill descent mode. The gas AWD model also offers torque vectoring, which allows torque to be distributed unevenly between the rear wheels. This not only means sharp cornering, but can help get you out of a bind if one wheel has traction and the other doesn’t in the snow, ice, or sand.

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The interior sees a cleaner, more linear look than before, with a more purposeful design. Front and center is an 8″ touchscreen, which supports Apple CarPlay for the first time. Like other Toyota and Lexus vehicles, the underlying infotainment system feels dated, so I preferred to spend most of my time using Apple’s interface. What the display lacks in modernity, it makes up for fronting an 800-watt, 11-speaker JBL sound system, which sounds simply stellar, and is well worth the $560 option price (which includes navigation as well.)

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One feature that’s new to 2019 premium models is an 7″ digital information display in the instrument panel. It looks really crisp and sharp when it’s overcast or nighttime, but I found that it washes out a bit in bright sunlight. What’s odd is that the same thing doesn’t happen on the center console touchscreen. Hopefully, Toyota can improve upon this in future with a better anti-reflective coating.

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There’s lots of other stuff to like about the smartly-designed new interior. The leather seats in the Limited are comfortable for long road trips, and can be equipped with both heat and ventilation. Borrowing from the Highlander, there’s a long shelf that runs across the passenger side of the dashboard, providing a handy spot to place a smartphone or other small items thanks to its non-skid lining. A smaller version sits on the driver’s side and is good for spare change. Toyota was kind enough to include five USB ports – one for each passenger, with two in the armrest, two in the back seat area, and one in the center stack. And for those who prefer wireless charging, there’s a Qi charging pad there too.

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Rear seat legroom and headroom is good, providing enough space for full-height adults to fit three adults comfortably. Adjustable recline and heat are worthwhile options for the second row as well. Opt for the panoramic sunroof, and the cabin feels even more spacious.

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There’s ample space in the cargo area, with 37.5 cubic feet behind the second row, which grows to 69.8 cubic feet when you fold them down – that’s a small decrease from the 2018 model, but it still seems plentiful. The seats fold in a 60/40 split for versatility too. A foot-activated power tailgate makes loading and unloading with your hands full less painful too.

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Toyota is leading the industry in terms of standard safety features too. The new RAV4 packs Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes pre-collision warning and braking with pedestrian detection, road sign assist, lane departure assist with steering assist, automatic high beams, full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, and lane tracing assist. The adaptive cruise works as well as any on the market, though the lane keeping tech has a tendency to ping-pong a bit. I preferred to keep it switched off.

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You can also equip the RAV4 with a digital rearview mirror, which improves visibility and eliminates blind spots. It’s not quite as sharp as the units in GM’s vehicles, but it’s still a big improvement over a standard mirror.

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There’s a ton to like about the 2019 RAV4. It drives better than ever, with a more dynamic and satisfying overall ride quality. It’s got a great new look inside and out, a comfortable and spacious cabin, and safety tech galore. Toyota could have just kept selling the RAV4 the way it was, but they did themselves and their customers proud by taking their most popular vehicle to the next level. I highly recommend the 2019 RAV4 and suggest that anyone looking for a compact SUV test drive one.

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