Toyota just keeps improving its flagship RAV4 SUV, and Americans keep responding by purchasing RAV4s in record numbers.
U.S. sales in November were up by more than 26 percent compared with a year earlier, and were up by more than 4 percent for the year, even though the 2020 RAV4 is one year removed from the major overhaul that Toyota performed on the nameplate in 2019 to introduce its fifth generation.
The biggest change for the RAV4 platform this year was to introduce a hybrid version.
And while sales of the RAV4 hybrid were just over 10,000 units in November, that total represented about 23 percent of the high level of nameplate sales overall, more than 44,000 for the month, and, arguably, accounted for most of the increase.
Toyota, of course, has the industry’s longest history with mainstream hybrids dating back to its introduction of the groundbreaking Prius about 20 years ago.
But the RAV4 hybrid represents a significant intensification of the company’s strategy. It’s a $2,300 upgrade from the price of the gas-only RAV4, but it comes standard with all-wheel drive.
“The RAV4 hybrid is our first tuned specifically for performance, and that is the Number One aspect of this model,” Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota marketing, told me.
“Anyone who’s a naysayer about hybrids, thinking that it lacks performance, has to drive this hybrid and realize that you can have all the hybrid technology, and strong [fuel economy], and super-low emissions — and also performance to go along with it.
“That’s the way it was designed, and it is paying off.”
At the same time, Laukes noted, “RAV4 was the best-selling SUV in America long before this generation came out.”
And indeed, it’s an important aspect of the strength of the Toyota brand in the U.S. market that RAV4 has remained king of the hill in the SUV category even as the company is effectively defending its flank in the still-crucial sedan market.
For 2020, tweaked RAV4 to add Android Auto smartphone integration as well as a new trim level, TRD Off-Road.
But the biggest changes Toyota made to the platform were in 2018 for the 2019 model, improving and tweaking RAV4 across the board, including a more powerful engine, bolder styling and more safety features.
One of the biggest attributes of RAV4 is its roominess inside in both passenger and cargo room.
This issue can be a hang-up for many SUV buyers because while they want a vehicle that is car-like to drive, they also are investing in an SUV instead of a sedan in large part because they want to be able to haul people and things around comfortably.
So RAV4 offers nearly 38 cubic feet of cargo space, and nearly 70 feet with the back seats folded down. Those figures are near the best for the category.
Just as important, RAV4’s cargo hold is shaped to match the overall outlines of the car, meaning it’s wide and squarish — and every SUV owner knows that the last inch of clearance can make all the difference in squeezing a load into the vehicle.
Moreover, RAV4’s load floor is low, making it relatively easy to lift in bulky items. A programmable lift gate, which has adjustable and programmable heights, is optional.
Otherwise, RAV4 ticks off most of the other important boxes for mid-size SUV buyers, with fuel economy that touches 35 mpg on the highway (and up to 41 mpg for the new hybrid), a totally redesigned interior with material-quality upgrades including soft-touch surfaces instead of hard plastic in most places, and a standard seven-inch touchscreen information system with large and clear on-screen buttons and easy navigation.
And while Android AUTo is newly standard for 2020, RAV4 also comes standard with Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa integration and a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Available amenities for more comfort and convenience include dual-zone automatic climate controls, proximity keyless entry, a 7-inch digital gauge cluster, a household-style power outlet, a moonroof, and a panoramic glass roof.