Over the years I’ve had ample opportunities to test and review Toyota’s RAV4. I remember when this petite sport utility vehicle (SUV)was available with only two doors, when the spare tire hung off its rear, side-opening hatch, and when RAV4 was a handy little appliance that opened the way for people to adequately move stuff from A to B.
As RAV4 became a larger and more complicated, it lost some of its joie de vivre, but then most SUVs have gone that direction over the years. However, with the introduction of the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD, my perception of the model has eased; this model is tuned for the outdoor enthusiast market and those aching to escape what passes for civilization.
While our short, four-day visit didn’t enable any off-road excursions, the Ruby Flare Pearl RAV4 with its durable black cloth seating – love the white stitching – was ready to attack the poor weather that was prevalent in Southern California this early spring. The color is an extra cost item and there’s plenty of options on this SUV that takes it from an entry fee of $29,395 to $32,134 (even with an ‘extra value package’ discount of $940).
Is it worth the buckaroos? I think so, as I had the opportunity to test it over the road, into the rain and enjoy the RAV4 during its first 1,000 miles of life. At pickup, the red beauty had 630 miles on the odometer, meaning the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 176 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm (redline is 6,250) wasn’t fully broken in. That was okay – power was sufficient to dice through Los Angeles traffic at will, thanks to the well-geared 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.
For this all-wheel-drive model, Toyota fits MacPherson strut and double-wishbone-style multi-link suspensions on the unitized body, both with stabilizer bars. It uses a power-assisted rack-and-pinion electric power steering that felt quite stable on-center. The AWD system has torque control with a center differential lock and features an excellent, 3,500-pound tow capability.
To make sure that RAV4 Adventure AWD drivers get where they want without distraction, Toyota has equipped this SUV with a heavy-duty battery, starter, heater and cold weather engine coolant, which should be good for those in the northern climes waiting and wishing for spring to finally arrive. The tow prep package on the Adventure AWD includes an upgraded radiator, supplemental engine oil cooler and transmission fluid cooler.
At 3605 pounds, the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD is no lightweight, but it feels balanced at all speeds. Sporting Bridgestone P235/55R rubber mounted on 10-spoke, 18-inch gray alloy rims, the rubber easily meets the road on this SUV. With its good gear ratios and a 2,200-rpm setting for 70mph, Toyota’s 22/28/25-mpg ratings for the 15.9-gallon tank should be easily achievable with responsible driving.
The biggest option listed for this machine comes in at $2,490. The “Power Premium” extra value package (that’s discounted on the sticker) includes a height-adjustable power lift gate with jam protection, true smart key system, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert, Toyota’s Entune premium audio with integrated navigation and an app suite for the 7-inch high resolution screen, a six-speaker audio system, advanced voice recognition, phone book access and music streaming through bluetooth technology, Android and Apple CarPlay suites, SiriusXM, Gracenote album cover art and a heck of a lot more.
Although I’ve driven lots of RAV4 models in the past, including some in the most recent vintage, this one – even for a short, four-day stay – is my favorite. I love the nasty black stripe extending vertically on the hood, the truly business-like interior with manual seat settings (comfy and supportive even without lumbar), the fact that Toyota includes a temperature gauge, the inclusion of USB, 12-volt and auxiliary plugs at the base of the center stack with a grippy floor below, covered hatch storage and rubber floor mats throughout (in anticipation of off-road work).
The navigation system was superb, with voice and video directions in the central, trip info area that separates tachometer and speedometer. The nav screen can be used to work both the nav app and audio with a split screen. Steering wheel controls for audio and phone are on the left with trip info, closing distance for the radar cruise control on the right. Toyota still uses a separate stalk to operate cruise control and it must be restarted with each ignition.
The rear seats are fairly spartan: there’s no air to the rear but there is a 12-volt plug and pull-down armrest with cup holders. I liked the fact that the 60/40 fold to the hatch revealed a well finished 38.4-cubic-foot area with its own 120V/100W power outlet, great for camping. Cargo space increases to 73.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Driving the RAV4 Adventure AWD was good fun, especially when removed from Eco mode and placed in Sport. Suddenly this SUV felt tight and responsive, while the gauge surrounds turned from blue (eco) to red with the change. It corners well, is easy to park and feels quite lithe. I never used the standard tilt/slide moonroof during the rainy days we traveled about, but found the lights, as well as the fog lights excellent and well-aimed. Thanks Toyota for the privacy glass behind the front seats.
I didn’t have time to test much of the infotainment onboard, but did find all the nannies easy to deal with (I’m not a fan; I’m a driver). Apple CarPlay works great and Toyota’s Entune sound system in this SUV is very, very good. While I’m not a fan of radar cruise control, I can see where many people might like it as it allows them to engage with passengers and not worry about closing rates.
I’d like more time with this 2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure AWD. Once it’s been broken in it would be nice to take this SUV for a true off-road adventure, maybe even in the sand. Toyota’s RAV4 has been a popular SUV for a long, long time. This model definitely shows why.
By Anne Proffit