How many Toyota RAV4 models does the marketplace need? Well, considering 2017 saw a 15.7% jump in RAV4 sales and that 2018 is continuing the trend with a 4.4% increase through August, I guess the answer is more of ‘em. So, with the addition of the new Adventure trim, there are now 10 RAV4 models for 2018—including four hybrid variations.
In 2019, the RAV4 is redesigned, the all-new, fifth-generation model arriving right around the holidays. That makes the 2018 RAV4 Adventure an interesting add-on. It’s also neither entry-level nor premium among its RAV4 siblings, as it slides in above LE and XLE models but below SE, Limited, and Platinum versions. This gives the Adventure a starting sticker of $28,995 (including $1,045 for destination charges) compared to $25,705 for the base LE. My test car topped out at $31,774.
I must admit, though, for a RAV4, the Adventure is incredibly stylish. Hold on now. Don’t ‘at me’ just yet with your fan club counterarguments of how the RAV4 is always good-looking and pleasing to the eye. Because in all honesty, once you see Falkor in Toyota’s design language, you cannot un-see him. Look at a white C-HR. (You’re welcome for that never-ending observation.)
Luckily, my vehicle was coated in new-for-RAV4 Ruby Flare Pearl paint, which does what it can to hide the Luck Dragon’s snout. Adventure models also receive larger fender flares, 18-inch black alloy wheels, gray lower valance and rocker panels, and black-colored details for the hood, headlights bezels, fog lamp surround, roof rails, and badging. The overall exterior is surprisingly fetching.
Interior materials are impressive, too. Although mostly black, I appreciated the soft-touch surfaces, all of which felt like premium quality and not cheap parts-bin leftovers. The contrast white stitching on the black cloth seats and center console cover was subtle but smart. Even the use of what appears to be a snakeskin pattern on the glossy door and shifter inserts was appealing.
The operation of the 6.1-inch color touchscreen display did provide some angst, however. I could blame it on fat fingers, as more times than I’d like I would press a letter or command other than the one intended. Even when at a stop. But there were also way too many menus and folders to scroll through before finding what you needed in both the touchscreen and driver information displays.
Driving dynamics were disappointing. Toyota named the package “Adventure,” but did it put some juice in the engine or fun in the handling? Alas, no. It’s still a RAV4. Sigh.
That means the RAV4’s standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine provides the power, which amounts to 176 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. Adventure models do receive a ground clearance lift of 0.4 inches, to 6.5 inches for front- (FWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) models. But that’s still bottom of the barrel compared to its main segment rivals the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, which offer 8.2 and 8.4 inches of clearance, respectively, with AWD. Kia’s Sportage is also in the sixes, but it clears more ground at 6.8 inches.
Though it falls short in terms of ground clearance, the RAV4 Adventure does offer more towing capability than others in its class. A Tow Prep Package is standard and allows up to 3,500 lbs. of pull for AWD models. FWD models are rated at 2,500 lbs. All other RAV4 models can tow 1,500 lbs., which is about standard for compact crossovers, none reaching more than about 2,000 lbs.
There are two drive modes, Eco and Sport. But I didn’t even know this due to the odd and inconspicuous placement of the buttons deep within the center console just ahead of the front cupholder. Selecting either one adjusts shift points and, in the case of Sport, stiffens the steering wheel feel.
Nothing changes with the suspension, but I did get the feeling that Sport mode also affected the sensitivity of the gas pedal. From a stop, the vehicle was jumpy like a greyhound out of the gate. Nope, didn’t care for that.
Fuel economy is a stinker, too. I drove mostly in Normal mode, occasionally switching to Sport for the twisties, but only averaged 21.6 mpg. The EPA rating for the Adventure AWD is 22 mpg city, 28 highway, and 25 combined. In fact, all RAV4 AWD models are rated similarly with only the combined figure changing between 24 or 25 mpg depending on trim. Yet I barely managed 22 mpg in flat, elevation-less southeast Michigan.
In terms of AWD, the RAV4 Adventure is capable enough for light off-roading. But in my 200 miles of driving, only about 15 miles was spent on anything but asphalt. Come to think of it, that may be more than the average RAV4 owner ever does.
But the Adventure model hopes to tackle more rough roads, and on uneven terrain, including a few dips, dives, and rocky ruts, it handled confidently. I didn’t climb any mountains (because, again, Michigan), but bombing along dirt-laden farm roads and hills covered with prairie grass taller than the vehicle’s 67.1 inches seemed daring enough.
And that’s the gist, isn’t it? The RAV4 Adventure is adventurous…for the RAV4 buyer. Toyota needn’t do anything more. After nearly 25 years, its formula has worked as the RAV4 is still around and remains a top seller. And as the crossover category continues growing, the summit of sales champions is really the only mountain worth climbing.
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