Oxymorons are not always easy to come up with, but they are certainly easy to identify. Things like “jumbo shrimp” come immediately to mind, as well as things like “minor crisis” or “pretty ugly”. But sometimes car companies try to sneak one by us and we’re here to tell you, they aren’t getting away with it. Toyota has introduced the new Toyota RAV4 TRD to its lineup, and we can’t help but think that this is the best automotive example of an oxymoron we’ve ever heard.
From its inception, the RAV4 has been, by definition, a Recreational Activity Vehicle, and not a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). So when we saw Toyota’s Off-Road “TRD” namesake plastered on a RAV4, we initially thought it was just some tuner trying to be funny. But, as it turns out, Toyota is trying to fill a niche we didn’t even know existed. Starting with a relatively soft and forgiving chassis, Toyota gave the Toyota RAV4 TRD retuned shocks, beefier off-road tires, and even a set of skid plates. Ride height in the TRD is the same as the Adventure trim at a respectable 8.6-inches, while the break over and departure angles also stay about the same. Toyota does tack on its Dynamic torque-vectoring All-Wheel Drive that attempts to send more torque to a wheel with grip if it senses one to be slipping. But, compared to some other more … rugged … SUVs we’ve encountered, the RAV’s system is about a 3 out of 5.
Like all TRD models, the trim doesn’t affect the powertrain sadly. The RAV4 is still powered by the same all-aluminum 2.5-liter direct-injected, naturally aspirated inline-4 that produces 203-horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 184 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. That power is then channeled through an intelligent 8-speed automatic on its way to all four corners where Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail 225/60R18 tires await. Moving a relatively moderate 3,500 pounds that is distributed 57/43% front/rear, the Toyota RAV4 TRD gallops from 0-60 mph in 8.5 uninspiring seconds and through the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds at 86.4 mph. Hauling that speed down from 60-0 mph takes 130 feet. The Toyota RAV4 TRD also posts a reasonable 0.79 g around the skidpad and manages to post a very impressive 25/32/28 city/highway/combined mpg.
The Toyota RAV4 TRD also has the full complement of Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system to keep everyone safe on, or off-road. Pre-Collision w/Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert w/Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control all compliment things like Blind Spot Monitor w/Rear Cross-Traffic Alert to keep things from getting out of control.
Inside, the only real differentiation you will notice is very little between the RAV4 TRD and any other trim, except for the copious amounts of TRD badging. Sure, there is a centrally mounted touchscreen that controls all things infotainment, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa as well as the JBL 800 watt sound system pumping through 11 speakers throughout the cabin. In truth, the TRD version of the RAV4 seems to be more of a narrative than an actual tangible change. When the RAV4 came out, it was made to be a softer, kinder, gentler version of what used to be a very gruff and tough market. But as time went on, more and more companies adopted the ‘softer’ approach, so Toyota decided to zig where others zagged. So with basically every option covered with the 4Runner, Highlander, Venza, and Sequoia, Toyota decided to get creative and instead of making a tough SUV softer, they decided to make a soft RAV harder.
Sure, the TRD option will run you $3,700, and in truth, it may not be worth it. If you were to buy all the TRD’s actual off-roading equipment aftermarket, you would probably save yourself a good bit of scratch, but the idea of a Toyota RAV4 TRD is more about the idea of being tough than actually having to prove it. So while RAV4 TRD may seem like an oxymoron at first, we think of the imagery less like jumbo shrimp, and more like a shrimp wearing a spiked leather coat.