The Toyota RAV4 Story

The car that changed the rules

With most innovations, you wonder why no one had thought of the life changing idea before. How obvious it feels in hindsight. It could be the miniscule MP3 player in your pocket with hundreds of albums ready to be heard, or maybe the camera in your mobile phone that means you have found a passion for photography you never knew you had.

In 1989, at the Tokyo Motor show, Toyota displayed a brand new concept car to the world and from that day the Recreational Active Vehicle with four-wheel drive was born.

Fortunately, we now know and love it as the Toyota RAV4.

The first compact SUV

Before its launch people seemed content with the choices they had for their next car. Maybe it would be a compact saloon or hatchback, or if they needed more of an all-weather vehicle then any number of large 4x4s were available.

As soon as the RAV4 was launched in May 1994, the public immediately had another choice, as overnight Toyota had quite simply created a previously unheard of segment, that of the compact crossover SUV.


Now you could enjoy the best of both worlds. A practical car that seated four in comfort, that was built with a car-like ‘monocoque’ body-shell and the dynamic handling of a good road car. But should the terrain or weather deteriorate you had the reassurance of a high seating position and the ability and ground clearance of a large 4x4.

It was an immediate hit. People loved the way the RAV4 looked and drove. With individual styling that incorporated rugged rubber protective mouldings and a powerful 2-litre 16-valve engine that could accelerate as well as most hot hatchback cars, Toyota soon had to double production forecasts to keep up with demand.

Widening the range

Offered initially in a two-door body format, the range soon grew two years later (1996) to include a four-door version with the same 2-litre engine and an option of a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox.

Coinciding with a mild refresh to the range came the first and only soft-top RAV4 in 1998. Appealing to those who love wind-in-their-hair motoring, the cabriolet proved to be a funky, but short-lived addition to the range as it wasn’t repeated when the much-anticipated next generation arrived on the scene.

New century, new models

The second generation RAV4 was released into a much busier market segment in 2000. Other manufacturers had seen the worldwide success of the RAV4 and copied the format. The new model rose to the challenge by incorporating components that were 70% unique to the RAV4 and packaged in a roomier and stiffer body shell, so ride quality and noise levels were improved further.


To remain successful in what was now a very competitive segment of the market, the RAV4 was updated further with the third generation a more grown-up model, in 2006. Like the previous generation, the stiffened body shell reduced noise and vibration further, but the most notable change was the adoption of a part-time four-wheel drive system. This combined for the first time in this segment the traction and stability systems into one, moving away from full-time four-wheel drive to aid fuel consumption and emissions.

Electric power

Following the successful introduction of an all-electric ‘generation one’ RAV4 exclusively in California in 1997, a collaboration between Tesla Motors and the Toyota Technical Centre in Michigan in 2010 saw RAV4’s EV offering brought bang up-to-date (still only for the US). Complying with California’s stringent zero emissions program and sold predominantly to leasing companies, the new joint venture produced a RAV4 equipped with a modern lithium ion battery, 154bhp electric motor and a driving range of 113 miles – a real technical achievement at the time.

The spirit of the original

With the launch of the latest fourth generation model in the spring of 2013, the RAV4 matured elegantly with the times. The new exterior styling you are in no doubt that it is still a RAV4, but it has become sleeker, and more refined, while still embodying the go-anywhere spirit of the original.


The same playful DNA of that innovative first model is still obvious in the way it drives, whether it is the urban commute or an off-road trail, the new RAV4 has driving enjoyment at its heart.

Incorporating a new premium interior along with advanced driver aids such as the Integrated Dynamic Drive System, that adapts the steering and suspension perfectly to the roads you’re driving, the RAV4’s sumptuous interior and well-balanced ride quality make you feel like your sat in a car from a higher price bracket.


Over 20 years ago the RAV4 changed the way people perceived an everyday car. Immediately it allowed drivers a freedom and flexibility only found in much bigger, heavier and more expensive cars at the time. No longer was it a choice of accommodating saloon, flexible hatchback or dependable 4x4 – it was simply RAV4.

The original go-anywhere SUV…

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