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2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: It’s better to look good than to feel good

rav4 TRD

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Expectations, they are a thing. When you hear Toyota and TRD, you have some pretty strong preconceived notions. When you see the RAV4 in this gray-with-black trim, and the chunky Falken Wildpeak tires, it certainly looks the part. 

If you want to “style and profile” Ric Flair, you are going to really like the this RAV4. If you want to go off the pavement, well, it gets a little complicated.

RAV4 as a volume leader

RAV4 has not only become Toyota’s volume leader but also the vehicle people identify with Toyota. In the same way it was the Corolla in the ’70s and ’80s and Camry in the ’90s and aughts, now it’s RAV4. In calendar year 2019, Toyota sold 448,000 units of the RAV4 in U.S.. It makes complete sense with a volume product like this, in perhaps the most competitive and important segment in the industry, Toyota would try to cast as wide a net as possible to capture every last single sale.

With overlanding hitting the mainstream masses in the last 12-18 months, a TRD version of the RAV4 is a no brainer. For the 9-to-5 people in their suburban sprawl, looking to “unplug from the world” and head out for a weekend of camping or exploring yet needing a reliable daily, Toyota has a solution for you.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Toyota, who’s North American headquarters is in Plano, Texas, just outside of Dallas, will soon need to learn the phrase, “all hat, no cattle.” But let’s not give up the whole plot just yet.

We need to start with the RAV4 as a base vehicle to start. If you were to ask most of America what they want in a new vehicle, it would look very much like the RAV4. A mid-sized crossover, dead reliable, modern tech and safety systems, good fuel economy and enough room for four or five people and their things. It should look sporty or rugged, yet be comfortable. It should also isolate you from the outside world as much as possible. 

Given that wish list, the RAV4 turns over all aces.

Rugged exterior styling

For a mainstream mid-sized crossover the RAV4 does have an aggressive, macho look. This is amplified with this TRD Off-Road package. The grille design is very in your face. Where most other OEM’s have gone for a friendly or non-offensive (né forgettable) design for their grilles and front ends overall, RAV4 pulls directly from Tacoma, 4Runner and Tundra for its inspiration.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

From the profile view there are several upswept lines that give the RAV4 a sense of movement and speed, accentuated by the angle of the C pillar and rear hatch. The designers could have brought out the eraser and cleaned up one or two areas for a less busy look, but that likely falls into personal aesthetics.

From the rear and rear three quarters view, the RAV4 keeps the sporty and aggressive lines going. Lines from the upper and lower portions of the body come together in a point in the taillights. Again, personally, there are one or two too many competing lines, but generally front to back it’s well executed.

Mixed-bag interior

Slide inside the RAV4, however, and it’s a mixed bag. First, there is the fact the rear doors are not equipped with proximity locks. So, to get into the rear, you must first unlock the front. Then, if you have to get into the rear seats, the doors do not open nearly wide enough. The rear doors are quite wide – a good thing – but it’s as if the engineers forgot to put that one last detent into the door hinges.

Once in the rear seats you have plenty of legroom. However, two features not found on this RAV4 were a sliding rear seat and adjustable recline. Those two items have almost become de rigueur in the class. The good news: There are two USB outlets at the back of the center console for keeping your phones and tablets charged.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Up front the driver’s seat has plenty of adjustment for people 5 feet to 6 feet, 6 inches tall. The seat is also comfortable, though my longest stint in the driver’s seat was only 90 minutes, so how good it is for extended road trips, I cannot say.

Materials for the interior are generally spot on. When you look at the MSRP ($41,418), you may be looking for something a little nicer, but this interior appears built to withstand 15 years and 300,000 miles with little trouble.

Out-of-date infotainment

Where the mixed bag really shows itself is the infotainment system. It looks 10 years old. – though I’m VERY happy it has real knobs and buttons. 

Think of it this way. Go look at a 10-year-old flat panel monitor or TV. Look at how thick and chunky the bezels and controls are. Now go look at a 2020 equivalent model. That is the difference. The resolution on the 8-inch touch-screen is OK, but it honestly feels last-generation iPad Mini. 

Toyota has finally integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the system, and its standard interface is better than most, so this isn’t a major item one way or the other for me.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

While the RAV4 does have a Qi charger, it does not have wireless CarPlay or Android Auto. OK, most vehicles OEM vehicles don’t either at the moment. However, the USB plug that integrates with the infotainment system is just above the charger, rather than in the center console. This area is a little tight, and cable management becomes bit of a mess.

If you are plugging your phone in to have CarPlay or Auto, you are getting a charge through the cable to begin with so that charge pad is then wasted space. If it was in the center console it not only frees up space for another person to charge their phone but also puts the phone away as one last item to keep you from distracted driving.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Forgettable driving dynamics

On to the actual driving. In short, it feels like every other mid-sized crossover on the market today. It’s just kind of there. If, when you drive, you think driving is a chore rather than something to be enjoyed, then the driving dynamics on the RAV4 are for you. The ride is comfortable, the cabin is quiet, the Falken tires don’t put off much – if any – noise for such an aggressive tire tread. 

It’s fine. It’s also forgettable. 

Fuel economy was pretty spot on to EPA numbers, I saw 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. EPA estimates 25/32/27 mpg in city/highway/combined driving.

Going off-road – or not

Now what you really want to know is: How is it off road? Well, the pandemic has made it difficult to get to off-road parks around Metro Detroit. The hours are reduced, or parks are simply closed. So, I was limited to pot holes, dirt roads and road construction to test just how TRD the RAV4 was.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Before taking the RAV4 TRD to anything more than rural dirt roads, I looked under the vehicle and inside the wheel well. This is where it goes pear-shaped.

The shocks and struts appear to be the same as other RAV4 trim levels. Look underneath, and the bottom is fully covered, save for an area around the exhaust – by plastic! So, best to stay away from anything but the smallest rocks. 

Oh, and lockers? Not to be found.

The bottom line on the RAV4 TRD Off-Road

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road reminds me of so many people who buy BMW GS motorcycles. They spend $20K+ plus on the motorcycle, another $3K-$4K on farkels, $2K for a full Klim suit and $1K for a Schuberth helmet – all set up to head off with Charley and Ewan on their next “Long Way Round” adventure. Yet, all they do is just go out for a Sunday ride to the coffee shop to hang out with everyone else who did the same thing.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road (Photo by Eric Trytko)

Where something like the Subaru Outback never promises more than it can deliver, a tall wagon for limited dirt roads – a fire road if you’re really adventurous – the RAV4 TRD Off-Road looks like it’s rough and ready but can’t deliver the goods.

Would I recommend the RAV4? Sure, in hybrid form where it gets 40+ MPG. For most of America today, it’s exactly what they want. Want a Toyota to go overlanding or deep into the woods to go camping? Then, you’re really looking for a Tacoma, 4Runner, Tundra or, of course, Land Cruiser. 

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