2019 Toyota RAV4 is the NY Auto Show's biggest debut

Maybe not in terms of physical size, but in terms of sales, Toyota's latest SUV is poised to rule the Big Apple.

Chris Paukert Former executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015. Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Chris Paukert
4 min read
Sarah Tew/Roadshow

Toyota sold over 400,000 RAV4 SUVs in North America last year, with the model enjoying double-digit sales growth in the process. That'd be an enviable accomplishment for any vehicle, but it's particularly impressive because that tally came for an outdated model nearing the end of its life. In fact, that massive sales figure suggests that this new fifth-generation 2019 Toyota RAV4 is very likely the auto industry's most important new vehicle to debut at the New York Auto Show.

And when Toyota says "new," it really means it. Look beyond this compact crossover's freshly chiseled looks, and you'll find a wholly different Toyota Next-Generation Architecture underneath, a platform that's some 57 percent stiffer than before. Riding atop a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase, the 2019 RAV4 is actually a smidgen shorter than its forebear, yet it's roomier inside.

It's also powered by a new powertrain range, including a 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder paired to an eight-speed automatic, or the same engine paired to a second-generation hybrid system and a continuously variable transmission. Toyota isn't divulging performance or efficiency stats for either powertrain yet, but the company says it is anticipating "class-leading fuel efficiency and increases in horsepower and acceleration, respectively."

2019 Toyota RAV4 SUV debuts in NY with trick AWD, fresh tech

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Throughout its history, the RAV4 has rarely traded on its dynamism, off-road ability or cabin tech, instead selling on the strength of attributes such as versatility, reliability and resale value. For 2019, there are ample reasons to believe that will change. 

For one, this new RAV4 features Toyota's first application of Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with rear Driveline Disconnect on higher-trim non-hybrid models. In plain English, that means that all-wheel drive models not only can send up to 50 percent of the engine's available power to the rear wheels, but route it to the individual wheel that has the best traction. And when AWD is not called for, the system can disconnect the rear axle using a series of ratchet-type dog clutches, defaulting to front-wheel drive. Doing so reduces friction and lowers rotating mass, boosting fuel efficiency.

That's just one of three AWD systems available on the new RAV4 -- lower-spec models do without torque vectoring, and gas-electric models feature a revised AWD-i hybrid setup that can drive 30 percent more torque to the rear wheels than before. 

2019 Toyota RAV4 XSE Hybrid is green in a hurry

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The RAV4 Hybrid also receives a new XSE trim with a somewhat sportier vibe thanks to firmer shocks and springs and a new two-tone paint treatment. The Hybrid XSE "takes the throne as the quickest -- and best handling -- RAV4 in the lineup," so it appears that Toyota is now playing up electrification's sporting abilities, not just its green credentials. The XSE has looks that emphasize the model's sporting credentials, including features such as blacked-out wheels and fender overriders.

Better still, unlike the outgoing generation, the new model's battery doesn't eat into cargo space.

As well as the aforementioned torque-vectoring system, nonhybrid AWD RAV4 models come with a version of the Multi-Terrain Select controller found on the Tacoma and 4Runner. Twisting the dial will pregird the vehicle's systems for various surface conditions, including snow, mud, sand and rocks. The RAV4's slightly tougher Adventure trim returns for 2019, wearing new high-rise roof rails and fender flares. The latter also features a contrasting roof paint color and unique wheels. 

2019 Toyota RAV4 Adventure has Subaru in its sights

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In general, Toyota seems to have worked significantly harder this time out to broaden the RAV4's appeal through greater separation of the crossover's various trims. That's one of the benefits of high-volume vehicles -- automakers can afford to invest in substantially different trims to broaden their appeal, because the sales numbers are so robust to begin with.

Of course, your interest likely lies most in how RAV4's interior has fared in all of this. Based on my first look, the answer is rather well, it seems. The cabin is all-new, and features nicer-quality materials and a more contemporary aesthetic. Like the exteriors, there's also greater differentiation cabin-wise between everyday models, luxury trims like the Limited and lifestyle-oriented plays like the Adventure.

The heart of the RAV4's dashboard is a new Entune 3.0 multimedia system, with every RAV4 model receiving Verizon-powered Wi-Fi, as well as Amazon Alexa and Apple CarPlay integration ( Android Auto fans, better luck next year). 

2019 Toyota RAV4 Limited puts a fancy spin on sensibility

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The standard infotainment system consists of a 7-inch touchscreen, but uplevel models gain an inch-larger display with Entune 3.0 Audio Plus, which incorporates Sirius XM and a navigation system. An 800-watt, 11-speaker JBL premium audio system is also on offer, as is Qi wireless device charging.

Other new cabin features available on the top-shelf Limited model include a panoramic moonroof, ventilated seats and 7-inch gauge cluster information screen. 

There's even a digital rearview mirror display that leverages a separate camera mounted beneath the backlight to provide a blind-spot-free look behind you in the rearview mirror housing. Unlike some rival systems, its field of view is even adjustable, from left to right. This defeatable feature is one you'll want to try out for yourself -- some people love mirrors like these, while others find their different field-of-focus tough to get used to.

Like the 2019 Corolla Hatchback that's also bowing in New York, the new RAV4 receives a full slate of active safety features under the second-generation Toyota Safety Sense banner. As you'd presume, the feature set includes forward collision warning with auto-brake and pedestrian detection, full-speed intelligent cruise control and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist. 

Unexpected bonus tech includes automatic high beams, traffic sign recognition and Lane Tracing Assist, which helps drivers follow the path of a leading vehicle, even when lane markings are not present.

Gas-only 2019 Toyota RAV4 models hit dealers in late 2018, while Hybrid seekers will have to wait until the first quarter of 2019.