The best-looking RAV4 is also the most expensive.

Now in its fifth generation, the Toyota RAV4 is a more complete package than it’s ever been. Cohesive looks, upgraded tech, and an expanded hybrid lineup make this RAV4 a very compelling sell to a large portion of crossover shoppers. To expand the appeal even further, Toyota added an off-road-centric model, with the 2020 RAV4 TRD Off-Road. It’s still every bit a RAV4, just with a more rugged aesthetic and, according to Toyota, some actual off-road chops.

But at roughly $10,000 more than the base model, the Off-Road is somewhat less appealing with its $35,180 starting price. For the extra money, you get essentially a fully loaded Limited model, in addition to a TRD-tuned suspension, model-specific 18-inch matte black wheels, a few interior tweaks, and a multi-terrain select system. This package makes the Off-Road ready to tackle exactly what its name suggests.

Our test car wears a price tag of $41,780, which is big money for a RAV4. In fact, it’s too much money. But even with its hefty price, there’s something about the TRD Off-Road that leaves a lasting impression. It has some serious personality, especially with the two-tone paint and matte black accents. And for those needing to do some light off-roading from time to time that don’t require the larger 4Runner, the TRD Off-Road makes sense.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Drive Notes
2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Drive Notes

Clint Simone; Associate Editor, Video Producer

Favorite Thing: It Feels Expensive With Lots of Premium Features
Least Favorite Thing: And That’s Because it is Expensive

You’d be surprised by how many people complimented me on “my” car during the review period. With its slick, optional two-tone paint job and the TRD’s subtle-but-cool black accents, this little RAV4 actually has some presence to it, unlike the flavorless models of yesteryear. I don’t know if I’m sold on the rear three-quarter angle or the raked tailgate, but otherwise I think the RAV4 is the best looking car in its class. And within the RAV4 lineup, the TRD Off-Road is the best looking.

This goes for the cabin, too. Where cheap plastics and drab seating materials used to fill the interiors of old RAV4s, this car feels like a whole new world. I love the patterned leatherette seats which are very supportive but not too stiff, and the fun red accents on the dash and in the cupholders are a nice added detail. Aside from the interior’s clean design, there are some great features onboard, too, like a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel and dual-zone climate control.

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Driving the car is a less enlightening experience, however. The steering is pretty lifeless and when passing power is needed, the four-cylinder offers a bit too much noise. Apart from those flaws, I can’t fault the RAV for much else, though. It’s very well-damped and soaks up bumps in the roads nicely. And when I manage to do some light off-roading, the little Toyota handled itself nicely, similar to the Subaru Crosstrek. This is a car you could drive for long stretches of time and not get sick of it. Which is exactly what those who buy it should do.

 

The TRD Off-Road’s $35,180 starting price (not including destination) is roughly $5,300 more than the Jeep Compass Trailhawk, and it's only $1,700 shy of the starting price of a Lexus NX300 (albeit the front-drive model). At this car’s $41,780 price, we’re into luxury crossover territory. And although the RAV4 is preferable to just about everything it competes with, it’s not a luxury crossover and shouldn’t be treated as such.

At this car’s $41,780 price, we’re sneaking into luxury crossover territory.

This RAV4 packs the following options: the $1,015 weather package with heated/ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers, the $1,620 JBL audio system with navigation, the $1,950 Technology Package with 360-degree parking camera, front and rear parking assist, and wireless phone charging and the killer $500 two-tone paint. Of that kit, I’d only skip out on the audio system with navigation. The Rav4 comes standard with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, and the factory navigation just isn’t all that great. So I’m still at an MSRP round about $40,000, which is just too steep for a RAV4.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Drive Notes
2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Drive Notes

Jeff Perez, Senior Editor

Favorite Thing: Soft-Road Prowess
Least Favorite Thing: Expensive, Even Before Options

A lot of people think they need an off-roader. They don't. What they actually need is a Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road. This rugged-enough crossover can easily tackle dirt paths and pockmarked pavement thanks to its tougher suspension bits, bespoke Falken Wildpeak Trail tires, and grip at all four corners. A good dirt-road flogging proves the TRD's toughness extends to more than just the nameplate; the reworked underpinnings and chunky tires grant the RAV4 better off-road manners than any of its more road-focused trims. Even the RAV4 Adventure model (which I also took off-road in my test) feels like a downgrade comparatively.

The RAV4 TRD Off-Road is definitely less likable on-road, though, due to its new rugged personality. Those chunky tires are very loud, limit steering feedback, create a less-refined ride, and increase vibrations all around – even the side mirrors shake like salt shakers.

But my biggest issue with this car is the price. There's no way to temper it: the RAV4 TRD Off-Road costs $35,280. And our tester, loaded with options like the $1,015 weather package, the $1,620 JBL audio system, and the $1,950 Technology Package – among a few others – costs $41,780. As Clint mentions, that's nearly luxury car territory (the Lexus NX is just $1,000 more expensive) and represents a huge jump from the base RAV's $25,950 starting price. Even the loaded RAV4 Limited costs $34,480.

Competitors

Gallery: 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road: Drive Notes

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

Engine 2.5-Liter Four-Cylinder
Output 203 Horsepower / 184 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 25 City / 32 Highway / 27 Combined
Weight 3,655 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 37.6 Cubic Feet / 69.8 Cubic Feet
Base Price $25,950
As-Tested Price $41,780