HomeThe MarketDriven: Toyota RAV4 Adventure, foiled by some wimpy tires

Driven: Toyota RAV4 Adventure, foiled by some wimpy tires


With an all-new RAV4 waiting in the wings for 2019, Toyota took a last swipe at its fourth-gen model with a new Adventure package, which sounds as if the compact SUV was equipped for perilous off-road treks, just like its bigger siblings, 4Runner and Land Cruiser.

But no.  While I was certainly all ready to take the 2018 RAV4 Adventure on a rugged trail excursion, the SUV was certainly not.  Ready, that is.  Sure, it looked the part, with “sporty exterior accents” (as the PR material states), fender flares and the “adventure grade” interior trim.

But it took just one glance to confirm that we were not going anywhere off the pavement that weekend. 

The black spoke wheels set off the matte black trim

It was those tires, which belied the entire concept of the RAV4 being any kind of adventure vehicle, even if it was all-wheel-drive.  They were just regular, smooth-tread all-season tires like you might find on a Corolla or a Camry, not on an SUV called Adventure.  Far too wimpy for the rocky desert trails of Arizona. 

The thing is, Toyota’s bigger, hardier SUVs are fitted with such tires as Bridgestone Dueler on/off road tires (the Japanese automaker and the Japanese tire maker are business buddies), designed to allow normal on-pavement driving while beefy enough for going off road. 

Seems like a simple proposition that the RAV4 Adventure would be shod with something like that.  As it is, the Adventure trim level seems pretentious, more show than go. Oh wait, the chassis does get more ground clearance, a not-terribly-impressive four-tenths inch.

The RAV4 compact SUV is in the sweet spot of today’s auto market

So I had to be content with test driving the RAV4 on streets and highways, where my biggest adventure was dodging distracted drivers.  The SUV performed quite well, as all generations of RAV4 have. 

(I just spotted for the first time in a while, one of those little, super-short, two-door RAV4s from when they first arrived in the early ’90s.  I tested one back then, and I thought it was a ton of fun but too impractical – sure enough, it was soon supplanted by a longer, four-door version.)

But getting back to now, today’s RAV4 is much bigger, and with much-better performance from its 176-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 and automatic transmission.  Steering and handling are very good for this class of high-profile vehicle, and AWD provides excellent traction. 

The Ruby Red paint with black accents is an optional extra

The AWD is equipped with push-button traction-lock in case you need some extra gung ho from all corners.  A beneficial Adventure feature, but hey.

Like many vehicles these days, this RAV4 came with various push-button driving modes that mainly alter the throttle and transmission mapping for normal driving, improved fuel mileage in the Eco mode and sharper performance in the Sport mode.

The Adventure trim, by the way, is notched within RAV4’s multiple levels of six grades:  LE, XLE, Adventure, SE, Limited and Platinum.  There are also four similar levels of trim for the RAV4 Hybrid models.  Those grades should carry on for the next-generation 2019 RAV4, coming soon to a dealer near you.

Handsome design and materials enhance the interior | Toyota 

The interior of the Adventure grade was quite nice, with what looks and feels like high-quality materials and attractive design, although lacking some of the electronic features of the Limited or Platinum versions. 

RAV4s, which are aimed mainly at small families, come loaded with advanced safety features, most wrapped up in Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes the Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Hill-Start Assist Control and Rear Backup Camera.  

All good stuff, although I always turn off lane-departure warning, which I find annoying and unnecessary, and do battle with automatic high-beams –I seem to possess the innate capability of figuring out when to switch off the brights without some electronic nanny pest constantly intruding, often at inappropriate times.  Hate that.

The front end looks like it wants to say something

The front-end styling is redone with the 2019 model, as well as other changes. The change comes none-too-soon as the current RAV4 has an expressive-looking mouth that seems like it wants to open and say, “Ribbit.”

The RAV4 Adventure came with a base price of $28,400, to which an optional cold-weather package (worthless in the Arizona desert) was added at $1,060; an attractive Ruby Red paint job with matte-black trim, $395; tonneau cover for the cargo area, $90; mud guards (which you’d think would be part of the Adventure trim level), $40; and shipping, $995.

Overall, the RAV4 Adventure is a pleasant and responsive SUV with a roomy and attractive interior, enough features and a solid reputation for reliability.  If you want it to live up to the Adventure name, you could add a set of decent all-terrain tires. Nothing too aggressive, just enough for some fun off the beaten trail.

2018 Toyota RAV4 Adventure

Vehicle type: five-passenger, five-door crossover, all-wheel drive
Base price: $28,400 Price as tested: $30,980
Engine: 2.5-liter inline-6, 176 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 172 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic 
Wheelbase: 104.7 inches Overall length/width: 181.1 inches / 72.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,605 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 22 city / 28 highway / 25 combined
Assembled in: Woodstock, Ontario, Canada

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


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