During the Covid-19 quarantine of 2020, I was curious to see what would happen when and if I got another press car. During the economic crisis of 2008, just a few months after I decided to leave my job as a car salesman and write about cars “full-time” it became basically impossible for someone like me to break into the press car world. Calling and e-mailing people about getting into the press fleet was like asking my parents if I could have dessert before dinner. You see, money was drying up at that time, and car companies didn’t have the same budgets do just do whatever, including loaning cars to aspiring auto critics like yours truly. Luckily, I’m in good standing with the press fleets, because I’ve been doing this long enough. However, that doesn’t mean car companies had the flowing cash to send cars out to anyone less than the most important. 

When I got the e-mail asking if I wanted the all-new 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road to test for a week, I was very happy to see that cars were still being sent out for reviews. 

Anyway, on to the topic at hand. The RAV4 TRD starts life at $35,180. The RAV4 has a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 203 horsepower at 6600 rpm and 184 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. All of this goes to an 8-speed automatic transmission, and you get Toyota dynamic torque vectoring with the all-wheel drive system, as well as a multi-terrain select system, and a TRD-tuned suspension for off-roading and bad weather. The standard features include Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0, which is their pre-collision system that detects pedestrians, radar-guided cruise control lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, and road sign assist, which reads certain road signs and speed limits and displays them on the gauge cluster. The RAV4 TRD will also brake for you if it notices you aren’t reacting to an emergency in front of you, and you have 8 airbags. Plus you have the usual blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert via the backup camera, and a downhill assist feature for keeping the vehicle at a slower speed when traversing a dangerous or slick surface. 

The EPA say the 2020 RAV4 TRD achieves 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, respectively, with a combined fuel economy of 27 mpg. The week I drove the RAV4 TRD I was averaging 24 mpg, and that was mainly due to the fact that I was driving a lot of back roads. Like I said before, I tested this vehicle during the mandatory quarantine. And even though I was exempt as a journalist/member of the media, I didn’t really have anywhere to go. So, instead I just drove the RAV4 at random, and did a lot of sporty driving because it was surprisingly not bad at all. I do believe, though, that had I actually added a little more highway driving to my testing I would have easily gotten the 27 mpg combined average.

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road weighs 3,655 lbs, can tow 3,500 lbs, and is six-tenths of an inch longer (181.5 in. vs 180.9 in.), four-tenths of an inch wider (73.4 vs 73), 1.6 inches taller 68.6 vs 67-67.2), and has two-tenths of an inch more ground clearance than all RAV4 trims (8.6 vs 8.4). The TRD and Adventure trim levels have the same measurements.

My RAV4 TRD tester had an as-tested price of $41,780. A lot of money for something without a third row, you could say. The options included the TRD Off-Road Weather Package for $1,015, which gives you a heated leather steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, rain sensing and variable intermittent windshield, as well as a de-icer. Next was the JBL premium audio with navigation infotainment system, retailing for $1,620. This gives you 11 JBL speakers and a subwoofer, WiFi, and a bunch of connected services and voice recognition features that most people won’t use, mainly because they’ll either be using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Then we had the TRD Off-Road technology package, adding an extra $1,950. This comes with front and rear parking assist with automated braking, a digital rearview mirror with a HomeLink garage door opener, Qi-compatible wireless charger for your smartphone (pronounced like “chee”), Toyota’s cool Bird’s Eye view camera with perimeter scan, overhead 360 degree view (this is usable when you’re at low speeds or in reverse to see what’s around you), and curb view. The last two options are a two-tone color scheme for $500, and a $395 paint protection film. My RAV4 TRD Off-Road was painted in Magnetic Gray Metallic with an Ice Gray roof. It also had black SofTex interior (Toyota’s synthetic leather that they claim is durable and lighter than leather) , LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and a moonroof. There are four total 2.1 amp USB ports, two for the back seats, and two in the center console, as well as a USB port where the wireless charger is to plug in your phone to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. 

The TRD Off-Road trim rides on exclusive 18-inch matte black TRD wheels with Falcon Wildpeak A/T tires. Toyota say the tires are severe snow rated, as well as having an open shoulder groove design that sheds mud, debris, and snow. Going along with the tires, the TRD model offers one-off red coil springs with modified twin-tube shocks and new bump stops to help with ride comfort, control, and wheel travel.

The RAV4 TRD has an overall safety rating of 5 Stars from NHTSA, with frontal crash rating of 4 stars for the driver and 5 for the passenger, 5 stars for both front and rear seats in a side collision, and 4 stars for a rollover. So, you can rest assured that you’re going to be pretty damn safe no matter where you’re sitting in the RAV4. 

