Toyota RAV4 & Corolla Hatchback

Cores of the Brand

Toyota RAV4 & Corolla Hatchback

Cores of the Brand

By Randy Lioz, Editor, Car-ED.com | April 2018


Toyota debuted the new RAV4 and Corolla Hatchback at the New York International Auto Show on Wednesday. As Toyota’s best-selling vehicle, the RAV4 is a particularly important launch.

What is this vehicle?

The RAV4 is a compact crossover, which follows a pretty similar formula to the outgoing model. It does, however, add some new features and a new approach to its trim lineup.

The RAV4 invented the compact crossover segment, but as Toyota pointed out in its press conference, it wasn’t until the 3rd-generation model—when the brand really nailed the size equation, following the lead of the Honda CR-V—that sales really took off. The 2006 RAV4, which grew by nearly 15 inches in length, also more than doubled the sales of the 2005 model.

The length has stayed nearly identical since then, with this new fifth generation coming down just 0.2 inches from the third- and fourth-gen vehicles—Toyota bragged that the RAV4 keeps its compact dimensions, unlike some competitors that have grown a bit unwieldy. The vehicle is now slightly lower and wider, and with a stiffer structure it should provide improved handling.

Who is this vehicle for?

Realistically, the new RAV4 will have wide-ranging appeal. It was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. in 2017, aside from the domestic pickups, which indicates how complete the shift has been from cars to SUVs. In fact, the next vehicle down on the list is the Nissan Rogue, which indicates that compact SUVs have grabbed the “family car” mantle from midsize sedans in this market.

Auto brands recognize that these small utilities will be their most important entries going forward, which is why Toyota went all-in on the new 2019 RAV4. Since it’s now tasked with attracting a wider range of buyers, Toyota decided to offer it in a range of “flavors,” according to the vehicle’s product manager, Cameron Creighton.

“We’re not alienating core customers,” he told us, “but bringing in new ones.”

With that in mind Toyota is further differentiating the variants of the RAV4 that it offers, with the featured trims being the Adventure version for off-roaders, the Limited that emphasizes refinement, and a sporty new XSE hybrid variant for those who want a little hot-rod in their family hauler.

The RAV4 XSE HV, a hybrid

Why is this vehicle important to you, the buyer?

RAV4 has built a big following in recent times, doubling sales in the past five years. It continues to improve upon the original formula, with more power, better fuel economy, enhanced connectivity and cool upgrades like Dynamic Torque Vectoring for its AWD system.

One of the biggest upgrades to the RAV4, though, is the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, which is standard. With American families increasingly choosing crossovers to haul around the kids, safety is clearly a top priority, and Toyota has been among the most aggressive in bringing advanced driver assist systems to the masses.

What Excites Us / Top Likes:

The RAV4 Adventure

1 – The Adventure grade that was added for the 2018 model will now sport a completely separate front end from the rest of the lineup, with a higher-set grille—presumably to evoke fording streams—chunkier side cladding, orange interior accents and a cool contrasting white roof.

“There’s some FJ influence with the white roof,” said Creighton, referring to the contrasting color schemes that have appeared on both the Land Cruiser of old and the FJ Cruiser revival of recent years.

This version is aimed at the oft-cited active lifestyle set, coming standard with roof rails, since these buyers might have some bikes, boards and kayaks to put up there.

The Adventure trim lets Toyota showcase the RAV4’s new Multi-Terrain Select function, which has different modes from snow, mud and sand, or rock crawling. It’s actually standard on non-hybrid AWD models, but Adventure buyers will probably be most geeked about it, along with the RAV4’s increase in ground clearance.

RAV4 Product Manager Cameron Creighton talks about the new vehicle

2 – The hybrid drivetrain is the quickest RAV4, which means that drivers who still want a sporty, engaging experience in their utility vehicle will want to spring for this model. Toyota has decided to accentuate this with a new XSE HV trim, which comes with a black roof, wheels and piano-black accents all around. The company has said they expect it to lead the pack in fuel economy, and power is up over 15% from the previous generation’s 194 hp, but exact specs are yet to be revealed.

