2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

By Eric Peters

November 26, 2019 7 min read

If you wear Superman's tights, you better be able to fly. Or at least, not get stuck.

And you probably won't if you've got stickers reading "TRD" on the flanks of your Toyota.

Not because of the stickers, mind you.

Like Superman's "S," it's what's those letters signify that matters.

"TRD" is short for Toyota Racing Development, and what that signifies is serious off-road equipment, such as extra ground clearance, off-road suspension tuning and knobby all-terrain tires.

But, until now, you could only get that stuff if you bought a Toyota truck.

Now you can get a RAV4 crossover SUV with the TRD upgrades, too.

What It Is

The RAV4 isn't just another medium-sized, five-door crossover SUV.

It's the very first crossover SUV.

The original '94 RAV4 created the template that others quickly emulated by blending the increased ground clearance, snow-day traction and cargo-carrying capacity of a truck-based SUV with the good on-road manners (and decent gas mileage) of a car.

A star was born.

Twenty-four years later, the RAV4 is the bestselling crossover SUV in the country.

And now, it's the first Toyota crossover SUV to offer rock-crawling capability.

In addition to the other trims, there's a new-for-2020 TRD off-road trim that significantly upgrades the adventurous, outdoorsy quotient of Toyota's hugely popular crossover.

It features a torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system that can route power to individual wheels, not just front to back. This means you shouldn't get stuck even if just one wheel has traction.

There's also more ground clearance, and more towing grunt, too.

Base price is $35,180.

What's New

In addition to the newly available TRD off-road package, all 2020 RAV4's come standard with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Alexa capabilities.

What's Good

It has notched-up capabilities.

It has a strongest-in-class standard engine.

It includes abundant storage cubbies and shelves.

What's Not So Good

There is no optional engine or transmission.

It's pricey versus the comparably capable Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

It's less roomy in the back than the Honda CR-V.

Under the Hood

All RAV4's come standard with the same 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

It makes 203 horsepower without the assistance of a turbo.

Remarkably, it matches the mileage delivered by rival crossovers equipped with smaller and less powerful engines with turbocharged assistance.

Front-wheel-drive RAV4's rate 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, versus 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for the front-wheel-drive version of the Honda CR-V, which comes with a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that only makes 190 horsepower.

The Jeep Compass has the same sized (almost) 2.4-liter engine, but it only makes 180 horsepower — and is noticeably thirstier, with 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.

On the Road

The chief appeal of crossovers versus SUVs is that they don't drive like SUVs, but they can do many of the things that SUVs can — like venture out of the garage when there's a few inches of snow on the ground and the plows haven't gotten to your neighborhood yet.

The chief appeal of the RAV4 versus the other crossovers is that it's capable of handling more than just a little snow — when ordered with the TRD upgrades.

Or even when it's not.

Any RAV ordered with all-wheel drive gets the same torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system that's the centerpiece of the TRD RAV4. You get the same driver-selectable Rock and Dirt, Mud and Sand, Snow and Sport modes — as well as Eco and normal.

The TRD ups the ante with a bit more ground clearance (8.6 inches versus 8.4 inches) and a set of grippy Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires.

The only thing missing is a low-speed crawl mode (the Jeep Compass Trailhawk has this), but even without it, the TRD-equipped RAV4 is the most capable RAV4 to date — and much more so than the others in the class, like the Honda CR-V.

At the Curb

It's blandly styled, but the RAV's beauty lies beneath its skin.

The interior is very thoughtfully designed, with several storage shelves built into the dashboard for the driver and passenger as well as a large (and deep) storage bin in the center console.

Hand-sized rotary knobs control the essential functions (cabin temperature settings and radio volume/station) rather than feedback-free touch-screen buttons.

The RAV is one of those increasingly rare new vehicles that you can just get in and drive — without having to read a manual first.

Or take your eyes off the road to change the radio station.

The Rest

You can get other RAV trims with the torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system but without the noisier Falken all-terrain tires and the firmer-riding off-road suspension tuning that come with the TRD package.

And for less money.

However, Toyota says only the TRD (and Adventure) trims are rated to pull a 3,500-pound trailer.

The other trims — LE, XLE and Limited — are limited to a maximum trailer weight of just 1,500 pounds.

The Bottom Line

Superman could leap tall buildings in a single bound. The TRD RAV4 can almost do that, too — and without changing clothes in a phone booth first!

 View the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road this week.
View the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road this week.

Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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