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Auto review: impressive update for the 2019 Toyota RAV4

The 2019 Toyota Rav4 sports an aggressive but

The 2019 Toyota Rav4 sports an aggressive but functional new look. Credit: Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Why are crossovers and SUVs so popular these days? You might think it’s because you sit up higher, or the widespread availability of front-wheel or all-wheel drive.

But there’s a more elemental reason: the size, height and ground clearance of the most popular compact utility vehicles aren’t much different in size from sedans built 80 years ago. Both employ what designers call “two-box design,” with the hood being the first box and the cabin being the second box. Both are about 180 inches long, have about eight inches of ground clearance and are 68 inches high. It’s the perfectly sized vehicle, not too big, not too small, with enough ground clearance to overcome whatever weather Mother Nature throws at it.

The fifth-generation 2019 Toyota RAV4 fits those specs within an inch or so, making it a modern classic in terms of packaging. It’s large enough to hold you, four friends and a whole mess of lifestyle debris, but not so immense as to make parking problematic. Of course, the same could be said of the previous RAV4, and it’s why the RAV4 is not only the bestselling Toyota in the United States, but also the bestselling vehicle that’s not a full-size pickup. It’s an ideal size.

What couldn’t be said of earlier RAV4s is that they were visually dynamic. In terms of styling, most RAV4s have been little more than stylistic sleep aids, with performance to match. The same can’t be said of the 2019 model. Clad in tough, chiseled sheet metal, the new RAV4’s aggressive couture recalls the 4Runner and Tacoma yet has a unique charisma distinctly lacking in its forbearers. Offered in ascending LE, XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure and Limited models, the RAV4 wears slightly different faces depending on trim level, but all retain the new models rugged charisma.

That feeling continues inside, but not at the expense of functionality. The new vehicle’s wheelbase has increased 1.2 inches, and overall width is up by 0.4 inches, lending the cabin a roomy feeling. The center console sits 0.7 inches higher to match door armrest height, just the sort of detail Toyota catches, but few other automakers do.

A 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen anchors the dashboard and is flanked by knobs for volume and tuning. A Verizon Wi-Fi hot spot along with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple CarPlay compatibility are standard. Qi wireless phone charging and a digital rearview mirror are available. A USB port is standard on LE models; others get an additional four outlets.

For the time being, there’s one driveline: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. At 203 horsepower, the RAV4 has 27 more horsepower than before, enough to reach 60 mph in 8.2 seconds. In March, Toyota will offer a hybrid variant, which uses a modified version of the same gas engine teamed with electric motors.

Both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered. In LE and XLE models, all-wheel drive is optional, and can send up to 50 percent of available power to the rear wheels. Limited and Adventure models get all-wheel drive with torque vectoring that manages power distribution between the left and right rear wheels. When not needed, the rear wheels are disengaged to reduce fuel consumption.

No matter which RAV4 you drive, you’ll find the engine to be far more responsive than before, with a punchy feel that invites enthusiastic driving. The vehicle has a rewardingly solid feel, absorbing the worst road shocks with enough compliance to provide a comfortable ride.

The 2019 RAV4 is a significant improvement over past models, with attractively aggressive styling, superior performance and an overall package that’s perfect.

2019 Toyota Rav4

Base prices: $26,550-$36,125

Engine: DOHC 2.5-liter four-cylinder

Power: 203  hp., 184 pound-feet of torque

EPA fuel economy: 24-26 mpg city; 32-34 highway

Length: 180.9 inches

Towing capacity: 1,500-3,500 pounds

Curb weight: 3,380-3,615 pounds

Bottom line: Classically redesigned crossover

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