Do people really go adventuring in their crossovers, or do they just love the idea that they could strike off into the wilds at any time? While these high-riding chariots epitomize practicality, they rarely offer the off-road chops to actually explore regions unknown. Regardless, they’re so trendy now that Toyota’s extremely popular RAV4 has surpassed the Camry sedan as the company’s top seller, with more than 407,000 sold domestically in 2017. That makes it the best-selling vehicle in America that’s not a pickup truck. For 2018, Toyota panders to people who love the concept of an all-conquering crossover with the new RAV4 Adventure model.
While this mid-level model has added ground clearance (6.5 inches versus the standard 6.1) and rugged design cues, it’s not exactly ready to tackle the Rubicon Trail. Every Adventure does, however, have a standard Tow Prep package with beefed-up cooling components, including an upgraded radiator and supplemental engine-oil and transmission-fluid coolers. These allow the front-drive versions to pull up to 2900 pounds; the all-wheel-drive model maxes out at 3500 pounds. Those are modest ratings, to be sure, yet they’re substantial improvements compared with the regular RAV4s, which can lug, at most, 1500 pounds.
The all-wheel-drive RAV4 Adventure we tested arrived wearing a standard black hood stripe and optional Ruby Flare Pearl paint (a.k.a. red)—a $395 choice for those who don’t want theirs in gray scale. The window sticker also reflected the additions of mud guards ($40) and body side molding ($209). Although it shares exterior elements with the sporty SE trim, this outdoorsy version has prominent fender extensions and distinct black accents on the grille, headlight bezels, mirrors, and roof rails to let everyone know this isn’t your librarian’s RAV4. Likewise, the Adventure wears gray-painted lower panels to represent pseudo skid plates. Rad. Despite the faux-off-road shtick (the SE has the same raised ride height and wheel and tire sizes, but no tow package), the Adventure looks more butch than the rest of the lineup.
Efficiency and Performance or Lack Thereof
Toyota slaps its run-of-the-mill 2.5-liter inline-four, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, in all RAV4 models. The engine makes the same 176 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque as its siblings, and the Adventure spec isn’t available with the hybrid powertrain. We went adventuring to Chicago from our base in Ann Arbor, and the quiet, relaxed ride and diligent powertrain remained out of sight and out of mind. While the city’s incessant traffic jams had us pulling our hair out, the RAV never made things worse.
Still, it can’t compare with rivals such as the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5 that are quicker, more fun to drive, and more fuel efficient. The Toyota’s soft suspension was comfortable, but its lifeless steering and unresponsive throttle define dull. Our test vehicle took 8.3 seconds to accelerate to 60 mph and 6.0 seconds to get from 50 to 70 mph; both figures are on the slow end of the class. Its braking performance, stopping from 70 mph in 175 feet, and cornering grip (0.79 g) were average at best. Its fuel economy was also disappointing. We observed 21 mpg in mixed driving and recorded 25 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel loop—significantly underperforming compared to the EPA estimates of 22 mpg city, 28 highway, and 25 combined.