Most often, when one tries to combine two concepts, the end result is something far less than what was there to begin with. Toyota changed all that when it came out with the RAV4, the first truly successful crossover SUV. The rationale behind the crossover was to bring together the stability, handling, and fuel economy of an automobile with the interior space, high H-point seating, clearance, and all-wheel drive capacity of an SUV—and the RAV4 pulled it all off impressively. From the time it first debuted in 1994, Toyota has only continued to improve upon this successful platform.
1994-2000: Making a splash
The first models of the RAV4 were based off the very successful Corolla brand—this gave it a reliable platform that evolved out of 28 years of development. With a 2.0-L straight-4 engine under the hood, the original RAV4 could manage an impressive 120 hp output. One could opt for front-wheel or full strength all-wheel drive, and couple it with either standard five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The RAV4 performed superbly in the first 3 years that it bagged the 1997 Automobile of the Year Award from Automobile Magazine. The year after saw a small improvement in power output, as well as the release of an environmentally friendly all-electric variant called the RAV4 EV.
2000-2005: Better and better
In mid-2000, the RAV4 came out in two new designations: the Edge and the Cruiser. They differed primarily in their appearance. The Edge had unpainted, stock-gray bumpers, side trimming, mirrors, and door handles, and featured shiny steel rims. The Cruiser, on the other hand, had all these accessories and parts painted to match the body color—it also sports alloy rims and ABS. Other than those differences, they both came in 3- or 5-door variants, and both sported a new 2.0-L 4-cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing (VVT). This engine upgrade gave the RAV4 a boost in power and torque—at the expense of a small increase in fuel economy.
This five-year period saw a great deal of growth and improvement for the RAV4. In 2003, the now-popular Toyota received yet another slew of upgrades. First, new Vehicle Stability Control technology, meant to detect and reduce traction loss, was added as a standard to the braking system. Second, the engine got bumped up to a 2.4-L version of the straight-4 that gave both improvements in power (up to 161 hp) and fuel efficiency (up 2%).
2005-onward: An enduring legacy
By 2005, the RAV4 had firmly entrenched itself as a strong contender in the automotive industry. Toyota completely redesigned its amazing crossover. One of the most marked improvements was the Electronic Power Steering (EPS) system. This motor-assisted steering aid made handling a breeze. The wheelbase was also extended for the American market—this helped distribute the weight more evenly, and improve both balance and steering stability. This Extended version was also larger by 21% in the interior, heftily boosting storage space.
When it came to the engine, slight improvements were made to the straight-4. The real kicker was the additional option to upgrade to a powerful 3.5-L V6 engine—the boost to 266 hp at 6200 rpm gave far more significant performance enhancement than the previous engines combined. More than that, the newest RAV4s enjoyed a lot of new technology—turn signal mirrors, satellite navigation, keyless entry, push-to-start, multifunction display, and a camera for backing up safely—with the monitor integrated into the rear-view mirror. The future is indeed bright for the RAV4, and the continuous growth through the years only promises more exciting things to come.