That’s why people buy a Toyota RAV4, isn’t it? While I don’t find this generation particularly attractive in the styling department (I do believe the TRD trim makes it look much more rugged and ready to roll), the name of the game is safety and usability. Not once when driving the RAV4 TRD did I think that it was in any way compromised in terms of comfort, safety, and usability. Technology is good, and I love having a wireless charger. Although I do wish that if companies are going to commit to wireless charging they need to also offer wireless CarPlay and Auto. If I have my phone plugged in to use the smart features, I don’t need a wireless charger. But if I’m using the wireless charger, I don’t have the ability to use anything other than Bluetooth. While I have liked the premium JBL sound system in other Toyota offerings, it is not the best in the RAV4. I think due to the overall interior space and size the sound just kind of bounces around. It still sounds nice, just not as “premium” as in the Camry.

Space is another reason you buy a RAV4. All models have 37.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the hatch and 69.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The RAV4’s rear seats also recline for passengers, and that’s a welcomed addition. The cargo cover for the rear hatch is also probably the easiest one to get out of any vehicle of this size. I just wish there some place to store it in the car, like the Toyota Highlander I tested a few weeks after. That review will be live next week. Or, if you’re looking at this in the future, I’ll add the link to it here.

With a Toyota RAV4 TRD you don’t just get safety and usable technology, you also get a vehicle with great overall space. The front seats alone have three extra areas where you can put miscellaneous things. For instance, to the left of the steering wheel, immediately above the buttons that control the auto high-beams, power lift-gate, among other things, there is a small space that I ended up using to hold my garage door opener. But you could easily fit a wallet, some keys, or something of that size. If you aren’t using the wireless charger under the HVAC knobs, you can turn it off and you have a 12V socket and some storage. Then, in front of the passenger is a nice, long cubby hole above the glovebox. The passenger can put their cell phone in there, sunglasses, or whatever else. It’s not large, but it is appreciated. 

Continuing with the interior, materials are nice, and the leather-stitched dash and doors are a nice touch. Buttons are easy to reach, and the infotainment screen is 8 inches, so plenty big. Overall visibility is good, and the windows are all one-touch up and down from the driver’s door. The seats are damn comfortable, and they look well bolstered, but they aren’t meant for sporty driving. 

Speaking of sporty driving, while the RAV4 TRD isn’t meant a sporty SUV by any means, it does handle pretty well and confidently. This is no-doubt aided by the torque vectoring system that can put up to 50% of the motor’s torque to the rear wheels, as well as between the left and right rear wheels. However, when you mash the throttle while doing 35 mph or more there is moderate torque-steer and the front end naturally goes light. As you’d expect, the engine isn’t lively, what with only 203 horsepower, and especially from low revs there is no one home. However, once you get above 2500-3000 rpm the motor comes alive enough to feel peppy and allow you to move out of the way in normal or highway driving. It isn’t fast, but you won’t feel like you’re sitting still either. The engine pulls well to about 6,750 rpm, which is its redline. 

When driving the RAV4 on a windy day you will feel as though the front end gets knocked around a bit, and the side mirrors especially get beaten up. The steering tightens up at highway speeds, but you end up overcorrecting due to the windy-ness. And worst of all, the active-lane system goes haywire, because the car is being bounced around in the lane, and the computers are trying to keep you away from the lines on the road. Luckily the button to turn that off is easily pressed by your right hand on the steering wheel. 

There are a few other, random, things that I either didn’t like about the RAV4 TRD Off-Road, or were annoying. The quality of the back-up camera isn’t great, and at night it’s nothing to write home about. When you come to a complete stop and are creeping forward to maybe turn right on red or something, the seatbelt tensioner forces you to have to jerk your body forward and back a few times before it releases. There is a piece of plasticky-leatherette piece that surrounds the shifter where the palm of your hand rests, and it jiggles. It’s just annoying, but weirdly I played with it all the time. In my opinion, I don’t think the air blows hard enough at 100%. When parked there is a chirping sound coming from the engine (this may have just been my tester, though), but it didn’t seem to cause any issues with the car, and you start to forget about it after a while. Toyota still force you to pull a tab to open the fuel door. I’m tired of that. None of the doors open wide enough. But that could be so that children climbing in and out of the car don’t have to stretch their arms too much when holding on to the door when getting in and out. The speedometer on my press car was 2-3 mph off, depending on your speed. To know if yours is slow, too, download an app on your iPhone called “Speedometer Speed Box App”. That one has proven to be quite accurate for me. Sorry, Android users, I’m not sure which one would work for you.

While those things are annoying at times, I don’t believe any of them are dealbreakers, especially for how good the RAV4 TRD is as an overall vehicle. Price is always a touchy subject, especially during a global pandemic. But with vehicles getting more and more expensive, I think the Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road shines in a sea of vehicles trying to look more special than they are. Sometimes a slightly more boring-looking product is the better buy. Luckily for the RAV4, the TRD trim looks the business and seems more bad ass as an all-around vehicle for any lifestyle.

Enjoy the gallery below, including a few photos from Toyota showing the RAV4 TRD Off-Road actually driving… off the road.