The Toyota RAV4 was the first compact crossover SUV. It’s debut was made in Japan and Europe in 1994, and then in North America in 1995. The vehicle was designed for consumers wanting a vehicle that had most of the benefits of SUV’s, such as increased cargo room, higher visibility and the option of full-time four-wheel drive, along with the maneuverability and fuel economy of a compact car. Although not all RAV4s are four-wheel drive, RAV4 stands for “Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive”.
First Generation (XA10; 1994-2000)
The first generation, known as the XA10 series was available in both three and five door versions. It utilized a 2.0 L straight-four with either front-wheel or all-wheel drive and either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The 1998 model was slightly restyled on the front and rear fascias and was available with a soft-top for the three-door models.
First Generation EV
The RAV4 EV (electric vehicle), a variant of the RAV4 was produced for fleet lease from 1997 to 2003 as a plug-in, all-electric. It was only offered for public sale in 2002 for seven months in very small quantities in California. A total of 1,484 units were produced and as of 2012 there were less than 500 units still in use.
Second Generation (XA20; 2000-2005)
The second generation RAV4 was available in North America only as a five-door model, while a three-door was available in other parts of the world. A 1.8 L was used with the front-wheel drivetrain and a 2.0 L was used for the all-wheel drive. Some came with anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, AC, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, a six speaker CD stereo and power windows, mirrors and seats. A sport package added a mesh grill, hood scoop, painted door handles, a roof rack, silver sport pedals, heated mirrors, gray painted bumpers and fender flares, and sport fabric seats. Some other options included a sunroof, heated seats and keyless entry. 16 inch wheels were standard and larger tires were available on the all-wheel drive models.
In 2004, it was given a styling update and Vehicle Stability Control was made standard. The 2.0 L engine was upgraded with a new 2.4 L producing 161 hp.
Third Generation (XA30; 2005–2012)
The Toyota RAV4 was completely redesigned for the 2006 model year, using an all-new platform and with an Electric Power Steering (EPS) system. The vehicle has been offered as a short or long wheel-base; however, only the long wheel-base was available in North America. It was available as an extended-length RAV4 which is larger by 21% in interior volume and has an available third-row seat for two small children. It can still be found as a front-wheel or all-wheel drive version; however, most countries only sell the all-wheel drive.
In 2008 it was given a mid-cycle refresh in some markets, including an all-new 4 cylinder engine and a redesigned front and rear end. The Sport model came with an option to have a 3.5 L V6 and without an externally mounted spare tire (run-flat tires were used). New features/options include turn signal mirrors, backup camera (with monitor built into rear-view mirror), satellite navigation, smart keyless entry, a push button starter, and a multifunction display.
North American models include choices of 2.4- 2AZ-FE inline-four or 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 engine. The V6 model has 269 hp. In model year 2009, a slightly larger 2.5-liter 2AR-FE inline-four replaced the previous 2.4-liter engine. Either four-cylinder engine came equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. The North American RAV4 with 3.5-liter 2GR-FE V6 engine is fitted with a five-speed automatic transmission. All US models feature Toyota’s Star Safety System which includes Vehicle Stability Control. The new RAV4 topped Toyota SUV sales in the United States for the first time. No manual transmission or diesel engines are available on North American models.
Second Generation EV
Toyota worked together with Tesla Motors to develop the second generation RAV4 EV. Production was limited to 2,600 units during the first three years, and sales were limited to California only.
The second generation RAV4 EV has a 154 hp motor powered by a 41.8 kW·h lithium ion battery pack, that was rated range of 92 mi in standard charge mode and 113 mi in extended charge mode, for a combined range of 103 mi; and a combined fuel economy rating of 76 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent. The RAV4 EV battery pack and electronic components are similar to those used in the Tesla Model S sedan launched in June 2012, because Tesla Motors is the manufacturer of the powertrain.
Fourth Generation (XA40; 2013–present)
Although the RAV4 has plenty of heritage in the small crossover segment, competition has grown a whole lot tougher, so Toyota has made significant changes to the fourth-generation model.
Beginning with the interior, the designers wanted to evoke more emotion from the RAV4’s styling, so they created a design that was immediately recognizable as new and contemporary. They use a “Color Block” design approach. In addition to having distinctive color contrasts, they’ve also tailored material use so that there is a soft-touch surface where people are likely to make contact and harder surfaces where it is an issue of functionality. They also recognized that consumers don’t necessarily want a bigger vehicle, just a more spacious interior, so this was addressed in the design.
The tailgate is now top-hinged with the spare tire located under the rear cargo area. The Limited model also features a power liftgate with a memory function. The owner can set the height that the door opens so as to provide the ability to readily reach up and shut it.
The front end is more raked and pulled back. The lower stance and tapered roofline also add to this design providing a more aggressive look.
The RAV4 no longer uses the V6 from the previous generation. All engine choices are inline four cylinder engines. Engines choices include a 2.0- and 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline, and 2.0- and 2.2-liter turbodiesels. Transmissions include a six-speed manual, CVT automatic, and six-speed automatic.
Another important aspect of the fourth generation is an increased amount of spot welds and high strength steels used in the assembly process. While this contributes to safety, it also provides a more solid structure, which means a quieter, more solid vehicle.
The full hybrid system combines a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle engine with a powerful electric motor, a 204 cell nickel–metal hydride battery located under the rear seats, a power control unit, and a power split device. RAV4 Hybrids are available in both front and all-wheel drive variants. The all-wheel edition comes equipped with a second, 50 kW high-voltage, rear mounted electric motor that offers increased traction and a 1,750-pound towing capacity. The engine is capable of operating independently from the hybrid system front’s electric motor, driving the rear wheels alone.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is everything Toyota does best, distilled into a single vehicle. It’s roomy like a Camry, hauls a lot of stuff like a Tacoma or Sienna, and is efficient like a Prius. Its EPA rating is 33 mpg combined. The RAV4 Hybrid is actually half an electric car. The rear wheels are driven by an electric motor that’s not mechanically connected to the four-cylinder engine, second electric motor and CVT transmission that are tucked under the hood. Everything is synchronized through a computer.
Other than the electric drivetrain, heavier tow capacity and the higher price, the hybrid and conventional models are essentially the same.