CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, Calif. — Nearly 25 years after the launch of the first Toyota RAV4, it's hard to believe that someone had to invent the segment. But it's true. The car-based compact crossover was once a novelty.
The pioneering Toyota nameplate arrived in Japan and Europe in 1994, beating early sales expectations, and then made its way to the U.S. in 1996, creating what would become a crowded and fiercely competitive segment. Last year, the RAV4 crossed 407,000 U.S. sales, surpassing the Camry and all other nonpickup vehicles in the U.S., and reaping the benefits of an ongoing consumer transition from sedans to crossovers.
And yet, says Yoshikazu Saeki, chief engineer of the 2019 RAV4, something was holding it back: a platform shared with the sedate Corolla that gave it a more carlike ride but also limited its versatility as a utility vehicle.
That limitation is gone, Saeki says, now that RAV4 has migrated to the Toyota New Global Architecture, a more versatile platform that underpins Toyota's next generation of products. That list includes the Corolla sedan and hatchback, yes, but it also has been adapted to accommodate the Prius, Camry and Avalon, along with a range of powertain options.
Saeki said he wanted to bring the latest RAV4 back to the essence of a utility vehicle: a multipurpose option that can handle adverse road conditions and still make its passengers feel safe.