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The competition for compact SUVs is hot this year. Ford is releasing the all-new 2020 Ford Escape, Honda will be releasing the new CR-V, The Subaru Outback has been completely re-designed (though it’s hard to tell by looking at it), and many others, including Hyundai, are releasing a whole onslaught of new vehicles. This means when we look at the RAV4, we have to take into consideration that it is up against some of the best in the game this year. It’s not 1992 anymore, it's not only RAV4 vs CR-V. There is a serious battle that is about to commence.
That all being said, the 2020 RAV4 is a serious contender. Just released last year, this is a fresh vehicle with some serious accolades. The trim level that we were testing in particular, the RAV4 Adventure, is well equipped and comes with all of the modern tech to bring it into this digital era.
First and foremost, how does it drive? Well...I do have to say, we were quite disappointed in the driving characteristics of the 2020 Toyota RAV4. To start, our RAV4 was equipped with the 2.5l DOHC 4-Cylinder Engine with Dual VVT (variable valve timing) rated to 203 horsepower @ 6600 RPM and 184 lb-ft @ 5000 RPM and the 8-speed transmission.
Okay, now that the technical mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, let’s actually speak English. The engine isn’t the RAV4’s strong suit. The power is fair for the class, nothing to write home about, but enough to not be scared when merging on the highway. But the noise, the noise is awful. The engine is loud and obnoxious, and not in a “boosted to the moon backfiring Mk4 Supra” kind of way. More like a “Why in the world is this engine so loud for no apparent reason?” kind of way. Next, you feel sluggish transmission. Toyota somehow found a way to make an 8-speed trans be less responsive and laggy than a CVT. I am not sure how they accomplished that, it’s actually quite impressive. My first drive in the car I actually wondered if something was wrong.
I have to say, however, once you get used to the engine and trans, the RAV4 starts to feel more normal. The rest of the ride is composed and even comfortable. The suspension does a great job of soaking up the road making your drive comfortable. The road noise isn’t the greatest, but Toyota has never been known for making quiet cars, so it’s no surprise that the sound deadening in the RAV4 is still lacking.
In the long run, the RAV4 feels well put together and composed for what it is. The noise is loud, and the engine is clearly unrefined, but you know that it will get you there with never a trouble, and that’s why you're even looking at Toyota in the first place.
A noteworthy impression of the RAV4 Adventure was its off-road abilities. This is clearly no Jeep Wrangler (which you can get for a very similar price, might I add), however, it performs very well off-road. The ground clearance (8.4 inches) is more than enough to hit any train normal trail and the all wheel drive system does an excellent job of sending the power where needed. Once the RAV4 starts to lift a wheel off the ground or get into some real muddy situations, it starts to show it’s weaknesses, but before then, it performs very well. The terrain management system, which seems more like a gimmick than anything, but does help by making it easy to reduce traction control or control the brake actuated torque vectoring system.
The interior of the RAV4 is completely different than what the engine feels like. The interior is comfortable, well-equipped, and I would even go as far as saying it’s attractive! The build quality is excellent and it is a comfortable, inviting place to be.
When first stepping into the RAV4, your eyes immediately go to the orange accent pieces. These orange accents are the best feature of the interior and bring to life an otherwise relatively boring and antiquated interior. The accents are actually extremely useful dash-mounted cubbies as well. Nearly all dash mounted storage is useless. Any touch of the throttle and the contents/ go flying. However, Toyota did good here. The orange material is grippy, but not the kind of grippy that will easily trap dust and never get cleaned. The cubbies are deep and have a large lip as well. Truthful, it is the best implementation of dash storage I have ever seen on any vehicle. I know what you’re thinking “Easy there Tiger, it’s just dash storage.” But as a car geek, this is the type of stuff that gets me excited! And you should be too!
The rest of the interior is comfortable and well made. There are several areas on the dash that are very plastic-y, such as the gauge cluster and steering column, but from the driver's seat, it’s hard to tell. The seats are comfortable enough as well, they’re no Nissan seats, but they do just fine on long trips.
Rear seat room is ample. My three-year-old in his spaceship-equivalent car seat can comfortably sit behind me in my normal driving position without kicking my seat the whole time. Other notable features on the interior are the high quality switches and knobs. The climate control buttons are well placed and make for easy use. I loved the feel of the knobs as well (as weird as that sounds). They have a rubberised cover on them that make them easy to use and they feel great when you turn them. It was great to be able to hop into the RAV4 on a cold morning, crank up the auto climate control, and be comfortable. On the way home, when Michigan weather decided it wanted to do a 180 like normal, one quick twist of the climate control knob and I was back to being comfortable.
Technology in the RAV4 is a mixed bag. On one hand, it is extremely well equipped and comes with a handful of great, and useful features, and yet, on the other, all of those features are of the worst quality around. So where does that leave us?
Sure, the RAV4 has a TON of features, but many of them are not of great quality. The digital gauge, for example, is cluttered and terribly integrated into the cluster. The heated and cooled seats, while an awesome feature, feel more like getting breathed on by a mouse than anything that would relatively warm or cool your derriere.
Similarly, the infotainment system is terrible. The interface looks like it was designed for an early 2000’s Linux computer and probably has about the same amount of response time. The navigation was difficult to use, and even more difficult to stop. After you learn the system, it starts to make more sense why it is laid out in such an antiquated fashion, however, you are still left scratching your head as to why Toyota would ever let a vehicle leave their factory with this system installed. Even the heated steering wheel. It is amazing that this vehicle has a heated wheel at all, but you wonder why only the sides are heated, or why the button is in such an inconvenient location, or why it gets so hot you can’t even hold it.
The entire vehicle just feels half-assed. As if the attitude of the development team was “It has the feature, that’s good enough.”
That all being said, it is still well-equipped. That terrible infotainment can all be fixed by plugging in your iPhone and using Apple CarPlay. The heated seats can be fixed with the excellent automatic two-zone climate control, and the awkward button placement is outweighed by the astounding number of features.
There are some features that do work very well. The automatic wipers, for example. Normally auto wipers are an annoyance for me, I almost always turn them off. Yet in the RAV4, they worked nearly flawlessly. The automatic headlights were another surprisingly effective feature.
The safety features always worked very well too. The lane keep assist was better than many other brands. Not as good as Ford, but better than Hyundai. Right in the middle. The adaptive cruise also worked well. Able to take the vehicle from cruise to a complete stop, wait at a stop light, and re engage after a quick tap of the pedal after the vehicle ahead moves. Quite useful.
One last tech feature I loved, was the wireless charging pad. Placed in a perfect location, it’s easy to get in, toss your phone on the charger, and you’re off.
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 Adventure is a great vehicle overall. It clearly has its faults, but don’t we all. I know you’re still hiding that extra roll under your oversized sweater, and I’m still fighting a losing battle with my bald spot. But that’s what can give a car character.
The biggest downfall of the RAV4 Adventure, however, is its price. The price is just not representative of its worth. Our test car came in at an astounding $39,634 with destination charge included. That is just simply unacceptable. The RAV4 as a whole is a great car, and its standard safety features make it an awesome value buy. However, in the Adventure trim, even the cool paint job doesn't make up for the price tag.
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