Driven: TRD adds true off-road capability to Toyota’s RAV4

We were surprised, pleasantly, at how the vehicle handled a trail that was more daunting than we’d expected

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RAV4 TRD
The off-road trail looked relatively easy, but it quickly got serious and challenging | Larry Edsall photos

Well, that was a surprise — and a very pleasant one.

After swapping the 2020 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro for a 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD, I didn’t expect all that much from the compact crossover utility vehicle. After all, the 4Runner is a real sport utility vehicle, and with the Pro tweaks by Toyota Racing Development, I was confident that it not only could go pretty much anywhere, but also make it back home again.

My expectations for the RAV4, even one wearing the TRD badge, were not nearly so optimistic. Body on frame vs. unibody. Real 4-wheel drive vs. all-wheel drive. V6 engine vs. 4-banger. Well, you get the idea. 

At one point, a tunnel under railroad tracks provided an escape route

But it turns out that the 4Runner TRD comes with Multi-Terrain Select technology with Dynamic Torque Vectoring upgradeas well as what Toyota calls “rally-inspired” suspension components, 18-inch all-terrain tires and 8.6 inches of ground clearance, just an inch less than the TRD 4Runner.

And while it’s not going to do any serious rock climbing, it handled a narrow and surprisingly steep trail just a few miles south of Las Vegas.  Downhill Assist Control is a wonderful thing. Oh, and the trail was rocky as well, not  boulder-strewn, but still demanding slow and careful maneuvering. 

My guess is that very few RAV4 TRD owners would challenge such a course, but they’d also be missing an opportunity to see just how capable their vehicle can be. But even if they don’t try the Multi-Terrain Select’s Rock & Dirt setting, they might experience the Mud & Sand or Snow options. 

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Toyota notes that the TRD suspension draws from the development of the Rally RAV4 raced by Ryan Millen, brother of Rhys and son of Rod. The equipment includes twin-tube shocks with internal rebound springs and special bump stops to smooth travel on trails. It also includes 18-inch wheels with Falken Wildpeak A/T Trail tires that also are “Severe Snow” rated. 

We got our kicks on Route 66

The TRD version is a new model for the RAV4 for the 2020 model year.  In addition to components and technology to deal with off-pavement driving, it has “high-rise” roof rails, fender flares, “aggressive” bumper and grille, and fog lamps. The RAV4 TRD also is available in an exclusive 2-tone color combination: Magnetic Gray Metallic beneath an Ice Edge roof.

Inside, Black SofTex seats have red stitching and trim and there are TRD all-weather mats on the floors and in the cargo area.

Like most RAV4 owners, even those with the TRD outfitting likely will do the vast majority of their driving on pavement. So did I, traveling from the Las Vegas area into northwest Arizona for a 2-day youth baseball tournament, and driving home via that wonderful section of old Route 66 through Oatman, Arizona, and then turning north along the Colorado River before crossing over at Laughlin, Nevada.

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The route provided opportunities for paved driving on urban streets and at a 75-mph legal limit. Although the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine provides 203 horsepower, it doesn’t peak unless you’re revving at more than 6,000 rpm, and max torque of 184 pound-feet isn’t achieved until 5,500 rev. Punching the Sport mode button helps.

Acceleration might be termed casual off the line, but of more concern on this trip was the fact that in temperatures of around 115 degrees, it takes a while for the air conditioning system to cool things to a comfortable level. 

But just like that off-road trail we took, the AC was dealing with rather extreme conditions. Bottom line: The RAV4 TRD dealt with the challenges and got us there and back home again, safe and sound. (Speaking of safe, the RAV4 has 5-star safety ratings.)

A pricing note: Base price of the 2020 RAV4 TRD is $35,180. The one loaned for a week by Toyota also was packed with options, including a TRD weather and technology packages, premium audio/navigation, the unique paint combination, and more for an as-tested price of $42,507.

That might seem pricey compared with other compact crossovers, but there’s a lot to be said for being able to enjoy your Recreational Activity Vehicle in both urban and wilderness environments.

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2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

Vehicle type: 5-passenger compact crossover utility, all-wheel drive

Base price: $35,180 Price as tested: $42,507

Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 203 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm, 184 pound-feet of torque @ 5,500 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 105.9 inches Overall length/width: 181.5 inches / 73.4 inches

Curb weight: 3,655 pounds

EPA mileage estimates: 25 city / 32 highway / 27 combined

Assembled in: Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

For more information, visit Toyota’s website

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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