3 – RAV4’s Dynamic Torque Vectoring further improves the handling beyond the chassis upgrades by apportioning more torque to the rear wheels in any combination, and it’s standard on Limited models with AWD and the Adventure trim (which includes AWD).

Hybrid buyers won’t miss out on driveline upgrades, either, with its upgraded AWD-i system also improving rear wheel torque flow, especially since that HSE hybrid trim makes some pretty big visual promises that its performance will have to match.

4 – The previous RAV4, with its first-gen Toyota Safety System, had already included features like a pre-collision warning and avoidance system that is able to detect pedestrians, but version 2.0 is also tuned for bicycles, so it’ll slam on the brakes for you if your reaction time isn’t fast enough to avoid hitting a cyclist.

The outgoing model had Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (regulating speed with the vehicle ahead) and Land Departure Alert with Steering Assist that could nudge you back in your lane. But the new RAV4 improves upon this with Lane Tracing Assist, that essentially kicks things up to Level 2 autonomy by keeping the vehicle centered in its lane with only a light touch from the driver. The new TSS 2.0 can even recognize many road signs.

“Toyota is unique because we offer it standard across the board [on RAV4],” added Creighton, “and we offer it on the most grades and the most vehicles” compared to competitors.

Interior of the Adventure trim, with the Entune 3.0 Audio Plus system, photo credit: Toyota

5 – Toyota has a new Entune 3.0 system for the RAV4, which offers 7” or 8” screens (each up about an inch from previous versions), and continues to offer JBL audio, which is some of the best sound in the business. It also offers Qi wireless phone charging as an option. Entune 3.0 now has Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay capability, but Toyota has yet to add Android Auto to its products. And the new system gives you Wi-Fi Connect, providing a hotspot for all your devices.

Segment and Competitors

The other available compact crossovers are:

  • Nissan Rogue
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Honda CR-V
  • Ford Escape
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Subaru Forester
  • VW Tiguan
  • GMC Terrain
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Kia Sportage
  • Mitsubishi Outlander

Pricing and Availability

Toyota has yet to give word on pricing, but don’t expect it to rise too much from the current model’s $25,505 starting ante when it hits dealerships at the end of this year (though the hybrids won’t arrive until early 2019).

The other big news from Toyota: Corolla Hatchback

At the same press conference in New York, Toyota took the wraps off its new Corolla hatch, which had been promoted by towing a giant egg cross country that “hatched” in the middle of Manhattan.

The new sporty runabout is set to compete against stylish, utilitarian small cars like the Mazda3 and Honda Civic hatchbacks, so it ups the design quotient from the outgoing Corolla iM, originally created as a Scion model before that brand folded. The new car has a gaping lower air intake that gives it an aggressive tone, while LED lighting all around, including headlights and tails, and optional fog lights, give it a fully modern look. Its stance is also more in line with the segment leaders, with dimensions that are longer, wider and lower.

Photo credit: Toyota

The Corolla Hatchback rides on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform, which is flexible enough to support the new RAV4, as well. The new structure upped the stiffness of both vehicles, with torsional strength going up 57% for the RAV4 and 60% for this new Corolla. That should help handling, especially on the models optioned with its new sport suspension. It also features an aluminum hood and composite plastic hatch that cut down on weight.

And the new Hatchback will feature a new 2.0L engine that Toyota calls Dynamic Force, upsized from the 1.8L four-cylinder on the iM. Power numbers aren’t out yet, but hopefully the upgrade will be big, since the iM’s 137 hp wasn’t in the same league as its competitors. The Mazda3 offers 155- and 184-hp options, whereas Civic’s all-turbo lineup yields between 174 and 180 hp.

Toyota North America head Jack Hollis introduces the Corolla Hatchback

Enthusiasts are pretty happy that there will be a manual transmission option, though it’s unclear at this point if it’ll be limited to just the lower SE trim, with the XSE model making due with the continuously variable transmission (which at least has a manual mode).

Like the RAV4, Corolla Hatchback has TSS 2.0, a full suite of safety features that are also convenient, plus Entune 3.0 with Wi-Fi, Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay.

Pricing won’t be announced until closer to on-sale time, which is expected this summer.