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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

2021 Toyota RAV4: America’s best-selling passenger vehicle is the Baskin-Robbins of crossovers

If cars were ice cream, the 2021 Toyota RAV4 would be the Baskin-Robbins of compact crossovers.

RAV is available with three powertrain choices. Its six-trim lineup that includes two with robust off-road capabilities.

It’s not the roomiest, most elegant or best-handling car in the segment. It is, however, America’s best-selling passenger car and Its overall appeal can’t be overstated. 

Trio of powertrains

Most small crossovers are available with a single engine offering. RAV4’s three-engine lineup includes one gas engine and two hybrids, one of them a plug-in hybrid.

Six trims range from the work-a-day LE to the near-lux Limited. Two of them, Adventure and TRD Off-Road, transcend the crossover crowd with lifted suspensions and an unusually capable all-wheel-drive system.

For 2021, there’s a new midlevel trim and the Off-Road gets a TRD-stamped stainless steel front skid-plate.

The RAV seats five comfortably in a tidy and well-organized cabin. Cabin design feels dated and busy, especially by contrast with rivals that prioritize refinement. The cabin in our TRD Off-Road test car felt more utilitarian than posh. 

The dashboard is well-padded, but there are plenty of hard plastics, as well. Most buttons and knobs are clearly labeled and easily parsed. Inexplicably, the switches located in the door panel don’t light up at night.

Ride firm yet compliant

The front seats are firm and supportive. There are abundant casual storage bins and cubbies. The touchscreen for the infotainment system rides high on the dash, where it’s easily scanned. 

All RAV4s include Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.

The RAV's ride is firm, yet compliant enough to neutralize the impact of most potholes (our tester’s off-road suspension tune may have played a role here). On the road, RAV feels solid and planted. At speed, wind and road noise are evident.

All RAV4s are equipped with Toyota’s expansive suite of driver-assist and safety features. 

The RAV4 is available in six trims: LE ($26,050), XLE ($27,345), XLE Premium ($30,050), Adventure ($33,155), Limited ($34,850) and TRD Off-Road ($35,780).

All trims but the Adventure and Off-Road are available both in gas-only and hybrid formats. 

Adventure and Off-Road can only be had with AWD.

A 203-horsepower four-cylinder engine powers all RAV4s but the hybrids. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

Quick and efficient

The RAV accelerates from 0-60 in a quick-for-the-segment 8.2 seconds. The engine is noisy in its upper ranges, where it’s most powerful. The transmission sometimes shifts roughly but  otherwise does its job faithfully.

AWD trims are rated at an efficient 28 mpg combined. Properly equipped, the RAV4 can tow up to 3,500 pounds. 

For the record, the quickest RAV4 is the Prime ($38,100). Its 302 horsepower propels the RAV from 0-60 in 5.7 seconds and earns an estimated 42 mpg.

Toyota’s DNA includes a deep strain of off-road experience that informs the Adventure and TRD Off-Road trims. Both ride on 8.6 inches of ground clearance. Their  AWD system can shift power delivery front-to-rear and from side-to-side between the rear wheels.

Advanced wheels, tires

The TRD Off-Road takes the strategy a step further. Its springs and twin-tube shocks are tuned to enhance body control and small-bump isolation for better handling and body control both on- and off-road.

Wheels and tires are fundamental to any successful off-road package. The TRD Off-Road is fitted with 18×7-inch matte-black alloys wheels built using a new “flow-formed” process that produces light and rigid wheels with greater shock resistance.

They’re wrapped by Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail all-terrain tires that are Severe Snow Rated. Open shoulder-grooving helps shed debris, mud and snow.

We didn't put the TRD Off-Road through its paces during our week-long test in southern Wisconsin. But based on others’ reporting, it will provide owners with reliable transportation in conditions that would stymie nearly all other small crossovers.

For those not ready to step up into a 4Runner, the TRD Off-Road may be a winning ticket.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2021 Toyota RAV4 TRD Cross Country
Vehicle base price: $26,050
Trim level base price: $35,780
As tested: $42,622 (includes destination and handling)
Options: heated, leather-trimmed steering wheel; perforated heated and ventilated front seats; rain-sensing wipers w/deicer function; navigation; JBL audio system; onboard WiFi; front and rear parking assist; birds-eye view camera; wireless phone charging; door edge guard; door sill protector; mudguard; running boards; black-out emblem overlays
Tow rating: 3,500 pounds
EPA rating: 28 combined/25 city/32 highway



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.