The RAV4 is a tent-pole for Toyota USA with nearly half a million sales in 2019 and as the top-selling SUV in the United States. The RAV4 was updated in 2019 to be better in almost every way.
Toyota moved away from the bland styling of yesteryear to create a more athletic and polarizing vehicle with more Tacoma and 4Runner design cues.
Toyota is offering a new trim level for the RAV4, the TRD Off-Road for 2020 to match this newly masculine and athletic theme.
For on road driving, the TRD Off-Road handles similarly to all other RAV4’s we’ve tested. It’s very well damped, but rides a little rough. There is little body lean in the corners and the steering is tight and precise. Small bumps are smoothed out well, but larger ones are met with a jolt.
Toyota has offered Dynamic Torque Vectoring in a few trims of the RAV4, and it is included in the TRD Off-Road. This system has dual clutches on the rear axle providing individual control to each rear wheel. When cornering, the system will transfer more power to the rear outside wheel to help push the RAV4 around the curve. The system works well and actuates imperceptibly.
The rear driveshaft can be disconnected from the front using another clutch pack. This provides for greater efficiency on-road, while still providing great traction off-road. Adding to the efficiency is the 8-speed automatic transmission. The EPA estimates the RAV4 TRD Off-Road at 32/25/27 highway/city/combined and we were on par with that during our testing.
Just like the RAV4 Adventure, the TRD Off-Road is equipped with Multi-Terrain Select. This allows for the driver to choose from six different drive modes. They are as follows, and the noted changes are in relation to normal mode:
- Normal: FWD when cruising, AWD under acceleration or when slip occurs
- Eco: Reduces throttle sensitivity, FWD unless AWD is needed and optimizes shift points for economy
- Sport: Sends power to the rear axle, adds more aggressive torque vectoring, increases throttle sensitivity, and transmission shift points are optimized for better acceleration and engine braking
- Snow: Reduces throttle sensitivity and has near 50:50 power distribution front/rear
- Mud and Sand: Near 50:50 power distribution, allows for significant wheel spin without applying the brakes to the spinning wheels. This helps clear mud and sand from the tires
- Rock and Dirt: Reduces throttle sensitivity, adds power to the rear axle, and adds aggressive braking of spinning wheels to allow precise control over potentially damaging terrain
How does the most off-road capable trim level of the RAV4 perform in the rough stuff? With Toyota’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD system, the TRD Off-Road should be able to transfer the power where it needs to go. The more aggressive Falken AT tires and light weight wheels should improve traction over the other trim levels as well.
TRD tuned the suspension in the RAV4 TRD Off-Road from lessons they learned from their rally team. The problem is there isn’t enough wheel travel to absorb the bumps. The suspension is stiff and bottoms out easily when running over dips and whoops at higher speeds.
Before testing the RAV4 on our steep hill climb, we tested all the various drive modes on a small articulation hill. Toyota has done their homework and they really surprised us with how different each mode is. All the modes except for one apply the brakes the spinning wheels and transfer power to where it is needed. When placed in Mud and Sand Mode, the traction control system is basically off. This mode allows for nearly unlimited wheel spin, which is exactly what it should do. Rock and Dirt Mode has the most aggressive braking while Eco and Snow Modes have the least aggressive, excluding Mud and Sand.
When climbing steep hills where two wheels lose traction, the RAV4 starts to reach its limits. When climbing with one- or two-wheels losing traction, there isn’t enough low-end torque available. A lot of torque is required to overcome the braking force on the spinning wheels and still propel the vehicle forward. With a little momentum and taking an easier line, the RAV4 was able to climb our test hill.
Eventually the gauge cluster popped up with a warning that said the AWD system was overheating and it was reverting to 2WD mode. This only happened once, and it was after trying hard lines multiple times. Our best guess is that the clutches were slipping, causing the system to heat up. With more low end torque, the clutches could have more pressure applied to them to reduce slipping and get more power to the ground.
As far as vehicles in the small crossover class go, the Cherokee Trailhawk is better off-road, but beyond that the RAV4 TRD Off-Road is better than the other vehicles in this class. The main feature that makes it a step above the others is the Multi-Terrain Select that makes significant changes for the various drive modes. To improve, Toyota could add a TRD Pro version with a low range transfer case, longer travel suspension, and upgraded clutch packs. Those changes would make it a worthy competitor for the Cherokee Trailhawk.
The RAV4 TRD Off-Road has a base price of $35,280 and comes with a substantial amount of standard equipment. Our test model was equipped with many other options and packages which raised the price considerably. The optional equipment included:
- TRD Off-Road Weather Package which includes a heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated seats, among other things for $1,015
- Premium Audio with the 8” touch screen and 11 JBL speakers for $1620
- TRD Off-Road Technology Package with additional sensors and the 360-degree camera system for $1950
- Two-tone paint for $500
- Paint protection film for $395
- Blackout emblem overlays for $65
- Roof rack cross bars for $315
- Door sill protector for $199
- Protection Package which has wheel locks, body side moldings, mudguards, and door edge guards for $543
All RAV4’s now come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of active safety features.
This brought the total to $42,902, putting it on par with a well-equipped but more off-road capable Cherokee Trailhawk.
The RAV4 TRD Off-Road is a great all-around vehicle. The fuel economy is good, and it has impressive off-road characteristics. The price is in the range of a 4-Runner TRD Off-Road Premium, but the RAV4 comes with a lot of features and small packaging. It is a great vehicle for those who need a city car that can get out in the wild on the weekends.
Matthew Barnes is an experienced towing expert. He works as a mechanical engineer and his day job involves testing a variety of vehicles while towing trailers of all types and sizes. Matt shares his knowledge by writing for automotive news outlets in the evenings. When he’s not working he can be found spending time in the great outdoors with his family. He enjoys camping, hiking, canyoneering, and backpacking. Whenever possible he spends time riding in or on any power sports vehicle he can find and claims he can drive anything with a motor, which probably isn’t true.